My wife Leslie wanted to tour the Biltmore, but I said we should get a guide and go fly fishing because of the adventure, the natural beauty, and to learn something new. In all my years fishing in lakes and ponds with a rod and reel or a cane pole, I hadn’t attempted my bucket list item of learning to fly fish. I certainly didn’t want any more decorating ideas from a place like the Biltmore for our twice renovated bungalow.
For our guide, we landed an Asheville college student named Blake who was majoring in Recreation. Normally, two people are hired as guides, particularly if a boat is used, but since he understood my wife wasn’t overly interested, and since our son and daughter were teens, he felt he could handle the family by himself. We did pay him extra, however, for gear rental. I knew at some point the teens would be bored and find a place near the visitor’s center to get a signal for their phones. When they were younger and we went to Disney. They enjoyed the pool more than the rides in the theme park or the life-sized characters, which made me feel we could have saved that money for another household honey-do list. When we visited the Grand Canyon, they stood against the fence, gazed into the canyon, and exclaimed, “It’s just a big crater.” I had faith that our fly-fishing excursion might be a bit different.
We squeezed in Blake’s crew cab truck, and he loaded gear in the truck bed: waders, fly rods, a tackle box full of line and flies, and a cooler with bottled water, ham sandwiches, and cheese crackers.
The Davidson River ran through the Pisgah National Forest on the outskirts of Brevard, and the natural beauty of the mountains, combined with the sound of the clear rushing water over rocks, beat commercialism any day of the week. As we parked and made our way through tall grass and around boulders, my daughter shrieked at a snake slithering by and into to water, swimming downstream with its head above the surface.
Blake said, “It’s fine. It’s just a non-poisonous water snake.”
“I don’t care what kind it is. I’ll stay on the bank and watch y’all,” our daughter Lindsey snapped.
“Just as many on the banks as in the water,” he replied. “Don’t worry. I’ll keep a watch out for you.”
“Okay,” she said. My wife smiled at me, and we both knew she felt safer with us. It didn’t hurt that an in-shape, good-looking college student would be there too. (When she graduated a year later, she headed to Western North Carolina for college, and I figured that our trip may have inspired in her a love for the mountains and outdoors and kept her from choosing city, crime, and pollution. At least, that’s what I wanted to believe.)
As Blake was demonstrating casting, my wife got hooked in the wild blooming Rhododendrons across the river, but he was a skilled enough guide to get her unhooked without cutting the line or losing the fly. Our son Logan, who was only fourteen at the time, seemed to take to fly fishing like the proverbial duck to water and snagged a decent sized brown Trout within our first hour. We took a photo of him with his Trout and with Blake, so we could frame it for keeping on a shelf at home, and so Blake could upload one for the company’s website.
For whatever reason, I wasn’t getting any bites. I trudged upstream in my waders and rolled my ankle on underwater rocks. I could feel a slight throb, but figured it wasn’t broken or it would have been much worse, especially since the ankle still withstood my weight. I found a large boulder on which to sit and casted away from the others, leaving my feet in the waders under water. I figured the waders were older and had a couple of pinholes, but the cold water felt good on my ankle and if it was swelling, I believed it would help.
There was a mist upstream a couple of hundred yards away from me, where the elevation declined and created a small waterfall. I imagined a Cherokee ghost spear fishing and being perplexed at the idea of catch and release. The experience was much like watching clouds and imagining images in them. On the other side of the river, I felt I saw ghostly images of the moon-eyed people hiding and spying on the Cherokee to learn how to spear fish. They were called moon-eyed because according to Cherokee lore they were mostly nocturnal, pale humans whose men grew long beards and lived underground in the mountains. Likely, they were an early settlement of Welsh who arrived long before Columbus, but never quite made it into the history books.
The soothing sound of water over rocks, the mist, the fragrance of wildflowers certainly was enough to suspend time, alleviate stress, and free the mind to wander, but when the rainbow trout snagged the fly, I let out a whoop that would have sent Big Foot scurrying through the Pisgah Forrest. Blake sprinted through and to the side of the river like only an experienced outdoorsman could. He took the trout off the hook, snapped a selfie with me, said it was a beauty and one of the biggest he’d seen. I held the trout, admiring the color, its gills opening and closing. I gently placed him back in the water between the rocks and he disappeared so quickly that I wondered if the moment had been real, despite the proof on Blake’s phone.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Blake said.
‘ “Yes, indeed,” I responded.
Leslie had a couple of bites, but Logan caught several. Lindsey went to the restroom and was gone for an hour before her mom found her telling friends about a poisonous snake that chased her down the river. They returned with the cooler, and we all enjoyed a picnic on the boulders. It was at least 1:00 p.m. when we loaded up to return to the fly-fishing shop, but Blake didn’t charge us anything extra, and I made up the extra time to him with a hefty tip.
Since then, I often dream that I’m there among the Cherokee and the Moon-eyed people, watching the trout taunt me from under the water. I wake up longing to spend my days in search of another rainbow instead of working at the office in the city or on honey-do lists on the weekends.
As the president of faculty senate this past year, I was the mace bearer at graduation. The mace was the college’s academic symbol. Its wood was fashioned from a two-hundred-year-old oak that had blown over in a storm. The ornamental top was heavy, made of lead, and bore the college’s name, date of its founding, and seal. The CFO was in front of me, and I imagined knocking him in the head, which would have crushed his skull and put him in a coma, if he lived. I wouldn’t do it, of course, even though I would have become a hero to faculty because of his conservative fiscal policies.
Simply put, he was manipulative and able to get new staff positions for his area by drawing on his connections. He hired his church friends, golfing buddies, or donors and board members. Meanwhile, the academic units suffered because of holds on new faculty positions, which resulted in increasing class sizes and faculty loads. As a result, the long-established and deeply respected tradition of a small student-faculty ratio shifted from 11 to 1 to 21 to 1, and rather than teaching three courses in the fall and three in the spring, some faculty had to pick up an extra class for a meagre stipend since credentialed part-time faculty weren’t readily available. The CFO had also been rumoured to advise the president to extend the tenure clock for those in the promotion and tenure process, or do away with it altogether for new hires because of looming decreasing enrolment due to population decline.
We lined up in the administration building and marched while an organ played “Pomp and Circumstance” to our designated seats either on stage or in the faculty rows that flanked the student audience. All of this too place outside on our well-manicured quad. My chair sunk a bit into turf and soil while I watched others file into place, all carefully planned by the overseer, a registrar who could have doubled as a librarian because of her obsessive-compulsive tendencies and her shushing everyone to be quiet.
I watched the students, some wearing tennis shoes, designer cowboy boots, or stiletto heels. Some stared straight ahead and weren’t quite sure what to expect, and I imagined they simply hoped they wouldn’t stumble, trip, or fall when their names were called. One young man had glassy eyes, and I worried he might pass out due to what I surmised might have been an all-night keg celebration. He seemed to preoccupy himself with his cap tassel, which he swung from one side to the next, catching it with his tongue. He appeared lizard-like, with his big eyes, a narrow ski slope of a nose, and a slender Gene Simmons’ long tongue. I assumed he was likely getting a psychology degree and later when his name and degree were called, I was proven right.
Next, the president gave a welcome, the state senator gave a speech that sounded more like a re-election commercial, and the provost read the names. Mostly, the ceremony was dignified, but there were always family members and friends of graduating students who couldn’t contain their excitement and yelled such things as “You go girl,” “That’s my grandson,” or “Mom.” Some chanted, whistled, or screamed. I only counted one air horn and watched a bouquet of balloons rise above the campus and heard a kid whining to her parent, “Boona boona.”
There was a pause from the provost when a commotion to my left occurred, and three nursing faculty ran to the aid of the woman who’d collapsed. They signalled someone to call 911. I was stunned that the nursing faculty had scrambled to help despite the potential liability. Situations such as this bothered them from an ethical standpoint because of the conflicting legality mixed with their sworn Hippocratic Oath. One of the deans whispered to me that the guest had apparently had a seizure. Once they loaded her in the back of the ambulance, the ceremony resumed with the reading of names until we filed out, shed our dignified robes, and headed for the nearest place to grab lunch, thankful we had a summer free of teaching, grading, and worrying about the future of higher education.
Return to Journal
Niles Reddick is author of a novel, Drifting too far from the Shore, two collections, Reading the Coffee Grounds and Road Kill Art and Other Oddities, and a novella, Lead Me Home. His work has been featured in over 450 publications including The Saturday Evening Post, PIF, New Reader Magazine, Forth Magazine, Citron Review, and The Boston Literary Magazine. He is a three-time Pushcart and two-time Best Micro nominee.
Twitter: @niles_reddick, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/niles.reddick.9 Instagram: nilesreddick@memphisedu
WordCity Literary Journal is provided free to readers from all around the world, and there is no cost to writers submitting their work. Substantial time and expertise goes into each issue, and if you would like to contribute to those efforts, and the costs associated with maintaining this site, we thank you for your support.
Make a one-time donation
Make a monthly donation
Make a yearly donation
Choose an amount
Or enter a custom amount
Your contribution is appreciated.
Your contribution is appreciated.
Your contribution is appreciated.DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly