Day of the Great Rainbow

September 27, 2007
By Krey Matthew, Mamaroneck, NY

A stonefly drifted along the cool flow of the freshwater stream. Tiny wings, transparent to the human eye, and light little legs spread like a web over the surface. The insect floated along, playing with the reflections of stars overhead. A rock protruded from the water, interrupting its flow, swirling water downstream, where a tired Rainbow Trout hovered. Beneath the surface, thousands of multi-colored stones lay scattered. Red, green, gray, brown, all providing havens for the crayfish like a vast neighborhood of a Bahamian village, each house a random collection of colored wood and cloth.

The bank of the stream was cool and wet. Tall oak trees surrounded the tent. Dark trunks led up to giant branches, creating shelter for a squirrel that lay below. The howling of wolves echoed through the mountains’ peaks and cliffs. Beneath these angular silhouettes, the full moon cast great shadows over the countryside.

As the echo of the wolves faded into the landscape, the heavy stomp of a moose cracked an oak branch, and he rustled through the brush. In the moonlight, the gray antlers were a valiant display of God's primordial handiwork.

Beyond the opposite bank, the shadow of night covered a flowery hillside. The hillside breathed the aroma of roses and tulips that spread over the hillside and into the tall grass of the meadow that lay downstream. My ears filled with the trickle of water flowing in and out of the rocks. Out to the East, the first traces of blue peeked out over the horizon, announcing the time and place of its arrival.

As I sat there, staring into the stream, I saw my brother, legs crossed, slouching against a piece of Oakwood, strumming freely on his acoustic guitar. I watched him as I had the moose, knowing that inside his intimidating countenance, there was a kind soul. I grabbed the bongo, and joined with my brother's lead. With every verse, the harshness of our past was drowned out. Each note pushed back the bruises and cuts, pathetic scars of our relationship. I looked at my leg and stared at the deep scar; a despicable reminder of the time I went sailing into the dining room table and mama's favorite China cup embedded itself in my leg. Those scars are part of the past.

I breathed deeply, and put those memories behind me. I let the music flow, and felt the notes resonate inside me. The stream, the bongo, the guitar, we all formed a bond.

The song came to a close, and my brother and I exchanged a smile. A mallard wandered across the stream, fighting the cross current as he glided over to the bank to investigate the noise. The bright orange beak stood out even in the dark night, and the light from the campfire added a yellow tint to the orange. The beak led up to a shiny green head, down to a skinny purple neck with a black ring, trimmed with two snowy white lines around its length. The skinny head led down into the wide brown body, disproportionately large to the rest of its figure. The wibble-wobble of his colored webbed feet left light indentations on the surface of the sand. The duck gave my brother a curious look that questioned why we disturbed his mid-night peace. With a shake of his tail feathers, and a flap of his brown and white wings, the duck set out back to wherever he came from, and the loud “Shhuussshh” of water not too far off told us that he had arrived home safely.

I took a deep breath of the cool air, and held it in. My brother stood up, tall and strong in the light of the campfire.

“Goodnight James,” he said.

“Goodnight Tom,” I replied with a smile.

“What time you wanna wake up tomorrow morning?” he asked. We were going to get up at first light to travel down to our first stop on our three-day expedition.

“Let's make it 5:00 on the button, okay?” I insisted.

“Sure thing. I'm gonna check my tackle before I go to sleep, you should do the same.”

“Naah. I think I'm just gonna go to sleep, I tied my knots fresh this afternoon, I think I should be fine.”

“Alright, but when you lose that monster tomorrow don't say I didn't tell you,” he said as he entered the tent and turned on the lantern light. I watched him search his tackle bag and rod cases, and glanced in at him every so often for the next half-hour, watching how he inspected all his tackle. His knots, guides, rods, reels, flies, leaders, waders. He never changed anything he did, even fishing. I put out the fire with a cup of water from the stream, and listened to the angry “hiss” of the steam as the flames were extinguished. The smoke that followed polluted my lungs for an instant, and I had to cough to get the waste out of my system.

I decided it was time to sleep, the wake-up tomorrow would be difficult if I didn't. I walked up to the tent, and my brother had his fly-tying kit out, tying something for the next day.

“What are you makin' there Tom?” I asked.

“Look here,” he said as his eyes averted from the magnifying glass. He pulled a small rock from under the magnifying glass; there was a fly on it. “I found that little bugger out here when we were playin' earlier.” It was a stonefly, not uncommon for this area.
“It looks like a stonefly,” I said curiously.

“No, no,” he stood up and removed the stone from my hands. He slid it under the magnifying glass. “Look right behind the head, it’s all yellow and the color is all odd lookin’. I was just wondering how the hell that happened. I didn’t think that stoneflies had colors like that…”

“It is a stonefly Tom,” I pointed out. “I caught the same thing the other day and showed it to Pops. He told me that it’s called a Yellow StoneFly. They're in the same family as stone flies and all, they just have that yellow and brown coloring.”

“Alright James,” he admired, “I didn't know that. I guess it’s all those days out on the water that I missed eh,” he said. I could tell he was proud of me.

“Thanks Tom,” I replied. “I'm going to bed alright.”

“No problem man. I'm gonna finish tying some more of these up, I think they might work real well down stream. Fish em' dry, right behind some rocks,” he looked up at the top of the tent, enjoying the thought of a giant trout taking his “new” creation from the shadows of a lonely rock. “Should be great,” he said, “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight Tom.” I exited, leaving him to return to tying his imitations. I eased into my tent, and searched out my monocular. I took it outside, unveiling two shiny lenses, staring back at the stars peering down from above. My eyes searched wildly for some place to start. The sky was alive with stars and the moon. “Ah!” I said aloud to myself. I jumped back into my tent to find my monocular stand. Once again, through the shadows and darkness, I felt out the tripod, and set it down on the cool, wet shore. Through the magnifying lens, I was staring at the definition of the lunar landscape. I felt as if I were on the moonscape, sitting alone, searching some distant planet for space research. Just then, I heard a splash in the water. I turned to look with a sharp gaze, and thought immediately about where my rifle was. The sight of rippling water… Drifting away from the center in neat rings; a nice trout I thought to myself. I set my monocular away, and turned on my lantern light, I needed to check my tackle.

My eyes opened slowly. I struggled to focus in the dark and light mixture of dawn. The stream trickled in my ears, and Mother Nature gently awoke me from my slumber. The smell of wet pine needles filled my nostrils and lungs, while the high altitude cry of a bald eagle outside the tent summoned me to come view the fresh light peeking over the flowery hill. The roses and tulips dotted the hillside, creamy versions of their midday brilliance. There, standing on the summit of the hill, the moose stood strong, a robust silhouette outlined by the rising sun. No moose ever gazed upon me with such a curious stare. Deep brown eyes pierced my soul, seeing through to my character like glass beaming through a window on a sunny afternoon. The mouth moved slowly, grinding the grass with his flat teeth, and with a slight nod of his head, he seemed to approve of my presence. A cool breeze cut through the mountains off on the horizon, losing energy as it flowed over the rolling hills, fighting the flowers and trees until it finally drifted across my face. The moose exhaled the breeze, which had touched his face too. With a shake of his floppy round ears, he drifted over the hill, riding the breeze, fading back into the East.

“Mornin' James,” Tom awoke. Sleepy-eyed and with lines of his sleeping bag imprinted on his cheeks.

“Morning' Tom,” I greeted him with a smile of amusement. “Come on Tom, let's get ready, this day looks promising.” As soon as my words hit his ears, he gazed at the sunrise, and I wished the moose had been there to greet him the same way he had greeted me. He breathed deeply and let the morning breeze fill him in the same way I had. We missed too many mornings like this, and missed too many days that followed. It's funny how time passes. It rises and lowers like the tide of the ocean. Water rises, and hangs fresh for a time on the high tide, and then fades deeper and deeper back into the ocean, where the water thrives in one giant mass. But the best of high tides leaves its mark with the water line that cuts into the rock of the shores, stacking one after the other as each of these good tides rises, hangs, and then lowers again, eventually creating a thick line of dark color that remains with the time and tides.

The canoe drifted with the current through its curves and straights, floating over the multitude of multi-colored stones that lay less than a foot below the surface. Moving along with the current, the canoe suspended just above the water line, cradling in the gentle buoyancy created by the belly of the craft. As our eyes scanned the surface of the water, just off the corner of the bend, the water opened up, revealing a split in the river that seemed to lie just below the Grand Tetons. It lay beneath its cool shadow, stretching for miles across the landscape like a great arm testing its reach.

Getting caught in the wrong part of the current meant being pulled down the left shoot of the river, where the water was mainly type three rapids, plus the added bonus of hidden boulders and waterfalls. If you were pulled to the right part of the split, the river funneled down into a calm, winding stream. The stream flowed for miles through meadows and prairies where herds of adult Elk kept watch over their children playing in the water and golden fields.

“Hey Tom,” I said.

“Yeh James,” he replied with a long breath.

“You shoulda’ woke up earlier this morning.

“Why is that?” he chuckled.

“The sunrise was beautiful,” I took a deep breath of the cool mountain air. “And there was this moose, the strangest one I ever saw. He just sorta appeared right where the sun was comin’ up over the hill across the stream where we were campin’. Strangest thing ever, he stared me down, and then sorta jus’ left. Like he was some sort of Nature Sheriff.”

Tom didn’t reply for some time. “It’s funny,” he gazed off into the mountains, and stopped pushing the water with his oar. “Sometimes, the most subtle things have the deepest meaning to us. Even though we may be focusing on something that might seem more important or more meaningful, and for whatever reason we’re doin’ it for, it takes all the focus away from the other things we oughta be focusing on.” He paused for a moment, then turned around and stared at me with brimming eyes, “I’m sorry James,” he whispered. “I’m sorry ‘bout things that have happened, all the things that I’ve done bad to you… I’m sorry James.” He lowered his oar into the water again, and neither of us spoke for a long length of the stream.

In perfect synchronization we paddled on the left side of the canoe, nearly flipping each time from the displacement of the weight from each powerful stroke of our oars. The canoe began to drift to the left, and pulled into the rapids like a beautiful dancer seducing her man. I placed my paddle into the river, and pushed hard out to the right, while Tom dug hard into the water on the left side of the canoe. The canoe made a sharp move to the right, and we both paddled as hard as we could on opposite sides of the canoe, moving the boat in a straight line. Finally, the canoe broke free of the clutches of the current, and the canoe glided onward to the right as we were caressed by the gentle grasp of the stream.

We coasted along, panting as we took in deep breaths of the pure summer mountain air. While we recovered, our eyes returned to scanning the surface of the water.

“Look Tom,” I pointed out. “Look at that hole, oh boy! Let's hold it up right here. Beach the canoe right over on the left on that shore, and let's give that new fly o' yours a shot.”

The canoe came to a halt as the sandy shore absorbed the canoe's energy. We hopped out, eager to fish. We grabbed our rods and our dry satchels, checked our waders, exchanged smiles, and set out on foot for the hole, not more than 100 yards away.

The hole that we had spotted was ideal. The two shores of golden sand forced a channel of water to flow over a bank of gray stones. The water foamed up just below the rocks, building up and then eating itself up again downstream, creating a miniature waterfall. No trees or rocks stood on either side of the falls, enabling us to cast without any worry of getting snagged or tangled, and the shore came out in such a way, that one could walk right out onto the edge of the shore, and land his fly just below the rocks, letting it get caught up in the foam, where it floated helplessly like a desperate prey.

I saw a magnificent Brown Trout hovering under the edge of the foam, waiting for a helpless fly to drift in front of him. My brother, however, saw something else. As I stripped out my line, and began delivering one of my own Stonefly imitations, he kept walking down the golden bank, trying to find himself at home again in the seclusion of his own quiet hole. On the bank opposite him, a low lying tree line hung its branches a few inches above the surface, shading a calm patch of water that lay sheltered by a rock protruding from the surface of the stream, its edges tickled by the thin reaches of the many branches. Just behind that rock, something caught my brother's eye.

A shadow emerged from the water, exposing its massive silver back, and a dorsal fin unfurled like a sail in the wind. He stripped out a good length of line, and although it had been a while, the art of his casting soon found its way back into his hands. The shine of the light off his line painted a great loop in the air, curled tightly in a neat arc flowing back and forth over the surface of the water. His Yellow Stonefly imitation flew just above the surface of the water, but he never allowed it to skim the surface. The fly glided under the tree line, and landed with a soft ripple in the calm just behind the rock. He twitched the fly with a flick of his finger, sending a slight vibration through the line and causing the fly to twitch ever so delicately. From under the surface, the great shadow rose, and a giant mouth engulfed the tiny fly, turning his massive silver back as he set the hook of the fly on himself.

My brother raised his rod tip, and his line went taught. From where I stood, seventy yards away, I could hear the whining of his reel’s drag, trying desperately to stop the shadow from spooling my brother. The line shot off the reel, and he cupped the arbor to add drag, but soon had to let go for the heat from the friction was too great, even for his calloused hands. Line continued to scream off the reel, and he began to see that the fish would not stop anytime soon. He set off down the bank of the shore, chasing after the fish while he waited for a chance to retrieve some of his fly line. I set my rod down on the shore where I was fishing the falls, and ran back to the canoe to retrieve the net that we would need to land the fish. I found the large net, but was not sure whether it would be big enough. I ran down the bank of the stream, anxiously seeking out my brother, but he was moving at the same speed as I was, so a constant distance was kept between us, a distance that felt similar to the one that had plagued me for years before; a distance that never lengthened nor shortened.

Finally, I came around the bend, and my eyes lay upon one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. My brother was hunched over, waist deep in the stream and he heaved a massive Rainbow Trout from the clear water. The fish was fat as could be, and his sides were painted with brilliant colors of pink, red, green, blue, yellow, black, brown, and even orange. The giant dorsal and pectoral fins were tipped with purple, and the eyes of the fish were a gentle baby blue, with deep dark centers. I dropped the net and ran full speed over to him. My brother stood up straight and tall, holding the trout with a flat iron grip behind his gills, showing off its beautiful colors shimmering in the sunlight as he walked up onto the dry shore. I stopped running a few feet from him, and slowed to a stunned walk at the size of the fish. I stared into his blue eyes, and he gazed back at me, lay the fish down on the bank of the river in his fish basket, and let some water fill a pool. The ugly past fell into the water, and was carried away with the current, forever to be muffled by the foam of the falls and the trickle of the stream.

On that day of the great Rainbow, as I observed the sky again before settling in to sleep, the great moose filled my monocular, taller and stronger than ever, he stood but a dark silhouette in the night. And as the tide began to fall on the shores of the Pacific, a ring mark was cut into the rock.

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