the ghost in the land

The wind howls and prowls around the yard, looking for anything I've not tied down. It's been blowin' a hooley all night, it's sunrise now and it's not run out of steam yet. Not a day to fish. Not a day to go out even, I'm hunkered down indoors, shack-nasties gnawing at my bones. 

So I'm writing this, straightening out my recollections of fishing trips just passed, editing memories, putting a rosy glow around them. We are all, after all, directors and stars of our own mind-movie sagas. Except sometimes you can't escape the truth. Sometimes you have to tell it exactly like it was. 

My truth is told by twenty bloody cuts, by the half dozen puncture wounds that stung so cruelly when I got back into the river, by the aching black, blue and purple medals of dishonour I still wear without pride, awarded for reckless folly in the field of fishing. I'll not tangle again with barbed wire fences in remote places, and I thank my lucky stars my quick and clever friend was there to help save me from the worst it could have been.

Do we pay karma forward or back? That morning I had taken pains to save a stonefly from drowning in the latrine. I set it in the sun, watched it dry its wings and fly off into the sunlight of a new morning, when without my careful intervention it would have experienced an alternative and ignominious ending. But the future is as yet unwritten and I felt a tiny buzz of self-satisfaction - I had done a good deed, and the sweetest pride comes if you do something good when no one else is looking. Do we pay karma forward or back? Or perhaps there are no universal laws - just cold, blind, empty void.

But I believe there is a kind of consciousness at work in the land. Perhaps you too have shared that experience, when looking for a new home in which to live - that experience of finding places with good vibes - places where you would feel happy to live, but sometimes finding a place too that just doesn't feel right. You can't necessarily put your finger on why. The house may be light, bright, modern and  without the echos that come with the old and the gloomy, but nevertheless something puts you on edge. It's the energy in the bones of the land on which the house is built. It transcends any human energy imbued within the building. I once lived in a house where bad things had happened previously, but the atmosphere there now is light and joyful, and I was happy to live there. It was built on good land, the love of which had washed away the ill.

And so it is with river landscapes, for me at least. Some welcome me and so I revisit time and again, where through even the worst and most challenging of weather I can still feel the love of the land. But other places, some other places, brood and sulk so that even the sun cannot bring cheer. 

Like that other morning when as yet I was still unscathed. Starting off with high hopes, we arrive at a river running in a small steep sided tree-lined gorge. It's dark, under the canopy, the river is clear and mostly glassy, shallow and smooth, but deep pools are carved out from under rocky buttresses, telling of heavier winter flow. Dark branches reach down to claw at rods and snatch errant casts. The pools hint of big trout but give us nothing more than that. We fish each in turn but remain fish-less.

The song of the river elsewhere uplifts, here it is more like the murmuring of many voices, drowning out all other sound within this dark cathedral of rocks and trees, so that I can hear little else. Twice, no three times, I sense a presence over my shoulder and  turn to speak to my friend, only to find he is elsewhere on the river. I don't feel welcome here. A fish caught, a small spotted gift given up by the river could dispel this feeling that the lack of fish serves only to intensify. And I can't seem to get into rhythm, casts are poor, and I stumble and slip frequently on the rocks in the river bed, twisting my ankle, jarring my knee when I fall down a pothole.

I'm not feeling the love. Neither is my friend. He asks me if I saw the dead  ram in the river, decomposing, its horns curving up from its skull. We decide to accept defeat, a tacit agreement to exit the river by the shortest rout, rather than retrace our steps. We scramble up the bank and skirt the river channel which cuts deeper as we move downstream. A fence hems us in, the river bank becomes a rocky cliff and the path between becomes narrow and treacherous. The barbed wire fence that was planted to keep livestock from plunging over the cliff will now press us against the drop if we continue on the path. So over we climb, onto the high meadow, a shortcut back. 

Except that we find a second, higher, barbed wire fence to climb. I will spare you all of the details, too painful to relate, but the wire under my boot flips out spinning me over and onto the barbs, I'm impaled on a wobbling and spiteful wire, extraction from which can only be achieved by converting punctures into cuts. And best of all, I'm now back on the inside of the fence and have to do it all over again, with no one to blame but myself. It's all quite comical but I'm not laughing. This place has fucked me up. We drive on to another river, where even the gathering of the predicted storm and the rumble of thunder away on the high hills cannot dim the welcome.

It's not easy fishing, perhaps we've been put out of step, but we work hard and re-find a collective tenkara mojo. The atmosphere lightens and the threatened storm, despite the thunder, doesn't materialise. Little, sporty, spotty trout begin to come to the fly, some take, some stick and come to hand, and so we are blessed with the little jewels of the river, allowed to borrow them for a moment to restore the faith.