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“When you leave this place, you will always remember the nights fishin’ up on Big Brook,” my father once told me. And to this day I have never forgotten my experiences up on that little tributary of the Namakagon River in northern Wisconsin. My father always dreams of the old days when he would go out with a creel over his shoulder and catch a meal of fish.
Work takes too much of his time now, but I remember the times we would go up to Big Brook after work and spend the last hours before the sun set fishing our favorite holes in hopes for a big trout to bite. I remember this now, many years later, but my memories are still perfectly clear.
We would get home from work, dad would say, “Alright, I am goin’ up to Big Brook, if ya wanna come with, I am leavin’ in five.” This was our cue, my brothers and I would drop everything we were doing, grab our rods, and head out to the garden to pick a handful of worms. The garden was always the best spot for the worms; they seemed to love the dark rich soil and always grew the biggest. Even though we dug them every week, there would always seem to be more the next time we went out.
When we arrived at the meandering stream, Dad would say, “Alright, I get the first 100 yards downstream, everything else is open season for you all to fight about.” My brothers would usually get the section just upstream, cause they were bigger, and I didn’t have much say in the matter. So there we were, all the guys in the family on the river, my father heading to his favorite spot, my brothers marching upstream together, and I left to make my way downstream, through the blackberry brush to the beaver pond.
When I left the river to walk downstream all the difficulties from the day were left behind. I walked through a grove of aspen, and looking under a clump of brush I saw a cottontail rabbit, but he knew, if he didn’t move I wouldn’t see the little guy; so I passed quietly, in hopes not to scare him. As I walked I would be occasionally wafted with the smell of wild roses, or the smell of fresh air that would blow through the trees.
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I got to the dam at the end of the pond and finally took a worm out of my pocket. I snuck to the rivers edge, careful not do let the fish see me, and dangled my worm in the pool. Immediately I had a fish on, he jumped, twisted, spun, and gave me a great fight. After a minute I pulled the most beautiful fish I had ever seen out of the water, a ten inch brook trout, with golden stripes, brown patches, and a shine that was brighter than the moon. No artist could have painted this fish as beautifully as it were, only nature.
After fishing in the hole for a few more minutes I put my rod down and sat under a spruce tree by the edge of the creek. I wasn’t there only to fish, but more to watch the nature, to become part of it, to watch, to listen. I sat there, listening to the stream gurgle, and twenty minutes passed when I looked up and saw a mother white-tailed deer and her fawn come to the edge of the creek. The mother crossed, but the fawn was frightened, it wasn’t sure if it could cross. After much coaxing and convincing from the doe, he finally it jumped in, and swam for the safety of its mother.
As it crossed I thought of the thousands of years these deer crossed in the same spot. At that moment it became clear to me that this was one place humans have not yet destroyed. It became clear to me that this is what life is all about. To live in nature, experiencing everything it has to offer, while not disturbing it.
I fished for another two hours, and when the sun had set over the jack-pine trees, the song-birds had taken roost for the night, and moon began to rise in the east, I gave a whistle into the night. Dad was a quarter mile upstream, but when he heard the whistle, he knew what that meant. He took up his fish, put them into his creel, and hiked back to the hole I was fishing in.
When he got there I picked up the fish I had caught, and we headed for the truck, without saying a word. We just walked in science, listening to the Whip-or-wills singing, the crickets screaming, and the occasional mosquitoes that would work their way into our ear. When we got to the truck I showed dad my fish, two nice ten inch brook trout, brightly speckled with brown, red, and green.
When he saw the fish he asked, “Nice fish, you catch ‘em below the beaver dam?” I didn’t need to say anything, for he knew immediately where I had caught them when a huge smile came over my face. We reluctantly got in the car and headed for home, not wanting to leave this beautiful spot. As we drove past the fields on our way home my father said again, “Donovan, when you leave these woods, these are the nights you will always remember.”