It was the first day of the season and while I didn’t catch anything I wasn’t too concerned as it was still early in the season and had come equipped with modest expectations of not catching anything at all. It was more of a reconnaissance trip, first to check on the water levels to determine if they were low enough to crossover to the island in the middle, and to see if the fish had begun their annual spawning run. It was a beautiful day and it felt good to be outdoors after a long winter, to feel the warmth of the sun upon your face, and to watch the migratory birds flying in tight formations in the cerulean sky as they have done since the beginning of time. It had been two weeks since Milad died and I desperately needed an affirmation that life was for the living and that it stopped for nobody, despite the heartbreak and grieving.
This place is near an permanent archaeological site on the river, as Iroquois Indians in the days before Champlain used to fish these rapids for sturgeon and salmon with spears and nets, and each year new relics such as arrowheads, pottery, as well as hooks made of stone or bone were unearthed with the floodwaters of each new Spring. It was in this exact location they would construct up permanent fishing villages for entire seasons, erecting smoke shacks for the catfish, sturgeon, and copper redhorse. Almost a thousand years later, the remains of these prehistoric sites give some indication that vast networks of trade and contact existed between the indigenous populations of North America. The only thing that has changed is that now the water levels are regulated by the demands of massive hydroelectric stations along the river and most of the year the basin is completely flooded and inaccessible. There is, however, an slight window of opportunity early in the season when the water levels are at their lowest, allowing access by foot over exposed fields of river rock and the great dried out stone crevasses of the ancient riverbed.
It was here last year, around the same time that Milad had called me on my cell phone and asked me where I was and what I was doing. He was flying, as he did on most clear days, and a few minutes later the piper cherokee appeared over the spillway and buzzed me at low altitude, close enough for me to see the whites of his eyes, and waving his wings before he disappeared over the horizon towards another adventure. Yesterday I visited him at the cemetery and had a cigarette with him under a mound of earth. The plot was on top of a hill, under a flight path where every few minutes a commercial aircraft flew by on its way to or from Dorval airport, and there was a radio tower further atop the hill. It was a nice place to spend eternity.
The water levels had been markedly lower last year and the bass had been in there in massive schools and catching a hundred fish a day was not impossible during the first few weeks of the run. The biggest fish however, the ones that most men dream of catching but never do, were always the first to enter the river system and the first to head back out to the main lake. In the shallow water these fish, thick as footballs and as long as a man’s arm, were extremely skittish. But they were also aggressive and hungry after a long winter under the dark ice. The biggest one we had caught to date was just over seven pounds.
The first point above the lake, normally a primary staging area before the bass moved further upstream, held no fish at all. It had snowed the night before and the water was still too cold to call them upstream. A pair of Canada geese planed acros the river and landed noisily in the adjacent bay. They were mating and would probably nest somewhere along the shoreline. I had once read somewhere that geese were monogamous and mated with one partner for their entire lives. Separation and divorce does not exist with these birds, only death breaks the bond. Across the river a large cargo ship traveled slowly through the lock and entered the seaway with a blast of his horn. A flock of seagulls hovered over the center of the river, every so often one of them dropping out of formation and picking a minnow up from the surface.
I laid the rod down on the rocks and began walking around, pondering the great mysteries and unfairness of life and love and death, searching for relics of ancient civilizations between the rocks at my feet, staring out at the river, and watching the flocks of birds as they went about their daily activity. There were hundreds of empty crayfish carapaces scattered along the shoreline, their hard exoskeletons bleached white by the sun, standing out in stark contrast against the rocks. As they grew they moulted their carapaces and remained hidden under rocks for a few days until their new shells hardened and provided some defense against predation. It was hard to believe how things could change in just a few weeks. There was still snow on the ground the day he died, the birds were as yet absent from the skies, and the crayfish were still lying in metamorphoses under a foot thick blanket of ice. While most change is gradual and imperceptible to the human eye real change is sudden and instant. Love and death are instant. A massive coronary is instant. He was so young and full of life. There was no justice or logic or making sense of the tragedy of life where there was none to be found. Man is simply born to die, his life but a fleeting second in an eternity which then fades like a sunset into the memory of the earth.
Each day is a gift given to us, a chance to live life to its fullest, to laugh and love and cry, to feel both pain and joy and experience what it is to be human, with all its implicit weaknesses and virtues. The quality of a man’s life is not determined by years lived but rather by his actions during that time. My friend lived life fearlessly and never looked behind. He was a straight arrow, true and strong in flight, never missing the mark. No matter where he stood, he was always on top of the world.
Although the bass had been here last year at exactly the same time but they were largely absent this year. Milad as well would no longer be here or anywhere else for that matter. The mighty Iroquois had once been here as well but existed no longer. They had occupied this site three thousand years before the birth of Jesus Christ. Even the once plentiful copper redhorse were gone. Everything had changed but was still the same. The birds were still here, as were the rocks made round and smooth by thousands of years of erosion and that glowed like copper nuggets under the midday sun, as well as the turquiose water that still flowed inexorably along its same course. For a long time I sat at the river’s edge and cried, my tears mixing with the river and flowing downstream, eventually to flow in the Ocean’s and circumnavigate the world, like a dream maybe only to dissolve into infinity, or perhaps returning one day to this same place in a different time…..