I am not a good fisherman. I would far prefer to sit on the bank reading a book about other people’s catches than stand patient in the icy cold water casting out again and again, getting frustrated by lines that fall heavily on the surface rather than sailing out in perfect arcs to land lightly in the still pool where the biggest lunkers lie. My fly gets caught up in bushes behind me as I try to cast forward and I spend an hour untangling the line from the willows of memory, rather than simply cutting it off and tying on another fly. I stumble on the slippery rocks of questions I don’t have the answers to and find my waders filling up with the water of confusion, weighing me down. Or my fly drifts away and gets tangled in the snag that washed up on the bank in last year’s flood of life experience.
Don’t get me wrong–I get plenty of nibbles. Fish do rise to the surface and bite my fly. But I have such trouble setting the hook. I catch a glimpse of the silvery flash of scales–the rainbow colors of insight, but then they wiggle off the hook and slither away downstream, my line lying slack on the water’s surface. I am tempted to give up this silly sport. It is such a cliche anyway–a Montanan angling for fish and words. And yet…
summer leaves hide nests
white spattered branches betray
what’s hidden above
Bench snuggled into the shade of the Ponderosas. Looking out beyond the meadow to the mountain range across the valley. Openness, spaciousness, while feeling nested. I have always wanted a mountain view, always loved the aerial sense it gives me of my place in the world. A living topographic map laid out before me. My mind can wander those far off ridge lines–imagine itself climbing up the scree slopes of Petty Peak. It can dip down into the parked out forests of Ponderosa pine on the near slopes. Mounds of gravelly sand that once were beaches on Glacial Lake Missoula. My mind can conjure its watery surface creeping up the sides of the valley, shaping sand bars and inlets as it rose and fell over eons.
Or my mind can creep in closer, dancing in the meadow with the waving wands of fuzzy grasses. It can peer through the bushes and see Grandmother Rhubarb–imagining her steadfast presence in this place for a hundred years–planted by a woman long dead and not a native to these mountains. But the rhubarb still flourishes here, reminding me of the first family to sit on this hillside and look out at a sunset coloring up the view.
Maybe my mind doesn’t even leave this bench. A piece of pine, sawed and shaped by the hands of a young man in Oregon, never imagining its place in the Montana mountains and the two women who would sit and write here, spurred on by their experience in his homeplace weeks before.
This is a special place where the mind has the freedom to wander back and forth in time and in and out of different perspectives. To be a butterfly tossed about on the breeze, giving itself up to the gusts and riding the waves of grass. Or smelling the breeze like my dog–nose into the wind to catch scent of whatever might be lurking unseen in the woods.
With leaves, not flower
Deceptive parasite plant
Splatters field blood red.
What have I missed at the Homestead today while I have busily picked away at my to-do list? What egg hatched today, what track was left in the soft mud as a sign of the community I still sit on the periphery of? What new flower bloomed that I need to learn? What berry was set?
So much happens each day in the woods and the fact that I am not there to witness it leaves me with a deep feeling of loss, even if I don’t know what it is I am missing. When I go for hike up at the Homestead and see the round leaved orchids blooming it is like stumbling across a hidden treasure and I greedily want more. I want lupine and larkspur to tumble down the hillsides like a blue steam of water. I want to say I was there when the ravens fledged from the nests, that I saw the eagle teaching its young to fly. It breaks my heart knowing that a bear might be crossing the meadow and all I will have of his passing is pile of dried scat. It makes me ache to think that a bobcat might be stalking a snow shoe hare in the tangle of brush by the old cabin and I will go to my grave never having seen a bobcat in the wild.
No matter how many round leaved orchids or mountain lion tracks I find, I will always wonder what I missed. What I missed paying bills or grocery shopping or doing laundry or even being off somewhere else entirely, on a trip to experience other wonders. I even ache for the week I was in the Big Horns seeing alpine fields of scarlet geraniums and a moose and her baby in the Lamar Valley. Because something equally miraculous was happening at the Homestead and I missed it.