The sensation was a little spooky. I was fishing with friends on northern New York’s Salmon River, and no one was catching anything, not the hardware angler on the bank, nor the guys out wading with a fly rod, nor the numerous client/guide combinations drifting by in boats. The Chinooks had long expired and were little more than ghostly carcasses wavering on the riverbottom, but the big browns and the steelhead should’ve been more visible (despite the dark and turbulent water) and there should’ve been hook-ups left and right. There was next to nothing.
Not that we didn’t try. The sky was making its first reference to distant Hurricane Sandy, but the air was comfortable, and we were determined to do some good. We all had fun, especially Dr. Jim’s two sons, aged 11 and 13, who fished like mad along with the adults through several river locations. After about seven hours of flogging the water, everybody quit.
In retrospect it seems logical to blame the poor fishing on a crash of barometric pressure signaling the imminent blend of Sandy with a couple of cold fronts moving in from the west and north, but who’s to say we just didn’t cut it as steelhead anglers? Sure, the coming “super-storm” would be one of the largest to ever whack America (at least in recent years), but maybe there were a few wayward spawners willing to humble us from the end of our fishing lines.
I remember standing thigh-deep in the Salmon when I got a mid-morning call. Not the kind where I have to stumble toward the bank and work my way out of vest and waders, but a call with a ring-tone coming from the depths of my pants pocket. My dumbphone has no caller i.d. so when I finally got the phone in hand, I had no idea who was making the connection. The voice told me it wasn’t my wife. It had the growl and slur of some guy with a hangover.
“Aay! What’re you doin’?”
“Well, right now I’m drifting a Woolly Bugger in the river.”
“What? Oh… Ah’m sorry, I tried callin’ 607- 538-0642.”
“No problem. I just wish you were a big old steelhead with some good advice ’cause I’m not catching anything!”
Back at home I found an email from my good friend George in London. He had just read my latest Autumn Journal post while under the influence of listening to Brian Eno’s ambient “On Land.” That’s interesting, I thought. On land. A message from across the big blue pond. I’ve always been fond of that particular album and of the deep, mysterious environment it’s created by virtue of sonic art. Last night, as Hurricane Sandy raged across the New York landscape, I tried to sympathize with all the victims of the storm, especially to the east where the Big One really slammed the coastal towns, and I also listened to some music.
I keyed in especially to On Land, the piece called “Unfamiliar Wind.” I was taken out of Sandy to a quiet place of utter solitude, replete with a tropic beauty far beyond my comprehension. I needn’t have gone, of course; I could’ve taken up with the darker wind outside my door, but I felt like answering a different call.