A Walk to the Fishing Hole
by thadd presley
The air shimmered with mist, clinging to the last vestiges of nighttime chill like a damp sheet. Sunlight tiptoed through the canopy, dappling the forest floor in emerald and gold. Zeke’s boots squished last years old leaves. He inhaled deeply, the crispness of Spring filling his lungs with the promise of a perfect day.
“Remember that time, Hank? The catfish so big it nearly snapped your rod clean in two?” he chuckled at the memory of a long gone friend warming him as much as the sunbeams. Hank’s booming laugh would have filled the forest. The idea he had been gone for ten years was hard to disbelieve. He could almost picture the old man, eyes crinkled with joy, as he hoisting the whiskered monster onto the bank.
The familiar path was a just a thin ribbon of packed earth winding through pines and gnarled oaks. Then there was the scent and sweetness of honeysuckle. Early in the year for it to be blooming, but yet here it hung. Zeke reached out, brushing his fingers against the velvety petals, the delicate fragrance clinging to his skin like a whispered secret. “Martha would love this,” he murmured, picturing his wife’s face, soft and serene, framed by a curtain of silver hair. She’d be puttering in the kitchen by this time of the morning, the aroma of freshly baked biscuits wafting through the air, but that hadn’t happened in a long time. In the hushed heart of the forest, he had their memories and if he didn’t think too hard he could almost believe they would be waiting when he got back. A quiet communion with nature nourished his soul in a way that made almost anything seem possible.
A glint of movement caught his eye. Two squirrels, russet tails flirting with the sunlight, chased each other up a hickory. Their playful barks shattering the morning peace. He watched, a smile tugging at his lips, remembering childhood afternoons spent building forts and chasing dreams in these very woods. “Slow down, you rascals,” he muttered, “there’s plenty of fun to be had, one acorn at a time.”
His boots crunched over a carpet of leaves, their golden hues just a memory of autumn’s recent passage. He bent, picking up a delicate butterfly wing, its once-iridescent membrane dulled by time, a fragile beauty dulled by wind and rain. “Perfect for top water,” he thought, tucking it into his pocket alongside a handful of plump blackberries, their dark jewels promising another kind of sweetness.
Further along, the path narrowed, becoming a tunnel of green where sunlight dripped through the leaves like liquid honey. The air here was cool and damp, the scent of moss and ferns heavy in his nostrils. He stopped, drawn to a cluster of smooth, rounded stones nestled beside a gurgling stream. Each one, burnished by countless years of water and wind, held a secret universe within its polished surface. He picked one up, its weight comforting in his palm, the coolness seeping into his skin. “These wouldn’t look half bad in Martha’s flower garden. Maybe even on the windowsill,” he mused, slipping them into his other pocket, a silent gift to the woman he loved for 47 years. Still loved everyday.
Emerging from the emerald tunnel, the path opened onto a clearing. And there it was, the jewel of the forest, a pond as still as polished glass, reflecting the sky in its perfect surface. Mist clung to its edges, a thin veil draped over a still sleeping beauty. Zeke’s breath caught in his throat. Time seemed to stand still here, the only sound was the rustling somewhere in the underbrush.
He walked to the bank, the ground soft and spongy beneath his boots. Sunlight danced on the water, sending diamonds skittering across its surface. In the shallows, a dragonfly dipped and soared, its wings catching the light like stained glass. A muskrat, a dark jewel against the emerald reeds, dropped into the water, revealing itself be be the rustler. The ripples chased each other across the pond’s face.
Zeke lowered himself onto a moss-covered log, its surface worn smooth by countless hours of similar reverie. He unfastened his knapsack, its contents – a well-worn tackle box, a thermos of lukewarm coffee, a tattered book of poems – spilling out like familiar friends. He poured the coffee into the silver screw off cup, the warmth seeping into his hands as he took a sip. The bitter brew, sharp against the morning air, felt like it always did: like being 20 years old all over with a life time of dreams ahead.
He leaned back, eyes fixed on the still water. The pond reflected the passing clouds. In its depths, Zeke saw not just water, but the whispers of time, the secrets of the forest, the stories waiting to be unraveled.
“Remember that time, Dad, the bass that got away? The one that pulled your line and almost got the pole too.” “Yeah, that sucker was like a runaway train wasn’t it?” His Dad would have laughed. But, that would have been rare because they didn’t need words to share the language of the forest. Their unspoken bond had been forged over years and years of shared sunrises and moonlit nights on the banks of this very pond. But, he would have laughed. They both would have.
He reached for his tackle box, fingers tracing the worn grooves.