I recently returned from a Killeen, Texas visit to my son Cameron, daughter-in-law Alison, and grandchildren Logan, Savannah, and – brand new addition – Carson. His new-ness Carson – six days old upon my arrival at the Killeen/Fort Hood Regional Airport – was the get-me-moving motivator for the journey, made possible in part by General Electric, The Andrew Drum-Man Ianniello Foundation, and a loan for the plane ticket purchase from my wife Susan (Actually, I made up all that stuff, except the loan.)
I arrived on a Thursday night. The next morning, after Cameron dropped Logan at pre-school, we took a 25 minute drive off base and east on Highway 190 for the small Texas town of Belton, a lovely throw-back “My Town” kind of place — jangled up with old architecture, small entrepreneurial shops, fire stations and churches and plaster governments buildings, and a river running through it. Actually a creek — Nolan Creek. And it was the water to where my son drove. The day was pristine, Texas spring warm and blue-skyed, the creek flowing slowly along from a small dipping falls just off to our right, and another close by on our left.
Cameron removed two fly rods and reels from the back of the SUV. He handed one to me. I cannot remember if in the previous 66 plus years I have ever held a fly rod in my hand. I must have, how could I not have, but I just can’t remember. Which may have something to do with brain cell evaporation during that three score plus six time. We walked over a recently hydro-seeded and now lushly growing grassy area, down to the embankment of the creek. It was there Cameron showed me how to hold the rod (I have a tendency to hold fishing poles upside down, reel up), strip line from the reel – more than I was comfortable with – and flip the nearly nine-foot pole backwards and forwards, the line predictably lengthening with each back and forth, ultimately aiming out toward the water and letting fly. I have to say I only began to feel comfortable,and relatively successful with the process, the following Friday, the day before my departure back to Oregon.
But I did it. I fished with a fly rod and a fly reel and a fly, stripped the line back in, then did it again. Over and over. I stopped and took a picture with my phone of Cameron doing it the right way. At some point I rolled up my shorts and put on a pair of his too large sneakers, and we waded down through the creek, crossing back and forth in assess-able spots, eventually making our way under Interstate 35 (which runs from the Mexican border all the way to just north of Minneapolis, MN.) and beyond.
I never caught anything that day, but did on a return trip with the whole family a few days later. A sunfish so small it could accurately be described in pixels. But I do remember myself saying “fish on”. Because I could. A day or so later Cameron and I dropped Logan at school and made our daybreak way to an on-base pond where I caught four fish — all on the fly rig — including two bass, one you could even measure in inches.
That’s the travel story, the grandfather story, the US Army family leave story. On the first day, while I was trying to flip the floating line out there into Nolan Creek, Cameron took a picture of me and posted it right then on Facebook, a caption reading that 25 years before I had taught him to fish, and now he was having the chance to teach his Dad to fly fish.
Back in Portland, drinking very early morning coffee in the recliner, I read a quote from Thoreau in the book “A Fly-Fishing Life” by William Tapply – why Thoreau went to Walden Pond: “To transact some private business with the fewest obstacles.” I get that. It felt like that fly fishing. With my son. We went all over the area between Fort Hood and Austin, between Nolan Creek and the Lampasas River, and fished a bunch of it. It was breathtakingly beautiful in so many spots, and my heretofore prior to investigation thinking about Texas was changed entirely. And it was always very simple. Two guys, the same blood running through their veins, within the auditory symphony of early morning birds and gurgling water and, yes, just a little interstate traffic, stripping line, swinging a long pole back and forth, laying the line out on the drifting water; egrets, herons, long-tailed grackles on hand to offer approval. Or in my case, perhaps a chuckle.
I have long hung out with folks who have a mantra — keep it simple. In Massachusetts, from where I hail, we like to add a “Stupid”, and turn it into a loving kiss — keep it simple stupid. A couple of weeks ago my son taught me the art of fly fishing. Another sweet and blessed opportunity to transact private business with the fewest obstacles. To keep it simple.
Can you say, “lucky me”.