the ranger

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She’d passed the old-timer on her way down river to check on a report of people swimming by the bridge.  He had somehow made it to a large boulder in the middle of the river and was casting lines towards the far bank.  Just from the split second she could see him, she saw his casts were smooth with practiced ease.  Then the sun glinted off the river spray, her eyes darted away and back to the road, which required attention at all times (because of rock falls and wildlife and tourists), and he was gone from view. 

“How in the world did he get out there?”

She made a mental note to check on him on her way back up. The report of people swimming in the more dangerous waters downstream took precedent.  Luckily, whoever it was had been smart enough to get out of the water and move on before she got there, for their sake and her own.  There were no cars matching the descriptions parked nearby and nobody in the water.  She tried her radio to call in an all-clear back to the station but received only static. 

The canyon walls played havoc with radio signals.  There were dead zones all up and down the river, and sometimes spots that worked one day wouldn’t the next.  Jumping back into her truck, she turned it around and headed back towards camp.  She’d make the report in person when she got there. 

As a Ranger, the safety of the visitors to her park was a huge priority.  It wasn’t her first priority as most guests seemed to assume, but it was a big part for sure.  Jumping into the river to save people getting swept through rapids wasn’t actually something she was tasked with.  She would be just as likely to get as injured or worse as the people she was trying to save, but she had some rope and a long pole (which was handy for all sorts of things around the park actually) and she’d do her best if called upon. 

So far, in her nearly ten summers of working the park, she’d never been called upon.  She was thankful for that.  The odds of her being able to save someone who legitimately needed saving were slim to none.  The water was too fast and too cold.  The rocks too slick and too unstable.

The old-timer hadn’t moved very far from where she’d seen him earlier and she pulled her truck into a pullout just beyond and walked back along the road to where he was fishing.  It wasn’t often she saw people of his age out on the river.  When she did, she didn’t often have to worry about them because they usually knew what they were doing.  Still, it didn’t hurt to be friendly and make sure.  Besides, they usually had good stories.  Old-timers almost always did.

She had to yell to be heard over the roaring water, “Catch anything?”

He either hadn’t heard or was ignoring her in the hope that she would go away.  Here she hesitated.  If she scrambled down the bank to river level and he wanted to be ignored she’d be bothering him and wasting her time.  Looking up river, she watched the water tumble and roll.  It growled as it crashed into rocks and screamed as it was sent skyward in beautiful arcs of spray.  The beauty was the problem.  How could something be so beautiful and so dangerous at the same time?

She hadn’t come up with an answer to that in her going on ten years.  She might need at least another ten to figure it out.

Turning back to the fisher, she called again, “Catch anything?”

His head moved just enough for him to glimpse her in his periphery and then shifted back to focusing on the tiny pool he was fishing.  She understood that it was his way of acknowledging her.  She carefully picked her way down to the water and, finding a likely enough rock, she sat and waited for him to finish.  Her guess from her half glimpse before had been correct.  He knew how to fish these waters and if it had been a little later in the day, closer to sunset, she likely would have seen him catch a trout.  As it was though, it was too early in the day for the fish to rise.  She knew he knew that just as surely as she knew he wouldn’t have been safe fishing in the semi-darkness later.  

He cast a few more times, hitting his spots each time, and then reeled in and carefully, slowly, made his way across the rocks back to the bank where she sat.  Each step seemed to take an eternity to her and she busied herself by seeming to be interested in something upstream.  She watched him all the way, though, tensed, ready to spring forward and lend a hand should he wobble too much.  He made it okay, though, and she stood to greet him.

Before she could speak, he was already talking, a broad smile on his face, and not waiting for her to answer any of his questions, which weren’t really questions at all.

“Beautiful day, isn’t it?  Haven’t caught anything yet, not yet, but the day is still a bit young, right?  Seems a likely enough spot, though, maybe I’ll try my luck again here in a bit before the light gives out.  Certainly don’t want to be trapped down here in the dark.  But, while the light is still good, you just stop to chat or did you want to see my permit?  Lifetime fisherman, here, though it has been a few years, I’ll admit, since I’ve had the joy of fishing this here river.  Beautiful day, isn’t it?”

With that he turned away from her to gaze up stream as she had been doing moments before.  He seemed so content that she regretted interrupting his time on the river.  “It truly is a beautiful day.  I won’t keep you long just saw you down here by yourself and wanted to check on you.”

“Smart.  Very smart of you,” he replied, a chuckle in his voice.  “I’m not as young as I used to be.  Still, I thought I had at least one more trip in me and here I am, proving it true.”

He didn’t turn to look at her as he answered, his gaze stayed on the canyon walls, the towering pines and the river, the river, the river.

“Glad to hear it.  Have a fun and safe rest of your visit.” 

She turned, her eyes picking the route she would take back up to the road.

“Still, would do me good to rest.  There’s plenty of day left and my legs wouldn’t mind a break for a few minutes.  If you’d stick around, you could maybe help me back to my feet if I sit too long and my legs decide they don’t want to work anymore.”

With that he moved, slowly still, to the rock she’d been sitting and took it for his own.  She found one nearby and waited for him to get settled before asking, “So, you’re having a nice trip?  From the way you talk and the way you fish, I’m pretty sure this isn’t your first time here?”

He laughed.  Then he sighed, glanced at her briefly, and returned his gaze to the roaring waters.  Even then he didn’t answer for a long time, he just smiled. 

She nearly gave up on him replying and was getting ready to ask to another question to try and strike up a conversation when he said, “No, this isn’t my first time here.  My family has been fishing this river since the 40’s.  And, yes, I’m having a nice trip.  More than nice.  It’s exactly what I needed.”

She smiled in response, even though he wasn’t looking at her.  The stories would come now.  They always did.  The moments on the river he remembered best.  The times with his family.  The times by himself.  The beauty of it all.  The river.  The river.  The river.

She’d loved it for nearly ten summers now and she was sure she’d love it for at least ten more.

Truth and Fiction

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The Fiction:

The sun warmed my skin as I stalked the edge of the lake, looking for a likely spot for my prey to be hiding.  The various islands from which the lake got its name were good places to start, so I cast my line out close to one of them and slowly reeled in the fly, hoping it would catch the eye of a hungry fish.

The lake was calm, only the movement of my line betraying the stillness of the surface.  It seemed almost wrong to disturb such serenity even in the pursuit of my dinner.  I couldn’t let such sentiments get to me, though, for there are only so many fishable hours at high elevation and my stomach would severely object later were I to abandon my hunt for a meal.

Back and forth I flicked my rod, drying the barbed fly, in a rhythm that had become so much a part of me I could no longer remember when I had first learned it.  Then I let the line free and watched carefully as it sailed over the smooth water, only to reel in and repeat over, and over, and over.  There were fish in the lake, I knew it.  Birds of prey had plucked them out while camp was being set up.  They would not rise for me though.

…..

The Truth:

I’d had a fever the night before, at least that is what I attributed the chills and body aches to, and hadn’t slept well at all.  Morning came too quickly and not quickly enough at the same time.  I helped break camp, shrugged off the questions of how I was doing and forged ahead… barely holding it together.  It was a short day, thankfully, only a couple miles and yet I still took a two hour nap after helping set up camp.  Then I rose to greet the late afternoon determined to enjoy the experience as much as I could.  I rigged my pole and traipsed around the lake, trying to coax some fish out from their hiding spots.  It was a beautiful day and a gorgeous lake, and I was far sicker than I’ve ever been in the backcountry before.

…..

And now that they are both written, I can see that they are both truths, except for one line of fiction buried in the first story.  But, it’s a start.  Here I am, writing again…

 

Jesterly Challenge Month – November 12th

Jaded asked me to scribe my life as the prehistoric ones did in caves, and in 2000 years, and from the Little Prince’s point of view as well (both prehistoric and future).  I took a little bit of liberty with the prompt, but hopefully you’ll agree that I stayed within the spirit of the challenge.  Anyway, give it a read and let me know how you think I did.

…..
…..

If you could close your eyes to all but these words again and picture the wall of my condo, painted a cool cucumber, where I’m furiously etching, scraping and drawing.  Stick figures.  Stick figures everywhere.  I really should have plotted out where each image was going before I started, but, alas, I did not, so floor to ceiling is covered in chaotically spaced markings, jumbled at various angles, and running in sequences that only make sense in context of whichever experience I was trying to convey at the time.

All the key highlights are there, though: the marriage on the mountaintop, the birth of the Little Prince, summiting Mount Whitney twice, camping in Kings Canyon, the trip to Europe… And, let me just say, that drawing Notre Dame was a pain in the anyway, yes, all the highlights you’d expect are there.  Take a stroll through the archives in the kingdom and you can get an idea for the sketchings I’ve carved into the wall.

An interesting pattern, however, does emerge, when you step back from the room and view it as a whole rather than one image at a time.  I’ve caught a lot of fish.  A lot.  For every other memory now immortalized as wall art, there is stick figure me catching a fish.  That’s a lot of fish.  Also, I think we can all be grateful that I didn’t bother commemorating every meal I’ve ever had or every bowel movement, because those things would have taken up rooms of walls on their own.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, and equally interesting, are the things that meant so much to me at the time, and still do, that get swallowed by the enormity of chaos around them.  The handful of times I was paid to DJ parties and clubs while living in San Diego are lost in the fray.  I had to really hunt to find the one book I’ve published, and if I hadn’t sort of remembered where I drew it to begin with, I’m not sure I’d have ever found it.  Just the one book.  That needs to change, but even then, as much as writing means to me right now, these little blips will never amount to much in comparison to all the other events drawn out.  I’m not sure if that’s sad or not, or if it’s just poetically beautiful that when the events of my life are drawn out this way everything holds the same weight.

The one book I’ve published takes up the same amount of wall as one of the times I’ve climbed Mount Whitney as one of the fish I’ve caught as one of the jobs I’ve held as one trip to the beach…  And, isn’t that wonderful?

Okay, you can open your eyes to everything again.  I’m not sure if you could really see the wall paintings of my life so far.  I sort of took us on a philosophical tangent, and hopefully you are okay with that.

…..

2,000 years from now, you’ll be able to upload my collective experiences into your brain and feel my thoughts and emotions as you scroll through them, as if it were you who had lived them.  I can’t decide at the moment if that’s truly terrifying or amazingly wonderful.  Perhaps that’s not quite right.  It isn’t that I can’t decide, it’s that I don’t want to.

…..

The Little Prince’s interpretation of his life so far is the same for both the prehistoric and futuristic versions, and he has informed me that the only way to experience his vision is through a hands-on application of the following instructions:

1)      Find a surface that you don’t mind destroying getting dirty.
2)      Procure the artistic implements of your choice.  He suggests scissors, glue, and watercolor paints.
3)      Make sure no one is watching.
4)      Set aside your artistic implements.
5)      Pull the Sharpie that was hidden in your back pocket.
6)      Draw spiraling circles on your designated surface in at first expanding radii and then shrinking.
7)      Then stab repeatedly at the surface until the tip of the sharpie squishes inside the body of the pen.
8)      Say, “Whoops” just loud enough for someone to hear.
9)      Giggle.
10)    Run away.

trying your luck

Light filters through the cascading waves of shadows running down the high canyon walls.  Shining fingers reaching down from the heavens to highlight the beauty of the world, you notice the warm spots of rock and water where the light touches and you smile.  The constant hum and crash of the river at your feet adds the symphony accompaniment to the play being acted out for your enjoyment.  Time slows and races with the rise and fall of the orchestra, and your heart follows along.

Stepping to the edge, you set your balance and brace your feet, then let the fly taste the air as you whip it once, twice, three times over your head.  The line pulls against your finger as you release it and for a moment your world is reduced to the flight of the fly and the whine of the reel.  As it splashes down, and you are pleased with its placement, the roar of the river rises back up to a near deafening volume, and you begin to coax the fish out of hiding with a delicate dance of pressure and movement.

A flash of silver deep within the rolling blue and white, as a trout breaks cover beneath the rocky bottom, and there is a small tug on the taught line.  You pull gently on the pole, knowing if you yank too hard or too softly the fish will spit the hook.  The weight on the line increases and you start the proper fight.  A river of sharp rocks, snagging branches, swift currents and deep pools lie between you and your prize.  Your hand is a blur on the reel as you drag in the line, but the fish has realized its dinner was not as it seemed and has dropped to the safety of its home below the rocks.

The battle has reached that critical moment where the next move will determine the outcome.  The eye of the storm, the moment of respite before the next flurry of punches, the next volley of gunfire, and you pause, your hand firmly holding the line in place, and catch your breath.

The light in the canyon shifts again, splashing vibrant color along the river, and your catch makes a run for it.  You pull and wheel, and side step, and move along the treacherous shore, safely bringing the fish through one obstacle after another, until, finally, it is in the river, thrashing and fighting, just below you.  Reaching down, you wet your hand, and pull the fish into the air.  It dangles, and flops, and stares, and mouths obscenities with its fishy grin.  Grasping it firmly, with practiced confidence born of patience and experience, you silence its movement.

Again, the sounds and sights of the river fade away.  There is only you and the fish.  You are two brave combatants, both in search of a meal.

Pulling the hook from its mouth you slip it back into the cold water and watch with a smile as it darts away, another flash of silver back into the hidden depths.  There will be other battles in its future.  And yours.  And there is a beauty in that worth sustaining.  There is no need to end the war.

Yours eyes glance across the river, over the rumbling white water spraying mist into the air, over the light catching in those droplets suspended for moments that stretch into eternity, up the high canyon walls sprouting with giant trees and rocks carved from the earth over centuries of the rivers cutting path.  You sigh, content, peaceful, happy.

And your eyes spot another pool worth trying your luck, your feet move and the line begins to whip over your head again, once, twice, three times…

………………..

This is my response to the current Finish The Story prompt.  Have you written an ending yet?  What are you waiting for?!

Prompt: Finish The Story (#4)

I’m on vacation!  I will do a proper thank you and link up to everyone who participated last week when I return.  But, until then, here is a new prompt!

………………..

Light filters through the cascading waves of shadows running down the high canyon walls.  Shining fingers reaching down from the heavens to highlight the beauty of the world, you notice the warm spots of rock and water where the light touches and you smile.  The constant hum and crash of the river at your feet adds the symphony accompaniment to the play being acted out for your enjoyment.  Time slows and races with the rise and fall of the orchestra, and your heart follows along.

Stepping to the edge, you set your balance and brace your feet, then let the fly taste the air as you whip it once, twice, three times over your head.  The line pulls against your finger as you release it and for a moment your world is reduced to the flight of the fly and the whine of the reel.  As it splashes down, and you are pleased with its placement, the roar of the river rises back up to a near deafening volume, and you begin to coax the fish out of hiding with a delicate dance of pressure and movement.

A flash of silver deep within the rolling blue and white, as a trout breaks cover beneath the rocky bottom, and there is a small tug on the taught line…

………………..

I bet you’ll never guess where I am on my vacation!  So, go on, how would you finish this story?  Do you catch the fish?  Does it get away?  Is the fish not really a fish?  Is it a werefish?  Is it magical and will grant you wishes if you let it go?  Be creative, have fun, happy writing!