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  • Writer's pictureAllen Crater

River Right

Updated: Feb 29

two men fly fishing on a river from a drift boat

"The earth is not just our environment. We are the earth and the earth is us. We have always been one ..." The words from Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, echo in my subconscious as I row. Fog burns off a cool, late-summer morning. Downstream, river right, there's a fishy looking cut that I want Koz to work.

I think about myself as the earth. The solid parts of me. Rigid, grounded, and stable. And then recall another well-known, though often over-used, quote.

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”

It's the very last sentence that chills. Like Maclean, I too am haunted by waters. Life-giving fluid without which the earth would be lifeless. I would be lifeless.

Upstream, the winding route that has led to this exact moment in my nearly five-decade journey is visible, but far from obvious. Like a grown-over game trail leading to secret sanctuary. A confluence of circumstances beyond my conception even as it transpired. The merging of a few small streams into the turbulent yet soothing waters that now carry me. Words under rocks that I am just learning to read. The evocative mysteries of baptism and communion as elemental to my soul as food to my body.

Overhead image of a winding river

The original cool stream rose from a shaded spring on family land in the form of a 12-year-old boy, my oldest son. His desire to chase trout with flies first brought me to the river's edge – at that time a mere observer. Like the second of the four essential elements from ancient Greek philosophy, this stream's sweet water was foundational. The true source. The beginning. I would not be where I am today, or what I am today, without that boy and his first rod.

The waters of this tributary haunt me by the very speed with which they pass. Raindrops of a dozen Aprils washed down in the blink of an eye. Moments I can't hold. Liquid that slides through my fingers and disappears with the rest. Downstream. Lost to the currents of time and the pulses of seasons.

The second influent joined shortly after, hot and sulfurous; born of fire, Matt. My teacher. My mentor. My Catalyst. My friend. The match to gasoline. The one who ignited a passion for the sport. For the river. Together we chased trout with an intensity that burned hot, like everything else in Matt's ephemeral existence. No road was impassible, no room too big, no night too long, no water too treacherous, no risk too great. no fish too difficult. Until it was. Until the fire flared so hot that it burned itself out completely. Light and heat forever lost, only the ashes and charred embers remaining.

I'm overcome by his loss. By the memories of days past. Of tailgates, and thunderstorms. Frozen feet and warm beer. Of laughter and swearing. Fish caught and fish lost. Of secret spots and coded phrases. Inside jokes and outside voices. It's impossible for me to step into the river and not hear him. Impossible to visit the water and not feel the flicker of his flame. On the river he's still here. By my side. Immortal.

Two men in taking. break from fishing in a boat on a river

The final tributary, a bright, tucked-away brook adds its flow slightly downstream of the others. Riffle-laden and fast flowing. Full of life-giving oxygen. The last essential element – air.

It comes in the form of friendships forged through time together on the water and mutual passions – some might say obsessions. Friendships that run like deep outside bends, dredged by shared understandings so rare these days. Providing breath to the flames, wind to the sails, and a sigh to the soul. Friendships that feel as ancient and familiar as the river bottom itself.

It's impossible to imagine my life without them, and sobering to think that without the precise set of circumstances they may never have been. Like a cool rain on a hot summer day, those circumstances coalesced at just the right moment.

Together these waters merge and create the great river that runs through the earth of my being. Finding the cracks – altering, excavating, shapeshifting, molding with astounding force until I don't recognize myself without them. My constant. The one thing I can always return to.

Downstream it's there, just ahead, river right.

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