The sky darkened, light fled and an impending feeling of gloom enveloped the landscape.
Across the valley swaths of rain fell, the slanting sheets obscuring the further hills as the storm raced toward me. The wind increased, whipping the fall foliage violently back and forth, dead leaves torn from their branches swirling in the breeze, their flight erratic, twisting and twirling on their final descent from fall’s bright colors and lofty grandeur to the ignominy of the forest floor and decay. The shroud of darkness increased as the waves of rain struck, an overwhelming dreariness swallowing the forest around me.
The tossing limbs seemed to wither in the storm’s ferocity as I cowered against a large oak. Oh, how ironic that this day and the pall it cast mirrored my soul and the torment swirling within, for it was now four years since my sweet wife passed, leaving a void that cannot be filled.
Rain coursed down the blackened tree trunks and dripped from the crooked branches just as tears streaked my cheeks. The rain would wash and purify all it touched, if only tears could do the same.
The storm passed, clouds lifted, a weak sun glimmered occasionally through the swiftly scudding haze. The sodden world seemed to sign and lift its head in relief. Could I do the same?
THE SHAPELY girl sat tall on her horse looking quizzically down at this stranger who’d walked down from the little green camp above the road.
You’re at a definite psychological disadvantage talking to someone for the first time who’s so much higher than you, especially if she’s a girl and you’re a bit shy. But I was committed and introduced myself. Her green eyes looked amused and also knowledgeable. This wasn’t someone you could underestimate, caution was needed. As if reading my thoughts, she suddenly smiled and, encouraged, I asked about her horse. That little bit of inspiration was timely and I quickly learned much about Melany and the many paths they had ridden together. Since I hunted the immediate area, I knew many of the more secluded
areas she’d passed through and the awkwardness first meetings always produce soon disappeared. Later on, I asked if she might like to go out sometime and after another soul-searching look from those penetrating green eyes she agreed. I forgot to ask for her phone number, of course.
I couldn’t help but grin, thinking of that first meeting so long ago. It was the start of something powerfully beautiful, but young men never think of where such an innocuous meeting might lead to in the far distant future. Ah, the innocence of youth.
The horizon darkened, again triggering memories of another storm long ago over Chautauqua Lake. I smiled and suddenly the cold within me thawed as my thoughts returned to that far off time in our lives.
JANE AND I were fishing from the 18-foot green freighter canoe with little 3-year-old Julie playing in the middle with her dolls. To the west we watched as towering thunderheads loomed ever higher and higher above the horizon, lightning flashing occasionally from deep within their white, roiling summits, occasional deep, rumbling thunder growing ever closer.
The sun vanished, the water turned a deep, oily green, my every instinct quivering with the surety the coming storm would trigger the muskellunge. Then it happened. Just 10 feet from the canoe my Suick disappeared into the gaping jaws of a huge lunge and I set the hook repeatedly. Angrily, the muskie rolled, the water exploding as she thrashed wildly.
Little Julie took one look at the size of the fish and dropped her dollies, quickly climbing onto the seat beside her mother. She wanted nothing to do with a toothy, ferocious fish bigger than she was.
Jane grabbed the net, glancing anxiously at me. It was barely adequate for that size of muskie and knowing how fanatical I was about fishing she was very apprehensive about the upcoming challenge of netting the monster. Many big fish escape at the net, a hundred things can go wrong.
The wind increased, the storm ever closer, time was of the essence. At last, the lunge tired and I anxiously led her toward the waiting net. Jane swopped lengthwise and the water exploded again as the fish thrashed angrily. Incredibly, the tail was touching one side of the net rim, the bony bottom jaw of the lunge the other. Somehow, she managed to slide the oversized fish perfectly into the meshes. I clambered forward and grabbed the rim, helping her lift the bucking fish into the canoe while Julie clung to her mother’s side, her face buried in her jacket. The lunge was even scarier up close.
This was my biggest muskellunge to date, almost 50 inches, as I shook beside myself with wonder and pure joy.
“Great net job!” I shouted, leaning forward and kissing her impulsively. Her long brown hair was blowing in the wind, her face ecstatic, those green eyes glowing in the intensity of the moment.
We gazed at each other, glanced at that magnificent fish, looked back into each other’s eyes, bound together so intimately in that magical moment of triumph.
I fired up the 6-horse Johnson, it was time to get off the lake and we dashed for the dock, arriving at the same moment as Mom and Dad. As we tied up our canoes the far shore of the lake disappeared behind a curtain of rain.
One glance at our faces told my parents something special had happened and both asked simultaneously what we’d caught. I bent and lifted the big lunge up with a grin a mile wide.
Their mouths flew open in surprise and wonder. Congratulations poured out. I hugged Mom, and Dad pounded me on the shoulder as we shook hands enthusiastically.
Ever practical, with a glance at our small net, Dad asked how we’d landed it.
“Jane netted it!” I exclaimed, and Dad’s eyebrows raised.
Something happened then I’ll never forget. My father and I could be pretty intense at moments, maybe more than we should have.
It was then Mom looked at Jane and gave her an almost pitying look of sympathy and understanding. Jane knew instantly she understood what that moment had been like and both smiled at one another in understanding as women do in the presence of those boy-like men they’re married to.
At that instant I suddenly realized the incredible pressure my pretty wife had been under netting that trophy fish. I grabbed my sweetheart, held her close and kissed her sweet lips, my eyes telling her what I suddenly couldn’t.
Then the thunderstorm burst upon us, a peal of thunder followed by a curtain of huge drops pelting down. Our hands found each other, then little Julie’s and laughing like children we dashed to the cabin, so young and so in love, little Julie shrieking excitedly as we ran.