Scene 1 – ALPHA – Willamette National Forrest, McKenzie Bridge, Oregon, October 1984
“Watch your line Davy,” I say. “You’re almost in the rapids. Try to work your line over by the edge of the stream. The biggest salmon hide in the pools.”
“Okay Dad,” Davy chirps.
Dad. Seems like I can’t get enough time with Davy since Sally left me.
“I want sole custody, Bobby,” she screamed. My courage to disagree evaporated. The judge agreed with Sally.
Yellow afternoon sun glints from ripples on the surface of the McKenzie River. Davy retrieves his line and begins another cast. He plays out the waxy line forward and backward, forward and backward. Neither the line nor the Woolly Bugger wet fly touches the surface of the water. Sun catches each cast, the fishing line a golden string of focus between Davy and the pool. Time suspends until the precise moment when Davy drops the fly on the placid pool’s surface, fish explodes through stillness in response.
“Got him,” Davy shouts. The tip of his Orvis fly rod points to the direction of the salmon’s run. Line sings through the rod’s eyelets before going slack.
“Lost him,” Davy cries. “Why did he have to get away?”
“Come on son.” I take his hand. We slosh our way to the edge of the stream; climb the red clay bank studded with granite boulders and walk through Douglas firs to camp. I poke orange embers in the campfire from our earlier lunch and hand Davy cold bottle of Vernor’s Ginger Ale.
“You didn’t lose your fish,” I say, sitting by my son. Our shoulders touch. “He wasn’t deeply hooked. This time of the year is spawning season. Every three to four years Chinook return to the same stream and pool where they were born to reproduce, to make baby salmon if you know what I mean.”
Davy nods in agreement so I continue. “Female Chinook return first. She digs a furrow, called a redd, with her tail fin in the bottom of the stream. Then she lays her eggs in the redd. Soon a male appears and fertilizes her eggs with his sperm. Next she covers her fertilized eggs with pebbles. During spawning females won’t eat and males can’t eat.”
“What do you mean males can’t eat?” Davy blurts.
“Male Chinook may strike a lure, or your Wooly Bugger, but not eat. Their jaws are bony and twisted so it’s hard to hook them. You likely irritated a male who snapped at your fly and spit it out. Nature curves the male salmon’s jaw intending that the father not eat and die after spawning to make way for his young.”
Scene 2 – OMEGA – Bayshore Shopping Center, Glendale, Wisconsin, May 1964
“Take my watch, Bobby.” My father and I sit at the red oak bar at Goldenberg’s, a local watering hole operated by “Buckets” Goldenberg, the storied lineman for the Green Bay Packers.
Papa opens the clasp of the white and yellow gold link band of his self-winding Omega wristwatch. “You’re a man now.” Gold numerals on the watch’s pearl face gleam in the dim light. His watch slides with a gentle bump to the bar.
“Thanks, Papa.” I slide part of his life on my wrist and fasten the clasp. The face of the watch swings below my wrist. The watch pulses as I raise my hand to shake his.
“We’ll get the band sized for you.” He rubs my back. His strong, thick fingers are warm through my plaid cotton shirt in the air-conditioned tavern.
“I didn’t expect this.” I turn toward Papa. “You love your watch. It’s part of you. I thought you just wanted to buy me a birthday drink.”
I lift my first brandy old fashioned in toast. Our glasses clink. “Here’s to you Papa.”
Scene 3 – FATHER AND SON – Blast House Studios, Madison, Wisconsin, July 2019
“Hey Bobby, do you have a piano composition and song you could perform at our summer recital? Jake says. “I’m organizing Sunday’s program.”
I turn toward Jake. “I have a new song. First verse is drafted and I’m composing a second verse and chorus.”
“Great!” He says. “We’ll always make space for what’s new.”
I turn to the piano and cast my verse.
“We are one,
Earth and sun,
A single one,
Father and son.”
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Richard Wilberg, MS, PLCC, ACC
Creativity Coach for Personal Fulfillment and Career Success
About the Author
I write personal essays, creative non-fiction, flash fiction, and self-development articles from my home in Madison, Wisconsin.