Last night I felt restless, feeling vague inside, and went outside and sat in a chair on the river bank. It was cold, I’d put on a light jacket that was almost enough to keep me warm. The stars were brilliant, the air clear and damp. The half-moon had crested the trees across the river casting a ghostly glow on the water, making dim little sparkles in the current. My breath fogged with each exhalation catching the moon’s glow before disappearing.
Coyotes across the river to my left began yodeling, telling the world where they were and daring it to do something about it. Then coyotes well to my right answered. They sang back and forth to each other, taking turns, and then fell silent as they went about other important coyote business. An owl hooted far off and silence followed. Almost silence. The damp air carried sounds like an amplifier and I could hear the soft whisperings of the water where, here and there, a tree branch the water had crept up on made soft sighing-gurgling sounds.
I thought about the fish in the river. They would be active, hunting and trying to escape from each other. I imagined what it would be like, down there in that dark water with the faint glow from the moon back lighting the swirling currents on the surface, a strange distorted light that had a primordial pull on the fish. Hunting, eating, being eaten, escaping – that’s their life, a life as old as time itself, a cycle of life and death that goes on and on... They were down there, unseen except in my mind’s eye, carrying on as they’ve always carried on.
The damp air brought scents that normally I’d never notice. Cypress tree, it has a pleasant pungentness to it. The soil beneath my cold feet with its sharp and distinct odors; and faintly but clearly the smell of the river itself, the water giving up its ancient odor, one that I believe we are born already knowing. The stars shone brilliantly between the tree limbs and in the clear space over the river, the moon doing its best to give light, the smells, and the soft susurrations of the river combined to cast a spell that made the cold a distant unimportant feeling. And I began remembering another cold night, long, long ago, when I was young.
Less than a hundred feet from where I now sat, forty-two years ago, my oldest brother and I had built a fire on the very edge of the water. We were going to fish all night. I was home on leave from the Army, not quite legal drinking age; we had a full bottle of Wild Turkey to keep us warm. It was Christmas Eve, and cold.
We stocked a pile of wood, lit the fire and cast out our lines. Bill took the cap from the bottle and handed it to me. The bourbon went down in a fiery splash, causing coughing and spluttering and making my brother laugh hard at me. It smoothed out as the night progressed; soon taking a swallow was pleasure, and warmth, and something more… something shared. About the middle of the bottle we had reeled in our lines, the fish you see, were biting and interrupting us.
We talked, I don’t remember what of, but we talked; my brother’s voice familiar and comfortable, sounding a lot like me, but an octave deeper and more rumbling down in his chest. When the bottle was finished and we’d burned all the wood we headed up the bank to the house, arms over each other’s shoulders supporting each other, drunk as skunks, wobbling all over the place. Grinning like loons.
Last night I sat in a chair, on the river bank, in the cold under the half moon, looking at the exact spot we’d built that fire not a hundred feet, but a life-time away. I sat long into the night, breath turning silver under the moon, and then disappearing.