That certain chill in the air before sunrise
That smell that wafts on the breeze of early morning in mid-summer
Waking up at 4a.m. with that peculiar feeling, she unwinds from the sheets and slips on layers of warm clothes
That sound and smell of coffee percolating downstairs where a bowl of breakfast awaits
“Do you want dry cereal or wet” he asks and she misunderstands thinking cereal or mush. He’s thinking no milk or milk. She gets dry… too shy to correct him she eats the Cheerios sans milk.
She jumps out of the car at grandma’s house while her dad waits impatiently. She digs in the moist dirt to get a dozen night crawlers from the galvanized worm-filled tub.
She wipes her dirty hands on the dewy grass then on her jeans. Her cousin from across the street jumps in the back seat just as dad takes off
The mighty Skagit River is running high and green. They pull in to the steelhead club and she and cousin stand aside popping snowberries as her dad maneuvers backward down the muddy boat launch.
The fog hangs low over the early morning river and a big splash catches their attention as a silvery scaled salmon does his morning wake up routine
That moist heavy morning air fills their senses. They jump aboard and the two kids row in a push out into the current. Dad starts the engine and the smell of four stroke fuel fills her nostrils with that unique fragrance and her tummy pours forth the Cheerios. “ You chummin’” he asks?
They make their way upriver to dead mans slough. They load hooks with bait and cast the lines in to the water. Immediately dad gets a bite. The reel zips and the pole bends to near breaking as he pulls back the line and sets the three pronged hook into the jowls of a beautiful humpy. Dad hollers at the six year old boy and girl cousins to hold the oars steady to keep the boat from entering a swirling current wanting to pull them all to the tree-lined bank.
The fog lifts slowly as the sun rises over the shadow of Sauk mountain to reveal a cerulean sky. The kids struggle to keep the oars steady as dad reels in his catch. He brings the net under in a quick scoop. The slippery slimy silver-skinned beauty dances and flops around the boat bottom and the girl squeals as it lands in her feet. Dad takes out the hooked club and bounces it on the back of the fishes head until the struggle is no more. Just then the girl sees her pole dip and she jumps up quickly to set her worm covered hook, reels it in and gets a look at the creepy bullhead trophy. She tries to pull the hook from his lip but his spiny back cuts her tiny fingers.
Dad gives her some pliers and tells her to pull the hook with those but she struggles until he impatiently takes her line and cuts riggin’ and fish loose. He tells her to put on a fresh hook and bait as she tosses the prehistoric looking beast back in the water with a shiver.
She reaches over the edge of the boat to rinse her hands. Her life jacket makes free moving difficult.
They recast their lines and dig in to lunch while dad guts his catch with a quick slit to the belly and removes a skein of pink eggs, tossing the rest of the guts back into the river.
The children bite into their wonder bread bologna sandwiches as dad drops the anchor.
Later when the sun is nearly overhead dad starts the engine and gives the children a thrilling fast drive downriver to head home.
Tired and sun-drenched they have removed most layers and are in T-shirt’s and blue jeans. They stay in the boat while dad goes to get the truck and trailer. They ride in the boat covering the few blocks to home with the summer breeze ruffling their hair.
Ten years later the little girl hears the truck start up in that cool fall pre-dawn air. She rolls over for a few more hours of sleep before school while her dad heads down to another routine day of fishing the Skagit. He’s caught so many fish in this river over his 41 years. He launches alone from the steelhead club and winds his way up river, up as far as his childhood home of Hamilton. At some point he stood to pull in a big one. October promised King Salmon and he quickly got one on the line. He stood quickly to set the hook but hadn’t set anchor. He stumbled over the rope as he held the pole with all his might. This was a big ‘un. The boat started drifting along behind the monster pulling on the line. He stumbled again over the children’s life jackets and lost his balance. He tried desperately to hold the line but it snapped and he toppled out of the boat, hitting his head on the engine on the way into the deadly currents. He landed unconscious and was quickly sunk, unbreathing momentarily. He revived and quickly realized he was in trouble. He couldn’t swim and he never wore a life jacket. He struggled but was unable to reach the boat which was floating toward deadmans island. He lost the battle and succumbed to the glorious and beloved river.
Hours later an Indian man found the boat abandoned on shore and called the sheriff. Calls were made to the wife who in turn called the children at school. A vigil for the searchers lead to disappointment day after day.
21 days later a knock on the door at 337 Central Street. The little girl, now a teenager and senior in high school opened the door to find a man holding a soggy wallet. The mother comes to the door and endless days of sobbing commences. Guttural screams, moans and tears flow freely.
The children all huddle together in the little girls bed. A funeral. Thanksgiving. Little girl turns 17. All in a daze. A line in her story.