I picked the rod tip up and swung it back to eleven o'clock, then snapped my wrist. The line flew out over the water, unfurling. At its maximum length, it settled on the water's surface with hardly a splash. I repaired the line, retrieving it slowly by pulling it in with my left hand as I held the rod in my right. Once retrieved, I prepared to cast again. That's fly-fishing, cast and retrieve, cast and retrieve.
Cool water swirled around my calves as I breathed in the warm summer air laden with the scent of pine. Would I catch fish today? Did it matter? It was enough to be here and enjoy the sounds of the brook and the rustle of the grasses that lined the stream. I tilted my head back and looked up into a crystal-clear azure sky that didn't hold a single cloud.
A covered bridge spanned the stream one hundred feet behind me. I could angle beneath it if I failed to get a bite here. A dam, eight feet high, constructed of concrete, stood before me. Water spilled over the top. Rocks surrounded its base, guarding a deep pool where the fish often lurked. Cast and retrieve.
The line straightened and the rod tip bent. I applied resistance to the tug and set the hook. The fish swam in a mad dash to get away. As I reeled in the line, the fish jerked and pulled in different directions. A small rainbow trout leaped out of the water and shook, trying to get free, to no avail. I kept reeling in the line in increments. Once close enough, I lifted the fish out of the water and grabbed it with my left hand. With my rod tucked under my arm, I removed the hook from the rainbow's lip.
"Thank you, fish, for a worthy fight," I said, then carefully placed it back in the water and let it swim away.
I returned to casting and retrieving, but soon I would no longer be alone. A large gray-blue bird glided toward me. Its wings, six feet across, slowly beat the air. Legs extended behind like the stabilizer on an airplane. Neck folded; its head tucked close to its shoulders. As it crossed the dam, it pulled its wings up to slow its flight and landed on a rock with grace, not twenty feet from me. My mouth fell open, my heart seemed to freeze at the spectacle of flight, and a sense of immense respect for the majesty of this animal washed over me. I did not move for fear of scaring the massive bird away.
Four feet tall, it stood on long skinny legs with its head resting atop its unfurled neck. Its dark eyes glared at me as it peered down its lengthy sharp beak, menacing and arrogant. Should I enjoy this interesting interaction with nature, or should I be unnerved by this bird's cold, unfeeling stare? I dared not look away, although I tried. In truth, I could not look away, mesmerized by the bird.
"Bird," I said, "what do you want? What natural law have I violated to deserve this visit?"
The bird perched on the rock, unmoving. It's eyes bore into me and I felt a chill run down my spine.
I waved my rod, but the bird did not flinch. The chill grew, turning to spikes of ice. Any comfort I'd achieved from my commune with nature evaporated.
"Bird, or are you some kind of apparition? I wish you'd go away."
But, like Poe's raven, the bird just sat and glared.
I wanted to leave the stream, be gone, away from this devil, but I stood fast, my feet glued to the creek bed, my eyes joined to the bird's eyes, unblinking. Some unnatural force gripped me, and I knew I could not be the first to look away. That to do so would be my end.
My leg muscles tightened, and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I held my breath and tried to think. Fear turned to loathing, and I clenched my teeth. I wanted to rush at the bird and strike at it to make it leave. Surely, the bird must be a sign portending harm to me.
Sweat ran down my face and I shouted at it, in my mind if not aloud. "Get away. Go. Shoo!"
Still the bird gazed at me, unmoving, and a new thought burst forth. Maybe, this bird was not an evil omen, but rather sought some type of kinship with me. After all, we were both fishermen of sorts. I hoped his glower was not meant to be fearsome. Still, I saw no warmth in it, only darkness. My legs cried run, get away, but curiosity overcame me. Didn't I have a right to be here, too?
"Bird, what do you want?" I asked again. "Perhaps, you're hungry." I could appease that.
I cast my line into the dark pool below the dam. A fish took the bait. It ran as I held the tip of the rod up, and played it as I reeled it in. I unhooked the fish, a small bluegill, and glanced at the great bird. He moved his beak up and down. An affirmation? I didn't know.
I tossed the fish in the bird's direction. It landed in the water just below the rock where the bird stood. With a sudden jerk of its head, the bird snatched the fish from the stream and swallowed it whole.
The bird's gaze returned to me, and it began clucking, go-go-go, the sound increasing in rapidity until it emitted a loud squawk. Then, the beast spread its wings and, with one slow flap, glided off the rock and back in the direction from which it came.
My heart raced, breathless, both sorry and glad to see it go. It seemed the bird begat no evil. Nothing bad had happened to me. Still, I did not relish enduring that cold foreboding stare any longer. I packed up my gear and prepared to retire for the day—after one more cast and retrieve.