As the gods would have it, I was recently blessed with an extra vacation day, the result of an office raffle of which I was the fortunate winner. Out of about 100 people, I was the lucky person who ended up with the One Free Day. That it also happened at the end of an uncommonly warm Nov, just in time for an equally balmy beginning of December, smacked of fate - or better, the subtle influence of the ineffable Valar.
What, to a mind in the midst of the throes of severe Mykissian dementia, could be more Precious than this One day, unlooked for and unforeseen? The action was immediate and unwavering: I dispatched a mail message to Mike advising him of my fortune, and we set the date for Wednesday, December 2nd.
Where would we go? A few cross-border locations seemed to beckon, and plans were close to final, when a precipitation event further north changed our minds. A river that I had never been to, and that Mike had only fished once before, had received a goodly amount of rain and was just rounding into form. The choice of quality over quantity, of wild steelhead over stocked ones, is simple. We altered our plans and made arrangements. We would assault the Shire.
Shortly after first light, on the fateful day, we issued from Mike's car, ready to don our gear; to be faced with a local landowner, who was quite agitated. He made his reasons very clear. It was hunting season in the surrounding forest, and he did not want anyone getting shot on his land. He forbade us from accessing the river from his property. Both facts, that it was deer hunting season and that the trail to the river was on private property, had been unknown to me. So I was very thankful when he nonetheless offered us a substitute path to the river, as well as loaning us each a bright orange hat and vest – so that we wouldn’t be mistaken for deer.
So, down we went, into a steep valley, surrounded by mostly deciduous trees and, here and there, the dark green apparition of a cedar, or a tall pine. It was tricky going, as the leaves that covered the forest floor were still quite damp, and we skied down as often as we walked. Now and again, the echo of a shot was heard, reverberating in the naked forest, attesting to faraway attempts at procuring venison.
At the bottom of the valley, the river sped languidly, laughing and gurgling over white rocks, slightly aqua-tinged and clearing swiftly. We did not bother searching for a trail to take us up river, where we wanted to be, but set off against the current, over logs and stones, and through tall grasses. Soon, I was lagging behind. I couldn’t help but take in the serene purity of the valley; and it quickly became obvious to me why some of the gentlemen who fish here often refer to it as “the Shire.” But as I walked and took pictures, scanning the river all the while for signs of any deeper pools or the manifestations of fish, I began to think that the nickname is a slight misnomer. A deep valley, filled with trees and a rushing, crystal clear river smacks to me more of Rivendell than of the bucolic Shire, with its quaint villages, hobbit holes, farms and well-attended pubs. Still, assigning it a name from Tolkien’s epics is quite correct: one does feel as though time does not pass there, or that one could expect the distant song of elves at any time. The river is so close to farmlands and highways; and yet on her banks it is as though one had stepped through a portal to a stream that is exceedingly distant, both in time and in place. The occasional fracas of buckshot, far away, and Mike’s bright orange noggin, bobbing up and down in the distance ahead, were the only reminders of reality.
As far as the fishing was concerned, I didn’t play a major role or cover myself with glory. I managed only three fish, one of which I am convinced took my bait twice! on the other hand, Mike had known exactly where he wanted to go. And by the time I caught up to him, he was already releasing his fourth fish. His next five drifts would all produce more electrically chrome steelhead, except for the last, where the fish overpowered the hook and got off. It was an incredible thing to see happen on a northern river, a feat that few could duplicate.
Technically speaking, I found that the good pools in this river are few and far between and, in order for it to be really exciting, much higher water volumes than those that greeted us would be de rigueur. And although I managed to “salvage” the trip for myself, when we fished lower down in the river and well outside of Rivendell – back in normal time – I will time my return with the rains. But from a poetic stand-point, the river is its own reward. There are few prettier places in southern Ontario, truly.
Oh! I almost forgot: just past mid-day, as Mike and I lounged on the riverbank, enjoying lunch, we heard cracking in the woods behind us. An epithet reached our ears: someone was making jocular references to my hat. We turned and who should we chance to see, approaching through the woods? Two hobbits: my fellow blog authors from November Rains and A Screaming Comes Across the Sky – Merry and Pippin if you will. They sat with us for a while, and after a short conversation all four of us made our way back to our cars together. Strange... these hobbits didn't seem to like pipeweed.
When Mike dropped me off, back at the Highway 401 car-park, it felt like I was awakening from a dream; or is it that I was going back to sleep?