The thermos bottle with his father’s ashes in it rested on the front seat of the drift boat. He was glad to have the morning’s busy work behind him and to be in the river. The green thermos with the silver cap looked inconspicuous enough.
Neither the waitress at the All Seasons Diner nor the other guides meeting their clients over biscuits and sausage gravy had noticed it. Nor had the woman from the tackle shop with whom he had arranged a car spot for his truck and trailer. He told her he’d be floating Walhalla to Custer and left her a set of keys. He took some twenty-pound shooting line, some ten-pound leader and eight-pound tippet, some split shot and a Snickers bar, some feathers and yarn. He’d been tying his own flies for years. “On account,” he told her, putting the gear on the counter.
“You’ll be a long way downstream from the other guides, Danny,” she told him. “Most of ’em are doing Green Cottage to Gleason’s Landing. Salmon all over the gravel, they say. Or Gleason’s to Bowman’s or Rainbow to Sulac. No one’s below Upper Branch but you.”
“That rain’ll pushsome fresh one’s in,” he said. “Some steelhead and lakeruns, maybe. First of October. It’s time.”
“Well, you’ll have some peace and quiet at least. It’s a zoo up here with guides and canoes and walk-ins. Mind the bow hunters. Season opens today.”
“Peace and quiet,yes.”
He gathered his supplies and left.
Only Enid, the woman with whom he slept some nights, who managed his website and kept track of his bookings and packed his shore lunches, had been curious.
“What’s with the thermos?” she’d asked when he stood in the door in the dark with his waders and vest. She knew he only drank Mountain Dew.
“A client’s,” he’d said, and bent to kiss her.
“Good luck,” she whispered, and rolled over and returned to sleep. He pulled the quilt up overher bare shoulder. For a moment he wondered if he should stay.
And pushing off from the Walhalla landing, in the first light of the first morning of the first October since his father died, with his lame dog Chinook curled in the boat’s bow, his father’s ashes in a thermos on the front seat, himself easing the oars into the downstream current—the three of them adrift in the Pere Marquette, the forest on either side of which was ablaze with the changes of Michigan’s autumn—he thought it was nearly like taking his father fishing again and that the thermos bottle was a perfect camouflage and that he didn’t know if such things ought to feel like weeping or like laughter. He loved the damp rotting smell of autumn, the breeze that bore it through the tunnel of the river, the pockets of fog, the marsh and mud banks, the litter of fallen and falling trees, the unseen traffic in the woods, the distance his drift put between himself and all the other details and duties of ordinary time. He loved the snug hold of the river on his boat, the determination of its current, the certain direction, the quiet.
And though this time of year he could put sixty days of guiding together—from late August to late October—and though his arms and shoulders would burn from the rowing and his hands blister from the oars and ache from the tying of knots and his fingers would sting with line cuts and fish bites and embedded hooks, it never really seemed like work. But it was his work. Three hundred dollars a day, less 5 percent for the lodge that booked the trip, less the cost of lunches and tackle and car spots, gas and gear, plus tips — these were the heydays of the year when yuppies from the suburbs all over the Midwest would drive their SUVs to Baldwinto dress up in their designer fly-fisherman costumes and catch the biggest fish of their lives on the lightest tackle. Danny took their pictures, took their money, filled them full of lore and stories, and sent them back to what he imagined were their trophy wives and dreary day jobs, glad that he had passed on all of that to become a trout bum and live the life he figured God intended him to live. This time of year, the only days of rest came from cancellations. The sales rep from Akron, booked for today, had called to say he couldn’t get away.
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