Wednesday, January 26, 2022

A Bittersweet Symphony

July, 2021

I cried when I saw my first redwood. Rounding a bend on Highway 199 in Northern California, I was making my way to Jebediah Smith State Park and the size of the tree caught me off guard. I knew they were huge and majestic but I still couldn't fathom what they resembled in person. Nestled on the side of the highway, the width of the redwood tree dwarfed the roadway. I uttered a few choice words and my eyes watered up. Further down the road, I crossed the famous Smith River and pulled over into a small lot flanked by the towering trees. I stepped into a spiritual experience. Alone on the walking the trails, I was amidst the giants of the natural world. Adding a backdrop to an otherworldly scene, the setting sun's rays pierced through the forest's canopy. The only sounds came from my footprints on the soft floor of the forest, the occasional hoot of an owl, and the random calls of a pileated woodpecker. I didn't want the moment to end. As the sun began to set, I drove my van down to the banks of the Smith and thought about staying the night. Looking back on it, I should have. 

Sitting there, my mind drifted to what the Smith River once was, a steelhead mecca of the "Lost Coast". This was a time before development, and humans, contributed to the overall demise of salmon and steelhead in the region. My thoughts wondered to the current conditions of the Smith, contemplating how any wild salmonid could possibly survive the low flows and high water temperatures. Looking to the future, and a potential winter steelheading date on the Smith, my imagination was in hyperdrive. The idea of walking through the redwood groves with my spey rod in hand is an idyllic image that speaks to my soul. I daydreamed of a receding river filled to the brim with that perfect steelhead green hue. A broad run, and an open bank, welcomes me to prospect for some chrome. With my sink tip digging deep, and my intruder working broadside through a boulder field, I anticipate the grab right in the sweet spot. The anticipation briefly recedes enough for my mind to wander for a millisecond. In that fleeting moment, a deep pull, and head thrashes, signal life on the end of my line as it disappears downriver into the next run. Catching up, I struggle to tail the slab of chrome in the high flows but eventually succeed. Cradled in the water, I admire the unique characteristics of a steelhead with a story to tell. Between the redwoods, the Smith, and a wild winter steelhead, I don't know if it would ever get better than that. I'd probably cry. Pondering whether that moment would ever come to fruition, I finally made up my mind on whether or not I was going to fish for a wild summer steelhead on the North Umpqua.