excerpt from 'Love in the Anthropocene'
Love in the Anthropocene
By Dale Jamieson, Bonnie Nadzam
All rights reserved.
ONE * Flyfishing, 29,
TWO * Carbon, 59,
THREE * Holiday, 97,
FOUR * Shanghai, 137,
FIVE * Zoo, 167,
CODA * Love, 197,
ABOUT THE AUTHORS, 216,
Fishing!" the old man cried. He had thick white hair that curled around his ears, and hands that trembled as he raised them in the air. "Who's fishing?"
"Dad," said the woman beside him, in a tone meant to make him lower his voice.
But the old man did not lower his voice. In preparation for an announcement to everyone on the maglev now speeding its way up the plains and into the foothills toward Wild Rivers, he straightened his neck and lifted his chin. "You let me know on our way down," he hollered, "if anybody you saw did any real fishing."
The woman sighed. "How about some lunch?"
* * *
Across the aisle, the tall, dark-haired man and his young daughter sat side by side, she with her arms crossed, chin tucked, he scanning the world outside the window. He pointed and then reached back to jostle her arm. "See that?"
The girl kept her gaze fixed on the floor.
"Wow," the man said. "God. When your mother and I came up here it was just dirt and rocks. None of this was here. No trees, none of those hedges. Not much river to speak of at all." He shielded his eyes with his hand and looked out into the daylight. "I mean you'd hardly know it was the same country."
"We could have gone fly-fishing right from our living room. I don't see why we had to come all the way out to the middle of nowhere."
"Oh come on. It's not the same. And there'd be no real fish to eat if we did it at home."
"I am not eating fish." She looked sideways at her father, then glanced back the other way and caught the eye of the woman across the aisle who it seemed had overheard the exchange.
"She doesn't want to fish," the man explained to the woman across the aisle, and shrugged. He smiled at the woman, and at the old man beside her.
The old man laughed. "That's right honey," the old man said. "You got to know when to count your losses. Isn't that right?" He looked at the girl. "We're the only idiots on the train I guess."
The train sped through the canyon and into higher country, increasingly bright, green, and, off in the distance, white with snow.
"Beautiful," the dark-haired man told his daughter. He pointed again.
"It's not real, Dad."
"What are you talking about? Real grass. Real trees. All growing in the rain and sunshine."
"Why do we have to stay for five days?"
He ignored her question. "And since when did things not being real bother you?"
"This is different. We're pretending it is."
"You know, some people — a lot of people — would much rather spend a few days in the mountains with their loving father than another long weekend in town with their friends."
"Will you try to enjoy yourself? For one day? This is important to me." He was quiet a minute, and the train began to slow around a curve. "If it's that awful we can turn around and come back."
"I thought you couldn't get your money back."
"On one condition. First, uncurl your lip so I know you're listening."
She set her hands in her lap and turned a placid face to her father.
"If you start getting shitty, the deal's off, and we're there all five days."
"You want to torture yourself?"
"No," he said. "Just you. I'm going to have a great time no matter what."
They sat in silence. The old man and woman beside them were finishing their lunch. She tried to help him wrap the uneaten remains of a sandwich but he pushed her hands away.
"We talked about this," the woman said in a low voice.
The old man leaned over to look at the young girl, his eyes full of light but his face stern. "Don't let them bullshit you."
The girl laughed. "I never do."
"No rocks," he said, shaking his head. He raised his voice and hollered down the train. "No rocks!" Several passengers turned back and looked.
"Oh for godsakes, Dad."
He raised his hands as if he were a preacher holding forth. "Nobody falls, nobody drowns." He surveyed his fellow train passengers, expecting amazement. Realizing he had no audience, he looked again at the girl. "Is that a river? That's what I'm asking you." The girl stared at him. He waved his hand, dismissing all of it and turned his face to the window.
"Well," the woman said, smiling across the aisle at the man and his daughter. "We won't miss the mosquitoes."
The girl's father laughed. "Or days with no fish."
"Oh dear God. Not for a thousand dollars a day."
"I hear you."
"Ever fish for free?"
"I've heard there are places in northern Europe. But getting there is hardly free."
"I can imagine."
"I went a couple times when I was little," he volunteered. "In Michigan."
"No kidding. Was it still State Park?"
"Must have been."
"They say the fish doesn't taste the same."
"I've heard that."
"You don't remember any difference?"
"How many days will you be up here?"
"We're still negotiating," he said, jerking his head in the direction of the girl, who sat slumped with her arms still crossed.
The woman looked at the girl. "Ever had fish?"
She shook her head.
"You're in for a treat."
* * *
As they climbed higher, the man told his daughter about night fishing on the Pere Marquette River, years ago. "I was just a little younger than you are now, twelve or thirteen. Your Uncle Will was sixteen."
"Grandpa took you?"
"My grandpa took us. Your grandpa was working."
"We went in early summer. It was a half a day's drive. Trout always come up to feed when the light is changing — you'll see in the morning. In Michigan the sunset didn't happen until almost ten thirty, so we were sometimes fishing really late, into the pitch black hours."
He told her about a night when the pine trees were like black cut-out lace against the iridescent, navy blue sky. There was a big moon, and he and his father and brother were giving it one more go.
"Must have been about ten, ten-thirty at night. Will had a big one on the line, and he just let out line and let out line until it was a quarter mile down the river, and he was racing through the woods, jumping fallen logs to keep up with it."
The girl was listening.
"I mean there was a moon but it was pretty dark in the trees, and he was racing along the river with that fish. God."
"Did he get it?"
"And you ate it?"
"We threw it back. We almost always threw it back."
"To save the fish?"
He looked at her. "That's right."
"But you must have eaten them sometimes."
"You bet. Best way is to wrap them in foil with a stick of butter."
"Oh my God. A whole stick?"
"A whole stick. Real butter. Salt and pepper. Slice an onion. Seal it all up and put it on slow burning coals."
"In a real fire?"
"A real fire."
"Will we have a real one?"
The man tipped his head, considering.
"I didn't think so," she said.
"But maybe," he said. "We'll see."
"Do you even know how to build one?"
"I think we could figure it out."
"What if we got lost and really needed one? Like to signal someone like the Indians did in ancient times?"
Was she being ironic? "Sweetie," he said, and opened his hand on the crown of her head. Her hair was silky and fine. "No one gets lost."
By the time they pulled into the park it was dark, and late. They found their rental cabin and he unpacked his gear on the couch, she on the bed with the six fluffy pillows.
* * *
In the morning he made coffee and toast in the cabin and they went out to the river.
"Big sky," he said. "That's what they call it."
"I thought the mountains would be bigger."
"Well, we're already pretty high up."
All around them the willows and tamarack were green. Small placards indicated the names of surrounding grasses and flowers: lady's tresses and hollyhocks.
"Actually be kind of exciting to find a weed," he said. "That'd be news."
"What's the matter?" she said. "Don't you find all the plants real and natural?"
He looked at her. "That wasn't sarcasm was it? That'd be a deal breaker."
She batted her eyelashes at him and he laughed. He gave her a license and park pass. Within minutes the ranger approached and distributed the flies they'd need for this season.
"Brought your own rod," he said. He was a young guy with bright straight teeth and a trimmed brown goatee, and wore a shirt stitched over the breast pocket with the Wild Rivers, Inc. logo. "That's a beauty," he said, looking at the rod.
"My grandfather's," the man said, turning it in the daylight before them.
"No kidding. May I?" The ranger took the rod and reel, weighed it, and drew his arm back as if to cast. "He took good care of it," he said.
"Well. He wanted me to be able to fish with it."
The man and the ranger exchanged an odd smile, and the ranger turned to the girl. "You guys sharing or you want your own?"
"I don't want one," she said.
"Give her one of her own."
The ranger took a black canvas tube from his gear and gave it to the girl. "Your dad can help you set it up." He handed a small electronic device to the man; it was an inch square and attached to a clip that would hang from a shirt or a pocket. "And here's our little pamphlet," the ranger said, handing one over. "Regulations and guidelines. Little bit of history."
On the inside flap there was a black and white photograph of the river from 1937, and beside it, a photograph of the park now. The images were identical in rock formation, tree line, and vegetation.
"It's remarkable," the man said.
"Only difference is," the ranger said, "what we got now is permanent. And no bears."
"Can't argue with that."
"Tell you what," the ranger said, looking at the river. "Suicidal fish. That's what they are. You're in for a good day."
The man handed his daughter the electronic device. She turned it over in her hand. "Just a tracking device," the ranger said. "If you need one of us, use that. Otherwise we'll be out of sight, out of mind."
The girl raised an eyebrow at the ranger.
"Leave it off if you prefer," he said, and he left them on the river.
* * *
The man and the girl stood at the edge of the water and he talked her through threading the eyes of the rod and setting the reel in place.
"Having an awful time?" he asked.
"If I say yes, the deal's off and we're here for five days."
He stepped out onto the riverbed and looked back at her. "No rocks!" he cried in a strained, old man voice. She doubled over with laughter. He dragged his foot back and forth along the riverbed. "It's like a running track," he said.
"No one falls," she said, imitating the voice.
"No one drowns!" He motioned with his arm for her to join him, and she stepped into the water in her boots. "Do you remember how to do this?"
"Show me again."
"You want to let your line out like this, about three times the length of your rod."
"Ok." She followed suit.
"Hold the rod right here," he moved her hand, "like this." He showed her on his own. "Like you're shaking someone's hand. Good. Now, pull it back to about 10 o'clock." She looked at him quizzically, as he showed her where 10 o'clock would be. "Not your arm, just bend at your elbow, and then, like this." He showed her. She copied him. "Not bad, not bad."
They practiced false casting an hour as the sun rose up overhead. When they put in hooks, he caught a fish almost immediately. "Sure makes you feel like a pro."
"Uh-oh," she said, grinning. "Was that a shitty statement? Are you wishing it was harder to catch one? Like in the olden days?"
"The olden days?" He looked back at her shaking his head but smiling. "Tell you what, sweetheart. You'll know a shitty statement out of me when you hear one." He wet his hands in the river water to slime the scales, held the fish firmly in one hand, removed the hook, and returned it to the water. It seemed like a small fish.
"Don't let a ranger see us do that," he said.
"Would they kick us out?"
"There's a fine."
"People don't like it if their fish has already been caught. It doesn't feel clean."
They'd paid for the minimum: space on both banks, and four hundred meters up and down river. They could see the daylight flashing on the lines and equipment of other park visitors. The sky was a hard, empty blue. Except for the sound of water, it was dead silent. On the north side of the river, half a mile out, a swath of company lodgepole pine.
"Can you smell it?"
"What is it?" She asked as she scrunched up her nose.
"Those trees," he said, nodding at them. "What a fucking blessing."
"Well you should've seen them fifty years ago. What was left of them, I mean."
"I've seen pictures."
"I guess you have."
"Alan Jefferson trees," she said.
"Duh, the man who invented them?"
"Shows you how much I know."
"Not too fucking bright, Dad." He whirled around and they looked at each other and laughed. He pointed at her.
"Stop it!" he said, but he was laughing.
In the next hour she caught her hook and line in the willow behind them several times, and lost a couple of flies in a stand of alder. He showed her again, and then again, how to re-tie a fly, how to make the knot, and how to feed it properly through all the eyes down the length of the rod.
"If we were out here in the 'olden days,' we'd have to determine which flies to tie on there based on the season and the kind of fish."
"How would we know that?"
"Well we'd pay attention to what would've been hatching."
"What would've been hatching?"
He laughed. "I have no idea."
She looked up at the sun. "It's really hot."
"How about some sunblock and a snack?"
The park would have provided refreshments but he'd wanted it to be for her as it'd been for him as a boy. They had sandwiches with cheese and pickles and thick slices of Vidalia onion, and coffee out of a thermos, even in the heat of day.
"You had coffee when you were that little?"
"Sometimes a little cold beer too, to put fat on my bones."
"Can I try some?"
He looked at her.
"Come on. I know Uncle Will was giving you beer when you were fourteen."
"One," he said. "One beer."
"I'll stay a second day for that."
"Did I ever tell you," he said, leaning back on one hand and crossing his ankles, "about the porcupine?" He took a bite of his sandwich.
She opened her sandwich, peered at the onion and pickle, and closed it again. "No."
"My grandfather beat a porcupine to death with a shovel."
She stared at him, eyes wide.
"It was pretty horrible," he agreed.
"Why did he do it?"
"It was a pest, he said."
"It was one of those fishing nights, and he just took out after this porcupine that had come up to the porch. Smelled our garbage probably. I could hear the whole thing."
"That was our last trip."
"Because of what he did?"
"Your Uncle Will pulled in trout after trout that day and our Grandpa didn't catch a thing. He was mad as hell, pacing the riverbank like the shore patrol. So then Grandpa takes off after the porcupine. Beats it to hell. 'Why'd you go and do a thing like that,' Will asked him. 'It's a creature. It wants to live.' 'It's a pest,' Grandpa said. And then we left the next day. Didn't talk the whole drive home. Will was pretty pissed off."
"So what. Your grandpa didn't want to eat any of that trout that Uncle Will caught?"
"Stubborn pride runs in the family."
She caught his eye and they grinned at each other.
Suddenly a shadow passed over the water and clouded the grass behind them. All at once the man pointed up into the sky and was on his feet. "Look at that!"
She got up and looked too. "It's huge!" she hollered. "What is it? A hawk? An owl?"
They stood watching it shrink and disappear into the vacant blue, then looked at each other, the tension of an unspoken question between them.
"They don't have holograms that can do that," she said. "Do they?"
"No way." At least he didn't think so. It must be some new kind of technology.
"It was huge! What was it?"
"I'm not exactly sure." He knew it was supposed to be an eagle, and that there were no real eagles. He looked at the back of his daughter's head, her hair shining the daylight. He felt a weight in his chest, and heat burning behind his eyes.
"It was an experience that's for sure," he said, "seeing that."
"Do you think anyone will believe me if I tell them?"
"What are you going to tell them?"
"I don't know."
* * *
After lunch she got her first good cast of the day and hit right away. It was a golden, and it was beautiful. It had deep yellow flanks with red, horizontal bands along the lateral lines and about ten dark, vertical, parr marks on each side. Its dorsal, lateral and tail fins had white edges. It had to be just over ten inches long. Perfect.
Excerpted from Love in the Anthropocene by Dale Jamieson, Bonnie Nadzam. Copyright © 2015 Dale Jamieson and Bonnie Nadzam. Excerpted by permission of OR Books.
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