Feathers ’n Fins

Posted May 01, 2009, at 6:16 p.m.

On a mid-April night, handy to 1 a.m., a man toting a smelt net followed the beam of his flashlight along a wooded trail overlooking the river. Arriving at an outcropping of steep ledges, he was surprised when he didn’t see other smelters. Tide’s too late, he thought. Either that or word isn’t out yet. Shags are here, smelts are here. Having dipped smelts there since he was a boy, the man knew the footholds of the craggy ledges. Yet in edging down to the river he used the net handle for support. Aggravated by his senior-citizen caution, he muttered, “Now I know what my grandfather meant when he told me, ‘Don’t ever get old.’”

Easing along a ledge that sloped into the river, the man was startled when, only a few yards downstream, a beaver spanked the water with its tail. When his heart started again he dipped the net into the curling ebb-tide current. On lifting it and seeing the wiggling silhouette of one smelt against the reflections of lights from across the river, he exclaimed, “Aha! For those who live the virtuous life, rewards are great and many.” And so it went, sometimes one or two, other times three or four, oftentimes none. While resting the pool, so to speak, letting the smelts settle and start again, the man absorbed the sights and sounds of the river feeling full of itself and springtime. Several times a muskrat sculled within a few feet of him and, intermittently, he heard the whiffling of ducks’ wings and the hoarse voice of a great blue heron. Continual, however, was the beaver’s aquacade celebrating the season at hand.

After dipping close to a two-quart limit of smelts, the man left the river. Atop the ledges he paused to listen to the gossiping of northbound geese. Springtime is like life, he mused. It comes at us slowly and passes quickly. Trouble is, there’s so much to do — fishing, smelting, turkey hunting, picking fiddleheads — it’s hard to know which way to go. Smiling, then, he added, That is, until shags show up in the river.

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