By Sam Larson
The tiny rental cabin’s door is open behind me and I can feel the barest breath of warm air from the wood stove. It’s cold at the top of the Medicine Bow range, colder than I thought it would be in late September. There’s an almost full moon above me, leaning down over the trees. I’m looking up into the sky and crying, the stars blurring and smearing through the tears then jumping out at me when I blink, a galaxy full of hard, bright lights. I crush the empty beer can in my hand, my fifth, and toss it behind me towards the cabin door. It bounces off the door frame and rattles across the gravel, rolling back and settling near my feet. I blink again and the stars leap into focus. I shiver. I can see the future. I’ll head back into the cabin and open my sixth and final beer. I’ll go back to watching a network broadcast of Lord of the Rings. And I’ll lay in the cabin's trestle bed until I fall asleep. And I won’t pick up the phone, I won’t read my text messages, and I won’t replay my voicemail to hear her voice again. I hope all this comes true.
The cabin has a musty, stuffy heat in the morning. There's an unhealthy fug of hot, dry air around my head and cold drafts blowing across my feet. I’m an inexperienced drinker. With the pounding in my skull and the light streaming in through the windows I’m having a hard time making breakfast and coffee. Asshole, I chant to myself. Immature, bawling asshole. No wonder she wants to leave. Years from now someone is going to ask you how you survived your divorce and you’ll have to look them in the eye and tell them you got drunk by yourself and cried like a child. I’m slamming the pots around now, glowering at the saucepan on the stove and willing the water to boil faster. My bowl of oatmeal is waiting on the table and I’m clenching a chipped enamel mug in my hand, three packages of Starbucks instant coffee sifting back and forth inside it. I check that the burner is on its highest setting for the third time and then I turn, drop the mug on the table, and kick the door open, stepping out onto the frosty grass. I’ll wait out here, I think, and the water will be boiling by the time I get back inside. My van is in front of me, its windows covered in hard frost. My breath puffs in the cold air and I wonder if the season is already over up here, if I’ll find any fishable water. If I don’t, then the mountain of fishing gear in the back of my van is going to look damned silly. Back in the cabin boiling water splashes and hisses over the burner and I head back inside to make breakfast.
I drive back and forth across the Medicine Bow Range, tracing tiny blue lines on a Forest Service map with my fingertip. I fish until I can’t see straight. I force my van up and over terrain it was never meant to handle. I crash through chest-high brush without a care for my waders or the moose and bear that I know are in the neighborhood. I cast flies with a savage punching motion, splashing them down into the lakes and streams that I wade angrily into. I am doing everything I can to outlast and outrun myself. My day is full of difficult, painful, and strenuous problems of my own creation. By the time I return to the cabin I am dead tired. It’s all I can do to get my boots and waders off, gulp down some food, and then collapse into the bed, a mess of sweat, mosquito bites, and sunscreen. I caught fish despite myself, and a full day’s worth of jumping brookies fills my head, individual fish blurring into a long montage of strikes and releases. But I haven't been able to escape thinking about the trip home. About unpacking my gear into a garage that’s no longer mine and heading downstairs to the spare bedroom. About being afraid to hear my wife's footsteps as she passes down the hall and doesn't knock on the door or speak to me. About wanting to try and scrape all the pieces and parts of our lives back into a manageable whole just one more time. I’ve thrown it aside over and over, been cruel to myself all day, forced myself to focus on hiking farther, casting better, working harder. Today was a success, I think, if all it does is let me fall asleep.
Even as I lay down I know that I have to head back, that weekends like this are the exception and that the rest of life happens between fishing trips. I can’t out-hike or out-fish that fact and the weekend’s tally of brookies won’t change what waits at home. But I try to push that aside for one more night. In the dark, in a tiny cabin in the Medicine Bow, I close my eyes and dream of a river.