The old man sat at the kitchen table, his knurled hands held a cold cup of coffee. It was late and he was tired. It had been a long time since he had felt so exhausted. The house was quiet. His wife of over a half century had gone to bed hours earlier.

He was alone with his thoughts and memories. His head was slightly declined, staring into the cold dark coffee, his thoughts disorganized and tormented as he tried to push them into the blackness of his mind. The memories of a half century before, when as a young soldier he had fought and survived in the far away jungles. A war he didn’t believe in, but felt compelled to serve. When those thoughts subsided, gentler memories came to him.

His son, Tom Jr., was born several years after his return from the battlefield. He recalled the happiness he and his wife felt with his birth.  Fearing for so long that they would never be able to have children. Tom Jr. was their only child and one much adored.

His eyes lifted to the many photographs on the wall of Tom. A shrine, perhaps, as the neighbors would speculate; Tom in his uniform just before he departed to Iraq, Tom as a smiling child with his mother, Tom with his ever-present dog (an Irish setter the boy had named ‘Duchess’ when he got her as a pup) and several of him and the boy, always with fishing rods in hand and often with proudly displayed fish.

Treasures the old man and the boy had shared on nearby and far away rivers in pursuit of diminutive trout or giant salmon and steelhead trout. The thoughts, the memories overwhelmed him and he turned his eyes away, unable to handle the great sorrow he felt about his son and the anger he felt about a senseless war that had taken his child from him.

When they brought his boy back from Iraq in a flag covered casket, the old couple mourned as all parents do that have lost a child. There was no consoling them and few tried. The old man had tried to talk the boy out of joining the army, but to no avail. His young son was determined, just as he had been when his own father tried to talk him out of joining. Tom besieged the boy in vain possessing the certain knowledge of where the final military destination would be and the unthinkable sacrifice his wife and he might have to give.

The old man had joined the army rangers to serve his country filled with patriotism, but that experience had changed him forever. “God damn wars”, he often cursed as he thought about his own experiences and the death of his son. His anger and sorrow combined to blacken his being. No one despises war more than the warrior who has witnessed the horrors of the battlefield. Death was his companion in the jungles and that vile taste never left his mouth. Only the wild rivers brought him solace.

He arose from the kitchen table abruptly and with uncertain legs. He had been at the table too long, he thought. Slowly and quietly walking down the hallway, he entered the attached shop and garage he had built. He turned on the single hanging light as he entered his shop filled with the carpenter tools that he had made a comfortable living with in the small village nestled between the mountains and the tools of his joy…. his fishing rods.

One wall displayed the many rods and reels he and the boy had used during their time together; Fly rods ranging from long diminutive wands designed to be used on mountain streams for small trout to heavier rods designed for salmon and giant trout on vast rivers across the globe. He noted that they were dusty and he reminded himself he should remove them from the rack and wipe the dust away. Tomorrow, he thought.

On pegs near the wall of rods were two sets of fly vests and two sets of wading boots. One set was his, the other was the boy’s. His wife wanted to put the boy’s equipment away or donate it to a local charity, fearing their reminding presence would prolong the old man’s sorrow, but he had refused. Somehow, he needed them hanging there to reassure him that his son was not truly gone and helped him bear his great loss.

The pockets of the vests were laden with the paraphernalia the fly fisherman thinks he needs to conquer the river’s fish, but it was the many fly boxes the old man sought out from the boy’s much worn vest. He selected a small box and walked back across the room to the long bench he had built to tie the many flies that were the tools of his happiness.

The tying vices and the large wooden box he had built to hold the many hooks, spools of tying threads and the hundreds of pieces of hide, fur and fabric were gone, given to a local fishing club. The old man made the donation reluctantly and only when he finally realized his tired eyes would not allow him to tie the diminutive artificials again. The treasures the boy created would be enough to last his lifetime.

During the long winters when they could not fish, the boy, his dog and the aging man would sit side by side at their tying vices creating works of art from fur and feather and hook. By the time the boy could create replicas of living insects as well as his father’s, he was entering high school and already his creations were in demand by local fishermen. The boy would give them away, refusing any form of payment.

As they tied, the old man and the boy would share memories of great rivers and small streams where they had fished and recall the beautiful treasures the waters had given them as the dog lay asleep on the floor, perhaps dreaming of fishing as well. The pair laughingly speculated, delighted with the thought of the dog dreaming of fishing. Of fish and fishing, in dreams or on rivers, this is the way of the angler.

For a moment the old man thought of the boy’s dog and a faint smile crossed his face. Tom Jr. had bought the pup with money from his part time job at the feed store. The boy and the dog grew up together. He recalled the dog’s excitement when they removed their fly rods and vests from the wall. The dog would jump and bark, knowing they were going fishing and she could come along. The boy could not tell the dog ‘no’ in spite of his father’s warnings that she would startle the trout. “There are things more important to do on the stream than catch fish”, the boy would remind his father, part of a lesson the old man had instilled in the boy’s mind about why men fish. “Fishing is not about catching fish”, Tom would tell the boy, ”It is only part of it.”

It was all part of the ritual as man, boy and dog would become a team to share something very special along the stream. The dog would only come close to the anglers when the trout was brought to net and she could excitedly inspect it closely, as if studying the trout’s great beauty and then would back away as if satisfied as the fish was released to the stream or dispatched for the evening meal. The old dog had passed away when Tom Jr was in Iraq. His father elected not to tell him fearing what the boy’s sorrow might do to his son. The boy never knew his companion was gone.

Lessons were learned at the fly vice as Tom and his son discussed fishing and its meaning. The boy would bring catalogs and fishing magazines to the bench to share with his father, showing him the finest of rod and reels, only to be admonished gently that, “the most expensive of tackle will not make you a better fisherman, just like an expensive camera will not make you a photographer. Time, practice and an understanding of the rivers flow and the fish within it are the lessons that need to be garnered to become an angler. Use what you have, appreciate it. Be the best that you can be, have patience and the river will bring you joy”, Tom told the boy.

At streamside the old man taught the boy how to cast the fly rod, how to read the river, teaching the nuances of river flow, holding waters, insect lives, stream etiquette and a hundred other lessons that shaped the boy into an angler. They both grew with each lesson, teacher and student.

After studying the contents of the fly boxes, the old man felt fatigue coming on him. He raised his gaze from the treasures in the fly box to the mirror on the wall behind the bench. He was taken back as to how old he had become; his face was resembling leather from a lifetime in the sun. His pale blue eyes were even paler as he struggled to focus on what he was seeing in the mirror.

A great pain ran down his left arm and a crushing weight was settling on his chest as he struggled to shake it off. His own reflection in the mirror was disappearing only to be replaced by the image of a mountain stream far away from him, but then he could see his son at a distance accompanied by the dog as they moved ever closer to him.

Leaning forward at the bench getting ever closer to the mirror he tried to join them, feeling stronger and better than he had for years, but something prevented it…A barbed wire fence, he thought, but he could not see it, only felt its presence. He struggled to get past this insidious blockade as the boy and his dog moved ever closer to him. He could smell the stream and the succulent vegetation around it and hear the song of welcome from the wild canaries on its shoreline and hear the river’s timeless rhapsody as it rushed to find the sea and, in the center, he could see his son with clarity totally unknown to him before.

The pain became intense, but he still struggled to join the pair on the stream. The boy faced his father and beseeched him, “Come on Pop. The fishing is going to be wonderful”.

The old man was strengthened by the moment’s events and with a smile upon his face and tears of joy pouring from his eyes, he pushed through the barrier and joined his son and the barking dog on the stream and they became one in the endless river of time.