Uncle Wolf's Last Trout.

Fiction by Hilary W. Thompson.

     I know I had an attitude when all this started. I was
at a crux position in my life, a state of transition. I was
changing from a kid who had nothing to lose and a hatred of
authority to someone who had something of value: an
education, and a hope of a job or maybe even an avocation
and a career. More importantly I came to realize I was not
infinite, that there are only so many mornings to wake up
on, then there are no more. When I started the summer during
which my attitude changed, I thought my father was a fool
and an asshole. After I went through dying with Uncle Wolf
I returned home to see myself and my father in a new light
that has sustained me for the rest of my life. I also gained
a scar, a small neat scar, on my right nostril. It has yet
to disappear either.

     At the time the end came, I thought of myself as a
punk, a self mutilated drug head, who avoided study and my
parents, and who had  F'ed-up big time on several occasions.
The seeds of change, I now see, had been sown before Uncle
Wolf's gracious death. Along about Calculus II in my second
year things started to get weird.  I have no idea why I was
in Calc II, except that I managing to get an A in Calc I.
I'm not even sure why I was in Calc I, except I took it on a
whim, a bored drug freak thing that just happened after
dropping acid at registration. I went to class and began to
get like, a weird flow with math ideas and to find it
exciting and easy and I began to get good grades in spite of
myself. My professor, a nice but real bitchy lady, took me
aside and told me I had a talent. I responded
uncharacteristically and took more math courses next
semester. Then I changed majors from philosophy to math. My
image as a punk among my loser drug-using friends was
severely damaged in spite of my studied nonchalance and my
ever increasing tattoo and piercing collection. A gallery of
weirdness I formally proudly maintained on my own body as a
public testament to my disenfranchisement. It has since
become superfluous, and some of it is even healing or has
been lasered off. It all seemed no  longer necessary since
Uncle Wolf taught me in one all-too brief fishing trip over
my fall break, what it is to live so that one can die with
acceptance and peace. Such a vision can change your whole
life perspective. It did mine.

     When my metamorphosis began, I was sitting in my friend
Mutant's dorm room at the end of my second semester of my
third year in college. We were doing up some fine sensimilla
with a little crack sprinkled on for an edge. The drugs made
me feel introspective and I reflected over the events of the
last year. The weird and novel idea I was entertaining was
that maybe I wouldn't die before I was thirty, maybe I would
have a straight job and a wife and kids and a house. I took
the pipe back quickly from Mutant's tattooed hand and sucked
at it greedily, trying to burn out normalcy when it reared
its plain head.

     "Like Dude"..Mutant began a slow drawn out sentence
that his manner of speech required for even the most simple
remarks. Mutant was a Chicago Jewish boy whose father was a
rich lawyer, but mutant spoke like a California surfer,
except his counterfeit valley drawl had an odd nasal twang.
"Dude", Mutant put his head in his hands and scrubbed it
well. "Like, there is a letter for you, like..". I waited.
If you said anything, or did anything rather than sit still
and listen to the Mutant, he would reset and start all over
at the first "Dude" again. Long friendship with Mutant had
taught me to wait patiently during his fits and starts of
speech. "Like...from your Dad". He pointed at my bed where
he had stuck my mail under my top sheet.  I handed the pipe
back to him and leaned over to get the letter. It was a
business envelope characteristic of my dad in his sending
checks to me while at school. I had written and told him I
wasn't coming home, and asked if he would please send me
money for a trip to New York over the break. Mutant, myself
and a girl I bummed around with but didn't think of other
than as a friend, Amber Reilly, were going to hit bottom in
the Big Rotten Apple over the break. Mutant had sworn that
if we all went with him he would get a facial tattoo.

     I ripped open the envelope and ignored the letter
digging for the check. No check, bad news. I looked around
on the floor, I hadn't dropped it. Mutant was attending the
pipe and he didn't look up at my struggles. "Like, Dude..."
He began. I knew he wanted to know how much the check was.
His slow speech seemed to facilitate psychic linkages. "No
check", I muttered as I picked up the discarded letter. It
had the letterhead of my father's business, a financial
consultant group he headed. It was dictated, having a HW:sa
at the bottom that showed he had dictated it to his
secretary Susan Addam. It read, "Please do not travel this
summer, return home at once. We must include you in a family
meeting. Sincerely,  your father" and it was signed with his
chop which was a rubber stamp of his scrawled signature that
Susan used. "No bucks Dude." I said to Mutant. "Bummer" he
said with uncharacteristic swiftness as he handed me a
consoling pipe.

     I  called after that, late that night, to try and talk
my way out of  having to come home. I got my dad on his
cellpho at midnight his time. "Hello Arthur" my gut wrenched
when I heard his kind. soft deep voice speak my name, "I'm
glad you called". I now recall that no matter how rude I was
my father never took note of it, he always spoke to me with
patience and kindness and great indulgence. At the time I
hated him for it, maybe for not seeing my anger and even
asking me what the hell was wrong with me. I could have
understood anger and confrontation. I couldn't take infinite
love. He was coming from somewhere it took me a long time to
even guess where it was, let alone get near there myself.
     "I can't come home" I was sputtering, I was already
disconcerted and had lost the fight  and these were my first

     "Arthur," my father spoke softly, "its Uncle Wolf, He's

     Uncle Wolf now seemed a dim memory of my childhood. He
was my father's much older brother, who I mainly associated
with a bamboo fly rod and the filtered sunlight that came to
the creek we fished together. In my memory it was like the
light in a church that came through stained glass windows.
He had given me my own fly rod when I was quite young.
Before I started college, drugs and a profound and highly
cultivated and self-conscious sense of angst, I had loved to
fish. Uncle Wolf had taught me how. I remembered his smell
mostly, not stuffy or weird like a lot of real old people,
but tweedy and leather and fine, like English stuff. Uncle
Wolf was a class act, that much I remembered. I also
remember delighting him with being a quick study who quickly
became good at fly casting with his instruction. With Uncle
Wolf, fly-fishing was never called "fly-fishing", it was
"Fishing". Any another fishing-type activity was named by
its tackle. My Father was described by Uncle Wolf as going
"spinning", and someone else was a "troller". Only people
who used fly-tackle "Fished". I was a fly fishing snob from
the start and I never knew it. I stopped fishing after I
left for college anyway. At the time my memories of family
and fishing put me at war with my then-vision of myself and
who and what I thought I was.

     I felt a deep and growing nausea (Existentialism 101
hadn't really helped my youthful outlook on life) , I knew I
was trapped now, I knew I had to come home to face this. No
one in our family had died in my memory before. All my
grandparents were alive, even all the  great Uncles and
Aunts I knew. These were a long lived bunch of people who
had kids early in life and then stuck around to torment them
in their old age. Except for Uncle Wolf. He had never been
of  the family group proper. Evidence his name in the
family: he was `Uncle Wolf', last name only, not Uncle Harry
as other more accessible Uncles would have been. He went off
years before I left for college, he moved and worked further
away from the rest of our tight family than any of the rest.
He never married. I recalled that he was a geologist or some
kind of a field work-scientist type. A deep and inexplicable
attachment to him remained within me. I had not burned out
the feelings I held for him in youth the way I had my
feelings for my father, mother and sister. The sudden
intensity of remembering these feelings took me and shook me
like a beast that had fallen on me from ambush. I was
shocked, I submitted.

      "Your ticket", my fathers voice continued like a
caress I found repulsive, "is waiting for you at the

     I had a moment of rebellion. I didn't need a college
degree maybe, I could just split, leave these people on
their own. But the warm light of  a spring day came to me as
I remembered Uncle Wolf and the beauty of his casting, its
relaxed ease that once amazed me so. I had burned to be like
him, to make that white line hiss out in swift tight loops
the way he did. Nothing that involved so much hard work,
(until my recent and uncharacteristic math stirrings) had
ever aroused the slighted degree of interest in me to
emulate or accomplish since. I was shocked by the depth of
the emotions my memories of Uncle Wolf and our fly fishing

     Amber's kiss also took me by surprise. Its intensity
stayed with me on the flight longer than the buzz from the
beer and pot that Mutant and Amber had brought on the ride
to see off to the airport that morning. "Come back" she said
after she kissed me. My facade was tumbling block by block
once the functions of a real variable worked the first crack
into the wall I had built around myself.  I watched the
earth change beneath me as I winged my way back from the
east down to the west.

     It was drag-o-rama getting picked up at the airport by
my family. Nobody was looking anyone else in the eye.
     "Son", my father finally made the first cast, "Uncle
Wolf, Harry Wolf,... I was named for him you know.." he
spoke slowly, with a dreamy quality that I had never know in
his voice before. "He has cancer.  He has known it for a
while, but now he has little time left".
     "Harry, we don't know that,..." my mother interrupted,
nervous and flustered. My father stopped her with a look of
     "He has come back to spend his last time up in the
cabin at the creek. He wanted you to visit him there this
summer". My father was finished speaking, always being a man
of few but  very effective words. For my part, I was
emotionally bombed back to the stone age, down, unhigh,
bummed like a big-dog.

     I was in robot mode as I washed up and unpacked in my
own room. I felt like a trapped rat. No one, not my
effective father, my soft mother or my snotty sister could
deal with Uncle Wolf dying and being up at our cabin to do
it.  I was their whipping boy being sent out to do the

     After I had dug out my fishing gear, and packed a few
clothes I tossed my duffel in the back  of my Dad's Range
Rover and waved good-bye sadly to my subdued mother and
     "Your Uncle", my father began after a long silent drive
through town, "is a very strong and self possessed man.
Your mother and her sisters, your grandparents, he will hold
them all at arms length both to spare their own feelings,
and so that he can concentrate".
     I felt my guts churn. "Concentrate?" I at long last
     "On dying" my father said. "Harry was always quite the

     Much later, long after the time I'm telling of here, I
remember lying in Amber's arms talking after making love. I
was at last able to begin to tell her this story. She told
me in her turn how when she was six her Irish parents had
forced her to kiss an old dead Uncle in his coffin. I could
later relate to the terror she communicated about her
childhood experience as we approached the family cabin in
the woods where Uncle Harry waited. He was like a spider at
the center of his web, ready to wrap up my old life and suck
it dry so I could be reborn. Like the insect before the web,
I was ignorant of what was to come to pass.

     We pulled up to the cabin just at sunset. The windows
of the cabin were bright and the chimney poured the smoke of
a fire. The first cool nights  were beginning for that year.
I was covered with goosebumps, but not from the cool air.

     As I opened the door when my father had stopped the car
I got out and turned around. I jumped a foot in the air and
froze when I landed, my bowels spasmed as I saw Uncle Wolf
standing right in front of me. Not in the cabin waiting, but
here face to face, overtaking me like a predator.

     He smiled a kindly smile, and memories of him filled
me. He slowly reached toward me. I was in a dream, the cabin
was gone, the car was gone, my father was gone, there were
paths of light every where. It was like an acid trip or a
Carlos Castaneda book or some other kinda' weird stuff. I'll
never forget that moment. I'll especially never forget the
next moment, because Uncle Wolf continued to reach toward me
with a curious smile on his face. I remember lifting my arm
thinking he was going to shake my hand, but then he had a
hold of my golden nose ring, the proudest symbol of my
rebellion. I was catatonic, on the verge of a falling fit
when he ripped it out of my nostril.

     I fainted deep. I awoke in the cabin smothered by a
blood covered towel from which my nose and one eye
protruded. Above me I saw Uncle Wolf wielding a fine pair of
clamps above my nose, stitching fine sutures into the tough
cartilage of my nose. It was still numb.
     "Sorry, Boy", "I am really sorry. I didn't mean to pull
so hard, but I just didn't think the damn thing was real".
     I didn't, couldn't speak. It took me a moment to
realize that he hadn't killed me and taken me to the land of
the dead with him.

     "So'K" I managed to mutter. and closed my eyes again. I
went back to sleep, and later, much later I remember waking
and listening to my father and Uncle Wolf speaking in soft
tones in the next room. They weren't talking softly to avoid
waking me, they were just the kind of guys who spoke softly
a lot.
     I recall times when I drank and smoked too much of
whatever and fell asleep in the middle of the day, then
waking up with a sense of alarm not knowing what time or
even what day it was. That night in the cabin I suffered a
more deep and disturbing confusion of time, I forgot what
age I was as I listened to the distant murmurs of the men's
small, soft speech among the pines shush, shush in the night
breeze outside. I was six again, safe in the bosom of my
family and waiting to go fishing the next day, no piercings,
no nausea, no tattoos, no anger.

     The next morning I awoke late, with a throbbing face. I
put my hand cautiously to feel my nose and found a line of
fine stitches that were beginning to itch more than throb.
In the kitchen, the smell of coffee and bacon beckoned.
     "Good morning, Art", the dead man to be was looking at
me directly and I was hit by the sudden return of the fear
and concern over being with someone close to death. I
smiled, genuinely glad to see him once I forgot the death
thing and said "Hey Uncle Wolf". He was calm, nothing seemed
amiss, perhaps we could get past this whole death thing
unscathed, I was thinking. Then Uncle Wolf started into the
`Feel Like I'm Fixing to Die' rag.

     "I believe I'm going to die in the next few days, and I
very thankful you agreed to come down to stay with me".

     He laid it out direct like that, like "would you pour
me another cup of coffee please?". I looked at him intensely
then, straight at him, disregarding his returned stare, and
inspecting him as if he were an animal in a zoo. His color
was good, suntanned skin, not too wrinkled, like fine old
leather. He smiled at me with a clear bright smile. "Why
me?" I asked in a tone that implied I felt others might be
better suited for the job.

     "Your dad, is.., well things are too easy for Harry,
they always have been". "I mean learning is easy, making
lots of money is easy, accepting others is easy". Uncle Wolf
regarded me, "He must have been a hell of a Dad, and hell as
a Dad both, eh?".

     "Yeah,...yeah, he was", I was nodding forgetting the
death thing for a moment since he had jumped into the tight
space in my head so quickly, "and you're right it was all
too easy for Dad, that's what made his terminal mellowness
so hard to take, so sick.." I hesitated, realizing too late
I had said "terminal".

     Uncle Wolf laughed with a hard loud laugh,  as
surprising as gunfire indoors. It started out as a low "Huh-
Huh-Huh,..." and burst to fill the cabin like dishes
breaking. I was laughing too, a kind of relief, at having a
release for my feelings about my father, and a kind ear for
them, at not talking about death more right then.

     "He isn't always so perfect, nor has he always been so
serene in his acceptance of others". I perked up. Dad was a
saint in family circles, and no-one would ever have spoken
about him like this, that was another thing that made him
hard for me to take.

     "He never could learn to fly cast", I looked at Uncle
Wolf in frank disbelief. I had never thought about it, but
my father had in the past only grudgingly put in time at the
family cabin on the little stream in the woods, but when he
did he plead `time constraints" when it came to fishing with
me and Uncle Wolf. My Father talked like that all the time,
in a formal professorial manner. When he did come out he
used a spinning rod, pleading time again as an excuse.

     "That's why I was so pleased when you learned so
quickly and well and took to the spirit of the thing as well
as just having the athletic ability and co-ordination to
cast well". He put a plate of bacon and scrambled eggs with
cheese in front of me without asking if I wanted any. I
didn't consider myself a breakfast person, other than
drinking beer in the A.M.,  but this morning I was hungry.

       Uncle Wolf got up from the table and looked over my
gear as I ate. He took my rod, the graphite Sage he had
given me years before, out of its case and looked it over
closely. Pulled some of my line off the reel and stretched
it, looked over my neoprenes. Then he turned to his leather
bag to unpack his own equipment. He had given me nice
durable quality stuff, but his own gear was of a different
generation, bamboo rod in a leather case, rubberized canvas
waders with a road map of scratches and patches, sewn spots
with rubber sealer. Threadbare canvas patches here and
there, gummed up with sealant. An ancient tan vest that
looked like an exhibit from the museum of flyfishing.
     "When he was young I had to bail your father out of
jail one time", Uncle Wolf continued in a detached way.
     "Really ?, What'd he do?" I asked, excited at the
tiniest crack in my father's armor of perfection and
infuriating acceptance of others.
     "He was Driving Under the Influence, DUI, and he was
wasted, drunk as a skunk, tanked and toasted, etc., etc."
     I smiled with glee, remembering the calm acceptance I
hated my father for when he came to get me after I got
arrested for urinating in public once when I was home.
Mutant and I had gotten too drunk for public consumption and
peed on the sidewalk outside the bar before driving home.
The local cops had been watching. At a time like that, you
expect your father at least to tell you what a dumb ass you
were, but all I got was "hey, its OK" and a big hug.
     "You got any flies?" Uncle Wolf asked, as I ate the
last bite of my breakfast, still savoring not the food but
the intelligence that my Dad might have F'ed up in his fair
youth like yours truly.
     "No, no I don't". I had long neglected the tackle, but
at least it had been put away clean, and I didn't take it to
college so I couldn't hock it as I had stereo, watch and
other past gifts from my family.
     "I got plenty, lets get out and look at the water".
     OK by me, better than anymore "thanks for coming to my
death" type stuff. I put my dish in the sink and we picked
up our gear, waders over our shoulders, carrying our rods in
pieces. I relied on Uncle Wolf for a vest full of little
details like nippers. leaders and flies.

     Outside the sun was bright, and the sky cloudless. A
cool early fall day, perfect. I scratched my nose, and Uncle
Wolf looked sideways at me.

     "Try and keep your hands off that". I nodded as he
moved in close to me and touched my neck to guide my head
into good light so he could see his work.
     "Looks good, not much swelling, the itching is a good
sign at this stage. I'm sorry I had to do the stitches
without any local but when you sew something up fine like
that, the local causes swelling and the scar would have been
bigger. As it is I think it will be a nice small scar, not
even noticeable in a year or so".

     "How did you learn to do stitches?" I asked.

     "I was always the first aid guy on a lot of field
trips, I got a lot of practice, always tried to learn from
the real doctors when I could".

     We walked down a trail in front of the cabin that lead
upstream. The maples and aspen along the stream, and up the
hillside were bands of red and yellow, a few cool nights had
already past. Now the weather was warm in the middle of the
day and just cool in the evenings. About a quarter of a mile
from the house we came to a wide spot in the creek that I
remembered as the spot where I had first held a fly rod and
Uncle Wolf had taught me how to cast. I also caught my first
trout here with him at my side, a little cutthroat. A wooden
bench had been here as long as I could remember. It was the
place you sat to pull on waders and to gear up. We just
always carried things from the cabin and put waders on here.
I don't know exactly why we always did it that way, we just
always did.

     "OK, cast for me"
     I felt a little stiffness of fear in me as I took my
rod which he had assembled while I pulled the tight
neoprenes over my jeans. I hadn't cast in so long that I
just had to try, not to think about what I had forgotten. I
wiggled the rod tip to get some line out on the stream, let
the current carry some more line out of the rod tip and
forgetting I didn't remember, I roll cast to get line in the
air, stopped with snap to get a good loop on the backcast
and dropped a nice little cast upstream.
     "Good!, nice. You are rusty though. Haven't been
fishing have you?"
     "Well, life can get ahead of you while you try to get
ahead of it", he nodded as continued as if speaking to
himself, "you shouldn't let it. If you love fishing, make
time for it, no matter what life hands you. I always did,
and now I'm very glad I did".

     I looked at him, realizing his statement carried more
weight than such statements usually did. The reality of his
death hit me then I think. I had not, until that moment,
accepted the fact of his imminent death, I had instead been
bargaining with the idea. Making deals that made it go away
in my head. "I'll have a nice visit, and I'll leave and
he'll go in the hospital and get cured". "I'll be here for a
while and I'll see him get sick and I'll call (the
ambulance, the cops, my Dad), and save his life". None of
these deals were gonna work. It was me and him and he was
going to die and that was it. It was really a hard idea to
get, he looked great, not like I had first imagined that he
would be pale and wasted. He looked like he'd live to be
100. He wouldn't. I felt chilled, and pulled my waders up
and pulled the shoulder straps into place.

     We walked a bit then, down the stream to a bend where
you could wade into the stream and cast a short distance
over easy water to the far undercut bank. This was an easy
spot to catch fish, a spot where, when Uncle Wolf visited
and the whole family was out here, my father and sister
would stop to fish with their spinning rods while Uncle Wolf
and I went on upstream to the "flats" and other more
interesting little places to fish on our families water.
     "Can you still mend?" Uncle Wolf asked, pointing at the
bend. I looked at the water, and he stared down at it too.
He pulled a screen from his vest and held it in the water,
nymphs and a clear larva of some sort were on it. "Dry fly",
he said, "dry fly to get things started". He took my leader
and held his fly box close to his face, picking out a tiny
gnat of peacock and grizzly hackle he tied it on.
     I was showing off my skills soon, things I was amazed I
hadn't forgotten how to do, things he had burned into my
circuits when I was too young to resist. I caught three fish
there, all on the same little fly, nothing had been rising
when I began, but they came to the gnat. They rose and
struck at it and I hooked them, and Uncle Wolf netted them
for me. "You still got it" he smiled. "You want to try" I
asked. He shook his head, "I'd rather watch you".

     We fished on. I came back to fishing in the time we
spent, me fishing and Uncle Wolf coaching and offering
advice on where the fish were, and how to cast to them. It
felt so good, the color in the trees, the melancholy of fall
like bittersweet joy. I forgot to be angry, I forgot I was
alienated, I forgot I was supposed to keep up my pose. I
forgot and I scratched my nose a lot. I forgot all, but he
and I and the creek, and the fish, I did catch some fish,
not large ones but a steady flow of 10 to 13 inch rainbows
and cutthroats. I remembered that as one of my great joys in
my youthful fishing, I always caught at least some fish, and
usually more and larger than anyone. Anyone except Uncle

     That night back at the cabin we sat outside under a
clear sky and Uncle Wolf built a fire in the old well-
blackened fire ring. As the darkness deepened and grew vast
about us, the fire-light became a smaller and smaller area
in a great blackness. Far above, if you reared back, you
could see stars scattered like strange characters spelled
out in jewels. The message in them was a mystery to me.
     I looked  sideways at Uncle Wolf. He was deeply calm as
he sat next to me. Many times I had stolen glances at my
young friends, the people with whom I spent all my time.
Emotions moved across their faces like clouds casting
shadows in glaring sunlight as they moved across a desert.
Uncle Wolf's face was a clear, calm day in comparison. I was
shocked, I stared and he turned to look into my eyes.

     "There are only so many days." he said.

I had been desperately trying to think how to bring up the
death thing. I had a hundred questions, none of which I had
the courage to ask. I only nodded.

     "All of us act, especially the young..., well, we act
as if we are immortal and all our joys are eternal. As if
waking and morning and coffee and days and work and play
will go on forever as they do for our short time. As a
result the time is lost. A day is a singular joy and we put
it away quickly thinking it will be easily returned to. It
never can be again."

     He continued, but I was smitten to the core by these
first words of his. They rang in me like some great gong in
an old movie, their vibrations changing my heart. I
realized, after the initial shock that he was completely
correct, that our lives rushed by while we waited
impatiently for `something to happen'. Life, my life was
happening right now every moment, and I tapped my foot and
thought of what was to come. Death would come and end the
days as it was about to end Uncle Wolf's days. I was no
longer afraid now that this thought had filled me, I was
grateful for him choosing me to be with in his last days.
But then our history together was a simple and joyful one,
he imparted to me wonderful skills and a perfect pleasure in
a task at once simple and endless complex: catching trout on
bits of fur and feathers worked on a hook.

     "When I found out I had a short time to live, I went
through all the usual feelings. It is a well documented
process, feelings of anger, resentment, bargaining in your
mind for alternatives, acceptance and at last, if you're
lucky, a new outlook. The new outlook is simple, it takes
joy in every moment of life remaining, ignores or dismisses
as trivial no detail, becomes greedy for the tiniest
pleasures and savors them like the greatest moments of life.
To live even a few months in such a state, I wouldn't have
missed it. I ended being glad I found out that I would die,
just so I could live at least some days looked at with a
microscope instead of a calendar. Now it seems the only part
of my life I've been present for."

     I nodded then, and we sat silently. Then he turned to
me. "I took this out of your bag when I got your fishing
gear this morning." He held out a vinyl baggy with a few
joints I had brought along just in case. My guts froze. He
tossed it into the fire. The plastic bag twisted, melted and
flared up, the contents a brief and twisted puff of smoke.
When he burned the bag my frozen guts warmed. "I'm sorry to
pry, and when you leave here you're on your own, but I felt
strongly that I needed all of you here with me for the next
few days. It means a lot that no part of you be missing at
any minute." It seemed right to me then, it still seems
right to me now. Those were the last illegal drugs that I
ever took or owned. Like those delinquent kids taken to
prison for a visit, death gave me a gentle, kind nod and a
grim smile and I was scared straight. More than fear there
was that sweet hint, like a twinge of religious belief felt
as true for the first time, This was that approached
properly, life could be filled, each and every busy day with
an incredible spiritual sweetness, far more heady than any
feeling drugs could ever impart.

     I'm not sure he slept during our last days together. We
would talk until I grew too weary to stay up, and coffee and
breakfast always greeted me in the morning. On our last day
of fishing, I found him at the table. My breakfast was
already set out. He must have heard my stirrings when I
woke. Fly tying materials were neatly arranged around a vise
and tools, and he was finishing up his efforts. Putting the
flies in a box, cleaning up and carefully placing each tool
and material in its appointed place in his kit.

     He handed me one of the flies as I sat slurping a too
hot cup of coffee. I was startled and nearly shook it out of
my hand, so much did it look like one of the little sculpins
in the creek. I thought at first glance that he had put a
live bait fish into my hand. Looking more closely, I saw a
lure of beautiful workmanship, formed of dyed wool and
synthetics, with a reflective eye of perfect portion and
     "Wow, no dries huh?" He usually tied miniature dry
     "Were going for bigger fish today." He smiled, and
glowed as if lit from within. I will never forget the state
of his physical being during our final days together. I have
heard its like described only in the writings of Indian
Yogis in their descriptions of deeply realized teachers late
in their lives. I was in awe of him anew each day I was with
him at the end. He seemed to be both less and more
substantial and `real' than the things around him. My speech
changed. I realized that some time before I stopped using
`like' and `dude' and began to speak in a simple manner. The
words flowing out gave me pleasure in and of themselves,
there was no longer a need to posture while speaking them or
to squirm and twist my face to get them out. There was also
not a need to speak if there was nothing that needed said.
     He handed me another of his bamboo rods to put together
and rig up. It was a 6 weight, heavier than the rods we had
been fishing. As I admired the old fine rod, holding it up
and looking closely at the sunlight on its golden varnish,
Uncle Wolf packed a backpack. He carefully folded two blue
plastic tarps, some rope, and a flashlight. On top of these
things he placed a lunch and snacks, a jacket of mine and
two water bottles. I wasn't watching him at the time, I only
found out later what he had packed.
     We started off, he with the pack and in his waders, I
in my waders carrying the flybox and the beautiful golden
bamboo 6 weight rod. We walked slowly past the pools we had
fished yesterday. We approached as if we were fishing and
watched the trout feeding for a time. They were bowing their
backs against the surface, rolling like dolphins in the sea.
As the sun rose they shifted to surface feeding, I wanted to
cast but Uncle Wolf stopped me. "We've got bigger fish to
catch but not fry" he said. He very rarely killed fish.
     As the day wore on the sun rose and warmed the air, I
pulled my waders suspenders down off my shoulders and pulled
the tops down to my waist. We stopped at many spots along
the stream to watch fish, to talk of  how they might be cast
to, how the drift over them could be handled and how they
would be caught. We did not fish. At noon we sat at the edge
of a meadow and I ate a sandwich and an apple, I drank a
bottle of water. Uncle Wolf took a little water. I realized
it was the first thing I saw him intake since I had been
with him. He rinsed his mouth and spat it out.
     After noon we began to climb a bit. The hill alongside
the stream held the trail and it jumped up past a rapid
section. Above this point was a bend in the stream and a
rifle section then a pool. At the head of the pool was a
small drop, past a large rock. It was a miniature waterfall
that was like a Japanese garden, a tiny replica of larger
things. One could look at it and lose sense of scale.
     "This is the place" Uncle Wolf said, "we have to
approach carefully and slowly. Let's just sit down for a
We had been walking for some time and I was grateful for a
rest. I slumped a bit but Uncle Wolf, though he sat quietly
was totally alert and watchful of the water. Nothing
happened for what seemed like a long time. Thinking back I
realized I might have dozed, but there is no one who knows
what I did that afternoon. I have only my memory.
     I had either dozed off, or I was in a reverie as I was
brought back to the moment by Uncle Wolf's hand on my
shoulder. He had seen what he was looking for. He put his
hand to his mouth to silence me and we walked off the trail
and into the woods. We headed to a vantage point at the head
of the pool by a route that would not let us be seen from
the water. The brush around the stream at this point was
much more dense and entangling than I expected. Uncle Wolf
moved on like an animal, without a sound and very other
little hint of his swift passage. I was stuck. I had to back
up a bit and disentangle myself and the rod from the thorny
bushes. I was alone by the time I was free and had turned
the rod around to trail behind me at a low angle.
     I moved through the thicket, stopping three times to
disentangle myself and the equipment. When I emerged I saw
Uncle Wolf lying on his stomach at the edge of a small
clearing that looked over the head of the little pool. I
dropped down and crawled low to lie beside him.
     He spoke in a low voice, not a whisper as I expected.
"Lift up on your elbows and look down at the pool, look
carefully under the edge of the rock at the lip of the
     I pushed up and looked down. The sun had began to drop
behind the hills and the air had begun to cool. At first as
I looked where he had directed me, I saw nothing. Then a
swirl of a small fish washed over the lip of the bonsai-
scale falls caught my eye. It also caught the attention of
our subject. I saw the entire shadow under the rock move and
realized it was not a shadow. In fact the sun was no longer
on the rock to even throw a shadow where this one lie. It
was a very large trout that was all black. I was shocked, I
mean I felt literally as if electricity were coursing
through my body. The fish might have been as long as thirty
inches I believe. It did not have a dark back and a light
undersides, it was all black. Black and vast. With great
economy it moved from its sheltering and feeding lie to
daintily suck in the little fish, and then return to its
imitation of the shadow of a large rock. I fell prostrate
again, my elbows would not support me.
     "You saw him, huh" Uncle Wolf was smiling at me. I
rolled on my side and looked up at him.
"He is big"
"Big and black".
I lifted up again and looked down at him again. Once again
he looked like a shadow, a shadow of a large rock.
"OK now if we move back into the woods, go downstream about
a hundred yards and cross the stream, we can move up to that
spot above the rock. From there we can get a cast by letting
our sculpin imitation drop over the ledge just like that
natural you just saw him take".
     It took me an hour to make the trip. I was way behind
Uncle Wolf. When I arrived he was sitting cross legged on
one of the blue plastic tarps looking down on the pool from
above the rock. Our position was out of the fishes line of
sight. We moved little and carefully, and spoke quietly to
avoid vibrating the ground or otherwise alerting the black
behemoth of our presence.
"You ready?" Uncle Wolf asked.
I was as ready as I was ever going to be. This was not like
the fishing we had been doing all week, watching the drift
and mend of little dries for small rising rainbows. There
was a totally different feel about this. For one thing it
was an entire day of travel on foot and then one cast. Not
quite the usual day of fishing. I had the feeling however
that that one cast was a sure thing. The big fish would take
the sculpin fly if it dropped over the falls on enough slack
line. It was what I would do when he took it that was
troubling me.

"OK here's the plan, first put a short false cast that way
(he pointed across the stream away from the fishes lie),
then turn it around and drop it right there (he pointed at
the stream just to our right, not two yards before the
stream tumbled over the miniture cataract) shake the tip to
get some slack in the leader and let it go over, then hold
on kiddo". He smiled a great cheshire cat smile.
I rolled to a sitting position slowly. I got on my knees and
sized up my cast. I checked my leader (2X) and knot, snapped
out a cast, shot line on the backcast, turned the cast
forward with at the end of the cast a lateral wrist motion
to put some slack in the line. My gut tightened, it had all
gone fast and just right first try, I had another loop of
line I released and the fly tumbled over the falls.
     The line tightened as I lifted. I knew I was fast to
the fish. I got to my feet and stepped to the edge of the
bank. The next thing I knew I was stairing at the white
backing on the reel which meant that the entire 100 feet of
flyline was out.
"Follow him!" Uncle Wolf barked. I was off, stumbling down
the hill and running along side the stream, gaining line as
I went until he stopped. He was under a large rock. I gained
more line and waded into the stream so I could put pressure
on the great fish from the side. I loked over my shoulder
for a daring moment that could have lost the fight right
there. I looked at Uncle Wolf, he was sitting cross legged
on the blue tarp, his white teeth flashing bright in a huge
grin lit by the last rays of the dying sun.
     Before I could turn my concentration back to the fish
he ran again and I was into the backing again and chasing
him again. After the second run I caught up with him as he
turned round and round in a large pool. He seemed to be
tiring a bit, or so I would have liked to think. I had lots
more line back from him this time, the leader perhaps three
feet from the tip. I needed to stophim here, perhaps to turn
him before he left this pool. He moved toward the tail of
the pool. I put pressure on him, a lot of pressure I
thought, since the leader was heavy. He ignored me and moved
on like he had decided that to ignore me was the best
policy. I paniced, I reared back on the rod with a pressure
that should even have broken the 2X. It broke the rod
instead. The tip snapped and the slack let the fish off the
hook. The great black fish was still in the water of the
pool right in front of me, not 10 feet away. For a moment I
felt as if I was going to jump on him, to try and grab him
up in my arms by diving in the water. I stopped like you do
when you are tempted to dash in front of a car and suddnely
realise you can't make it and he can't stop. The fish seemed
to look up at me and in the next moment he was over the
rocks at the tail of the pool and gone.
     I turned back towards Uncle Wolf and realized then I
had run after the fish around the bend in the stream. I
began to walk back and my heart wrenched when I remembered
that I had broken the beutiful golden cane. To remind me its
tip dragged on the rocks at the edge of the pool. I gathered
it up and collected the line. I carried the rod piecies back
up stream with a heavy heart. One cast, one fish, one broken
     When I turned the bend and looked up to where Uncle
Wolf was sitting, I saw him lying down. I began to jog
towards him, splashing across the stream and stumbling down
it to take the shortest route to him.
     When I reached him he was lying on his back. His face
looked peaceful and his eyes were open looking up at the
sky. I knew before I touched his neck and called his name
that he was dead.
     I knelt and cradled him in my arms. I was crying. I
remember that crying even now, recalling that I felt then
that the earth itself shook with my sobs. His waders dragged
the blue tarp into folds. I rocked him as I knelt holding
hom and wailing as my tears splashed on his face and into
his open eyes. I tried to close his eyes. They would not
close. His face still semed to have a smile and his body was
soft and not yet cold. I turned away.
     I sat beside him for a very long time. It grew dark.
The sounds of the stream and the woods came back to my
senses after a very long time. I was cold. I at long last
began to move to assess my situation and to collect myself
to think what I must do.
     I examined the pack he had set beside the blanket and I
realized that he had provided for me in all the difficulties
I would have. It was dark, he had brought a flashlight. I
had a body to transport, there were two tarps and rope. I
was thirsty and hungry, there was more water and food. I was
cold, there was a jacket and a space blanket. His open eyes
troubled me, there was a hankercheif. It had a starmap
printed on it. I began with the eyes. I moistened the starry
hankercheif in the cold water of the creek where I had
hooked the enormous black trout, Uncle Wolf's last. I tied
in around his head and put it over his eyes.
     At this point I was over the initial shock to the
degree that I could get us out of the woods. It would take
me all night I thought, but I was calmed and ready to
procede. He was already lying on the tarp and I began by
centering him on the blue plastic and folding it over him.I
placed the broken rod pieces on his chest and folded his
arms over them. Next I put down the second tarp and rolled
Uncle Wolf with his first wrap of tarp onto it. I took the
rope and tied it around him and the first tarp at his waist
and then again at his feet. I cut the rope and wrapped the
second tarp so I could drag and carry the body and have a
length of line to lower it down steep sections of the path.
     By the time I felt ready to begin our journey back from
Uncle Wolf's last day of fishing, a bright pearly light hit
my eyes. The full moon had risen from behind the mountain
     I don't really recall much of the detail of my efforts.
It did take me all night to get Uncle Wolf home. I remember
crawling on my hands and knees after the wrapped body
several times. I remember pain in my hands where the rope
burned me as I braced myself and lowered him down steep
sections of the trail. I talked to him the entire time.
Sometimes it seemed as if he answered me with his soft-
spoken, short punchline replies.
     We arrived at dawn. I carried him in my arms the last
hundred yards to the cabin. My father was there waiting and
he took the blue wrapped body from me as I collapsed.
     Later I found out that Uncle Wolf had a cell-phone too,
like my Dad. He had called the night before and invited my
father up to help me the next morning, he wouldn't say what

     Now many years later I am finally able to tell this
tale. I related to my old feelings as I thought of my youth,
I recalled the changes I under went as a result of being
with Uncle Wolf in his last days.
     Why did I finally decide to write this down, this tale
that has been a silent part of me for so long, of an
experience that formed me into the man that I became?
     I'm not sure. Perhaps it was looking at a journal. This
journal was among the tackle and fly tying tools that Uncle
Wolf had left me. Amber came across it when we were cleaning
and asked about it. It was his journal not of fishing sucess
and patterns fished but of personal experience. It began
"There are only so many days...".
     Perhaps it was my own son, now six years old. The age I
was when Uncle Wolf first took me under his wing to teach me
to fish. We were at the cabin, the cabin where I spent Uncle
Wolf's last days with him. I was teaching my son to fly
fish. As we practiced the chopping motions of the beginners
cast, my son asked, seemingly out of the blue "Daddy, what
happens when we die?".