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 words. "Arthur," my father spoke softly, "its Uncle Wolf, He's dying". 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 airport". 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 recalled. 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 sadness. "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 undesirable. 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 sister. "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 asked. "On dying" my father said. "Harry was always quite the Philosopher". 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?" "No". "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 Wolf. 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 placement. "Wow, no dries huh?" He usually tied miniature dry flies. "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 minute". 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 falls". 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 rod. 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 ridge. 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 for. 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?".