Monday, December 17, 2018


I followed Matt out of town along Route 30 toward Dorset. Crammed into his rig along with fly rods, wading gear and fly boxes were his wife Amanda, and his sons, Cam and Jonah. We had no clear destination, just some mumbled words from the bar the night before about "...follow the road and you'll see water."

We had been in Manchester, VT at the American Museum of Fly Fishing for the weekend to attend the opening of the "On Fly in the Salt" exhibit and to participate in the annual Fly-Fishing Festival. Saturday night had turned into Sunday morning faster than I had anticipated after finishing a second bottle of Pinot while telling fishing and non-fishing stories with my buddy Alex. Thankfully, as is the case with most New England towns, Dunkin was there and a large regular and an Old Fashioned had muffled the sound of the windshield wipers and brought me back to life. It wasn't raining so much as the air was just saturated with water. But it was August and there was no reason not to go for a walk in the woods in the rain
Matt pulled off onto a side road and crept along as we passed over a small stream almost visible through the branches and leaves from the bridge above. We found parking in a clearing just past the stream and I savored the last of my coffee as he geared his family up. He went about rigging rods with flies I could barely see and gave tips to the boys as they forced wading boots on over neoprene socks, his words and tones seemingly dwarfed by the size of the flies he was tying to leaders. I wondered if he was reliving a similar moment with his father as I recalled my own quietly telling me to load my rifle and what to look for as we prepared to enter the woods next to the upper field at the farm. History repeating; different, but the same.
Gearing up.

I had opted not to fish, choosing instead to bring the camera and notebook along. I was looking forward to traipsing around the woods and exploring a new place. It had been a long time since I had followed a stream through the woods. After two decades of walking beaches, sand flats and muddy salt creeks, the art of silently and gracefully walking through understory and windthrow that was once second nature seemed foreign. Stepping into the trees was like stepping back in time, old instincts and reflexes returned without a thought. We made our way down a short ridgeline through broadleaf's and evergreens to a "flat" of sorts, blanketed with ferns and woody shrubs. The gray light penetrating the canopy above cast a metallic-green glow through the air around us and the drops of water falling off the leaves and branches reminding me of bioluminescent phytoplankton in the wake of ships at sea.

Standing at the edge of the stream, Matt had a few words with the boys and then watched them as they headed upstream on their own. The look on his face as they walked off on their own was one of pride and confidence. This was one of the moments I was fishing for that day, watching my friend, as a father, impart some of what he had been taught and learned on his own to his sons and observe history being passed on and made in the same heartbeat.

Matt and Amanda crossed to the far side of the stream and began making their way down to a deep hole in the elbow of a dogleg. I dropped down the other side trying to avoid getting too close to the stream bank and found a small clearing below where I watched Matt pointing out pieces of water and quietly explaining to Amanda what he was seeing.
Matt & Amanda Smythe
This was another moment I had wanted to see. Amanda had just started fly fishing earlier in the year and while this outing was just part of the beginning of her fishing experience, it was becoming part of their history together. I knew what that meant to them both.

They started casting into the hole and working the water around it making rod length casts and mending their lines in the current. I watched mesmerized by the delicacy and precision of their movements laughing to myself in the knowledge that later in the day I would be back in the marsh throwing eighty foot casts into the river with no concern or regard for anything other than getting the line out there believing all the while that I was being delicately precise in my delivery.
Matt & Amanda Smythe

It wasn't long before we heard Jonah shout from upstream. Matt and I made our way to him where he was beaming with a brookie at the end of his line. I looked around the water Jonah had been fishing, no more than ten or twelve inches deep and maybe six feet between the banks. I'm not a trout fisherman so the idea that he had caught a fish in that water was impressive to me. More so was his concern about releasing the fish without injuring it and the maturity he showed about the whole thing. Jonah just quietly told his father he needed help getting the fly out, which Matt did quickly, made up his rod and with a pat on the head took off to his next spot. The look on Matt's face? Pride and confidence.
Jonah's brookie
I decided to follow the boys from there and would circle around them, back and forth, along the stream watching them not only fish but as they would pause every few minutes to look around where they were, standing silent and seem to ponder it all. They continued separately up the stream bed around obstacles and through overgrowth, naturally moving with the innate and acquired skills of woodsmen. In a world where it seems most people, not just kids their ages, are physically and emotionally dependent on some sort of electrical device to navigate their way through an increasingly digital life it was refreshing to see these two boys make their way toward whatever was ahead and yet to be seen,  fully aware of, and engaged with, the natural world around them.

Jonah Smythe
I even found myself standing silent, immersed in both the mortality and immortality of where we were and what we were doing. Sitting on a boulder at the edge of the stream and watching Cam studying the water in front of him I was reminded of a poem his father had written. Some of the words washed through me and circled my mind like the water flowing over and around the rocks at my feet.

"I run solo but I'm not alone.

It's in my blood. My Blackfoot ancestry. I feel them running with me and the hair on my neck and forearms stands on end. I hear them in the wind off the lake and in the song of leafed branches overhead.

I was given endurance and two legs that respond when I say go.

I was not given excuses.

I run because I can and carry everything on these two feet and shoulders, until I carry nothing."

I don't think he knew I was there but if he had asked me what I was doing, I would have told him I was watching the poet's son living the poet's words.

Cam Smythe
The title of the poem is "Give Me Trails." Matt and his friends Denver Miller and J.R. Kraus put the poetry to film. You can watch it and hear it in Matt's voice HERE.

Eventually we regrouped and made our way back up the ridge to the clearing. We packed up, said our good-byes and began the trek back to our lives.

We came together to celebrate the history held by the American Museum of Fly Fishing. On our walk in the woods, I hope we made some, and found some, of our own.

Manchester, VT
12 August 2018