Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Why do the Trout Jump?

Nasturtiums, a painting by my mother.
Seamus lay on his side by the banks of the stream and took in the fullness of the May morning. Wildflowers were poking out their heads from amongst the grass and unfurling their colors. The valley was full of the yellow sun, and the resplendent green that only a spring day can bring; not quite green… a sort of yellow green… a youthful green, an infant green, a green of freshness. It gave him a feeling of innocence.

He was watching a long slow pool on the river shaded by a willow tree. Although he could not locate a single mayfly on or over the water, the trout were jumping into the air and performing summersaults in the air before slipping headfirst back into their freshet realm. He had never seen anything like it before. By twos and threes, the fish leapt into the air as if wishing to taste the surface world’s greening. A warbler provided a woodwind accompaniment from his perch amongst the bursting buds of the willow.

Seamus watched the trout for a few minutes, and pondered the ballet before him. In his hand was his father’s cherished H.L. Leonard bamboo fly rod. He turned his attention from his puzzle on the water to the handle of the rod. The cork was stained with long use. He could discern the imprint of his father’s thumb at the top end of the cork. He placed his thumb into the impression and closed his eyes, his ears still attuned to the splashes of the fish.


“Why do the trout jump?”


He thought about his father for a few minutes as the sun warmed his face pleasantly. What would he have said? He conjured a scene from his childhood in the old man’s study, a place of quiet and learning; a place of science and precision. His father stood looking at a book he had carefully taken out of the shelves buttressing the room, and easing down his glasses over his nose, was busy lecturing Seamus on the natural world. The question never was asked except in his imagination, but he knew the process of the answer would take him through anatomy, weather and barometric pressure, and angler’s streamside observations carefully recorded and now called into the courtroom to answer the question. Another book would be opened and another passage read, the author’s name preceding the quote, along with the date and the page number. Seamus would be expected to listen attentively as the case was made. His father was a lawyer, and the study in their large house in Dublin. Patrick McDermott esq. believed in science and logic, and it served him well in the courts. He would apply the same thorough analysis to this mystery of the trout. There would be a reason in the end. No mystery… but an uncovering of motive and resulting behavior. The fish would be subjected to the psychology of the individual and the group, and there would be a solution. The book would then be shut.

What that solution was, eluded Seamus’ daydreams for now, as ethereal as the memory of his father’s voice, and the smoke from his pipe as the vision dissolved in his head. He opened his eyes to the brightness of a flowering dandelion awash in bold impressionist brushstrokes of yellow and hints of orange; his mother’s favorite flower.

Mary McDermott loved God’s world and his works. She once told a young Seamus, (awash in stains from crawling through the grass and garden in the front lawn of their Dublin home), that “Dandelions were God’s paintbrushes.” He could see in his mind’s eye the ochre streaks on his boy’s pants held up with suspenders. He had felt that the stains were something bad; something he would be punished for, and had looked on his mother through tears of questioning guilt.

Whatever his mother said to him that day, and every other day she encouraged him or explained something, the focus would be God. Mary’s world was one of faithful contentment. There was a reason and a will behind every breath, every leaf that fell, every bird that sang, every bruise, and bloody knee; that of the Lord and his plan. We could not question with anger the stubbed toes of life, nor curse the road’s turns when they turned away from us, for man was the center of a plan in God’s garden, and there was a reason for everything; one that would include stories and fairy-tales and passages from the Bible as she combed his hair or mended his torn shirt. What the answer would be in the end would be sweet and simple, but remain a defined mystery. Her smile and the sense of comfort in that mystery was in complete contrast to his father’s academic approach, yet love and security warmed the young Seamus.

Mary would have said that the trout jump because it is God’s will. There would be a profound rightness and peace in her answer.

As Seamus’ eyes opened upon the banks of the stream, his left hand brushed against a tiny wildflower opening its purple petals to stare up at him. Purple was his little sister Rose’s favorite color, despite her name. She always wore a purple ribbon in her long strawberry-blonde hair as she followed him through his daily adventures. She was his favorite, and he was hers. She was as happy as he was inquisitive, his dark curly hair and brows contrasting with her round apple dimples and tiny white teeth. He made up stories for her full of knights and ladies, castles among the garden and frog princes at the edge of the little pond bordered with primrose. She listened and smiled… and always laughed.

He had visited her in her house in County Claire, married now and with a daughter and son of her own. The children taking them back to their youth in Dublin with their antics, and reminding them of stories they shared over a wine made with those dandelions of youth and crisp as their memories. Her smile and innocent exuberance had never changed. They had instead just grown larger with age and beauty.

Seamus recalled the day when he (ten years old and feeling ten feet tall and full of imagined manhood) had in response to a question posed by Rose as to why a lark, perching in a lilac bush was singing. He was doing his best to embody his father, and the answer was scientific and clinical; something about mating and territory. His voice filled with importance.

Rose had laughed and threw a handful of grass into his hair. She replied “No, silly! He is singing because he is happy!”

He opened his eyes. The trout were still jumping. Where science and religion only began to illuminate and uncover the beauty of a simple answer, innocence prevailed. She was right… the trout jumped because they were happy!

He was happy too, he thought aloud, as he bit off the fly at the end of his leader, never having wet a line that morning, but instead gathered wildflowers in his wicker creel for a love somewhere that awaited that perfect innocence he now felt.