Seeing a child stand on the banks of a river with a fishing pole in hand and an eager look on their face is not only a feel good moment but an evocative one as well that conjures memories of other times and other rivers.
When I was about six grandmother and I decided it was a perfect day for fishing and headed to the river, me carrying poles and grandmother with cornbread and jerky wrapped in the remnants of a sheet, and as a special treat coffee laced with honey in an old fruit jar – water wasn’t an issue if we became thirsty because we would drink from the river.
It wasn’t that far of a walk and grandmother shortened the distance with stories of rivers and water spirits – upon arrival we spent a few moments surveying and deciding what spots held the most promise.
Things began slowly but the thing about rivers is success often becomes secondary to the tranquility and sense of well being they impart – the movement and associated sounds.
As I sit in a semi reclining position using one of the hounds as a sort of back rest I felt a nibble on my line, then another, and finally a strong hit that I jerked my pole in unison with to set the hook.
Excitedly I jumped to my feet and began what in a child’s mind was an epic battle, this was more than a mere fish, had of I’ve known about Moby Dick then I probably would have believed he was on the other end of line.
Grandmother was laughing and offering words of encouragement, after what seemed like an eternity I prevailed and was stunned to see I had hooked two fish on the same hook, something in retrospect I think of as a near impossibility.
Grandmother told me she had never heard of such a thing and surely this must be a gift from the spirit who dwelled in the river suggesting it would be appropriate to express my gratitude and possibly offer something in return.
As a six year old my worldly possessions were scant, aggravated by the poverty that was our constant companion, nonetheless I began to root around in my pockets, a search that produced a couple of small stones that had caught my attention, a piece of an arrowhead I had found and old brass Calvary button I had stumbled across a week or two earlier.
Weighing their significance and comparative value I decided due to it being the only one I had ever seen the Calvary button would be appropriate and asked grandmother for her opinion.
She replied that it was a thing between me and the river, my decision and should come with the best of intent.
I was going to throw it in the river but for some reason thought better and made a small totem of stones placing it on the top.
We continued fishing for a time with me surreptitiously glancing at my offering to see if it was still there or had found favor – having caught enough for the days supper and the next day as well we gathered up and began the journey home.
As I child I suppose I expected a spirit to rise from the river and accept my gift before my very eyes and asked grandmother related questions, she assured me all was well and not to worry about it.
The first thing on my mind the next morning was the river and my offering, I suspect grandmother being well versed in the ways of children expected such would be the case and when I mentioned maybe we should go fishing again she just smiled and said she was thinking the same thing, so off we went.
On the way there grandmother couldn’t help but tease me a little saying maybe we should try a different spot knowing full well what my intentions were.
Upon arrival I dropped everything and ran to see if the button was still there or gone, to my complete joy it was no longer where I had placed it.
I looked around a little to see if it had fallen off but saw no evidence of that- now as adult or had I been older I might have thought a coon or otter had came upon it, found it attractive, and carried it off – but I wasn’t, and didn’t.
We remained for an hour or so before deciding we had enough fish to meet our needs and returned home where I excitedly related events to my mother.
A few days passed and while the river and the button remained fresh in my memory other pursuits were occupying my thoughts.
On about the fourth or fifth day I awoke early and went outside to greet the day and the hounds to discover a thumbnail size gold nugget and that very button in a corner of the porch I favored to sit on.
My eyes must have popped out of my head like a cartoon character and I didn’t know what to make of it so I ran back in the house to rouse grandmother to come and take a look, which she did.
As was grandmother’s way she studied these things for a few moments making no comment, then she said it was a medicine sign and began singing a medicine song.
Even at that age I understood gold had a value and after gathering up both I turned to my mother who had joined us having heard grandmother’s song and offered the nugget to her saying maybe she could trade it for something we needed.
Grandmother intervened though my mother had made no effort to accept and said it was medicine meant for me and should not be touched by others then set about making a small pouch to hold it and wear around my neck.
To this day I have that pouch whose contents have grown and and no one else has touched them.
I’ve talked to grandmother about it a few times as the years have passed and said some would suggest a “rational mind” would offer multiple possibilities, among them that she or another had placed them on the porch or through some seemingly implausible series of events they were carried there randomly by the hounds, a non existent wind had somehow delivered them to the spot where they lay, or possibly I had sleep walked and done the deed myself.
Her response was how would I react to this “rational” thinking and I said I would reject it – she then said where does your brother the otter live and I said in the river to which she nodded her head and replied since it was the otter who lifted you back to me when you were sick do you think it strange that the river would send an otter to carry these things to you?
That’s grandmother’s way, she’s not into a lot of rumination and what ifs, she breaks things down to their simplest form and goes from there.
What do I think? I believe as grandmother does that an otter acted as an emissary, if that sounds implausible to others I’m alright with that as I consider any other explanation implausible in view of all things related and remain convinced that the farther people are removed from the land and the natural world their connection to both incrementally diminishes.
As a child we didn’t merely live on the land we were a part of it, we lived and breathed in unison with the movements of the land and those inhabitants that surrounded us whether they were of our kind or the four leggeds, winged ones, and that whose who crawl.
There were signs to be read all around us that spoke of impending rain or snow, whether a bad wind would blow or the health of herds we depended on for sustenance.
We were acutely aware of when birds would arrive and when they would depart, where and when they built their nest, where honey could be found and the best way to attract bees, or when fish would spawn.
In relating these events I don’t mean to imply they are singular in nature as many among the nations and elsewhere have experienced the “implausible”.