I have an enduring love of these ancient mountains – the Blue Ridge Mountains of Appalachia. Especially on a morning like this. I sit very still, curled up and warmly comfortable, reading and listening to the low growl of thunder and patter of a soft cool mountain rain that is predicted to last most of today. Having so recently explored the nearby mountain woods of Lumpkin County, Georgia, I can visualize this same summer rain as it is happening there, indiscriminately soaking the tall oaks and poplars, rhododendron and ferns, and the rich red soil, while streams slowly swell and spill their way forward, out of these old hills toward the sea.
It was close to 10 am and I was desperately looking to extend my morning here in the wooded mountains of Appalachia. But I knew that the sun was close to breaking through the soft mist left by a soaking overnight rain. Tripod and attached camera slung over my shoulder, with the camera strap looped over my head just in case the camera came loose (it’s happened before), I headed downhill on the dirt road following Dick’s Creek toward its next waterfall.
Minutes later, a man trudged up the hill towards me from around the next bend. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see that he was middle-aged with a round stubbled face; he had a fishing vest pulled tight over his belly and a rod over his own shoulder. I kept walking but avoided eye contact until the last minute, as is my admittedly ungracious habit. I was prepared to give him nothing more than a courteous nod, mostly because the other locals with whom I had been sharing the creek bed all morning had seemed oblivious to me and my camera. It was like we were in parallel universes and invisible to each other, these locals intent upon catching fish and me impatiently waiting for them to move out of my picture. My only thought regarding the whole fishing thing was that I didn’t see the point. After scrambling around the banks of this shallow creek for a couple of hours I had yet to observe a fish of any sort or size.
As he drew close, and I prepared to acknowledge him, he came to a complete stop facing me. Caught off-guard, I gave him my full attention.
“Gettin’ any good pitchers?”
“Oh yes, earlier. But now the light’s getting too bright.”
“What d’ya mean? Wouldn’t some sunlight be good?”
I regrouped and briefly explained to him how soft light reduces harsh shadows and brings out color.
“You musta gone to school to learn that, huh?” He was impressed; I found that funny.
“No school. Just lots of practice.” Brief silence. He made no move to resume his climb up the hill, so I made an effort. “What are you fishing for?”
I responded, idiotically, “I don’t see any trout in this creek.”
He grinned broadly at me and patiently explained the behaviors of trout. That they are there in that creek, all right, but that they hide in the shadows where you can’t see them. That the young are impetuous and will dart out to grab whatever scraps you throw them, but the big ones are harder to fool. He held up two stubby fingers to show me how big these trout get and told me how the creek was stocked just yesterday and how he was already a little late to take advantage.
I hesitated, but couldn’t help myself. “So…did you go to school to learn that?”
We both chuckled, nodded and continued on our separate ways…both enlightened by the encounter.