I try to fish and haunt stretches of water and woods that don't have a lot of people. But you do occasionally run into a few people and some of those you might in the course of a year or two run into a lot. That was the case with the kids. Three boys and two girls in their late teens. At the time their section of river was about the best fishing around and I'd run into them once or twice a week at least. Me, I'd be smallmouth fishing while they were catfishermen. And very good ones, one boy would seine bait and everyone, girls and boys would wade the riffles and pools throwing minnows. They would usually build a stone corral in the edge of the river and fill it up with 5 to 10 pound channels by days end. Then they would take each one out, hold it up for a photo and let it go. But the days they fished weren't really what made them memorable. Every day seemed an adventure, swimming one day, building a huge bonfire the next, shooting a riffle in inner tubes the next. Or just standing on one foot on a rock in the middle of the river with both both arms and their leg stuck out balancing, acting goofy, trying not to fall in. The kind of things kids used to do when summer seems endless and there was so much and so little to do all at the same time. They literally spent their summer the way kids would have forty years ago. The way it seems only kids do in movies nowadays. I'd be fishing and look up to see them strung out across the river wading a riffle upstream. One kid with a cooler on his shoulder, another with sacks of provisions, maybe a couple with armloads of firewood. The girls in bikini tops and jean shorts, the boys shirtless and everyone tanned golden brown and beautiful. I didn't talk much to the kids, we kind of just gave each other our own space, but when I did they were polite and friendly, and respectful to an old man, again like kids of forty years ago. For three years I saw them like this, sometimes just a glimpse way up the river of them but it seemed like they were just part of the place, as I guess I must have seemed to them. But you could almost feel time was running out even if they couldn't. The boys were getting tall, looking like men and the girls were, well growing up and I made sure not to look too long at them in their bikini tops. Everyone was well past driving age and it seemed any minute their lives would start and they would be off to the Army, having kids and paying rent. But they seemed determined to hang on for one last glorious summer and if anything were on the river even more. I never saw them paired off like boyfriend and girlfriends but more like Huck Finn or the sandlot kids, a gang of kids with absolutely nothing else they would rather do. I envied them a lot, this endless summer.
Then the next year summer came. It got warm, fish were biting, the water perfect swimming weather, and they were gone. A huge section of what was always wild and empty river really felt empty now. It actually took me most of the year to stop expecting to see them.
Then the next year two of the boys came back, fished a few times and even towards the end of the year brought one of the girls. I couldn't help but think how it must have different for them, with jobs, maybe kids and responsibilities waiting for them back home. But like with everything the only constant is change. Even the river changes, it's no longer the best spot on the river though still a good one. I don't go there a couple times a week like I used to but I still go there often enough. And last fall there was the boy seining bait, a man really. And a girl was standing knee deep fishing a minnow in a pool. I normally groan and go the other way when I run into someone on the river but it made my heart glad to see them. I'd missed them, or at least missed the idea of them and endless summer.
Another person I run into on the river breaks my heart. I fish this spot, not because it's all that great but because it's handy. If I only have twenty minutes or a half an hour I can park the truck and be fishing in a minute or two. The complete opposite of the other place really. Here there is a bridge you walk under to get to the fishing and this year a couple people are living under it. A guy that looks to be in the 50 to 60 year old range and a woman. He is pretty much what you would expect, hey buddy, how's it going, a get along, go along homeless guy that's done it a while and knows the ropes. Her, well she is another story. I'd guess she's in her late twenties and absolutely gorgeous. Not just pretty like most women guys call gorgeous but the real deal. Like Hortencia beautiful and one of the prettiest women I've ever met in person. Like I said I try to go the other way when I meet people on the river and I've never been good talking to people I don't know, much less beautiful people so I know nothing of her story. I do know from a daylight fishing trip she sleeps on a blanket on the dirt under the bridge with her stuff in a five gallon bucket and a small pack. I guess she must be on the needle though part of me hopes she's just down on her luck and will be gone the next time I go there. I hope so, the last thing I want to see is her skeleton thin with bad skin from something like heroin. The time before last that I saw her she was walking down one side of this chain link fence towards the road while I was walking down the other side towards the river. When we got even with each other I said hey and stuck five bucks thru the fence. She took it and said a simple quiet "thanks". Like you might do if you were just down on your luck and a bit ashamed of it. I hope so. Out of all the people I've met on the river she might just be the one I'd most like to never see there again..