The Willys pickup grinded as he geared to slow for the turn off of the macadam and onto the gravel road. Tree-by-tree the woods dawned as he drove farther into the hollow, the place waking with the color and chill of wet canvas. Out the passenger window, past his grandfather’s steady stare, past the two-fingered hand on the door panel, rushed the sliver of creek he loved. He was one of few who could believe that such tiny waters held wild trout, and he felt lucky for that.
When they crossed onto the posted land he glanced out his own window at the paper no-trespassing signs tacked to the square backboards trailing into the hardwoods, boards his grandfather had put up for the company years ago, signs his grandfather detested—something about how, of anything in this world, these hollows were for everyone.
Wherever the stream wound close to the road, swelling in the congestion of an arc, his eyes—of their own—looked over, enticed by the dark mystery of deeper pools. But his grandfather stared on, the crippled hand bracing him steady against the puddle-pocked road.
By the pond, where the creek was dammed for the lodge, he parked his grandfather’s truck among the broad pines and poplars left long ago to shade the Piebald camp, gone now sixty years.
His grandfather took his big western from his lap, perched it on his head, and unlatched the door. It swung as he turned and leaned his shoulders out, giving himself momentum to slide off the seat.
They each went around to a side of the truck bed, his grandfather taking up his wicker creel with its crisp leather trim, chafed away where his elbow had rubbed all those years he’d walked these streams.
The young man looked up at the lodge. “It’s a shame the old place doesn’t get more use.”
His grandfather did not turn to the creek-stone porch piers or the mossy tar shingles hung now where pine shakes and pitch had capped the place on his honeymoon so many years back—the building he—steward of this land—had never since entered.
The young man put his elbows on the bed rail and regarded his grandfather there in relief against that cobblestone lodge. “This is my last semester of school,” he said. “And Grandma wants me to start full-time in the carbon plant.”
His grandfather had writhed into the strap of his creel and was sifting now in a coffee can of dirt and worms. “What does your mother say to that?”
“She says that by rights it would be mine to run someday. That I’m all there is to keep it in the family.”
“And what do you think?”
“Something tells me that’s not what I want.” The young man looked uphollow, then down. “Crazy as it sounds, sometimes I feel like I need to be out here. Have a home in little old Pigeondale. Like you. Work out of doors the way you did.” He nodded over his grandfather’s shoulder. “Maybe run the lodge or manage the landholdings. But then I think that’s ridiculous in modern times like this, times when the carbon plant’s making parts for rockets. Rockets that might even put men on the moon.”
His grandfather’s patient regard made him uneasy, made him feel he should say more. “I don’t know, I guess I’m caught again between two halves pulling—one like you, one like Grandma.” He thought for the right way to put it. “I think of hers as the conventional way, yours as the less sure one.”
He looked into the bed of the truck, at his grandfather’s two-fingered hand dropping maggots one by one into a matchbox, at his own vest with its pockets of fishing flies. “It’s like the two halves will never settle terms, never come together. No more than you two ever did.”
His grandfather looked up Piebald Run, past the pond where there was no road. With his neck turned, some of the vigor that had stemmed from his shoulders still showed, still sign of a stallion’s neck, or the broad trunk of a tree, strong. Same as those big hands, his steady will.
“One or the other is right for you,” his grandfather said. “And you know it.” He turned and looked up at the lodge now. “You’ll need to brace up and face that.” And when he looked back, his grandson saw his mouth pinched straight, as if held against the chance of a lament.
His grandfather finally said, “I thought once too, that an old-fashioned way didn’t stand to reason—or I let myself be told. Make sure whose reasoning you go by.” Then his face un-tautened, and he said, “You’ll know where you’re a part of something. Where you see all the pieces and how you fit.”
He watched his grandfather stuff wax-papered sandwiches into his creel, then take up his three pieces of bamboo pole, that heirloom twelve-footer handed down by his father.
“Why don’t you fish downstream,” his grandfather said. “And I’ll go up.”
“You’re serious? You don’t want to leapfrog hole-to-hole, like usual?”
His grandfather shook his head and pointed the sections of fishing pole downhollow, below the pond. “You can fish brown trout down there. They’re bigger than the little brookies uphollow.”
“You know I like to fish for brookies, Grampa.” He flicked his thumb over his shoulder, downstream. “Stocked brownies are bigger because they eat the natives—they’re defenseless against those invaders. Let me go along. I like to fish brook trout with you.”
“Not today,” his grandfather said. “You fish for stocked trout below the pond.” He’d fitted up the three pieces of fishing rod. He set the butt on the ground and walked to the tip.
The young man shook his head. “It’s not just the brown trout. I think it’s best if I stay with you.”
His grandfather had started dragging his rod. He stopped and shrugged, but did not look back. “What’s the worry?” he said.
“Grampa, you’re eighty years old.”
His grandfather held still a moment. “When you fish,” he said, “age goes away.” Then he moved along.