by Wilson Koewing, 3.24am Sept 10th 2021
With the heat wave blistering Bear Creek things were stranger than normal so I drove up to Dowdy Lake pulling the ’61 Airstream in search of peace and some semblance of normalcy. The campground was deserted when I arrived. What distinguishes Dowdy Lake are rock formations that jut out of the water in smooth, circular stacks and appear as though they could tumble over at any time. Intricate. Like the hands of something bigger than us constructed them.
I set up my camp rocking chair, cracked a beer and listened to classic rock. A cool breeze rattled the leaves. Chipmunks ran wildly in the underbrush like children. A moose let out a mighty bellow then clomped by on the path by the water, taking in the view and eating plants. The afternoon crept along, and I sat there for a long time enjoying the quiet and serenity.
Around sunset, I went down to the lake and walked along the sandy path near the water. I spotted a peninsula that fingered out into the lake. There was an outcrop I wanted to climb and see what I could see. The lake stunned at twilight. The distant mountains silhouetted and there was no noise. Perfect circles from fish feeding just below the surface rippled to the top.
Closer to the outcrop, a small path appeared around the side, and I followed. It opened to a clearing where two men gazed out at the lake. Or what resembled men. They must have been twelve feet tall. It was strange, though; they didn’t seem giant, the proportions were all wrong. Like characters placed inside the wrong video game. When they noticed me, they acted surprised that I could see them. One walked over, which froze me to my core. He reached out, and his massive arm rested on my shoulder, but I felt nothing. If I could describe him as anything it was a hologram. I peered into his eyes but saw no humanity. Instead, something akin to the reflection from a television or computer screen that isn’t turned on.
“What is this?” I asked, but it didn’t seem to register.
He returned to the other one and they gazed out at the lake again, no longer interested in me. I threw a stick at them, but they didn’t notice. Eventually, they approached the outcrop and pulled open the side of a flat rock face. There was nothing on the other side that I could decipher, merely a void, which they ducked through and disappeared.
I rushed over and felt around but it was only rock.
Stupefied, I returned to the Airstream and sat outside as darkness fell.
At some point, I drifted off.
I woke at dawn. The lake shimmered through the trees like a piece of giant aluminum foil. I staggered to the edge and stared out at the rocks and the rising sun litmus testing the sky beyond. A Brook Trout leapt out of the water, spun, and re-entered seamlessly. A crane landed on a rock formation. A few hundred yards down the bank, a trout fisherman waded out and started to cast, beautifully, flicking the rod back and forth.
I walked the lake’s circumference. Along the way, I paused several times to assess it from different angles. To attempt to stare through the façade and get at something deeper, but there was only the lake and its perfect machinations. A kayak sliding from behind a rock. A pair of geese swimming by with goslings between them. A leaf floating down onto the glassy water.
When I made it back to where I started, I sat on the ground. The fisherman had moved closer.
“You’re up early,” I said to him.
He cast a few more times like he hadn’t heard then waded over.
“The dawn is calm,” he said.
“Why is that important?”
“Trout,” he said, “Insects, no concept of time of day.”
I didn’t know what to say so I moved closer.
“If you were a living thing made to live in a world dominated by that which you don’t understand, wouldn’t you seek the most basic elements of your survival when it seemed safest and most peaceful?”
I nodded, unsure.
“Come here,” he said, holding out the rod.
“I don’t fish,” I said.
“Sure, you do.”
I’d never cast a fly. He stood behind me, holding the rod with me, like a father might. Over and over, we flipped the rod, and after some struggle, a fish hit and I reeled it in.
“You see?” he said.
I lifted the line out of the water. The trout hung, spinning, its colors glistened in the morning light.
“Unhook it,” he said.
With an effortless flick he unhooked the fish and placed it in my hand.
“It’s catch and release,” he said.
I understood, but I wasn’t throwing the fish back. I held it in my hand and watched its gills stop working.
“Throw it back!”
I knew I could throw it back and it would live, but I held it in my hand until it died. Then tossed it softly on the grassy bank.
“What is wrong with you?” he asked.
I lit a smoke and gazed out at the lake. The fisherman walked away, disturbed.
My breathing slowed. My heart pounded in my chest. I peered out at the lake without blinking, concentrating. For a few moments, nothing happened, then the edges of my vision started to shake, ever so slightly at first, until the coiled fabric of reality shimmered and danced, ready to burst into pixelated light.