Poets & Writers

What We Found in Writing

ON THE evening Denver went into lockdown, I was fishing. The South Platte runs right through the city, and if you’re into urban fly-fishing, you can cast for huge carp among the wrecked grocery carts and old tires. But just twenty miles upstream, where the river emerges from a cleft in the foothills, the water runs through wild, old cottonwoods and pushes gravel bars into the bends, and there are beaver dams and circling raptors and mergansers and other ducks drifting in the pools. It was late March. Remnants of the last snow melted in patches along the river trail, the trees were leafless, but the afternoon had been warm, and the sun descended out of a band of clouds and balanced on the ridge of the divide. I parked my truck and biked up the river with a rod and pack, and when I was well past the last of just a few fishermen, I stashed the bike in the trees and waded into the current and began to cast. I felt, strangely, like I was wading into my first novel, The Dog Stars, about a man from Denver who has survived a flu pandemic that has killed almost everyone. His wife, his friends, his unborn child. He has his old dog, Jasper, and a love of fishing, but the warming that has killed so much of the forest has also killed his beloved trout, so when he fly-fishes for suckers and carp, he pretends. He wades and casts and imagines he is in his old life. He appreciates the light on the water, the colors of the stones, the big carp that make a meal for the two of them.

I felt like that now. I focused on what was in front of me. I waded and fished. I saw a beaver swim out from the willows and add a stick to its dam. And the mayflies called blue-winged olives drifted off an eddy and sparkled in sunlight. And I smelled the thawing earth and cold stones and saw the raindrop ring of a trout feeding in still water. I thought, “Each according to her nature.” But despite the peace of the evening, my heart was breaking. For those who were sick and scared and those who had already died. For the ones who were working furiously in hospitals and the ones who took terrible risks to support us all because they needed the work. People everywhere were unsure of what to do or how they were going to live, and the fear in all of it was palpable in the nearly empty streets, the unmanned ranger booth, the half waves of the few people in the park. But I fished, just as my protagonist Hig had done. And

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