Sunday, June 27, 2010

It's all about perspective

WHITEHALL, WIS. -- We used to fish beside him when the spring runoffs turned the Trempealeau River into a wild and productive stream. Fish of every imaginable species -- northern pike, walleyes, trout, catfish, large and smallmouth bass, sunnies, carp and suckers -- would run upstream until they were stopped by the gates of the Whitehall Dam.

The boy, a few years older than us, would stand on the sandbar among the mass of casting rods propped up by V-shaped tree branches and reel fish from the roiling waters. Lots of fish. Mostly rough fish -- there were so many spawning carp and suckers you could almost cross the river on their backs. But occasionally a big northern or a giant catfish would put up a good long fight, often tangling itself in other fishing lines. At least that is our memory of those late spring days along the once mighty Trempealeau.

We saw him the other day, still a resident of our small hometown, sipping a cola beside our draft beer in a local watering hole. This town has never known a traffic light and lost a bit of its soul years ago when the historic "city" hall on Main Street met up with a wrecking ball.  The coffee shop just reopened under new management and a promising new meat market has opened on Scranton Street, but the best place to bump into someone you might remember is still the tavern.

He had come into the bar from the cemetery, having fired one of the rifles at the military burial service.  But his day was not done.  "They need some flags tonight at the Relay For Life," he said. So he would be toting his rifle up to the high school track where he would march one honorary lap with a few comrades from the local American Legion Post. And that would be that.

We talked about fishing and the old days until he finished his cola and it was time for him to leave. "I gotta get out of this rat race for a few days," he said as he left.

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