Rumor and Speculation.
At the onset, the crazy patchwork of rumor and speculation was hard to avoid. It came walking in the front door of the shop daily, or digitally on my phone and computer at all hours. Conjecture most frequently concerned the timing of the emergence; when would the ground temperature achieve that magical 64 degrees? When should I book a trip? Most were betting on early May, but April can be a fickle bitch and cold fronts and rain came in waves at what seemed like the most critical times, and probably put the bugs back down
their holes to cook for an additional week or two. When the sun finally came back out, actual photos began popping up on the Internet and in text strings. By this point, I wanted to run and hide, escape the engulfing nullity.
The beauty of inflections or the beauty of innuendos
I begin frequenting the woods at the reserve on the south side of the river where rumor has been the strongest. One day, there are holes in the ground along the path through the tall trees. But that is all. A suggestion of a thing. A few days later, there are shells clinging to the side of an oak. The physical representation of that thing, but no songs. Finally, in the early morning hours, while running, they are there, in the trees on the underside of leaves, sometimes falling on me heavy with the dew. There, waiting on the sun to dry them before they begin their song.
This is the cue to begin the search. Up the lower Holston, in the frog water before the pump station intake, I see the first bug, struggling in the film while singing. I stop and allow the moment to take hold. Here is the thing desired most. Struggling beautifully. Further upstream, while underway, just before double fish trap shoal, I recognize the inflective pitch above the whine of the outboard.
They are here en masse. The greatest joy realized, the lightning has finally flashed, now there is just the waiting on the thunder. The time between the emergence and the fish finding the cicadas.
The Big Rock Candy Mountain
Low water and limited access allow me to find pockets of early emergers no one else has seen. The first weeks of June are like magic. Every day is a new parallel privacy; fish and bugs and behaviors which must be seen to be believed. Twelve miles above the rivers’ confluence, in the early days, midstream, catfish are gamboling like your giddy aunt, drunk on sherry Christmas Eve. Carp are daisy-chaining under the trees in the slower water, sipping bugs at a precise pace. In the fast water along the bluff, carp are holding in
the back eddy, cycling through the fast water rip like their cold-water cousins. Smallmouth slinkalong the undercut banks, rise at their leisure, only when the need for another snack arises. Trout, unaccustomed to such vulgarness, insist on the flies being moved, chugged, like a popper presented to a bass, before they would make their quick slash at the fly. For over three weeks this party persists. I am in my prime and between lovers, so I do what I am supposed to, I fish for 24 days straight. There is no dailiness save for the river, the cicada, their song, the predators and the angle. The maelstrom is omnipotent. It is precisely as you would imagine and as unpredictable as you could hope.
The Last Dance
Towards the end, there are only a few pockets of late emergers left. Further upstream, higher in elevation, a longer ride and/or a longer drive. Only devotees to the chase are privy to the last locations. The fish are full. You can read their thoughts in their sluggishness. They eat, masticate, contemplate, and then remember that this too shall pass and begin looking for another waning meal. Like the fish, I am spent. I do not want to catch another carp or trout. The smallmouths are sulking and haven’t reacted the way one would expect. I begin pulling the fly from fishes’ mouths. I am ready for this to end, for the old routine to creep back in.
The Long Sleep
The riverbanks are silent again. The fish have resumed their normal patterns; carp feeding on the bottom, catfish rarely seen, smallmouth riding the flanks of the carp or chasing bait fish on the flats. The bugs sleep and they count. Seventeen long years they count the cycle. In the car, on the way to practice, Alec, my youngest, realizes, almost flabbergasted, that he would be 30 years old when they emerge again. And then, realizing the almost inconceivable, that I would be 66, or worse, dead. I issue an assurance that if there was anything worth staying around for, it would be another go at what we had just experienced. I’ll still be here, waiting and speculating.