Old John Joseph had been on the road over 40 years. He liked the freedom of the road and like other truck drivers, felt the frustration of the job. He had paid the tolls. He missed his children’s baseball games, graduations and often holidays. He waited for hours on end for shippers to load his truck on hot summer days, and, in time, he lost his wife. Like many, she was too impatient to be the wife of a truck driver. Having a husband away for weeks at a time was always hard on her, but once the children left home, the quiet house was just too much.
He had moved on since the divorce ten years ago. His children were grown and married. Two sons were in the army, and his daughter finished college and became a grade school teacher. His family would never understand his career choice. Trucking was more like a lifestyle than a job. John Joseph was a patient man with the unique ability to check his attitude through the hardships of the life, and keep a positive attitude.
John Joseph’s needs were simple. He lived frugally out of his truck. He still sent any extra money he had to his ex-wife. When times were particularly hard, he learned that a prayer at night in the loneliness of his sleeper cab always helped him through the hardships.
John Joseph never said much but had lots of time to think during forty years on the road. He learned a long time ago that if he dwelled on the negative aspects of the job, that those thoughts would eat him up. So he focused on the positive. He took comfort in the fact that he delivered essential goods all over the country. He had pride in his accident free 4 million miles of driving. He always took the time to help a motorist in need.
As John Joseph drove his last 100 miles of the day, he became increasingly happy. He was an expert at studying his surroundings. The road was a river. It had spots that were serene and quiet. There were other places where it roared. On the curves near a city the tempo and velocity increased. He knew that unseen dangers lurked on every mile. Something or someone could jump out unexpectedly. A car might pull in front of his moving 80,000 pounds suddenly and then brake. Dangers lurked in his large blinds spots. Black ice or rain on an oily road could lead to catastrophic slips. He loved the sound of the wind and the drone of the engine. As he approached his destination, he noticed the tall grass along the side of the road, all moving gracefully with the tempo of the wind.
John Joseph delivered his load. At the dock the foreman asked, “Are you going home over Memorial Day weekend?” “Yes,” John Joseph replied quietly and climbed back in his truck. He fired up the engine and drove to the local Walmart. He parked in a safe place and notified his fleet manager that he was off for 48 hours. This worked perfectly for his restart. Like all drivers, he liked floating the asphalt river, but was always edgy when parked. Drivers like to drive. He knew the solution and made his preparations.
John Joseph walked into the store, grabbed a cart, and went to the sporting goods section where he bought a one day fishing license. From there he proceeded to the food section where he purchased two ears of corn, some Bisquick, some beef jerky, and a can of pork and beans. He took his bag, climbed into the cab of his truck, started the engine and bobtailed towards setting sun over the mountains to the west.
That night, lying in the quiet of his sleeper truck, he dreamed of his childhood on the Snake River in Wyoming where his father taught him to fly fish. In his sleep he smiled as his father hooked a nice brown trout hiding under a fallen log in the river. He woke at dawn, grabbed his backpack and rod tube and paused to look at the mountains. They were awash with the morning sun. He put on his hat which was adorned with flies hooked into the band, locked his truck and walked up the mountainside to the lush forest. The bed of pine needles on the ground made him feel like he was walking on air. He smelled the fresh air, laden with dew and the scent of pine. It was going to take most of the day to get to his destination.
He knew a river was on his right as he proceeded up the mountain. At higher elevations, the river became increasingly narrower, more beautiful but more hazardous. He could hear the roar. He hurried his step, knowing the sun went down earlier in the mountains. He walked to his right and reached a clearing on a high spot by a quiet pool in the river. It was a perfect place to set up camp.
He looked down and gazed at a mayfly hatch in full bloom. As if by magic, the pale duns emerged from the water by the hundreds. The sunlight made a pleasing contrast on the dark green background as the mayflies danced above the water. They were mating, only to fall spent into the blue green pool a few minutes later. Below in the slow part of the current, near the bank, he watched dapples in the water as the lazy trout raised their heads slowly to slurp the unfortunate mayflies that were unable to get airborne immediately after the hatch. The spinners floated aimlessly down the current to hungry mouths. John Joseph sat down on the soft forest floor with his back against a fur tree and lit a cigar as he watched the ballet. He took a puff as the patches of light filtering through the forest canopy made splotches beside him. John Joseph finished his cigar and took a nap on a bed of moss and pine.
When he awoke the, sun was low on the mountains. He went to work setting up camp. John Joseph pitched his tent, took out his hatchet and cut enough wood to keep a fire going throughout the night. He soaked the ears of corn in the river, and mixed the Bisquick. The rolls would make a nice accompaniment for dinner and snacks for tomorrow. He set the wet ears still in their husks on in the coals to cook while the pork and beans bubbled in a small fry pan.
After dinner, he put his 9 foot, four piece rod together, carefully aligning each piece at the ferrule. He attached the reel and threaded the line through the guides. He attached the leader and tied a tippet. He would choose the fly tomorrow. He would be ready at first light.
John Joseph arose before dawn, put on his hat, grabbed his rod and creel and moved carefully toward the river. He sat on a rock, lit another cigar and studied the scene. Below the pool, water tumbled down the mountain creating numerous different currents and swirls. There were boulders the size of Volkswagens interspersed leaving spots of calm water on the downstream side. At a small ledge downstream of the pool, the water tumbled. The pebbled bottom could be seen through clear water above the fall. Under the fall, turbulent foam churned, obfuscating the bottom. The rocks in the pool contained slippery algae, while those below the foam were swept clean. Downstream a bend in the river caused a riotous uproar which cut into the bank where a toppled tree lay prostrate across the stream. There were so many places for big rainbow trout to hide and wait for their next meal with minimal effort.
John Joseph stepped in carefully holding his rod high and immediately felt the cold water rush around his knees. He worked his way deliberately along the slippery granite rocks as he braced sideways against the current. A smile slowly crept across his face after he chose a fly and spotted his target. Line arched gracefully above his head.
After a glorious day of fishing, John Joseph emptied his creel with great satisfaction, cleaned his fish, and restarted the fire. Later with his belly full, he went to sleep with a smile in the dark of his tent.
The next evening, as he was driving down the highway with his new load and the sun at his back, John thought about rivers and once again thanked the Lord. “My life is a river,” he mused, “Sometimes I feel like I float down the current like my fly. I’m not sure where it started or where it ends. But I enjoy the ride.”
Tom Kretsinger, Jr.