Just off the south shoulder of snow-capped Thompson Peak in the Cabinet Mountains of western Montana, an ice cold mountain spring gushes out from among the bright green alders, striking blue lupines and tall spring-time grasses and its water begins a long and tumultuous journey to the Pacific some five hundred miles to the west.
A dozen miles to the south of the spring the little stream meanders through grassy green meadows overflowing with buttercups and dog-tooth violets and winds in and out through the shade of tall yellow pines. White tail deer dance aside as we enter this narrow valley, seeming quite willing to share the beauty, but remaining on high alert, not sure what to make of this Spring’s visitors to their ancestral home.
As we approach the small stream and I gently drop a fly on its surface for close inspection by a fat brook trout, I can see the smile of pleasure on Howard’s face. My old friend and fishing companion of many years just beams with delight as I play a brilliantly colored, spotted trout and finally place it in my creel on a bed of fresh leaves to keep it fresh until the trip back home. It is the first of a dozen this day and Howard thinks of how pleased his wife will be to have this first catch of the new summer for her favorite meal.
We greatly enjoy today, relishing once again the beauty of this wild place and feeling the joy of sharing it in friendship as we have done each spring for the past dozen years. But in recent years he has not fished, himself, being content just to watch over my shoulder and once again be my fishing companion.
For you see, some five years ago one of Howard’s daughters knelt on the grassy edge of a knoll overlooking our beautiful valley, removed from his old fishing creel an urn containing his ashes and gently laid them in their final place of rest. He is gone for now, but those of us who loved him will always feel the presence of our kind and gentle friend.