We sit by the Elbow River just west of Calgary city limits. The sound of the river is constant as water tumbles over rocks, creating a continuous murmur that ebbs and flows with the sigh of wind through the black poplars across the river.
Our backs are to the sun, our eyes and ears toward the water rushing past in its headlong haste to reach the reservoir. Small waves lap at our feet where we’ve set up our camp chairs on the rocky bank. Here the water runs clear over rocks that are rubbed smooth and laid out like a mosaic in patterns of small and large, flat and round, grey and beige. Out beyond the shoal of gravel the water is dark brown and green where it gets deep. A log lies below the surface, visible only as a shadow.
Sunlight glints off ripples on the surface. Further out there are waves and eddies. The greatest agitation occurs near the far shore where a steep bank is cut by the river, exposing soil and roots, green right up to the edge. The next time the water rises, it will carve away more of the bank, but for now the Elbow River is well contained within its channel.
Birds do not chirp out here. They call. They whistle. They swoop and dart after insects we cannot see. Flies and long legged things skip over the rocks at our feet. A pleasant breeze keeps the mosquitoes and heat stroke at bay.
There is no shade except that which we have brought with us—hat, towel and a small patch beside our chairs where the cooler sits. We can spend an afternoon here like this; me with my notebooks and reading material, my husband with his fishing equipment. He’s a ‘metal chucker’ which means that he fishes from shore with a rod and reel, instead of fly fishing while wearing hip waders and standing in thigh high water.
Catch and release. The point is to never bring anything home, not even a photo, as proof of this man versus fish contest. A tiny Brook trout flips itself off the barb-less hook close to shore. Caught and then uncaught, free to swim and feed, and maybe to be caught again.
We sit near each other. I’m not too close to interfere with his casting and he seldom asks me what I’m writing. I guess that is what 26 years of marriage will allow us, the comfort to be here together and experience the Zen of the River without having to analyze it.