Enzo saw something in the creek the rest of us didn’t. He knew every bend and shoreline eddy. He could pinpoint the high and low spots with his eyes closed and draw a topographical map of the creek’s floor from memory. He knew which bank the egrets liked best and which rocky bluff the Great Blue Herons claimed centuries ago. Day after day, year after year, Enzo stood alone in the middle of the creek wearing his mud-brown chest waders, and looking like a cross between Ichabod Crane and the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz. If squatter’s rights had their way, Enzo owned the section of Trickle Creek where it widened into a lagoon, turned right and ran its last few hundred yards to join the Pacific Ocean.
It wasn’t only the water, though. It was the fish in the water, too. Enzo could tell if the fish he just reeled in was one he had caught before. He called them by the pronouns usually reserved for humans and beloved house pets. To Enzo, a fish wasn’t an “it;” a fish was a “him” or a “her.” He never kept any of the fish he caught. He always carefully freed them from his hook and sent them on their way.
Enzo was the only person in the village who could remember when there were salmon in the creek. They were overfished to near extinction decades earlier. All that remained were some steelhead trout and a few coho salmon. And some years, there weren’t many of those. Enzo used to say that in every sad story, there was a happy story if you kept looking hard enough. In this case, he was sorry to see the salmon disappear, but he was very glad to see the sport fishermen leave with them.
Trickle Creek had been part of Enzo’s life since he was a child. His parents owned a cabin by the creek and took their young family there on weekends and holidays. Eventually they passed the cabin on to Enzo who continued to go there to recharge every few weeks. His long days working as a criminal defense attorney in San Francisco often took a toll. When Enzo retired, he moved to Trickle Creek full-time.
No one can look at a picture of lower Trickle Creek taken in the sixties, seventies or eighties without spotting Enzo in the center of it. In fact, if you look closer, you might also see another pair of waders — hip-length and moss green — tossed on the shore nearby. People who knew the man understood. If the waders were there, it meant Enzo was receiving visitors that day. People could put on the waders and walk out to the middle of the lagoon for the best chat they’d have in a month. If the waders weren’t there, it meant “don’t come out here. I’ve got something on my mind and I need to be alone.”
The neighbors respected Enzo’s ways. We knew stress and anxiety from his work still consumed his thoughts. He didn’t talk about it, except to say nature had a way of healing him. He chose not to discuss details with even his closest friends. What we knew is that a day with his fishing pole and the wild creatures he knew by name squared him with his past and moved him forward.
When Enzo stood in the creek, all was right with the world.
Suzanne Cushman writes in Carmel, California.