When I was a young boy — young enough to fish without a license — my brother and sister and I spent hours tromping along the banks of a little brook that emptied into Beech Hill Pond near our family’s camp.
We caught plenty of 3-inch brook trout, as I recall, and a few whoppers that might have measured nearly half a foot.
Today, the memories of those carefree days remain, and quite often, I find myself thinking about those adventures. Rarely, however, do I do anything about those memories.
On Monday afternoon, I did.
It was about as carefree a day as I get nowadays — the sun was out, the wind wasn’t blowing, and I didn’t have any super-serious writing deadlines to attend to. What better time, I reasoned, to head back to that tiny brook, than now? What better tackle to use, I figured, than a small rod and reel. What better bait than a worm?
That’s what I would have carried back then, some 45 years ago. And if I was going back, I figured I might as well try to do the experience justice by really recapturing the feeling of those good old days.
After parking at camp and unloading my limited gear, it didn’t take long for the memories to come flooding back. It wasn’t what I saw that led to that solitary walk down memory lane. Instead, it was the smells, and sounds that took me back to an earlier time.
A hundred yards down the camp road, I caught my first melancholy whiff of history. Although I was mining for column fodder, I wasn’t fully prepared.
I stopped in mid-stride, breathed deeply, and smiled.
It always smells like this, right here, in this very spot, I realized. Fresh air off the lake, combined with a stand of mature evergreen trees, turns this stretch of road into a fragrant oasis that never seems to change. I was on the right track.
Over the next few minutes, familiar sounds began to intrude on the solitude. First, a woodpecker banged his beak against a tree. Then a loon called from the lake. Finally, a mourning dove offered its own solo to the ensemble. These, I thought, are the sounds I’ve always heard along this stretch of dirt road. Even as a preteen. Even during those early years when I misidentified the mourning dove’s call for that of an out-of-tune owl.
Each step took me a bit closer to those far-gone days. Almost. But not quite. There’s no mistaking that this lake, this road, this place are different now. Back then, there were no year-round residents. Now, it seems, only two out of three dwellings are seasonal camps. The rest have been winterized, and regularly have cars in their driveways, even in April.
Still, it’s a peaceful, quiet place, and in April we still have a couple months of that sleepy, off-season feeling before the lake truly begins to wake up and the community starts to bustle.
At the brook, I pulled out my bait and was greeted by that unmistakable scent of damp soil and earthworms that always take me back to my childhood. Skewering a worm on my size 8 hook, I dangled it off the bridge, into the flow below.
I moved to the other side of the bridge, where the tiny trout were always lurking.
So I moved on.
Way back when, on our frequent journeys here, we discovered that there were really only a few truly essential pieces of gear.
One of those: A can of Off! Deep Woods, which would give us at least a fighting chance of holding the mosquitoes and blackflies at bay.
On this trip, I was lucky: Only a few early season mosquitoes hovered around my head, and they were all of the inefficient, first-hatch variety that never seem too interested in blood-sucking.
For a while I hopscotched from pool to pool, working my way up the brook like we used to do. Back then, getting across that brook, even in June or July, could take some work and a bit of careful rock-hopping. Now, the flow seems less. Or perhaps I’ve grown up, in spite of my best efforts.
Either way, in many places a simple hop across the 5-foot-wide brook would get me to the other side, safe and sound.
Eventually, I decided I’d had enough, and headed back to camp, and my truck. And that’s when the memories really caught up to me.
In a time-saving effort, I backtracked along a new trail, and stepped into some sand along the side of the brook that looked plenty dry.
It wasn’t, and my foot sunk four inches into a nasty-looking sand-and-mud mix.
I had to laugh. You would have, too.
Shortcuts, any young adventurer will tell you, will always get you in trouble. That’s what we always found, anyway.
And as I stood there, alone in the woods, I realized something else.
No good adventure on that brook ever ended with any of us having dry feet.
So, though I didn’t land any fish, I can guarantee you this: The trip itself was a great success. In fact, you might just say that I caught exactly what I was looking for.
And you just read it.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” a collection of his favorite BDN columns and features, is published by Islandport Press and is available wherever books are sold.