The Old Man


Photo by David Breitmeier

This weekend my dear friend Ken Yufer will become the first inductee into the Elk River Hall of Fame at Elk Springs Resort near Monterville, WV during the resort’s 10th Anniversary celebration. Ken has been a tireless advocate for the Elk for decades, working ceaselessly to protect the watershed from a number of threats for the benefit of the people who live near and enjoy the river.

More than that, though, Ken has been a powerful guiding presence in my life, not only as a flyfisherman and conservationist, but as a fellow resident of planet Earth. Although our paths diverged some time ago, he has always been near to me in spirit. A couple of years back I feared I had seen my friend for the last time as he seemed to be on the losing end of a battle with cancer, but after a remarkable recovery I am thrilled with the opportunity to attend his induction ceremony Saturday night.

This is for Ken:

The Old Man

I met the Old Man
in a dusty old fly shop
where stories of a river
came to life
amid clouds of cigarette smoke
and the smell of stale coffee.

The river met him years before,
in days when wood-paneled station wagons
rattled up and down rutted out dirt roads,
their back seats removed
to make room for rods and reels
and tackle boxes and bait containers
made from rusted coffee cans
with dangerous jagged edges
and plastic lids with holes poked through the top.

Adversaries at the start,
the river played every trick she had
on the Old Man, tempting him
with large trout beyond slick rocks
in fast currents that dove and swirled
and moved gravel from beneath his feet
when he tried to wade out
Just. This. Far.

But the Old Man had a few tricks of his own,
tactics learned on other rivers
where men and trout had battled
and books had been written
of their triumphs and failures.

And they grew to know one another,
the river with her piscatorial prizes,
and the Old Man with his dreams.
And they walked together
among the ancient mountains
and spoke of life before time,
and as hours and days and months and years
grew into decades
a friendship appeared
in the space
between the river
and the Old Man.

And she became his sanity,
and he became her protector.

And the Old Man showed me,
as he had countless others,
how to love the river well;
how to fathom her secrets,
how to listen to her song
and join the melody.
And all he asked in return
was my voice
to raise an alarm
or rally the troops
when she needed her friends.

And now,
there is no part of the river
that’s not in the Old Man,
and no part of the Old Man
that exists apart from the river.
They are one,
even when miles
and circumstance
separate them.

I met the Old Man
in a dusty old fly shop
full of cigarette smoke
and stale coffee
where he told me stories of his river
and invited me into their lives.

And she became my sanity
And I became her protector,
for a time at least,
and I learned to hear her song
and I realized
it was a love song
that she continues to sing
hour by hour
and day by day
to her best friend
and closest companion,

The Old Man.

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