Carl dug his walking stick in, a slight incline ahead. The Priest, this Shenandoah trail he had hiked for nearly thirty years, was hardened, slick now by late November frost. The main trail veered to his right. To his left, noticeable now with the lack of leaves and vines, a narrow footpath headed west.
Each winter, Carl and his a group of longtime friends drove SUVs and pick-up trucks up a fire lane to a remote spot, close enough to hear the rush of Crabtree Falls. Truck camping was perfect for bringing in a load of firewood, a Weber grill, and coolers filled with steaks and beer. Also packed was a huge custom wall tent, spacious enough to fit a long folding table for days of card and board games.
Carl knew where this unveiled narrow path must lead. A blue line was somewhere down the slope. If it was April, and if Carl held his fly rod instead of a walking pole, if he had his waders and not his heavy boots, he’d follow that secret track and find that line.
How many times had he sat on a fallen log on a main trail and pulled out a trail map to discover a hidden stream? You don’t find a great catch staying on the waters most known. You go searching for those thin blue lines, barely etched on the map. You really have to look for those anonymous creeks and streams, racing over rock and falls, their waters reaching for a river beyond. Finding these lines, walking a day with them in peace and appreciation, for Carl, was as good as winning any prize.
He’d be back to this place branching off the Priest. When the sun was shining through cotton clouds and trees rustled welcome, and the earth smelled of peat and green. Carl took out a pen and marked his trail guide for his new found path. Next time he reached this fork, he’d go west and find that line and the rock ledges it bathes. Carl would rest atop a boulder, next to a simple waterfall, able to look through a clearing in the canopy to a peak of mountain ridges beyond. He would finally come across his line’s pool, with silver fish nestled in the shady edges, feasting on flies both real and crafted. And he’d send some flies to the center where the water’s depth cooled the biggest ones, hungry enough to come up for a bite.
But now, clouds were rolling in with a cold wind heralding a possible rain. Camp was an hour away, his buddies probably still cocooned in tents and sleeping bags, awaiting his return to stoke the fire and light the grill. As the early riser, he had become the camp’s breakfast chef. He’d wake them soon for biscuits, gravy, Bailey’s in coffee and a fireside chat about a blue line waiting for them come spring.