I took part in a collaborative project between ECA illustration students and creative writing students from Edinburgh University. I was teamed with the Brilliant Clint Wilson who gave me a truly inspiring piece to work with. Here is our final collaboration. See the other students work at- https://sites.ace.ed.ac.uk/1762/
Non Omnis Moriar
by Clint Wilson
The river races without legs. The trees whisper without mouths. The still-stirring life rises and breathes and dances without arms, fingers, eyes. Whatever nature lacks in human form is compensated through its imitation: the sounds, the shapes, the movements of these untouched parts of the world.
The river’s current is strong, its course shaped by the valley cutting through the mountains. The old oaks and elms direct all eyes upward, toward the heights of peaks framed by the slowly turning sky. A choir of cardinals chirp and chatter as they fly in formation through the valley, gliding through the trees and into the open air above the river.
Two hours on the river and not so much as a nibble on the line. Rise and fall, rise and fall, the rapids, the line, the rod, the swimming of the fish and the lungless breathing of the wind. The line, a sliver of thin white slicing through the autumn air, rising higher and then falling farther with a light clap on the surface of the water. The rod, arching back and forth, bending under the strain, bending but not breaking but close to it, twisting with the arm of the caster, bowing to the water and its prey. Dignified. Rise and fall, the water over the rocks, the mountains over the water, the sun over the mountains. All of life here, rising and falling, and rising and falling again.
Being on the river alone brings out the philosopher in every man. Being alone, truly alone – without the distractions of a slick, sleek world – brings to the forefront, to the surface, above the calming current of endless endeavors, the birth of philosophy and the search for an answer.
The fisherman stands in the middle of the river, water to his waist, casting the fly in repetition, back and forth, up and down. Poetry, the motion. Music, the crescendo is the symphony of the quickening, daybreak world. He hums an old Irish tune his father had once taught him, a nameless melody that visits him in quiet hours like these.
The fisherman had awoken at 2:50 AM. He had driven three hours into the heart of the Appalachians, where rivers cross and lose their name, forget their destination. Or reject their destination, if they had one. These are places the fisherman knows from childhood, where he is sure to be alone, places forgotten and abandoned. The only other people who knew of them were his friends from long ago, now dead. Buried. Such is the life of a man who has defied the calling toward rest, the eternal lasting kind, when all around have departed. Seventy-six years ago was the last time he stood in this river without a name. And here he is again. For the last time.
His eyes are thin, pressed down around the folds and wrinkles that spread out like lines drawn with a pencil by an unsteady hand. His lips are dry as a desert, but his grin is young, unburdened. Hopeful. He stands in the rising sun, he stands in the water, in his waders he stands casting and risking a smile. His torn hands hold the line loosely across his pruned fingertips as he waits for a on the line, even the slightest motion that cannot be the current alone.
A fisherman knows about waiting. About patience. He knows about the cold morning, the expectation, the shine on the water, the promise in its flow. He knows about days when nothing bites, and he knows about days when you catch too many to keep.
This morning, the fisherman waits not merely expectantly, but confidently. He feels that a fish is promised. Only one. He requires only one. He throws back his arm, and with it the rod, the line curves in a near-perfect figure arc as it flies backwards, cut short in its flight by tension before turning about-face, diving to the surface of the water. The fly lands in a gentle rapid with a light but discernable snap. It rests there for only a few seconds before an eager trout emerges from the river and sets its jaws on the bait.
Rise and fall, the battle with the fish, the strain and the release in steady measure, reeling closer and closer with each passing minute, but not too fast or the line will break, not too slow or the current will take it and it will be lost. Life, he thinks, not too slow but not too fast, hold on in the current but not too tightly. Rise and fall, the rod as the fisherman pulls with vigor and looses with compassion, in equal turns, until he finally holds the fish in his hand, his fingers digging underneath its gill.
The waiting is over, the final rise and fall has come. The fisherman has returned home, alone, as he always is these days. He releases the rod from his hand, and the swift river carries it away. He grasps the fish firmly now, taking strides long and powerful. The river overcomes him, fills his waders, takes him down. He lies back into the river, eyes open, smile wide. It fills him, takes him, runs with him. He feels its legs, better than legs than his. He hears whispers in the wind, a stronger voice than his own. The river has no name and soon, neither will he. His last act on earth is to release the fish from his hand, for mercy, a life returned, is always required for a life taken. And still, the river keeps racing.