Two kids walk to the pond in the morning. I can tell they are going there, they have fishing tackle in their hands, their rods slung overshouldered. One has thick glasses and lives down the road. The other I haven’t seen. The pond must be a half mile away. The kids don’t have to cross traffic or wait at a stoplight to get there. Just out of town the road turns to dirt and pastures.
How rare is it now that kids come up like this? There are no questions of the kids doing it. The many things that can happen along the way, while fishing, or at the pond are not seen as a problem here.
Later that night I walk along the railroad tracks to the pond. The two boys I saw earlier have come and gone, but others are there now. One boy lays in the deep grass, his head propped on his arm. Another holds a flailing fish. Another casts his line in. Another runs along the pond, to the far end. There is no right way to fish at this pond. Some of the fishing may not involve much fishing.
I see the rods of the fisher kids laying on the ground, a cork bobber on one, plastic red and white for another, and a rod with a spinner. I ask “Ya catch anything?” One says “Oh a few,” turns back, casts again. The kid in the grass doesn’t bother looking around, too engrossed in his rest, watching the ripples on the water.
The land is still. There has been no wind for weeks, no rain for a month. The trees, covered in smoke each morning, hold their breath. For the first hours of the morning, when the air is cool, they open pores in their leaves or needles to let air in. But the rest of the day is too hot. You can feel it, like the entire landscape is holding its breath.
Wind comes on August 10th. Willow leaves flash in a distant row of trees. The wind moves the smoke out of the valley, swirls dust around in the air. Then it subsides. People outside look up and around. Everyone has noticed. The deer cower under trees. Change is coming.
The next day thunder rumbles in the distance. A raven walks across a field of cut hay. Lightning flashes, Heinmot Tooyalakekt—thunder rolling down from the mountains—the name of a Nez Perce, who we called, incorrectly, Chief Joseph.
The names of the Nez Perce cover the Wallowa country like a thick blanket that get to know by seeing. Their history is thicker and longer than ours. It can be felt as the wind picks up and it starts to rain at last. The first big drops coming down, making craters in the dust. Then wind comes again, swirling and speaking in the eaves and in the trees, and the rain comes full force. The streets flood, the water runs off, the plants breathe again. It rains for a while, big silvery drops falling off the eaves of the house. The raven, soaked now, flattens down in the field near the windrows of hay. And a pheasant rooster runs, seeking cover in the high grass along a ditch.