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The Rock Pile – Nat Burgwyn

The Rock Pile

By Charles Shaver


Under the shadow of a holly tree and completely engulfed in Virginia Creeper was the rock pile. The rock pile was in the way of a garage-building project and I had volunteered to extricate the rocks from their resting place. Another rock collector was going to take the rocks and use them in the manner for which they were collected – a building project.

Each of the stones, blue, green, brown and black, were polished smooth from thousands of years of lying upon a streambed somewhere their collector had once walked and fished. One by one they had been hand selected, loaded into canoe, boat or car, and delivered to this repose under the holly tree. For 40 years, their owner, fancying the looks of a certain rock under the felt of his wading boots, had built his collection rock by rock.

As I toiled moving them, I realized this was not merely a collection of rocks I was touching; it was a collection of fishing memories. The five-pound smallmouth caught on a Muddler Minnow in the James. The seven-pound striped bass snared on a Closier Minnow in the Rappahannock. The twelve-inch brookie pulled from Mossy Creek with an Adams firmly in the corner of its jaw. Trying to catch a fresh sea-run salmon in the Penobscot. Each rock represented a trip to somewhere, time spent with friends or family, and the experience of a fishing trip with fly rod and gear firmly in tow. All were happier times in the past. I had not participated in any of those fishing trips, and as I moved the rocks, that saddened me.

As he was known to do, the rock collector had shared many stories about his fishing adventures with me, but only once did we cast flies together. He and I shared a fishing trip to Upper Hall Pond in New Hampshire. It was not much as far as fish count goes, but like all fishing trips, catching fish is only part of the fun. There was the long ride into the mountains with the canoe strapped to the top of the truck and the talk of the giant brookies rumored to live in the depths of the pond. We had the pond to ourselves that day and canoed to an island to fish. The fish were not hungry, but the old man had come prepared with his special flask of Gentleman Jack, and on the way home we stopped to enjoy an adult beverage in the shadow of a covered bridge over the Pemigewasset River.

The rock collector has now been freed from his earthly restraints. There will be no more days on the river for him. Our trip to Upper Hall Pond in New Hampshire was my first to fish with him, and sadly, it was his last time to cast a fly. Of all the fishing trips and the hundreds of companions who have fished with the old man, I got to be the witness to the end of his great fishing career. That thought brings me sweet sorrow. So that fish will always be able to rise to one of his creations, some of Nat’s flies will always be tucked in my vest on my future trips.