As the sun crested the mountains, the number of fish strikes intensified, along with my back labor. My daughter made her presence known, pushing against my spine and pelvic bone. The additional weight of my eight months pregnant belly made the legs of my camp chair sink into the muddy bank of Anderson Ranch Reservoir, near Fall Creek. I shifted in the low-slung seat to see James, my husband, farther upstream at the sparkling clear mouth of the creek. His large frame hunched low over the stream, while he slid a fire engine red Kokanee back into its birth waters. Once the Kokanee flipped its tail and returned to the school, James looked my direction. I waved and smiled, despite the growing pressure I’d felt in my belly, all morning. He waved back.
Our best friends, Dick and Matt, slogged through the thick mud headed in my direction with their fishing poles.
“How you doing down here?” called Matt.
“Better than you,” I said, pointing to my stringer. I leaned forward, my basketball belly rubbing on the nylon seat, to check the stringer that lay in the coffee colored water of the little bay. Three blue-green backs struggled against the stringer and flailed, flipping brown water into the fresh air.
“What are you using?” asked Matt.
“Just a worm and a mallow,” I replied. “They’re holding in the deepwater, and they’re hungry.”
“ I couldn’t get a single bite up there,” hollered Dick. “What’s the deal?”
“Spawning fish don’t eat,” I replied. “You have to invade their space to make them bite, but these immature Kokanee are storing up for winter. They’ll take anything.” They nodded in response.
I reclined back in my seat, closed my eyes, and rested one hand against my pole that leaned against my chair and the other on my round belly, waiting for a strike. The crisp fall air felt refreshing on my face, but I just couldn’t wake up. The pressure in my back and belly had made sleeping the night before impossible.
Cheereek – cheereek, echoed through the narrow canyon. My eyes blinked open. A large bird glided overhead in the cloudless autumn sky. A flit of its wings sent it high above the one hundred foot Ponderosa pines. A tilt of its body sent it into a large lazy loop over the mixing water in the bay, casting a tiny shadow on its surface. It dipped and climbed, then dipped again, playing tag with an invisible opponent. I envied its ease of motion.
The osprey flew so high it resembled a kite more than a bird, given away only by its loud and piercing voice yelling, Cheereek- cheereek. Searching for prey, it rode the air currents, circling like a jet waiting for permission to land. Suddenly, his wings folded in against his body, and he rocketed toward the water. The osprey’s steep dive, announced its identity just as its cry had earlier, its white-feathered legs extended below him, talons flexed in anticipation. With barely a splash his white talons pierced the surface, and retrieved his prey, a tiny silver blueback. Clutching his meal, he gave two enormous flaps with his four-foot wings, and made for a half dead ponderosa pine that leaned out over the reservoir. As it approached a branch near the top, its wings moved into a vertical position, and fluttered against the sky slowing its forward movement, until it landed lightly on one foot.
Momentarily distracted by the osprey I’d forgotten about Matt and Dick. I wondered why they hadn’t yet arrived and looked their direction; still several yards off, they scraped at the thick mud on their boots with sticks.
Dick called out, “You ever going to haul your butt out of that chair?”
“There are advantages to being hugely pregnant,” I replied, rubbing my taut stomach, “My husband assures me that I’m allowed to be as lazy as I want.” Looking past Dick, I hoped James had heard Dick’s comment and would come to my rescue, but his eyes and attention were glued on the rolling and boiling, crimson Kokanee.
During my short discourse with Dick the little blueback disappeared, becoming bird food. The bird sat atop the branch as still and lazy as me. I imagined his stomach as full and round as my own. Locking my eyes on the majestic bird I waited for movement, and studied the raptor. Osprey are just as majestic as eagles, and similar physically in many ways, though the osprey is distinguished from a juvenile eagle by the dark mask across his eyes, and his black beak. I judged this bird a mature male. It was a little on the small side, weighing perhaps two pounds, and standing only about eighteen to twenty inches tall. A female would have been much larger. Its chest was white, there was no buff color present, which indicated maturity, and sex; females sport a dark band across their chest, and immature animals are streaked with buff feathers. My daughter squirmed in my belly, and I squirmed in my seat. The bird watched me wriggle in my chair, like a spawning Kokanee, with its great yellow eyes.
My rod quivered in my hand. Matt and Dick had moved down the bank, and positioned themselves about twenty feet upstream from me. I was concerned that our lines might tangle, as my fish flopped and ran trying to escape the hook.
“Fish on,” I yelled into the chilled autumn air, as I jerked the tip of the pole skyward.
My line vibrated and hummed as the fish on the other end of the line worked to free itself. It pulled hard, racing into the swift current, and stressed my lightweight pole. My lazy pregnancy had taken its toll on my body, and I knew that my arms wouldn’t withstand the struggle for long. I slid the butt end of the rod into the groove between my large belly and bony hip. With the rod stabilized I began to horse the fish to shore. When the fish struggled I stopped reeling and let him run, and when he stopped to catch his breath I reeled, and we battled.
Seconds, felt like minutes. I held my breath, as if the slightest breeze from my mouth would be too much for my pole or line to handle. Once the head cleared the water, I released the air from my aching lungs and inhaled. I kept reeling until I got him to the muddy shoreline. To avoid stepping in the thick black goo of the bank, I kept the line tight and began walking backwards, dragging the fish along behind me. Dick slogged his way down the bank, my stringer in tow, ready to receive my latest catch.
I slowly knelt down on one knee in the mud, laid my pole down on the ground, and placed my hand over the silvery squirming salmon to remove the hook. My lower back screamed in agony. The fish thrashed under my administrations, its blue head arched and fell. His metallic gills worked desperately gasping for breath. I gasped from the force of my daughter in my back. I swiftly removed the little red hook from its lower jaw, grabbed the fish in one hand and used the other to push myself back to my feet. The pressure seemed to ease. Dick handed me the stringer, and I slid another blueback down the red nylon line. With the four fish on I figured I had about five pounds of good salmon meat for the freezer. I handed the heavy line back to Dick.
“Think you can get them back in the water for me?” I asked. Dick nodded, and made for the bank. “If you guys are tired of getting your ass kicked by a very pregnant woman,” I called out as he walked away, “we could go for a drive up to Trinity Mountain, or over to Rocky Bar, just for fun.”
Matt flipped me the bird in reply. The growing pressure in my groin and low back told me that this was the last rest I would get in a long time. I suspected I had another day of back labor ahead of me, due to the lack of definable contractions, and I wanted to spend every minute of it outdoors. With winter and a birth fast approaching I anticipated a long, painful absence from Mother Nature. I rubbed my fabulous day of fishing in their faces for a few more minutes and they gave in. We all took a bumpy, uncomfortable, twelve-hour ride up Fall Creek Road to the peaks, and down another twisted, rutted road to the old mining community. I thoroughly enjoyed my day; spending time with my friends, snuggling with my bear like husband in the backseat of Matt’s SUV, with my face pressed to the window soaking in the magical scenery of my home.
Despite the ER nurse’s assurance that I wasn’t in labor, three days prior, my beautiful baby girl emerged from her birth waters, red and wiggling, ten hours after arriving home at midnight. Thrilled with her arrival, and equally thrilled with the return of my body, I slept and dreamt of soaring high over Idaho, with my daughter cradled in my arms.