2020-JULY 25 ISSUE: CORRALES WRITERS’ GROUP

By Chris Allen
Fishing with a Knight
“How would you like to go fishing tomorrow?” The question came from Paul Knight, a fellow graduate student at the University of New Mexico. It was the spring of 1973.

“I’m not sure,” I answered. “I’m heading for Europe this summer, and I have to get some inoculations in the morning.”

“Come on. We need a break from studying.”

I assented, and the next afternoon, after my appointment, we drove to the Jemez Mountains to land some trout. His dog, Moonhaki, a slender shepherd mix he had rescued from the local animal shelter, sat in the backseat.

We drove west on State Highway 550, turning north at the village of San Ysidro. We rose steadily in elevation surrounded first by deep red sandstone outcrops and then by towering cliffs of granitic strata and volcanic tuff, passing popular touring points like the Soda Dam, a formation of travertine, and Battleship Rock, a towering wedge of a cliff which looked like the prow of a ship gliding through the canyon.
Paul cut off the main highway and headed up the Guadalupe River, a tributary of the Jemez. The small dirt road skirted the edge of the cliffs on one side and skimmed the top of the riverbank on the other. He parked along a narrow shoulder and unloaded our gear.

We grabbed our rods, and Paul slung a backpack with the tackle box and bait around his shoulders. Then he, Moonhaki and I slipped off the edge of the roadway and tumbled down through thick shrubbery of Apache plume and mountain mahogany. Occasionally, through the thick leaves, we glimpsed our goal, Paul’s favorite pool where the rushing water of the river, encumbered by jumbled rocks, slowed to a gentle pace.

Reaching the bottom of the slope, we settled in to spend a few hours casting for trout in the warm spring sunshine. Early mountain flowers were just beginning to awaken, and the scent of the pines and junipers was soothing.

We had successfully caught several trout when suddenly I felt weak and dizzy. “Hey, Paul?” I shouted. He was 20 yards south concentrating heavily on casting into a small, quiet eddy behind a large boulder of granite.

“Shh!” he called back in a stage whisper. “I can see this guy. He’s hiding right next to the rock.”

“I don’t feel well. I feel achy, nauseous.”

“Um,” he muttered, glancing in my direction. “He’s such a beauty. He’s right here! How bad do you feel? Do you want to go home?”

I sat down heavily and cupped my forehead. The pulsing in my head was rapidly getting worse. “Wow, it just hit me. All of a sudden.”

He took a careful look at me again and sighed. “Yep, looks like it’s time to go home.” He reeled in his line and trudged back along the bank. Setting his rod down, he felt my cheek. “You’re warm. I’d better get you back right away.”

He stowed the gear in the backpack and tied the shoelaces of his boots together, slinging them around his neck. Cradling the rods under one arm, and gripping the backpack, he said, “Climb on and I’ll carry you across the stream.”

While I was slender at the time, I was no lightweight. “Are you crazy? I can make it across by myself.”

“No, I insist.”

“Really?” I was skeptical. The bottom of the stream was strewn with river cobbles. Hardly a smooth passage.

“I can do this!” he said, irritated I would question his abilities.

“Ok,” I stifled my concern. It was unseemly for me to rob this chivalrous Knight of his grand gesture, so I clambered onto his back. After shifting my weight, he picked up the backpack, and urging Moonhaki to follow, he forged into the stream.

The piggy-back ride was bumpy and jerky as he searched for easier footing. We were at the mid-point just upstream of some rapids, when Moonhaki lost her footing and slipped toward the protruding rocks.

Paul lunged for her, tipping me off balance. I tightened my grip around his neck. “Ease up!” he gurgled, as he stooped to wrap his one unburdened arm around the dog, pulling her tightly against his leg to stabilize her. Then he guided her to the riverbank.

When Moonhaki regained her footing, she scrambled up the bank, and Paul climbed up after her, bending slightly to enable me to gently slip to the ground as he reached the top.

“Wow, that was amazing!” I gushed, in complete awe of his gallantry. I gazed at this man of medium height and medium build with a full bushy brown beard. At that moment he was every bit the classic heroic mountain man from the early days of western exploration. He was without a doubt a handy fellow to have in a crisis and a romantic to boot. “You are incredible! You did all that to save the dog and me. You have my heart forever.”

“Happy to do it,” Paul demurred. He dropped the backpack and removing his boots from around his neck, he bent over to slip them on. I turned to pick up the backpack and at that moment, I heard a loud thud followed by a muffled, “Damn!”

I spun around. Paul was stretched out on the ground, face buried so deeply in the mud of the riverbank it appeared as though his hat was lying on the surface. Bewildered, I asked, “What on earth happened?”

He lay still for a moment. Then rolling onto his side, he used one hand to wipe mud from his face. Turning slowly to look at me, he said with a grim smile, “I forgot my boots were still tied together.”

Moonhaki rushed over to wash his face, and as he reached up to pat his dog, I knew right then this Knight was the man I was going to marry.

This piece is an adapted excerpt from A Knight to Remember, published in Currents, the Corrales Writing Group 2015 Anthology.

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