I have only witnessed true perfection a few times in my life. Once it was on Cumberland Island in southern Georgia. I lay on my back on a completely deserted beach; the moon rose from the water, a giant orange globe, the ethereal light dancing across the calm waves, little fairies touching their wands to the water. After a length of unmeasured time the moon rose higher in the sky and shrank in size yet lit a pathway across the ocean, a golden corridor to the heavens. Another time I was sitting on a rock in a meadow of wild flowers as a light wind brushed the tops, its giant hand was caressing them into motion.
Perfection is not limited to nature and can be found in some of the most unlikely places. I found it at a little barbeque joint on the side of the road outside of Elizabethton, Tennessee. The pork was smoked to perfection, not to dry, not to strong and the sauce complimented the meat, bringing out the subtle hints of apple-wood and hickory. The small restaurant has the appearance of a roadside honky-tonk and is located in the middle of no-where yet every night of the week there is a line at the front door. No one is allowed in the restaurant unless there is an open table. The proprietor closes at seven and even if you have stood in line for an hour if you have not been taken in at seven you are turned away.
I have also found perfection in the ramblings of writers. Harry Middleton comes to mind with his descriptions of the Appalachian Mountains and the characters that inhabit its back woods. Searching further backward, I also remember the curve of a certain high school cheerleader’s calves. The last time I witnessed that perfection was leaving a movie theatre nearly twenty years later. Even in perfection the moment was unsatisfactory as she was there with some one else and I never got the opportunity to relive old memories.
I have also witnessed the aptness of a trout rising to a dry fly on the surface of a mountain stream, the fluidity of motion as it flashes in the rise, the sudden burst of power as it realizes in an ancient way that it is caught and struggles to lose itself. This was the perfection I sought as I hiked the banks of Hazel Creek in North Carolina.
Hazel Creek can only be reached by an hour-long boat ride across Fontana Lake or a four-hour hike from a dead-end road. Begun several years ago as an access road, funds were lost when the road reached the halfway point in its expected path. Originally it was to be a parkway but the locals call it the road to nowhere. I chose the boat, which dropped me off at the edge of the lake then packed in three miles on an old railroad grade to a backcountry site. In by gone days Hazel Creek had a railroad to service the logging and mining interests in this area. The railroad ties were picked up long ago during the formation of the Smokey Mountain National Forest.
I found myself alone and that was to my liking. Leaving my backpack hung in the limbs of a knarred oak I rigged my fly rod with an Adams parachute and began wading the stream watching for telltale sign, a slight bubble in the water’s surface that would alert me to feeding trout. I hooked and released a rainbow and a brown in less than twenty minutes but there was no more action for two hours. I was lying on my back at the side of the steam and enjoying an IBC Cream Ale when I noticed activity on the stream above me. Hazel Creek has a reputation for characters, some swear that they have heard bagpipes rooming up and down the mountain, others have witnessed a man dressed in kaki’s carrying a prayer wheel and offering prayers for a dollar.
My aborition was of a more normal nature, a fellow fisherman plying the trade. As my eyes adjusted to the dimming light I realized that the piscatorian was accomplished. The loop in the back-cast was tight and on presentation the fly fell gently to the water, only a feathers touch as it settled into the current. I watched for several minutes or perhaps longer before I realized the fly-fisherman, or rather person, was a woman. Her long blonde hair was gathered neatly in back by a rubber-band and she moved with a certain grace in the stream, slowly, methodically she worked her way through the water, casting only when she saw the rise of a trout. I am not sure how long I watched her work the stream but I did see her catch and release three trout. She then turned and noticing me for the first time, she nodded. I was the one startled as if I had been intruding on a private moment, invading a serene painting. Rising up on the bank from the stream she swung a pack on her back and made her way down the trail I had previously traveled.
I did not expect to see her again, but she was there at my campsite when I finally called it quits in the faint light of sunset. Sunset comes fast in the mountains, the light blocked by the land. It falls as an unseen blanket of darkness covering the land.
Her name was Layla and she explained her parents had met during an Eric Clapton concert in the 70’s. It was not hard to construct the origin of her name. That night we sat with our backs against a tree with only the light of a candle invading our privacy and told the stories that fisherman are famous for. There is a certain honesty in the lies of a fisherman. One knows there is a stretching of the telling as if to leave the truth alone is to leave it incomplete. Sometimes you can get a glimpse of the wavering from a hitch in the voice, or perhaps an incomplete fact, but the unwritten rule is to never question a fish story. Take it that you have, at the least, heard a glimmer of truth and the story must be left to your on interpretation of what that truth is. I asked where she was from and she answered, “I come from a place where skinny dipping is a contact sport and soccer is what you do to your younger sister if she tries to intrude. Where honey isn’t a condiment, but a word that flows from the mouth of a Waffle House waitress, slow and smooth, warm and comfortable; where a woman’s kiss is a promise and a man’s word is his bond. I come from where I’ve been and where you are going.” Then she leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.
Sometime after the candle burned out and we were both tired of hearing ourselves talk I fell asleep. When I awoke the next morning, I was once again alone. There was no evidence that anyone, male or female had been with me and that was when I grasped the truth, perfection is most often found in a moment of mystery.