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Casting our lot in life.

THOUGH NOT GETTING OLD by admission, I have hiked many walks of life and have caught enough fish to be considered a fisherman. Spanning so many of those steps and trout was a covered bridge. Not only was this historic structure the classroom to countless self-taught fly fishing lessons, unbeknownst to me, the bridge was to be the setting to a few of my life's finest moments.

The waters of the Neshannock Creek flow beneath many bridges, trees and sunsets on their journey to the sea. Still, I have to believe each drop remembers this covered bridge the way I do. Similarly, countless carriages and cars have traveled through the overpass. I like to think the bridge remembers my days as fondly as I do.

From a boy dangling his feet and a worm into a cool farm pond to a teen braving the mighty Allegheny River, fishing seemed as natural and necessary a process as breathing. During my former years, I spent more time on the water than I did on land. Those who knew and loved me fully supported these passions, particularly my older brother, Nate.

Nathan saw more in me than I did myself. On my 18th birthday, Nate presented a gift he had bought with money earned serving our country in the military. I promptly opened the strange cylindrical package to find an Orvis fly rod. Never in my adolescence had I accepted such a challenge. But the fall of my senior year coupled with the ambition of youth, I was up for it. Plus, I just couldn't let my big brother down.

Nate, who had dabbled with flyfishing, had cautioned me to keep expectations as small and realistic as the flies found within my box. He believed only patient perseverance and long hours would instruct me in the ways of fly fishing. This led to an angler anxiety I had never known on our pioneer outing as we broke in my new rod. One October morning, we managed to sneak in a fishing trip to the Neshannock Creek between Nathan's deployments to the Middle East.

At first, both pieces of the fly rod trembled and all eight feet clumsily flopped line atop the water's surface. Embarrassed, I coached myself, "Marshall, whether you're using a bamboo cane pole, a spinning rod or a fly rod ... they all serve the same purpose and the same master." Suddenly, I found a rhythm and slowly added grace to each cast. Observing the line as it hit the water, I tried with all my wits to comprehend how the drift affected the fly and what the fish saw.

At the time, matching the hatch was a concept as foreign to me as the Iraq my brother would soon enter. I did what any rookie would. I thread my tippet through what looked good. My choice happened to be a pheasant-tail nymph. I couldn't discern the difference between a size 12 or 14. Neither could the trout. As drift after drift floated alongside two brothers beneath the covered bridge, the line gave an unmistakable pause. I set the hook. Moments later found a taut line leading to a bent rod. Nathan was in pure disbelief I had tricked a trout within minutes of first holding a fly rod. My brother netted it with gumption that would serve our country well.

In fact, I fooled over a dozen my first trip. I'll never forget those shades of brown and rainbow. Grinning from ear to ear, wading below the rod's slender silhouette on the white covered bridge, I smiled to Nate, "This is the best day of my life!"

Nearly a decade's worth of casts later, I'd live another best day. Like so many boys do, I turned into a man and met a girl. Laura Harper was everything I ever dreamed in a person. She was smart, kind, honest, funny and absolutely beautiful. When I wasn't pursuing trout on the Neshannock, I was after her. Slowly and unexpectedly, a shift began. The kid who attended classes around fishing in high school and scheduled college courses around angling had suddenly surfaced for air.

However, this fresh air never stopped me from sharing nature with Laura. She too supported my adventurous spirit. In fact, she said it's what drew her to me. As I had hundreds of times, I planned to spend an evening with Laura. This one, a summer afternoon, was a special one. Following a nice lunch, I drove toward my old stomping grounds and pulled off the worn road when we got to the bridge. Holding hands with Laura, admittedly scanning the waters for trout, we walked and talked just long enough to lose track of time.

Laura and I, perched on the bridge's stone foundation, dangled our feet into the summer air. Just below us, where years before I had first pulled a fly box from my vest, I stood above and fished in my pocket for something else. It was at that moment I presented Laura a diamond ring. Much excitement ensued. I actually feared one of us might slip off the ledge.

I looked to my future wife and said, "Laura, you have made me the happiest, luckiest man in the world!"

Laura, reading my mind as effortlessly as I read those waters, shared, "I cannot imagine life getting any better than this!"

It had been a couple of years since I had parked at the covered bridge and eagerly fished its waters. I had become a father to the most perfect little girl--Leah Jo. I decided the day she was born, the moment the doctor first set her into my arms, investing time with Leah at home was much more valuable than my personal interests. I felt such a bond would make it more likely to have a life-long fishing buddy when she was ready to dangle her toes in a farm pond.

Around the time she turned 2, Leah and I were spending the day together. We were doing all the things dads do with their daughters ... laughing, getting ice cream, and telling stories. Suddenly, as if by fate, I turned down the road I had known so well in my youth.

Smiling into the rear-view mirror, I asked, "Wanna' take a walk with Daddy?"

Flailing her arms and legs in delight, Leah cheered, "Of course Dadda!"

Walking under the bridge, the April breeze helped part her strawberry blonde hair as I knelt down to kiss her sweet forehead. I took her lovely little hand and made a promise. I vowed to provide shelter and security. I'd do everything in my power to make as many of her life's crossings easier and safer.

My child's hazel eyes, mirroring the green waters of the Neshannock, looked into mine and knew I meant it. "Love you Dadda!" she declared. The unforgettable words echoed along the cut rocks and reverberated through the covered bridge as if it were a megaphone.

I know not what tomorrow holds. Perhaps Leah too will one day perch upon those carved stones, framed by faded, white-washed boards. There, a great guy who used to be a good fisherman will be trying his best at the catch of his life.

While it is true I only fish a mere fraction of what I used to, this seems to make me appreciate it much more. Every time I stand at the banks, they begin to flood with memories, stories and a deep joy derived from each trip.

The cool autumn waters shadowed by the covered bridge, the very ones that had flowed against my brother and I my senior year, had likely made the journey from western Pennsylvania, down the Ohio, into the Mississippi, and reached the Gulf of Mexico many times over. With my covered bridge, I too have come full circle. I held a rod with a brother, a ring with a woman, and a hand with a daughter. All walks of my life were enriched by sharing them with those I love and hold dearly.

Find a bridge, take a walk and hold on, for your journey is just beginning.


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Author:Nych, Marshall
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2016
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