By Roger Barbee
Sitting in the shade on the bank of the North Fork to escape the early July heat, I watched Carl, our oldest son, fly-fish. His waders gave him a bulkier than realistic look, but his fly rod was a baton of magic as he played line using his artistry to lure any unsuspecting fish with one of his hand-tied flies.
Each vest pocket was stuffed with either a box of his flies or a tool he might need. Watching Carl move up, down, and across the North Fork, I had a cornucopia of feelings and a lost memory flowed over me the way the river was flowing around my son.
It must have been the summer of 1998 or 1999 when I met Iver. He had retired from the British military and was the night porter of Saint Peter's College in Oxford, England. I had usually worked at another Oxford college, but this summer I was assigned to Iver's college, and that turned out to be an unknown blessing because of a special gift he shared with me.
The night porter's shift is from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. and Iver had found out that I was interested in fly-fishing. He told me to meet him on a particular night at the front quad after my students had all checked in for the night. He wanted to share something with me.
At midnight on the designated night, I walked quickly to the manicured grass of the front quad to meet the short and powerfully built, but gentle, Iver. It was not long until he appeared from the porters' lodge. In one hand he held a long round tube and a billfold kind of object of gray leather in the other.
Walking toward me in the soft, late light of the English summer night, he placed both items on the grass while telling me how they had belonged to his deceased father-in-law. Iver then opened the tube and joining the pieces he soon held a 9-foot, split bamboo fly rod. As he assembled it, he told me of his father-in-law, and that it was he who had taught him to fly fish.
Rod assembled, Iver then opened the leather "billfold" and chose a fly and began to cast. I still remember the whip and whirl and snap of his motion as he guided an almost weightless fly to any spot on the night damp grass I chose.
The line seemed to come alive as it whirled back onto itself before striking out through the soft, summer Oxford night, guiding the fly to the intended spot. After sharing his skill, Iver offered me a go, but I had just been in the presence of a master and knew to decline.
The lesson over, we went into the lodge, and he showed me his leather case of flies. It was of well-worn, gray leather lined with fleece and it had, upon being fully opened, eight "leaves" or "pages" with each holding beautifully hand-tied flies. Like the fly rod, the leather case had belonged to his father-in-law, and Iver cherished both.
Iver told me how his father-in-law had taught him to tie flies and how the man had taught him to see fly-fishing as a metaphor for living. More than one late night that summer was shared on the front quad with Iver, and once or twice I made pedestrian attempts to cast, but I mostly watched Iver as he would quietly share his skill and love of fly-fishing.
So, as I watched my son work the pools of the North Fork, I remembered Iver and his artistry with a bamboo fly rod and his love for the man who had taught him. But, the next day, I was reminded of another memory when Carl removed my straw cowboy hat from a peg, announcing that he would wear it as he walked the river from our place to the low-water bridge.
Over eight years ago, when I visited Roger Bowen in Austin, Texas, I commented on his nice-looking hat. The next day on the way to the airport, he gave it to me and since then I have worn it to track meets, barbecues, and concerts at Orkney. Bowen and I had worked together in a school, and it is he who taught me the realities of "Iron sharpeneth iron..." I liked the hat, and admitted that it looked good on Carl as he began walking up stream of the North Fork. I knew when I saw the hat walk into the water that things would change.
Like the rod and flies of Iver, the hat has its history, style, and meaning. Both make a statement of personal values. And, like the rod and flies passed on to Iver, the hat needed to travel on. What good is a gift not shared?
Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.