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My Daughter's Dance

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When my adult daughter Kate asked me would I teach her to fly fish in Montana, I jumped at the chance to enjoy a mother-daughter experience that was only about the two of us, and the river.

We performed the dressing ceremony until she was fully equipped with the proper socks, waders, boots, vest, hat, and glasses. As she held the rod and I snapped the picture, we facetiously agreed that, regardless of whether she hooked a trout, she was quite the catch.

All the way down the path that paralleled the creek, I warned about this, advised about that, and instructed her on every detail. Here’s what to do to prevent wind knots. Look behind you before you back cast. If you see a fish rise pull up on the rod and keep it high. When you feel something take the nymph, don’t rush it.

Kate patiently listened, her head nodding comprehension as she confidently high-stepped through the tall grass ahead of me. We plopped down on our bottoms and slid down the bank to the water.

“I’ll hold the rod. You wade out as far as you comfortably can,” I said.

“Its okay, Mom, I can do it.”

I’d conveniently forgotten the years. She was a grown-up, and in order for that to be a conscious realization, I’d have to accept that I was growing old. I reluctantly handed her the instrument and began to fine-tune the art of casting. It’s all arm movement, no body. Don’t throw the line like you’re throwing a ball. Wait to feel the weight of the line behind you before you cast forward. Achieve a natural drift of the fly or the fish will know it’s a fake.

“When did fish get so smart?” she asked as she moved swiftly against the current without losing her balance, unlike her mother who always falls and fills her waders.

She found her spot and took her stance, her feet firmly planted in the narrow space between larger rocks. Her back was turned to me where I stood on the shoreline, poised and ready to administer additional essentials.

After her initial movements with rod and reel, I remembered about not making any noise because the fish would scatter, so I cast aside my role as director. On the river, the quiet always felt right. I sat, rested my elbow on one knee, let my chin fall into the palm of my hand, and let go to observe my daughter’s dance.

She was suddenly stunning. My tall, gangly, rather awkward adolescent had vanished. Here, I was afforded the rare opportunity to lean back and watch her from a distance. Ironically, we were not at her debutante ball. She wasn’t wearing a designer gown, nor were we at the mall shopping for one. Her hair was not styled, her face was clean of cosmetics. No one was throwing rice; there were no photographers to mark the occasion.

Across the creek, Aspen leaves shuddered, their glory of green backdrop to the water ballet before me. The girl whose shoulders I habitually took into my hands and pulled back into proper posture now stood tall. Her arm rose gracefully to lift the rod and bring it forward, just enough to send the long line soaring.

She was exquisite, an aquatic goddess wearing neoprene. I was mesmerized, absorbed in her lovely form. The same little girl who had fought to master every dance step during cotillion was, here; where one would least expect it, moving as if in a waltz.

I focused on her long, slender fingers as she carefully unraveled a wind knot, and then cradled the long line of filament until it rested gently on the surface of the flowing creek. Her skin was porcelain, her hair tied haphazardly into a golden knot at the nape of her neck. In the time it took for her to turn, I saw myself at her age—hopeful, romantic, on the cusp of forever. She had Chris, the boyfriend who, if she married, would be the right man. For this, my heart beat a fast and fervent prayer.

As she moved her head to follow the gentle drift of the dry fly, her soft, brown eyes widened behind her sunglasses, and held their steady gaze. A rainbow trout drifted lazily from behind a rock to study her. I watched him watching her and stifled the urge to speak. Her long, soft flight of line took air and spilled gently as it dropped the dry fly without a ripple. In an instant, her mouth mimicked his as it opened wide to opportunity. He was hers.

This was the unexpected moment I would return to year after year—the day I learned Kate crossed the river of girlhood and no longer needed me to tell her. She was not mine; she was separate. She was herself.

I sat on the shore, in awe of the babe I’d once cradled. And I knew I was meant to bring her to this place of informal awakening—both hers and my coming of age.

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