First the cold becomes more concentrated; not colder exactly, just pushier than the frigid press everywhere else. It doesn’t happen every time I wade to the waist. Like that noise your car refuses to make for the mechanic, it’s maddeningly inconsistent. But when this focused discomfort does turn up –always at the same mid-thigh point on the inseam – I can expect a telltale clamminess to follow shortly. If, at this stage, I still refuse to retreat, an undeniable trickle of icy river water will begin snaking its way to my boot, forestalling any further denial enroute. I have to face the music. My waders leak.
I’ve enabled them for years – avoiding confrontation, pussyfooting around their limitations, making lame excuses and justifications. I’ve patched and repatched.
My friends are all adamant that I dump them. “It’s unsafe,” they say. “Trench foot! Hypothermia!” But they just don’t understand. They’ll never know them the way I do. Plus, I think their “concern” is mostly embarrassment of association. At their present vintage, my waders are decidedly unfashionable.
But theirs is a hard-earned brand of stodginess in my eyes. Who among us, after so many miles in the current, wouldn’t look a little bedraggled? How can I expect them to keep stride with the latest and greatest when we’re forever focused on surviving the next crossing? And in all fairness, given the sheer quantity of rocks, willows, hooks and barbed wire fences in our rearview, it’s a minor miracle that the seep rides solo. They’ve seen me through untold tight spots, and even more tight lines. How, I ask myself, can I abandon that kind of loyalty?
Some things get better with age – bourbon in the barrel, a cast iron skillet and, of course, fine wine. Waders rarely make the list.
Maybe I can right that injustice with just one more patch…