I'm standing knee-deep in a small stream in an ancient Western Pennsylvania forest, a few miles from Frank Lloyd Wright's architectural masterpiece, Fallingwater. Massive hemlocks filter the sky. Rhododendrons and willows line the clear creek, providing deep shade for the trout and making it difficult to show them a fly.
After several attempts, I manage to get a decent drift into the shadows, and a fat brook trout emerges from the depths and slurps my blue-winged olive. Five minutes later, he's back in the water, and I've got yet another photo of me holding a fish to add to my already massive and boring collection of photos of me holding a fish.
There is comfort in friendships that endure through the years. And there is comfort in ritual. I know when I get off the plane in Pittsburgh, I will laugh again at the two statues mounted at the top of the elevators: George Washington, in his tri-cornered hat, and Franco Harris, in full uniform, stretching to make the "immaculate reception" that led the Steelers to the Super Bowl more than 30 years ago. This is a city with its historic priorities in order.
The three of us who take this annual fishing junket have come to call the trip "Groundhog Day," after the movie in which Bill Murray is fated to repeat the same day over and over again. We go to the same stream every year, fishing the same beautiful spots, taking the same predictable photos. Only the trout change.
The first night in the woods, we always go to a small beer joint on a country back-road. Thanks to the Pittsburgh Penguins' consistent success, we almost always watch a hockey playoff game. We drink Yuengling from pitchers and eat breaded-fish sandwiches the size of hubcaps. The grizzled waitress remembers our names.
We have been making this trip on the same week in April for 14 years. There used to be four of us. With the passing of one our number a couple years back, we're three. He is missed, but we toast his memory with fondness — and retell the same old stories about his eccentricities.
And in that country bar, there is a smoke-tinged poster on the wall that reads: "Nixon in '80. He's Tanned, Rested, and Ready."