I approached the bonfire along a narrow, hardened track that led to a clearing.
As I approached, the seated figure asked if I had heard the banjo playing on the wind. I told him I had not but thought the notion romantic and wished I had. It was then I noticed a third figure seated with a banjo case at his side.
I was offered a plate which contained the requisite meat and starch items and had a tall beer. The talk was of fishing, but not directly. We spoke of fishing writers, mostly. Several points were well discussed. Firstly, the Toms. East coast and west coast both getting a favorable nod, one for his blog and the other his podcast.
The discussion then turned more directly to fishing stories and fishing lies. We spoke of recent poor fishing for Stripers and Carp. We shared our "top five" species though most of the time was spent arguing about the criteria versus the ranking itself. Favorite to look at? Favorite to catch? Favorite because of its essential nature? Regardless, Brook Trout was my number one followed by Rainbows, Browns and Bluegills. Beyond that it's all the same though I do think the brutish Bluefish has some charm.
We then turned about whether a popular writer, some might say fly fishing's most popular writer, pronounced his name with a hard "k" sound at the end, a "sh" sound, or a more European "ah". My opinion was the hard "k". I recall hearing someone who seemed in the know pronouncing it that way. Regardless, as the banjo player said, we thought all three of them wrote particularly well (though there was some debate as to exactly how well).
Soon the banjo player had picked up his banjo and commenced to picking. I'm not sure of the song and maybe he wasn't either but it seemed to go quite well with the fire, the talk of sport and general feeling of camaraderie. Soon the first figure brought out a guitar and some scotch and the tunes were woven both together and singularly adding a sweet soundtrack as the fire was stoked and restoked.
As the drink took its effect the music became more inspired and then erratic. As it swerved hard towards erratic, first the banjo and then the guitar were retired and another round of Speyside was poured and consumed and poured again.
It was unavoidable that we again spoke of writers and one in particular was rated middling at best and well below that by the greatest skeptic. In order for the clan to fairly opine on the subject, a volume of his writing was produced and we passed the book in turn for readings of random passages so that we could determine once and for all the quality of his pen. Inspired both by his pen and our drink, we howled as wild children at the theatrically read passages. And by the end, we agreed none were inspired by the writings.
And the book was tossed in the fire.
With the drink well down, the conversation became a rambling mixture of poorly conceived ideas and random thoughts uttered in jumbled messes of syllables and primordial sounds. The banjo player called for more stories of the water but none were proffered and the mood turned quiet. The fire issued muted snaps and cracks and the sounds of the night woods filled the long blank spaces in conversation leaving each to his own thoughts.
The fire was now a fraction of its former might and the wood pile was a barren patch of dirt. Dissatisfied with the state of the bonfire the banjo player and the fire stoker discussed the merits and wisdom of procuring large chunks of a nearby felled tree. The opportunity for feats of strength coupled with the strong drink renewed the energy level of the group and they went off for more fuel.
They returned rolling a large round of wood to the fire's edge. There was some discussion along the way about the wisdom of burning the full round, whether it would burn at all, and how exactly a hundred pounds or so of wood would make its way over the stone lip of the pit. Assurances were made and accepted and with relative ease the banjo player and the fire stoker thumped the log onto the large, glowing pile of coals.
We had long ago passed into the wee hours of the morning. The night had become still and damp. Occasional rain spattered in the tree tops. The conversation came in low, short threads. The coals made slow work of the round.
With the spirit of the gathered clan waning I took leave of this good company, tucked away my memories of the evening and returned to where I had started.