If you drive north from San Francisco on the Redwood Highway, you pass through the alluvial landscape of Marin and southern Sonoma Counties quickly and come upon the broad Santa Rosa plain with its scattered oaks, rows of eucalyptus and occasional evergreens. The road parallels the Russian River near Cloverdale, slicing through lush vineyards, and then the mountains rise sharply in ever-thickening stands of fir and redwood. Beyond Willits you begin to drop into the implacable Eel River Canyon, where northern California really begins.
One night some years ago I sped up this road at 80 mph in a newly acquired Citro�n sedan. The trees stood blackly against a lucent sky, the highway reflectors blasted by in continuing scintillas, reflecting my eagerness to reach the Smith River and join Bill Schaadt for a week of salmon fishing. I twisted through the Prairie Creek groves, careened irresponsibly around a log truck and pressed into the dark. When I finally shut the Citro�n off, it exhaled and settled in the manner of its breed and the metal tinked and creaked with relief. Schaadt's trailer was dark. All was silent except for the distant sounds of the mill away to the north in the town of Smith River.
Suddenly there was a squeal of tires and spray of gravel as a green Plymouth skidded into the narrow road and veered in beside the trailer. The door flew open, and Bill Schaadt came striding out, manic and thrashing.
"When you get in?"
"You hit it! Look."
He opened the car trunk to reveal three immense king salmon, the smallest of which would weigh at least 35 pounds.
Inside the trailer it was warm and familiar. Fly lines hung from pegs and flytying tools lay on a shelf cluttered with boxes of flies. Half a dozen rods were tied to the ceiling.
Schaadt began making coffee as he recounted his day with infinite and dramatic detail. His hands soared about the cramped enclosure like bats as his gestures of casting, hooking and fighting many large fish made the events come alive.
His eyes would focus on imagined water somewhere beyond the bed. Transported, he would turn to follow the progress of his line downstream until a salmon took, then he would outline the peculiarities of the struggle as he battled the lunging monster to a standstill near the sink. Once again I was under the spell of the only man I know whose every thought, action and possession is a cohesive, unified extension of himself, like the spokes of a wheel coming into contact with the encompassing rim.