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May is a time of sudden torment for city-trapped trout fishermen. Spring's first hot sun warms their backs and then insidiously conjures up visions of some favorite trout stream. The fish will be rising, and they will be big fish, feeding methodically in easy position for a dry fly. One sees these bemused and transplanted souls standing vacantly by bus stop and traffic light, and I dare say people have been looking hard at me lately, for I have been troubled by an old but delightful reverie about the Fly Fishers Club of Brooklyn, which is situated on a lovely stretch of the Beaverkill in the Catskill Mountains of New York.
It is the oldest club on the river and, in fact, one of the oldest in the country, its origin being lost somewhere in the 1870s. Founded by a group of wealthy Brooklyn brewers, the members (limited to 20) have always been such worshippers of "things as they are" that the club has remained almost completely unchanged, physically or spiritually, since its incorporation in 1895. They are the same now, a little group of lotus eaters who dwell in a world apart.
Only reluctantly do the members acknowledge the obvious necessity of replacing departed fellows, imposing such almost-impossible standards of like-mindedness and conformity for admission that this is one organization from which it is no reproach to be blackballed. In fact, the present members are agreed that if they themselves were now being proposed as candidates they would be turned down without exception. This is the spirit of the club: that everything is perfect the way it is—let us keep it that way.
This passion for the past carries them to inordinate lengths. Take, for instance, the big two-story log cabin which has always been the clubhouse. On the wall of the one-room lower floor hangs a grocery-store calendar for the year 1910. Even to stretch a hand toward this ancient, fly-specked relic elicits outraged cries and warnings.
The rough board floor is covered with a mud-caked rug of unknown color. When two of us new members essayed to remove and beat this tattered relic Scotty Conover, doyen of the club, leaped onto it in a heroic attitude and exclaimed, "That rug was put down in 1912, the year I joined. It has never been off the floor since and it is not going to be taken up now!"
The great fireplace below the foot-thick flagstone mantelpiece contains a deposit of ashes two feet deep. We removed about a foot of it before we were discovered, and we never wholly lived down the opprobrium which descended on us for our sacrilege. A new member, who naively offered to have the cabin wired for electricity at his own expense, shocked the members into speechlessness, and this sacrilege was blamed for a crack that appeared in the fireplace.
AN ANCIENT LAMP
The sole illumination in the cabin is an old-fashioned hanging lamp that was stolen long ago from a country church. Directly under it is a small table on which each member, as he enters, deposits his bottle; additionally there is a pitcher of the icy spring water that flows perpetually from a pipe in the front yard—water which is agony to the teeth and a frigid benediction to the palate.
No one can recall clearly how long the lamp and the table have been there, but all agree that the lamp has leaked kerosene onto the table—and into the pitcher—ever since it was hung up. You may think that the leak might be repaired, or the table moved, or that at least the pitcher might be shifted, but that would be only because you do now know the Brooklyn Fly Fishers. Every highball that has been consumed in the club during all those years has featured a slight but terribly definite flavor of kerosene.
The same willingness to sanctify a traditional disability prevails in the dormitory, the single room constituting the upper floor of the cabin. Here unyielding cots bear mattresses of geologic age, each with its hills and valleys disposed in an individual terrain. Each member has learned how to wind himself between the lumps in his own bed, and if a newcomer takes another member's bed he will hear bitter protestation.