SHIVERING JESUS


SHIVERING JESUS

By

Robert Robinson

After five months of hunkering at the house and listening to snow and sleet rattle the windows, I’m running on negative pressure.

Fly boxes are filled, rods repaired, and fly lines and reels cleaned. I start checking weather reports, looking for any break that will let me get a jump on the season. Perhaps thinking that—by sheer willpower—I can force a change in the weather. I mean, I’m ready to do some fishing, weather be damned.

Memories of those first cold, miserable days when I find myself standing on the banks of an icy stream, shivering like I’m passing a peach seed, wishing I was back at the house holding a hot cup of Irish coffee in my hands are forgotten. I try not to think about breaking through hard-crust snow and going in up to my waist. I try not to remember the throbbing joints in my hands and the brittle ache in my feet.

I pull out the cold weather gear and look through my survival kit. I restock my ruck with power bars and instant coffee, and I make sure I have three ways to start a fire. I repack the ruck with camp stove, coffee pot, tin cup, dry socks, and poncho. I sharpen my K-bar and strap it to the ruck.

The oilskin duster that I cut down into a field jacket is good to go, and leaky waders have been repaired. My buffalo hair watch cap and shamagh are right where I tossed them last spring. Then I see them, the chink in my cold-weather armor—cold-weather fishing gloves. A chill runs up my spine.

I found these medieval torture devices on the discount table at a local fly-shop/gas station/bar & grill one summer. They are made of the same space age material wetsuits are made of—rubber. Actually they call the stuff neoprene, and when I looked it up in the dictionary to get the spelling right, I discovered that they had the unmitigated gonads to mention gloves in the definition. But In that August heat, they looked like they’d be downright hot to wear. I checked the tag—MADE IN CHINA.

That next winter, when I was standing up to my waist in freezing water, wondering how many fingers I was going to lose to frostbite, I had a clear mental picture of two Chinamen slapping each other on the back and yukking it up on their way to the bank: “Cold-weather fishing gloves . . . haw, haw, hawwwwwww!”

Designed with anglers in mind, they fit tight, and the thumbs and forefingers can be folded back and held “out of the way” with Velcro—to facilitate tying on tippet and flies and stripping line, I presume. But the only thing I found I could consistently do well with the gloves on was soil my pants.

The instructions said to wet your hands before putting the gloves on. Right. I’m supposed to stick my hands—hands already frozen from rigging up a fly rod and pulling on waders—into ice cold water, trusting that Chinese rubber gloves will somehow miraculously generate heat. Okay, I can see where a layer of ice between your fingers and the rubber might act as insulation.

I never came up with the intestinal fortitude to do that. You’d stand a better chance of getting your picture taken shaking hands with the Pope than you would of getting me to stick my hands into icy water after I’ve been fumbling with tippets and #20 Griffith’s Gnats in below freezing conditions. But I did wet my hands once, when the Velcro—which adheres well to tippet material and snags, snags, snags on anything else within a ten-foot radius—got hung up in my shorts while I was digging through three-inches of clothes and cursing cold-weather shrinkage during an emergency.

My exposed fingers got so cold I had to constantly look down to see if I was holding the fly line or if my fingers had snapped off. My hands got what my father would have described as cold as a well digger’s ass, or cold as a witch’s teat. I have no experience with either of those. I call it “shivering Jesus” cold—because all I could do was stand there shivering and hollering, “JESUS!”

My hands got so cold that I stopped fishing, started a fire, and put on a pot of coffee. I held the hot tin cup in my hands until the rubber softened and homogeneously bonded to the palms of my hands. Hair and lint stuck to my hands like poop to a blanket for weeks. And I began thirsting to whip somebody’s ass.

The more I stared at the cold-weather fishing gloves, the more my eagerness to get an early start on the fishing season and test my arctic survival skills weakened. Staying holed up at the house for a couple of more weeks, holding a nice hot cup of Irish coffee in my hands, and waiting for better weather seemed like a good idea. Actually, it seemed like a damn good idea.

So when my buddy called to see if I wanted to head up on the mountain and get a jump on fishing season, I told him I’d love to but something had come up; however, in an effort to ensure the success of his expedition and add to his fishing enjoyment, I sold him the cold-weather fishing gloves—at a modest profit, of course.

“Don’t forget to wet your hands before you put the gloves on,” I told him as he pulled out of my driveway.

“Huh?”

“Haw, haw, hawwwwwww!”

© Robert Robinson 2017 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Robinson and <flyfishingthehighcontry.com> with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

COOPER’S CREEK


Author’s note: I hope everybody had a good Thanksgiving.

With the current political climate, I thought I’d pass along some advice my father gave me: “Never talk politics at the dinner table. Take it outside where there’s room to talk. And when you’re feelin’ for the other fella’s eyeball, don’t get careless and let him chaw your ear off.”

 

COOPER’S CREEK

By

Robert Robinson

Word count: 1,181

I made my bones on Cooper’s Creek. It’s a trout stream in the North Georgia Mountains, a marvelous, clear running, cobblestone bottomed creek lined with mountain laurel and pine.  I’d disappear there for weeks at a time, living on hoecakes washed down with Guinness and Bushmills. I remember afternoon thunderstorms and lying in my tent, listening to the rain’s cadence on the roof, and reading a good book—very pleasant. Thirty years ago, when I fished and camped there regularly, it was undeveloped. I hear that has sadly changed.

I don’t remember running into other fly fishers. The people who fished there were mountain folk, fishing with corn and worms—sometimes doing so with an old fly rod and automatic reel. They followed the hatchery trucks to the creek every spring, harvesting the little browns the same way they harvested wild berries on the ridges above the creek—when they were in season.

I was a novice fly-fisher then. It took a while, but I managed to acquire the requisite fly fishing equipment that set me apart from the local yokels. Armed with the best in sporting equipment—and an unhealthy holier-than-thou attitude—I started looking down my nose at these simple mountain folk. I was a catch & release fly-fisherman, a cut above, marching through the land in indignation. And discounting the fact that I’d been a sailor in my youth, I felt I held the moral high ground.

I had no legitimate reason to think I was better than these simple people. I’d come from a long line of hillbillies who’d fled an uncertain mountain life for steady work in the glass factories in Indiana. My people had been out of the mountains long enough that when we spoke of hillbillies, we were speaking of the others. But these people were my people: Scotch-Irish, always willing to fight the rich man’s wars, ever looking to escape hardscrabble lives.

The fish I caught were nine-to-twelve inch stockers. So it wasn’t long before I started thinking about the headwaters. I wanted to get away from hatchery-truck stalkers, do some exploring, and catch bigger fish. I thought if I could get into the headwaters I’d find fish that had somehow managed to escape the frying pan, fish that had wintered over, eked out a living, and become wild.

I went up the creek until the fisherman’s path petered out and I was sure I had the place to myself. So I was surprised when I ran into an old corn soaker and his wife. They must have been in their seventies. He was sitting on the bank with his pant leg rolled up. His old, light blue work shirt—frayed at the collar, buttons missing from the cuffs—was stretched tight over his midsection. A greasy ball cap with an unreadable logo sat on the back of his head. The old woman, dressed in faded Levies and sweat shirt, was pouring cold creek water on his badly skinned shin.

He told me he’d just taken a bad fall. I asked if he needed help getting out of there but he said he reckoned they could manage. “This ain’t the first time I’ve limped out of here,” he said. “Them rocks is slick as a gut.”

As I watched the old gal bathe his ugly wound, he told me they came up there every year looking for the “big uns.” His cloudy eyes lit up as he talked of the fish he’d caught there over the years. He smiled a toothless grin and I could see his excitement was still there.

They had all the equipment they needed: cane poles, well-worn coffee can for worms, old Styrofoam cooler for their drinks and lunch. I felt self-conscious and out of place in my new “Joe Orvis” fishing gear.

I could see the old woman was getting their lunch ready, and I was about to be on my way when she handed me a plate loaded down with an egg sandwich, potato salad, and pickled okra. After lunch the old woman shoved a cathead biscuit piled with country ham and wrapped in a paper towel into my hand.

As I took my leave, the old man told me to watch out for a hornet’s nest—“big as a jug”—hanging in a tree over the creek. “They’ll cover you up,” he warned.

Before I was out of earshot, I heard the old woman say something and the old man reply, “It’s one of them fancy rods.” I smiled and thought, “Yeah, I’m a fancy son-of-a-bitch alright.”

I fished up the creek keeping an eye peeled for the Hornet’s nest, but not spotting it. I figured I’d gotten passed where the old couple had saw the wasp’s nest when I got my fly hung in a Laurel. By pulling the lower branches down and grabbing the next higher ones, I was able to work my fly down within reach and retrieve it. I sat down on a rock to rebuild my leader, tie the fly back on, and smoke a cigarette. I was about to get up and start fishing when I happened to look up, and there it was, big as a gallon jug, hanging right over my head. I slowly backed away and, giving the nest a wide berth, headed on up the creek.

I hiked until I came to a deep pool, the kind where your vision fades to black when you look for the bottom, the kind that would allow a trout to hide from corn soakers and worm drowners. I drifted my fly through and got a good rise, but failed to set the hook. I tried a few more times with no luck. I sat down and tied on another fly and waited about twenty minutes and tried again with the same result. I repeated the process. On my fourth try I set the hook and landed a fourteen-inch brookie. I’d never caught anything but stocker browns, so I took a piece of cardboard out of my pack, traced the fish on it, and released the fish back into the pool—I think I still have the tracing somewhere.

I sat down on a log quite satisfied with myself and pulled out the old woman’s biscuit. I hadn’t tasted a biscuit that good since my mother died. And why not? They were probably made from the same handed-down recipe.

I thought about the old couple. We were after the same things: solitude, adventure, bigger fish. They fished in their work clothes because that was all they had. They kept everything they caught because they needed to. They fished the way their fathers had, and I found no harm in that—or in them.

It’s been thirty years since I fished Cooper’s Creek. I left it behind when I moved west in search of wild cutthroats. But I didn’t leave my hillbilly roots behind. I still miss Mom’s cathead biscuits—and I still know what a croker sack full of lighter knots is.

© Robert Robinson 2016 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Robinson and <flyfishingthehighcontry.com> with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

TEQUILA SUNRISE


 

TEQUILA SUNRISE

By

Robert Robinson

Word count: 902

Cutthroat trout are as sure a sign you’re in the Wild West as the smell of Copenhagen on a cowgirl’s breath. Cutthroats hold a special place in the hearts of western fly-fishers. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t go out of the way to fish a stream purported to hold a population of cutts. In my mind, streams are automatically elevated in status from trout stream to blue-ribbon trout stream when cutts are found there. I don’t presume to know what God was thinking when he created them, but I know he was having a good day.

I can imagine the delight he took choosing their dazzling colors, the care he took fashioning their delicate environment. Even the flies upon which it feeds are fragile creatures, beginning life as unassuming larva, changing at the moment of their most spectacular interaction with the trout into benign beings of color and light designed to mate, and then die in a state of sexual exhaustion. For me, catching just one cutt, even if it’s the only fish caught that day, means I’m having a good day. They leave me with a sense of pristine wilderness, a sense that all is right in the world, a sense of wonder for their mysteries.

All trout are remarkably colored, but cutthroats are truly a delight to behold—they never fail to bring a smile to my face. I believe most art to be feeble attempts to interpret the natural beauty around us, and I’ve seen artist’s renderings of cutthroats, but they fall short of my memory of them. When I have one in my hand, I could look at them for hours, but I get them back into the water as quickly as I can, so my mental picture of them is an accumulation of quick glimpses gathered over time: from the crimson slash under the rosy gill plates, which gives it its name, to the clean white underbelly that seamlessly transcends into a subtle mix of yellow, orange, pink, and bronze, forming a color that has no name, reminding me of a tequila sunrise.

Some anglers consider the cutthroat a dumb fish because of the supposed ease with which they are caught. I haven’t noticed them being any easier to catch than other trout; besides, any attempt to quantify levels of intelligence by fishermen must be viewed as presumptuous.

Survival is a full time job in the cutthroat’s environs and involves risk taking. They’re less nocturnal than most trout. They live in high-country streams where summers are short and winters are long and brutal. The time they have to fatten up for those long winters—when valleys quietly fill with snow, creeks freeze to a trickle, and trout retreat to deep pools to lie in a state of suspended animation—is short. Every opportunity to feed must be taken. I believe it’s this urgency that makes them take a dry fly with savage abandon.

Most of the time I mechanically work the water, casting to likely holds, hoping for a rise. But when I come across a pod of rising cutthroats, I sit and watch—rebuilding tippet and tying on another fly with shaking hands—until I think I’ve found their rhythm. My heart beats fast as I cast to the risers and watch my fly tip into a feeding lane, and by the time the fly is over the fish, I’m so keyed up I often jerk the fly from its mouth. It’s hard to let the fish take the fly and make its turn, but when I get it right, I become part of a beautiful scene: I’m holding a trembling bamboo rod against a backdrop of blue sage, and when the fish jumps, glittering prisms explode as the sun flashes off its wet, iridescent skin. The problems I woke up with are, for the moment, gone, and nothing matters but landing the fish.

I use barbless hooks, or mash the barb on barbed hooks. This cuts down on the panic I feel during the release. Most of the time the fish slips off on its final flip at my feet. And that’s good; I don’t have to handle them—I’m not worthy, anyway. Holding a pulsing cutthroat, working the hook from its jaw, I feel guilty. When releasing them, I catch myself commenting on their vivid colors, telling them how glad I am to see them—apologizing for the intrusion. Watching it move slowly away hugging the bottom, I feel part of my soul escaping with it.

There’s a stream where I frequently catch Cutts over twenty-inches. It’s closed to fishing for six-months a year for spawning. Opening day is a cluster.

An infestation of worm-drowning, corn-soaking, spinner-slinging Huns—the kinds of people mothers only love out of instinct or a sense of duty—descends on the creek.

I never go on opening day. By the time I get there, gut piles, fish heads, and ass-wipes line the banks of the bend pools, and the reasons I seek the cutthroat’s environs are gone.

Mostly I go to see if there are any survivors. After I’ve caught a couple, I start wondering what the point would be to catch more. After all, any season is a good season when you’ve caught a couple of twenty-inch-plus cutts. And for me, the satisfaction is in knowing they’re still there.

© Robert Robinson 2016 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Robinson and <flyfishingthehighcontry.com> with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SHADOWS


SHADOWS

By

Robert Robinson

Man is like to vanity:

 his days are as a shadow

 that passeth away.—Psa. 144.4

I wake and lay watching weak morning light grow strong against the window shade. Light bands inch across the carpet, forming shadowy patterns that transport me to a long-ago morning on my grandfather’s farm in Michigan. I half expect to smell coffee, beacon, and potato cakes wafting from his kitchen. I enjoy the memory.

Shadows are a time machine for me, turning the strange into the once familiar, bringing to mind the people, places, and things of my youth. In the waning light of summer, soft fall colors mix with flickering shadows of dry, rustling leaves and carry me to a time of crisp autumn apples, peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and Notre Dame Football on the radio. It’s a carefree place. It’s third “n” eight, and warm, delicious aromas drift through the house from the kitchen where my mother is cooking Virginia ham, biscuits, and redeye gravy. Smoke from my father’s cigarette is layered to the ceiling in the living room. The newspaper whispers as he hands me the funnies.

Sometimes the way light plays in the alpine summer haze takes me back to the hills of my great-aunt’s farm and the smells of fresh cut hay and roses, smells I no longer smell after years of sucking welding smoke dulled my senses. Maybe that’s why shadow and light trigger memories now.

Shadows often take me to Saturday—not a specific Saturday, just Saturday. Saturdays were happy days in my youth. There were mornings spent watching cartoons and long afternoons spent roaming field and wood, exploring old barns where I climbed to the lofts and fought epic sea battles. There were hills to climb, where I lay in tall grass with my dog, Sheba, and watched faces form in the clouds. Saturdays were good.

Alone in the mountains, the strobe effect of flickering lightshows in the cool shade of aspen and pine tricks my mind. I suppose I’m more susceptible to the phenomenon up there, where I’m relaxed, and worries of the present have been left on the flats. Suddenly I’m in great-grandmother’s living room in Indiana, drinking a root-beer float, watching As The World Turns. I don’t find that strange. I enjoy it when memories flood in to overwhelm the present. Maybe it’s because I find the present strange.

Thirty years ago, strange circumstances led me to a strange place, but the once strange now seems familiar. What I now find strange is the people and places I’m transported back to by shadow and light no longer exist, and it’s hard to believe they ever did. Yet, those places seem more real than the stranger in the mirror.

There’s a BBC sitcom I like to watch. At the end of the show, the credits roll across a dining room table mottled in light and shadow. Long shadows stretch across the soft-beige wall and warm brown table, forming patterns that remind me of home. It’s a wonderment, as I’ve never been to England, never sat at a table set in the manner of English aristocracy. Still, it feels comforting and homey. I get the same feelings watching shadows of windblown tree branches dance on a wall—safety, comfort, home.

***

Time moves slow now that I’ve retired. Just as it moved slow when I was a child waiting to grow up. I have time to notice shadows now, and they take me to when I had time. After adulthood, time raced along unchecked. Rapid-fire events punctuated by making a living, forming and screwing up relationships, and fighting various demons for possession of my soul made time short. Now those struggles are nearly over, and time is long again. I’m able to take my time fishing, time that seemed compressed a few years ago. It doesn’t bother me to sit on a log and watch trout rise and not cast to them. They’ll be there when I’m ready. And if I don’t cast, that’s okay, too. It doesn’t bother me to wait for the mayfly sitting on my knee to dry its wings, or to spend an hour watching a dipper dive for nymphs.

The common denominator then is time. We don’t know how much we have. And I don’t know what I’d do with the time if I knew the hour of my death. Would I spend the time doing good, or would I let the rough edge drag and go fishing? When we think we don’t have time, we’re right. We don’t have time to do some things, but we don’t have time not to do others.

***

The trail winds through a small stand of aspen ahead. It’s a favorite spot. In the cool shade, shadow and light shimmer, blessing me with memories of a time and place before life’s pain, sin, and guilt. Beneath the trembling quakies, I sit and think about what was and what could have been. I wonder what I’d change if I could go back and if the changes would make any difference. If I could go back and change all the “what ifs,” perhaps I’d be left with nothing to “what if” about. Maybe I’m locked in on some predetermined path and never had a free-will choice in the first place—maybe it was a set up.

Under the quakies, I sit in lush grass where silver-dollar shadows dance and carry me to a time of no worries, a time before heart attacks and doctor bills, a time when my only concern was getting caught licking the butter. Memories flirt with changing light till I’m not sure they’re real, of real places, of real people. Maybe life is a trembling shadow, a figment of God’s imagination as intangible as the shadows that take me to those places of my youth, places peopled by those once loved, places that flicker with the shadows, staying just out of reach.

© Robert Robinson 2016 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Robinson and <flyfishingthehighcontry.com> with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

WHO GOOSED THE MOOSE?


Who Goosed the Moose?

By

Robert Robinson

Word count: 1,195

Moose attacks are rarely fatal, but moose attack more people than bears and wolves combined. Having seen film clips of these attacks, I give moose a wide berth when I run up on them. The spooky thing about moose is they seem overly interested in human activity. I had one follow me one afternoon, moving when I moved, keeping the same distance, watching me fish till I got the willies and called it a day.

When I come on moose standing in the middle of the road, having heard stories of them charging vehicles that honk their horns or get too close, I stop well back from them and just wait for them to move on. With Utah home to the southernmost herd of moose on the North American continent, sightings of these magnificent animals are common in the back country. Every high-country cowboy I know has a moose story. I’m no exception.

***

Arriving at my campsite too late to fish, I used the remaining daylight to pitch my tent, dig a fire pit, and gather wood for a fire.

Campfires fascinate me. I believe they are the perfect medium for contemplation, reflection, and innovation. I think some of humanity’s greatest ideas were first formed by somebody staring blankly into a campfire—“You know what? Naked sucks. Let’s start wearing hides tomorrow.”

Late that night, sipping whiskey from a tin cup, staring blankly into the campfire, and not coming up with any great ideas, I heard something moving in my direction through the brush. I banged my cup on a rock, and it took off uttering a high-pitched, bird-like coo. I couldn’t fathom what would make such a sound; however, the noise it made crashing through the brush told me it was big, whatever it was. This was repeated three more times. After not hearing anything for a while and thinking I’d succeeded in discouraging whatever it was, I crawled into my tent and went to sleep.

The next morning, enjoying the warmth of my sleeping bag in the predawn light and thinking about starting a fire and building a pot of coffee, I heard heavy footsteps just outside the tent. I’d seen cattle in the area and assumed it was a cow moving through camp. I rolled over and, peeking through the tent flap, saw a bull moose standing close enough I could have reached out and touched him.

I figured this must be what had tried getting into camp the night before. Being keenly aware that lying prone at the hooves of this massive animal wasn’t the safest place to be, I stayed quiet and watched as he moved to the fire-pit and sniffed my camp chair. He then walked over and stuck his head into the bed of my truck. After sniffing and snorting a few times, he moved off in the direction of the creek. That’s when I remembered to breathe. I waited until I could no longer hear him before crawling out of the tent.

He’d crossed the creek and was standing head and shoulders above the thick willows about a hundred yards away. I was clearly visible to him, but he seemed satisfied with his investigation of me and the camp and appeared to take no further interest, so I coaxed the fire back to life and put on that pot of coffee.

I was leaning against the fender of the truck sipping coffee and watching the moose brows on the tinder willows when I spotted two moose cows heading up the creek in his direction. One of the cows stopped and was watching me, but the other one seemed intent on catching up to the bull. When she was about twenty-five yards from him, kinetic power rippled over his chest and shoulders and he lowered his head and charged. His antlers scythed through the willows with the sound of rushing wind. Clearly, he wasn’t interested in female companionship. My heart went out to him; I’ve been known to show females the gate myself—just not with his style and the absence of paperwork.

The speed and ease with which he knifed through that thick undergrowth was most impressive. I could see I’d be a goner should one of these beasts charge me. There’s really no way a puny human can get away from them in their element. I looked at the single-action .44 mag. on my hip and realized it was a placebo; I’d never clear leather, let alone get a shot off. I still carry heat in the backcountry, but it’s more so I can put myself out of my misery should I get stomped or gored than for protection.

The rebuked cow hightailed it—literally—down the middle of the creek and disappeared around a bend. The bull, satisfied his point had been made, marked the spot and moseyed off in the opposite direction.

I was heading back to the fire for another cup of coffee when a moose calf hopped out of the willows about twenty feet from me. It was leaping and frolicking around and hadn’t noticed me, so I began rapping my tin cup on the bumper of the truck to get its attention and scare it away. That worked. The calf shot back into the undergrowth, but moments later mom showed up and stuck her head out of the willows to give me the hairy eyeball. Deciding I posed no threat, she turned and faded into the willows. One second she was there, the next second she was gone so completely I wondered if she’d been there at all.

With all the moose activity along the creek, I decided to take my time making breakfast and put off fishing until things died down a bit. That afternoon I made my way down the creek to a beaver pond I wanted to fish.

The thick willows lining the creek forced me to wade down the center of the stream, so when I got to the pond, I sat down on the bank to give the fish time to settle and start feeding again before fishing my way back to camp. I was about to start fishing when I noticed a beaver swimming back and forth in front of the dam. Not wanting the beaver to see me and sound the alarm by slapping its tail on the water and spooking the fish, I made myself small and watched it for several minutes before realizing there was a moose cow standing on top of the dam watching me. I’d been so focused on the beaver that I hadn’t noticed it. I slowly backed away until I thought I’d put the proper distance between me and the moose and fished my way back to camp. That morning I spotted six moose in and around camp. I camped there two more days without seeing another moose.

When I thought back on how close I’d been to that bull moose, on how vulnerable I’d been lying at its feet, I wasn’t sure if I’d been lucky or unlucky, cursed or blessed. I finally went with blessed.

© Robert Robinson 2016 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Robinson and <flyfishingthehighcontry.com> with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

TRAILS


 

 

TRAILS

BY

Robert Robinson

Word count: 1,032

I’m not a because-it’s-there hiker. I hike trails for a reason—fishing.

Some trails are old friends, and I know every bend and rise. Others are infrequently traveled, and, occasionally, some are new and exciting. I like the confidence of a new trailhead, before the uncertainty of the hike and the fatigue at its conclusion.

Tracks on the trail tell me all I need to know, like who’s here, who’s been here, what the weather’s been like, and which way to go at the fork—the other way. Smooth footprints belong to fly-fishers—old-timers still bitterly clinging to their felt-soled waders. Patagonia’s distinctive tread belongs to wet waders, and road apples and hoofprints are left by elk hunters scouting the fall hunt.

Sometimes a trail is blocked by downed trees or rockslides, forcing you to blaze a new trail. You think about going back for the axe in the bed of the truck and wonder if it’s worth the hump. It usually isn’t.

Some trails peter out on hillsides leaving you ledged up with no way to go but straight down. And some vanish on scree-strewn slopes and you have to decide if the destination is worth the risk—it usually is.

I bet I’m a real pain in the ass to hike and fish with now; I’ve heard rumors it wasn’t all that in the first place. I can’t push to the top like I used to. I sometimes have to stop, take aspirin, and wait for the pain in my chest to subside. I haven’t used the nitroglycerin pills yet. I’m too far from civilization to use them, as I’m unable to follow the second step of the instructions for their use—dial 911.

On steep climbs I have to stop every five minutes to get my breath and let my heartrate go down. I don’t mind. It gives me a chance to look around. I see in greater detail now. I’ve already seen a chipmunk and lizard that I’d’ve missed last year. The lizard bobs, checking the world out with a high-low visual.

I approach nature with more thought and patience, but only because I have to. Otherwise I’d still be moving fast, head down, ass up, face set in a determined grimace. I no longer observe the yearly ritual of keeping a few fish to remind myself of the original purpose of fly-fishing. (In some circles, that alone plants me firmly in camp with the highly condensed Pains in the ass.) Anyway, I’m not sure I have time to be screwing around like that. You Know. I don’t want to show up at my next gig with shit on my hat.

When I finally get to the creek, I spend as much time resting as I do fishing. But that has its rewards—I catch fewer but bigger fish now that I’m not churning up the creek in a mad dash to nowhere. I doubt I’ll be able to sell anybody on my new modus operandi, though.

It’s mid-summer, and long grasses are turning brown. Some wildflowers have gone to seed, others are just starting to bloom. The aquamarine slopes are covered in blue sage, and the smoky tree line is a mix of the soft green of aspen and the hard green of pine. I stop, pull leaves off sage, roll them in my hands, hold them to my nose; it’s the freshest smell in nature. I rub some on sunburned lips. (It’s not good for sunburned lips—I just want to taste it.)

A robin hops along in front of me keeping 10- to 15-yards ahead. When I stop to lean on my stick and get my breath, he waits for me. He stays with me for over a mile until we reach a fork in the trail where I head downstream and he heads up. He stops and looks back, waiting on me. I wave to him and thank him for his company. I’ve hiked with less companionable trail mates. I’m sorry our paths diverged. I hope I’ll see him again on the way out. Thanks to him I’ll remember this trail.

Trails are memorable for any number of reasons. Once remembered they’re mine, and I travel them anytime I want . . . in my mind. Next winter, when rumors of remote-cabin ax murders are whispered through the frozen valley, I’ll hike this sun-bathed summer trail again with my friendly escort.

I can see the creek below me now. This stretch looks promising—sun sparkled riffs, shadowy, mysterious bend pools. I’m breathing hard from the climb and wonder if I’ll be like Moses—allowed to see the Promised Land . . . but not allowed to get there. I’m down with it. I don’t have a choice, having reached an age where early-morning hours are spent trying to do yourself a solid—there’s the way things should be, then there’s the way things are. Most of the time they’re not the same.

I scan the sky for thunderheads and the water ahead to judge flow. The deep snowbanks that highlighted the ridges until the fourth of July are gone, and the water runs clear after the melt. I read the fast water for feeding lanes and study a beaver pond, hoping for the ring of a rise. I’ve been accused of watching for a rise in mud puddles. What can I say? I’m a fly-fisherman: in deception lies victory; in rhythm, harmony; in water, life.  I’ll check the beaver dam for hiking sticks on the way out. I give them away. People genuinely seem to like them. The beaver cuts have chew marks on the big ends and are always the perfect length. How do they know?

The creek reflects a cloudless sky before plunging into a narrow canyon, a deep cut   with sheer cliffs on each side. I can see whitewater below, leaping, frothing, and boiling into a glittering wall of sound. I’ll make a crossing to the trail that bypasses the rocky walls of the gorge and skirt the rim of the little narrows to the waterfall . . . there’s a trail I remember there.

© Robert Robinson 2016 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Robinson and <flyfishingthehighcontry.com> with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

FIDDLER’S GREEN


Fiddler’s Green

By

Robert Robinson

Word count: 836

 

“Now Fiddler’s Green is the place I’ve heard tell”

                  “Where fisherman go if they don’t go to hell.” 

    

Standing knee deep in a fast flowing creek at the bottom of a wind scoured canyon, mechanically casting to bright cutthroats rising to an early hatch, hoping to hold one in my hand just to see the colors, I remember God is life and feel guilty.

But if God is life, are the cutthroat trout I love to catch God? When I’m holding one in my hand, am I holding God? Would He put these wonderful creatures here just for me to play with? And what gives me the right to do that? Then again, maybe He wants me to get a closer look at one of the most spectacular examples of His handiwork. I don’t like to think too much about it. I feel bad enough as it is—especially when I occasionally roll God in cornmeal and fry Him in bacon grease. I know; that’s just wrong.

Job was told to look to nature for evidence of God—wind, water, morning light . . . treasures of snow, every green thing, life. I, too, was stubborn and had to be smacked in the face by nature’s beauty and humbled by its enormity to be convinced. I was. When the long, purple shadows of afternoon leave me sated, as if I’m in the only place on earth that matters, the only place I should be, I think I’m glimpsing heaven.

I wonder if atheists, while not believing in God or heaven, believe in an afterlife, and I wonder if those glimpses of heaven I catch in the high country are its reality. While I, myself, believe in an afterlife, what I don’t believe in is an afterlife where I don’t have a say in how it’s set up. That would be somebody else’s afterlife. And while I may’ve caught glimpses of heaven in the mountains (and one night in a cathouse in Nevada), there are a few things I’d get straight. First, if I’m setting up an afterlife, I’ll be by God fly-fishing and catching cutthroat trout.

There will be restaurants at the mouth of every canyon, serving heart-healthy breakfasts of greasy bacon & eggs, hash browns, and sourdough bread.

Mountains will be snowcapped, outlined by cold blue skies and cottony clouds. And it will always be summer . . . with the colors of fall. Aspens will shimmer in lucent yellows, forest greens, and burnt oranges. Firs will be living green, and gone will be the rusty browns and muting grays of the beetle killed. Slopes will be covered with summer’s wildflowers in bloom and dotted with fall’s scrub oaks in vivid reds.

Streams will run clear over cobblestoned bottoms where footing is sure. They’ll be filled with sixteen to twenty-inch cutthroats in spawning colors. And they’ll be just hard enough to catch to make it interesting. The banks will be lined with mermaids calling out encouragement, clapping at my delicate casts, and commenting on my fishing prowess.

The pine-scented air will have the hint of fall, and I’ll have the taste of crisp, cold apples in my mouth. Good sitting rocks and logs will be strategically placed alongside fountains of Kentucky Bourbon. The whiskey will make me happy, never drunk . . . and be good for my liver.

I’ll never get wind knots, my tippet will never need changing, and my flies will ride high and dry and never need dressing. The wind will never be strong enough to hinder casting, and the rain never hard enough to put the fish down. Mayfly wings will sparkle in the sun, and hatches will be constant and constantly changing—an Adams always the perfect choice.

There’ll be no litter—empty beer cans, spinner packages, and worm containers—to spoil the view. But more importantly, there’ll be no crowds of anglers—bait fishers, hardware slingers, and treble-hook dredgers of uncertain ancestry—to spoil the fishing.

My fishing partner will be breathtakingly beautiful, tie her own flies, build a great bamboo fly rod, and make damn good biscuits. And she’ll be just sleazy enough to make it interesting. We’ll weave wildflowers in our hair, rub juniper berries on our lips, and hummingbirds will rest on our shoulders . . . and we’ll both be young.

There really isn’t anyone I’ve met in this life that I’d care to hang with for eternity, but there are a few good dogs I’d like to see again. I’ve never figured out why dogs don’t have a lifespan closer to their human companions, or vice versa. I’d take the hit. There have been times when I thought ten to twelve-years would’ve been more than enough for me; it’s pretty much been downhill since I was thirteen. All the good dogs I’ve owned will be in my afterlife, and they’ll be able to talk—I just hope they’re not talking about how hot it is.

© Robert Robinson 2016 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Robinson and <flyfishingthehighcontry.com> with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.