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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

BOOK OF ESSAYS PUBLISHED


There’s nothing that turns me off more than going to a blog and discovering that it’s all about self-promoting somebody’s book. Yet here I am self-promoting a collection of essays I just published. By my calculations, I’ve less than a dozen loyal readers, so I will only bother you this one time.

I just published a collection of essays titled “Rocky Mountain Pastels.” It’s available on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Rocky+Mountain+Pastels+by+Robert+Robinson

I would appreciate your support. Thank you.

 

Please forgive the intrusion. Rob

THE DONNER PARTY


Author’s note: In 2015, twenty-one people lost their lives in Utah to flash floods–in one day.

THE DONNER PARTY

By

Robert Robinson

Word count: 1178

 

When I topped out, iron-gray clouds lay heavy and full along the southern horizon—and south was where I wanted to go.

I pulled into a turnout and watched the storm advancing up the valley, shutting off light, shuttering the outside world. Without sun dazzling the fall colors, the mountains turned black, brown, and earthy as the storm moved in and squatted; gossamer clouds hung in the saddles and then rolled down the slopes until the mountains vanished. Rain curtains formed a gray wall that extended across the southern end of the valley; beads of water formed on the windshield, grew fat, slid down, and cut paths through misty film; windows fogged; and I sat in blurred isolation listening to the rain tap, tap, tap the roof of the truck, drumming out any chance that I would get in some fishing that day. I wiped a hole in the window fog and watched a dense, gray sky turn gunmetal blue and slowly expand across the valley. The rain went from hard to steady, a steady that means it’s settled in.  This wasn’t your normal quick-moving, high-country storm; it had a forty-day-forty-night feel to it, so I decided to cut my losses and head for the top of the canyon and home.

Three years before, a wildfire raged through the canyon, and although much of the ground cover had returned, it remained badly burn-scarred and vulnerable to flooding. The gate used by the Forest Service to close the canyon road was open, but dropping into the canyon that day was like driving into a tunnel. Heavy clouds hung low, shrouding the canyon rim, and water cascaded down the canyon walls, forming creeks where there shouldn’t be any. As I got farther into the canyon, rivulets of water became spouts of red, gravely mud, and each time I passed one of these falls, I wondered if I was lucky to make it through or if I should turn around and get the hell out of there. A group of cars passed me heading back up the canyon, and I soon found out why.

About halfway down I came to a washout. Large boulders, logs, and a layer of mud about a foot deep blocked the road. I had four-wheel drive and thought I might be able to move a log or two and a couple of the smaller boulders and pick my way through, but I decided to turn around and follow the group I’d seen heading up the canyon. I rounded a bend and spotted the group of cars circled up like a wagon train. They waved me down, so I pulled over and rolled down my window to see what was up.

One of the guys came over and said, “Hughes canyon’s blown out.”

“North Hughes or South Hughes?”

“North.”

“No way through?”

“No. Mud’s three-foot deep, with lots of logs and boulders. . . . Have you got any food?”

I thought it a bit early in the ordeal to be worried about food, so I asked, “Is there a medical emergency?”

“No. . . . It just looks like we’ll be here a while,” he replied.

I had some power bars and a couple of packs of cheese crackers . . . so I told him no.

Then I noticed the men were all wearing black pants, white shirts, and black ties, and the women were wearing prairie dresses and blue and white ribbons in their hair—fundamentalists, clannish, self-righteous, possibly even dangerous. I was a Gentile; thus, a prime candidate to be sacrificed for the greater good. Images of the Donner party flashed in my head, and I figured my best chance for survival was to get away from these good people, head back down the canyon, and see if I could pick my way through . . . before they started drawing lots.

I got back to the washout, moved a couple of logs and oil-pan-crushing rocks, put the truck in four-wheel drive, and weave my way through. I was thinking I’d tell the state bulls about the Donners once I cleared the canyon and could get cell service when I came to another washout. This one was much bigger; there was no way to get through. In the distance, I could see two more washouts and a guy standing by a truck in the middle of the road at the last one. I waved to him and he waved back. Another truck pulled up, turned around, and headed back—going for help I hoped.

I thought about making my way back to the Donners, but I figured they were probably already barbecuing children, so I stayed put, waiting for help to arrive.

The rain started up again much harder than before, so I backed to the top of a hill to get clear of the washout. At the mouth of the canyon, clouds layered in increasingly darker shades of gray moved in low, hiding the ridges, adding to my feeling of isolation.

Thunder rumbled, and lightning cracked somewhere on the ridge above me. I was looking up the washed-out side canyon when a red wall of water came churning around a bend, smashing and undercutting the outside wall before swinging back to the center of the canyon floor. Unseen boulders rumbled as the wall of muddy water surged through the little canyon picking up everything in its path. Chunks of canyon wall sluffed into the torrent and bushes and logs rode its crest. I’m not sure if I felt the ground shake, or if it was the roaring-locomotive sound that I felt. I watched pine trees fold into the thick, red pudding and car-size boulders roll into the road.

Fear produced by raging nature is different from any fear I’ve known. The terrifyingly unavoidable; relentlessly methodical; unimaginably swift power was paralyzing.

Columns of rain now appeared between me and the mouth of the canyon. Thunder crashed, skeletal fingers of lightning stabbed down in all directions, and the air smelled of burning ozone. Logs, trees, and thundering boulders came brawling out of another side canyon behind me, and I was now trapped on my little high spot in the road.

Finally, I spotted the flashing yellow lights of a front-end loader worming its way through the logs and boulders as it cut a path toward me. I warned the operator about the Donners, and, following the path he’d cut through the washouts, headed for the mouth of the canyon. Just as I popped out of the canyon, the heavy clouds dumped everything they had; the only place I’ve seen rain come down that hard was along the Gulf Coast.

The flooding that day was regional; a trailer park and several homes were destroyed down on the flats—it was a big deal. It took the road crews a week to clear the canyon road. I never learned what happened to the Donner party—I hope they were rescued before hunger drove them to desperate measures.

© Robert Robinson 2015 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.

 

 

 

 

LAST CAST


LAST CAST

BY

Robert Robinson

Word count: 1,087

I awoke to the sound of fat rain drumming on the roof of the camper shell. The heavy taps became a wall of sound that wrapped around me and I burrowed deeper into my warm sleeping bag and drifted back to sleep.

It’s the sudden silence of the storm’s passing that next wakes me. I crawl out onto the tailgate and look down the canyon at the thick column of rain about a mile away. Farther down, the disturbance squats on the mountains like a blank canvas and spiring Alpine firs punch through here and there—unfinished sketches. The upper end of the canyon is bright, green, and fresh. Ghost-clouds hang draped against the vivid green mountains like fat on a mother-in-law. The fishing will be good now. As I begin stringing my rod, I strain to smell the perfume of the pines and hear the canyon’s silence, but years of welding dulled my sense of smell, and silence now is the echo of nine-pound double-jacks pounding stubborn steel. It’s enough for me to know that the scent and the stillness are there. I remember.

I remember the first time a trout stream stole my soul one cold, rainy day in North Georgia, and the ten-inch Brown that took my fly when I had fallen down in the creek and was being baptized into a new life. I was cold, wet, and happy. I had found something, something that I wanted to be a part of, something that would come to define me; so, I keep coming back to be re-defined, re-baptized. There’s a beginning and an end to everything, though. There will be a last hike in, a last fish caught, and a last cast. I was with Ed when he made his last cast.

Neither of us knew it was his last cast, but the signs were there. He needed my help getting into his waders that morning, and I watched, helpless, as he fumbled with his tippet and fly with stiff, swollen joints until he finally asked for my help. He leaned on me as we moved up the river, his weight frail, light, and we made frequent stops so he could catch his breath. I had to net and release that last Brown for him. I thought Ed was too good to die. I think he was too good not to. Two weeks later he was gone.

They say you shouldn’t dwell on the past, but you think about the things you know, and now there’s much more past than there is future. So I think about Ed, and the others who are gone. Like the young man I took fishing because he needed help and taking him fishing was all I could think to do. I’d hoped fishing would help him as it had helped me. I stood behind him and held his hand as I showed him the roll cast.  A few months later, he rolled his car.

I think about my old friend who called me one night lonely and depressed. He needed to go fishing. We talked about wild country and clear water. We talked about special places folded deep into the backcountry and made our plans. He decided to go to sleep and never wake up instead.

The hike in is tougher than it used to be. As I top the hill, I hear somebody chopping wood in the distance, or is it the sound of distant drums? I listen closer and realize it’s the sound of my heart thumping in my chest. Below me, a meadow filled with wildflowers of every description and color stretches all the way to the creek.

I try to imprint the scene on my mind and go for the pack of anti-acid tablets in my pocket, remembering that a nurse once told me that everybody who came into her emergency room with a heart attack had a pack of them in their pocket. I chew on the tablets and wonder if the scalding in my chest is my retirement plan, or the two jalapeño-laced gas-station corn-dogs I had for supper last night. It doesn’t matter. I’m too far into the backcountry now and whatever is going to happen will happen without any more help from me. Besides, doing the purple polka on a tapestry of wildflowers doesn’t seem like a bad way to go. I can think of a lot worse—Visiting Angels spoon feeding me as I cast to the rising cutthroats in my mind and tapioca dribbles onto my chin. I decide to push on across the creek and up the next hill to give the arteries a good flush.

I think about a life lived giving up no hostages to the pursuit of fortune, choosing only to work just enough to keep a roof over my head and take care of my dog. Radio talk show hosts point accusing fingers at me. I dropped out, didn’t row hard enough when the Pharaoh wanted to waterski. I wanted to stay in bright mountains and explore Thoreau’s premise that one’s surroundings reflect the depth of one’s character. I doubt they do; the empty beer cans I see laying around suggest that character is not reflected by surroundings. Perhaps character isn’t something you bring to these wild places. Maybe it’s something you find here.

I can see the wooden footbridge, first built by the CCC, now maintained by the forest service, and that last steep hill above it that I use as a benchmark to let me know how I’m doing from year to year. There’s a stand of Aspens just beyond and a waterfall where I want my ashes scattered after I tip over.

I pause and strain to see through cloudy eyes and prescription glasses the distant ridge tops. I know the breeze that cools my brow through my sweat stained boonie is pine scented, and the sounds of the creek sculpting the narrows and diving over the falls drown out the double-jacks in my head. I think I hear voices and turn expecting to see somebody but see only the rings of a rising trout below. Something about the shadows under the firs takes me back to my great-grandmother’s kitchen on some long ago Saturday morning. I stand on a hill overlooking the creek, silhouetted against the cadet gray sky, poised between past and present. Lost friends will fish with me again today, here, where place in time do not exist.

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