June 16, 2012
March 7, 2011
An article appeared the other day in one of the regional newspapers and it began with the words, “Anglers: The Bitterroot River is warming up – do you know where your fly rod is?”. It went on to point out that toward the end of this month the skwala stonefly hatch should begin, signaling the start of the fly fishing season here in western Montana. It reminded me of a story that I wrote back in 2007 about a boy and his father and the beginning of a life rich with the love of trout fishing. I will repost it today, with apologies for the repetition to anyone who read it back then.
I should know better than to write another fishing story, since as I recall, that was the activity which caused my banishment from polite society in the first place many years ago. Oh well, old dogs may not learn new tricks, but they remember all their bad habits very well! So, here goes…
One Saturday morning near the end of May, a small boy, four years of age, stood just behind his father in the bright green grasses of spring on the bank of an icy trout stream which was swollen by the melting snow; the west fork of the Bitterroot River. Despite the heavy run-off that year, the water was still pure and crystal clear. Behind and above them, six thousand feet closer to the sky, sunlight glittered on deep snow which sat like an ermine crown on the top of Trapper’s Peak in the beautiful Bitterroot Mountains.
Miles up stream, on the green, heavily forested slopes just below the snow line, new bear cubs had emerged from their winter dens and their mothers were already beginning to teach them the rules of living in the wild country; what to eat, where to find it and all the whos to be sure to stay well away from.
It was learning time in western Montana.
The father was not a large man, but he was wiry and tough from a lifetime of earning a living outdoors. He wore a heavy green jacket over his usual bibbed overalls, and a wicker creel which was heavy with trout and the new green leaves and grasses that kept them fresh hung from his left shoulder. His fly rod was old and made of split bamboo, but in good repair; a cherished veteran of innumerable trout battles, spring after spring and summer after summer.
There had already been many lessons on the ways of trout in the four hours since day-break in the canyon. The boy had been a rapid learner, he was quickly becoming skillful at landing the hard-fighting trout that rose to take his father‘s fly, and the fly rod already felt comfortable in his small hand. It was a pleasant experience and he was thoroughly enjoying the challenge. During the previous summer he had been just too little, but this year it was different. He was finally big enough now and it was time to begin learning the love of a sport that he would enjoy for the rest of his years. There was another lesson as well.
America was still at war. Battles were raging in various parts of the world and there were family members and friends who had answered their calls to duty and were still in harm‘s way. In such times it is a good thing to know a way, for however short the time, to achieve a break from all the stress and concern; a brief diversion of one’s thoughts from distress to pleasantness, to catch a deep breath and have a time of soul’s rest before returning to the cares of the world. The boy knew little of what all this meant, but he was learning a lesson none-the-less. He would understand it all and how to use it later, and it would never be forgotten.
So far the fish had all been small, judged by the standards of those now distant years, around a pound apiece, but colorful and full of fight; an excellent beginning.
A few hundred yards upstream from where they stood was a sharp bend in the stream, and along the shore on the outside of the curve there was a large pile of logs that had been deposited there years before during high water times. Far into the bank beneath the logs the water had scoured out a hole some thirty feet deep and twenty yards long, and the man already knew that it would be the exclusive domain of a large trout. And that it was.
They approached the hole and he began casting, sending loop after loop of line out toward the far bank, floating temptation down into precisely the right place, and when the line was extended perfectly straight over the water, let the fly drop lightly like the feather it was, mere inches from the edge of the log jam. Immediately there was a flash of silver, crimson and green as five pounds of Rainbow broke the surface of the water; a carefully cultivated reflex, a lightning-quick movement of the man’s wrist, and the battle began.
As soon as he knew the hook was well set, the father handed the rod to his son, saying, “He’s all yours now”, and assumed the role of a coach, watching carefully and giving instructions as needed.
“Keep the line tight, but not too tight.”
“Let him run, the water’s open! He‘ll take some line now.”
“Come, move downstream with him. You can’t hold him in that swift water!”
“Snub him up a bit, he’s heading for that underwater log. See it? Good move!”
For over thirty minutes the battle went on and the boy’s arms ached, but he was still game for the fight, and still responded immediately to the commands. Finally, several hundred yards down stream, the big trout began to tire.
“Keep the line snug and bring him over to the bank.” The stream there was a little slower, forming a deep riffle: a good place for the landing. As the boy fought the fish toward the bank, his father could see the hook was beginning to loosen: the trout would not be on much longer.
Acting quickly, he entered the stream below all the action and came up behind the tired fish. Chest deep in the icy water, he slid both arms under the trout and scooped it up on the bank where the boy dived on it as a good lineman would dive on a loose ball and held on until his father scrambled up to him and subdued the still struggling fish.
Then the final words: “You did it, Son! Good job!”
The grin on the boy’s face was visible for miles and stayed for a lifetime! A fisherman had just been born.
August 28, 2009
Every month or two I have to visit “The City” for supplies. In my case that is Missoula, a town with a population of around 70,000, and it’s about 80 miles from where I live. While I typically hate going there, it seems that on every trip at least one thing of interest presents itself, be it a photogenic scene, a close look at some of western Montana’s wildlife or, as on yesterday’s trip, a brief glimpse into a bit of the area’s past.
There are two main routes of travel between here and Missoula, one by a state highway and the other by a combination of Interstate and state highways. On the way there I chose the state Highway: on the way back I chose a third route.
After driving west on I90 for about 23 miles from Missoula one will find a turn off to a Forest Service highway that runs past the historic Ninemile Ranger Station, on up through the beautiful Ninemile valley and over the very scenic Siegel Pass. It’s a dirt road all of the way and not suited for passenger cars, but in all it is 20 miles shorter than either of the other routes and replaces about 60 miles of highway driving.
Yesterday after I took the Ninemile turn off and drove about 18 miles up Forest Service road 412 in a nicely forested area far from any habitations, my sharp-eyed daughter who was with me exclaimed that she thought she saw a tombstone on the mountainside above the road. I turned around and returned to the spot and, upon a little investigation we found a short, steep trail that did indeed lead to a headstone (in this case, a wooden one) that marked an old and lonesome grave.
Some research today showed that the grave was not far from the location of an old mining camp called Martina at the site of what was, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, a gold mine called “San Martina”. The forest has long since reclaimed the camp of Martina and the mine site, and that Grand Old Man is now peacefully at rest in a beautiful and wild part of the Lolo National Forest.
(For those who might be interested in more information about that area, the Montana State site DEQ Nine Mile Creek Mining District may be useful.)
August 24, 2009
On a walk this morning I came across a scene with a pond upon which the light was just right for a reasonably good photograph, but what came immediately to mind was the image I saw when I looked at just the pond itself. The reflected image then became the predominate scene and it was one that appeared upside down.
The second photo is a duplicate of the first, only rotated 180°, but the mind wants to say that it is the correct view because the predominate scene appears right side up.
The third photo is the complete scene and of course the mind has no quarrel with it at all.
(Welcome to the combined fellowship of The Easily Amused and The Easily Confused.)
June 17, 2009
As I walked on the trail in the early spring, the cold rain remaining on the grasses and brush wet my boots: this evening the afternoon’s warm summer rain on the same grasses and the same brush wet my clothing ten inches above my waist. Ah, the magnificent abundance of summer!
The stream is dry now through the last mile of its canyon, hiding from the never-quenched thirst of “the civilized”, choosing to go to the relative safety of underground rather than continue its journey to the river and to the sea; a poignant reminder of the fragility of the wild country and a warning to those who would read it that the high country snow pack has now been depleted. The bounty of the forest is not without limits.
The procession of blossoms continues. Someone said that I live in a paradise of wildflowers and that is true, but to a point. I choose to frequent the wild places where they grow, the last few places remaining that have not seen the plow, the woodsman’s axe and the road-building dozers of the timber barons or the earth moving/nature destroying machines of the energy companies and developers. In Montana there are a few such places left: in many of these United States there are none.
As the traveler enters the forest on this trail the plant growth is very thick as though the forest seeks to deny entry. The lush growth at the interface of the trail and the road covers the trail like a thick scar over a severe wound. Perhaps the wild country has had a glimpse of the city where “progress” has buried the earth in an eternal tomb of asphalt and where men continually build new edifices of sparkling glass and brick and mortar and large public buildings of polished stone; the ghettos of tomorrow and the ruins of the next millennium.
Once under the forest canopy a transformation occurs. A huge weight is lifted from my shoulders and magically dissipates among the needles of the pines and the firs and the leaves of the cedars. Despite the efforts of those who would oppress, there are still a few hours of freedom available in this world for those who will seek it.
A mile or so up the canyon the trail has changed. Its tread has become wider and well worn from the hard soled shoes of the ungulates, the soft pads of the large carnivores and omnivores, the tiny feet of the timid ones, and the scaly feet of the fowl. This is the land of a million years ago, the land that is about to be sacrificed to the gods of progress, and power, and greed. The fools that we call “leaders” are causing it to be so.
I try, as I have so many times now, to bring back pictures of what I see in the wild country to show to those who have not been there or who cannot go there but even the best photo presents but a small glimpse of the reality. A camera captures only a small image of a small scene, and an even smaller image of a very large one. There is nothing that can capture the encompassing smell of the roses that grow, not at your feet but overhead as well, the feel of the forest air, the deafening chorus of the birds and the water and the exhilaration of a thunderstorm booming overhead in the high country. No stage, real or virtual, can ever display the experience of being at home on a trail in the natural world, the wild world, the real world.
November 9, 2008
“Israeli police rushed into one of Christianity’s holiest churches Sunday and arrested two clergyman after an argument between monks erupted into a brawl next to the site of Jesus’ tomb.
The clash between Armenian and Greek Orthodox monks broke out in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, revered as the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection.” – an excerpt from THIS STORY in today’s news.
Another excerpt from the same story: “After the brawl, the church was crowded with Israeli riot police holding assault rifles, standing beside Golgotha, where Jesus is believed to have been crucified, and the long smooth stone marking the place where tradition holds his body was laid out.
The feud is only one of a bewildering array of rivalries among churchmen in the Holy Sepulcher.
The Israeli government has long wanted to build a fire exit in the church, which regularly fills with thousands of pilgrims and has only one main door, but the sects cannot agree where the exit will be built.
A ladder placed on a ledge over the entrance sometime in the 19th century has remained there ever since because of a dispute over who has the authority to take it down.
More recently, a spat between Ethiopian and Coptic Christians is delaying badly needed renovations to a rooftop monastery that engineers say could collapse.”
Now, I’m not a theologian, but upon reading that story a question of theology immediately comes to mind. Would God be more likely to be found in a factious congregation of rival gangs gathered at the ugly place where two millenniums ago a similar gang of cowards killed His Son, or would He be more likely to reveal Himself in the beauty of a mountain peak in the wilderness?
Or in the pure, cold, life-sustaining water of an unspoiled mountain stream?
Yet the revelation of Him in those places of hope and beauty or the marvelous news of a solitary traveler in the wild country finding Him manifest in the innocent face of a simple flower growing in harmony with nature is never published in the world media.
It’s no wonder that this world is in the condition it is in today!