May 23, 2012

I Dream of The Henry's Fork

My mind wanders back the meandering wake to that glassy water where the fish lay. And the bugs that hover there, long enough to hold off the mouths and the end of it all. I spent many hours there on my bum, my legs crossed, scanning the water for Mayfly regattas and spent wings collapsing.

Often the road there, would take me over Teton Pass and into that fertile country that lay to the west of the spires. Falling and twisting down into the green valley… Even through cracked glass, I could often make out the distant bulges of the Centennial and the Lemhi Ranges whose collisions rise over seventy miles distant. Windows down, there is bluegrass picking and wind throughout the cab of the truck. And best to stay alert on this twisted trail that winds though fields of potatoes and barley.

There are scattered heaps of rusted machinery by the side of the road. A too-ripe shack with no glass has the words “Cold Beer” peeling from its side. Little white houses and red barns with white trim are swallowed by the swaying prairie as the road continues on to the ancient caldera that is Island Park, Idaho. It is still my most favorite path to travel.

Passing over the bridge out of Ashton, Idaho, I get my first whiff of her – that unmistakable cool, buggy scent of wet earth and moving water. And there she be, still moving – rippling and smoothing her way towards the Snake’s other half and then onward; further until she fills with Steelhead and Salmon that come home from the sea.

To speak of origins: A rain drop meets Yellowstone and slithers down into the earth. It finds another and grows and finds more and strength becomes her and the water it flows clean and cold through a labyrinth of volcanic rock that came stone a million years before. And at the end of her underground path, out of the side of a modest hill on the western flank of the park, she is unveiled: streaming from the earth she is uncovered; she is beautiful, distinguished, banded, and witnesses tell it so.

The Henry’s Fork of the Snake River begins where Buffalo roam. Could a drop be more fortunate? How about me, could I be more fortunate to wade into her arms or sit on her banks and watch the clouds pass over? This is where my mind flows. When the present loses character, I drift upstream between the crests of a widening wake that may start with a nose.

A friend took me here long ago. We drank beer while watching the river and he told me that if I can catch fish here, then I could catch fish anywhere. I remember being anxious at the possibility of casting line as we continued to sit and watch. I grew restless that day, waiting. More sips of beer and salami slices down our hatches among chatter of bugs and rise forms and how best to approach a ripple that would hopefully ripple once more.

“When they come up real lazy-like they’re probably eating dead bugs. Spinners,” He suggested.

I listened.

“And always look for bubbles. Bubbles, then they’re on top. No bubbles, they’re feeding just below.”

“Splashy, probably taking emergers or possibly adults.”

When would my ripple ripple? The snout, the source…

“Best to work downstream on em. Want to work an angle where you’re quartering down on em. A reach mend, wiggle cast, pull back… something or other, just got to set it up before it gets there. Any drag and she’s gone.”

In the distance, a Lodge Pole blanket creeps up to a fading, zigzagged snowline. Goose honks and throaty Sandhill whoops and Herons in flight with their curled up necks and big wings flapping. And the beer is set into the grass when the faintest splash is heard and rings appear upstream and slowly dissipate down. I move like a cat with eyes glued to a spot in the lazy flow until finally, I stand close, watching, leader in hand – poised to open the door to hooking them here and then maybe, anywhere.

I caught them. All small - little ones of the river, but Trout. Fish that took a Pale Morning Dun and then wiggled with all their might. Fish that learned as I did with every cast and drift. I looked down, they looked up and our lessons were found, drifting down the middle.

Many times over the years I would pass out in the bed of my pickup after beers at the A Bar Supper Club and Lounge. Only ghosts are there now, but they remember those times when they hunched over the wooden bar growing dear to fare and faces as the Henry’s Fork slid slowly by the window. The river, it came here in the night. The river, that day, it was awash in the tales that hung in the hearts and the haze of this not forgotten place that proudly served the finest combination of beef and bread that I may ever know.

And many times I would wake up there, crawl out of the truck and then saunter down the soft, gurgling edges for a day spent searching, waiting and wondering. And others would do the same. Rene Harrop and his beard, or that guy who would rumble up in his leathers atop a motorbike with his rods strapped off the back; or the one fella who seemingly slept in the brush and crept around, silent, until his graceful loop of line remained for his fish and his bond. Sometimes I would have the company of friends, but mostly I fished here without. To be free of explanation is something I still relish, when reactions are clean, honest and inviting. But I shouldn’t say this is lost on camaraderie, just that some days are best spent with just you and place.

The place I always wanted to go was where the fish rose. Whether walking or sitting, always I was watching and willing a rise through that floor of the sky – that splinter of gravity to part the glass. And my eyes would follow the little silhouettes struggling to take flight and wonder of their own gravity and when the mouth would come up. And sometimes the very bug I watched would get taken down into the depths of a belly which is always an extravagant production, every time I see it. And the stages of the hunt would then play out as I am drawn to the bulge that will appear on the very next drift.

Experiences go in and come memory but I wonder how ruffled they become like a, like a – well surely not is all how it went, but rather how it goes. At times, when my dreams bring me back to the Henry’s Fork it’s all there smeared across my mind, painted like a Pollack. And instead of that one individual nose, this fingered paint, in its entirety, is the bulge in my mind. I can find a line on the canvas and follow it how it might have happened if I choose and what I might see there within the lines is me sitting in the knee high grass in the Idaho afternoon upon where my eyes go lazy, the edges disappear and the sky, river and such all become one.



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