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Published: July 16th 2009
stood out in the Seattle streets. A summer day, one shrouded by clouds, cold gray ugly clouds spitting a crisp wind. I checked the time. 8:03 in the morning. Where was he? Why didn’t I wear more layers? Cursed weather!
With this thought, I shivered at possible outcomes ahead if, and only if, the weather turned its brutality upon me. I was wearing pants, socks, two top layers and a beanie. But still cold prevailed as I watched the early morning city rumble and tumble. Grizzly trucks motored passed. Buses spewed passengers, fares and resources within poisonous exhaust. Cyclists pedaled furiously along the waterfront; panniers with work clothes, office binders and day-timers. Their iPhones strapped to their waists, headphones in their ears. The noise of this place. The ferry blaring its horn. I jumped, shook my head and shivered again. 8:06
“Where are you man?” I asked, wiping my nose on my sleeve and then closing one ear as I listened into the cell-phone.
The reception was good, but his words where hard to decipher, taking all my attention. “Five minutes. I’ll be there in five!”
I heard five. I was grateful for five,
for it seemed rain was threatening, and this chilly breeze only forced my desires to seek a hastier retreat.
8:15. A silver 4-Runner rolled up. I smiled, threw up a peace sign in joy and grabbed my things. In the back I load my backpack, food and gear on top a stack of firewood, two cartons of water and an axe.
“You ready?” I asked. There was no need for response. We were both born for it, driven to it, suckled by it. It was our emancipation, liberation. I climbed into the passenger seat, took out the phone, powered it down, and chucked it in the back. Forget this noise.
Michael drove eastward out of the city and its miasmic mayhem of consumption, birth and industrial destruction, the dismal game of the race. We were off, through the clouds and out towards a hopeful land where a promise of sunshine, adventure and Nature awaited.
He looked over at me. “You got your flies?” His smile was broad, childish, full of enthrallment.
“I have it all and then some.”
“Good. Let’s go hunt us some piggies!” P
the pass, the west dissipated and the east stretched out into a haze of ether. Socked in. The weather service predicted a balmy 80 degrees on the eastside of the mountains, but I didn’t see it. Michael assured me.
“Dude, this is Washington. These clouds hug the Puget Sound, sucked into the valley created between the Olympics bordering the west and the Cascades walling the east. And the pressure difference sweeps down off the Cascades toward the east. This wind and the dry air evaporate the clouds. It’ll be sunny. It’s summer dude, dry as shit where we’re headed.”
I trusted the man for he was learned in backcountry exploration. In his mid forties, Michael has been fly-fishing since the boy scouts, exploring waterways as if he were a Coho
pile driving upriver. He hiked into alpine lakes and wandered up rivers, creeks and streams in search of the Big Fish, that one and only trouty full of folklore and tales to be told. Today, we were headed into the wilderness off the eastern ranges of Mount Rainier. Rainbows and Cutthroat lured us, basking in sunlight, feasting off hatches of mayflies, drakes and cadis.
“We’re headed to The Snake
” (real name of rivers & towns not revealed due to explicit discretion), Michael declared. “It’s a small river leading to a larger tributary called The Moonshine
. And hopefully we gonna time it just right. The water level has got to be perfect to house those big ones. Too low; they will have gone down into the main river. Too high; they’ll be deep and untraceable. And plus, we’d be screwed. We want those farther, out-of-reach stretches to hike into.”
At this point along the journey I was not sure what he meant by hike. The extent of my fly-fishing is granted to float-tubing lakes, kayaking estuaries, and drifting down rivers like the Burdockroot
and Central Fork
in Montana. Michael was going to introduce me to the real thing; the expedition of fly-fishing and the art of the hunt, with an immense amount of buswhacking.
“We’re hunting Ms. Piggy.” His grin was wicked. “And we’re goin’ to find her.” I was also about to learn this side of him, understand his connection to the expedition in a much deeper sense. Instantly, I admired the inner conviction in his voice; knowledge of skill,
confidence and understanding in the ways of the trout, all combined into an artform known as backcountry fly-fishing. S
un. Brilliant, bone-soaking, blissful sun. Personally, I am a heliotrope specimen. I want to gravitate to that gallant star. Breathe, feel, absorb its passion for heat and fire with long drawn-out moans.
Like clockwork, once we dropped over the eastside and descended from the 5300’ elevation of Salmon Pass
, the thick etheric clouds became wispy hairs caught in a vast blue space. And then they vanished. We drove under the light, picked a campsite and pulled in. It was empty. A few Joe Bobs and Patty Hodges took up the paved driveways with bulky mobile homes. Satellites rose into the tree boughs, light switches flicked on and off, huge tent covers shaded picnic benches and LazyBoys rocked back and forth. And then there was us; two hooligans on a hunt, leaving it behind for the exploration. We picked a site, hopped out of the car, swore in excitement, dropping F-bombs and worse every-other word. In a snap, two tents erected, wood piled high and chairs set up. Done.
“Let’s get the hell outta here and hit the
Continuing east down a long wooded highway, Ponderosa
pines rose like regal mastiffs along the asphalt. They were massive, old-growth beauties, standing as if bearing arms and ready to rage their strength of Earth on any distrusting human form: Sentries guarding their Mothership, protecting Her ancient wisdom. Wooden cabins appeared, undulating in the shadows beneath these Ponderosas
. They were basic, without much design; and the materials simple: woods, stone and concrete. Lawns were mowed, woodpiles stacked high, and RVs parked beneath canvas carports. It was a strange world to me, one I’m not sure I could get use to, yet on the other hand, a new life with extreme attraction (minus the mobile home).
With the scattering of wooded cabins and rudimentary shacks, we flew into and out of small towns with names like Clearwater, Pine Park
. One small general store occupied an old-and-gone fill station with neon signs flashing Pabst Blue Ribbon
and Busch Lite
. Next door there was possibly a local dive motel with an attached lounge where the local Lion’s Club met once a month, and then Whooomp!
We were gone, back into the wooded lands where sentries of wilderness
became more fragile and more susceptible to human encroachment.
Eventually, we paralleled The Moonshine
tributary, the larger river where our little Snake
emptied out. It twisted and bent into the earth, weaving round stone beaches and brushy flats. It spread out long and calm, braiding into several individual creeks before coming back together, close and confined with all that energy headed for the sea. Beautiful to watch, the natural progression of water in its own rhythm, rain or shine. And we were both silent as Michael drove, simply observing and smiling at its grace and pondering where those trout lay.
As the river bent away from the highway and tucked up against the mountainside to the south, a canyon opened up. Just as the waterway turned back and slammed into the wall of the road, a smaller river joined this swift movement.
“That’s our Snake!
” Michael exclaimed. “There she is. Damn, what a gorgeous creek! Isn’t she a gem?”
I was only looking at her mere feet, for the head of her curvaceous body stirred way up that canyon, into the wilderness of these great outdoors.
Pulled off and soon rocking along a dirt road, we stopped at a distance upriver and jumped out. Here we go. To be continued...>>
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