Tag Archives: Idaho

WEST TO WATER

 

Midway from Chicago to LA it still hasn’t hit me. Sprawling canyon, salt flat, scrub brown and mountains crawl below. I carried on three fly rods and a book of Jim Harrison’s poetry. Our platinum blond, plump-lipped stewardess calls me Skippy. She won’t take cash for a beer.

**
Here, I am slow motion. Layers of break-neck life peeling away. I know it’s the wide-open expanse of frontier plainsong. Forever rolling and howling as the speedometer pushes 85 and The Grateful Dead wander their highway through Althea in Nassau. I am small here.

**
Gas station coffee, grain elevators, rail cars, Friday night lights, onions, grapes, magpies, llamas, cottonwood groves, sunflowers, sage, corn, wheat, cattle, chukar, grouse, desert quail, winding roads, canyon, famous potatoes. One lone strip club hiding over the county line.

**
Hot copper-white and sage canyon floor. We sit in camp chairs with beers, grilling meat for lunch in the weak shade of a nearby tree. Driftwood and brush flood-woven eight feet up in its branches. On the other side of the willows the desert river pretends to mind its own business.

**
4 a.m. Roadside sage and gravel shoulder chase the curving road, a cold ghost-gray in our headlights. We make the Sawtooth Basin by sunup. Eggs, sausage, homemade white toast and coffee in Stanley. Outside, thin smoke from a small late summer campfire, quiet talk, mountains. It’s 27o.

**
To get here, switchbacks had us coming and going. We park on the shoulder outside Lowman, pull on waders and step-skid-step to the water. This seventy yard stretch runs twelve feet deep and gin clear right from the edge. Sun finds us at 10:38. Smoke from last season’s fire a thin film in the air.

**
We spot a moose as we haul the jet boat down Highway 26. Big black body in full stride a half-mile out into Swan Valley’s amber waves of grain. Her pine and brush foothills another quarter-mile off. A combine leads a yellow dust cloud across the next immense field. The sky looks like rain.

**
Mack truck river hauling the ass-end of mammoth runoff. There’s no thinking at this pace. We drift, I sling. Wail full-on gun-shots into slack eddies, under thick brush, against cliff wall undercuts and grass-sand banks. Swings and short-strikes. Dusk drops on our run back to Conant.

**
I know he’s going to take before he does. Everything’s right. Cast, distance, depth, slower- than-river-speed drift, Folsom Prison Blues playing in my head. The fly touches bottom a couple times, tumbles from the riffle into the pale green. I look him in the face, good one he says. Good one.

**
An hour-and-a-half drive north. The sun burns off the morning haze and the Tetons get to their feet. Riverside parking and talk of big fish. Forty minutes downstream from the truck, we scramble from a game trail into the river. At thigh deep, I’m the knife at a gunfight.

**
From where I stand, frontiersmen once contemplated their purpose in this landscape, the panorama of destiny. Motionless, forty yards into the river, a small whirling eddy in my shadow. Perspective. The wide arc of a distant osprey. Big fish rise carelessly, thinking the coast is clear.

**
Mesa Falls, Ashton, Rexburg, Rigby fill our rearview mirror. Windows down, simmering late-afternoon sun, we’re on the other end of the gauntlet and there’s nothing pressing to say. The last eight days packed tight in my tired, calloused hands, ready to throw like a sneaky left in the final round.

**
Snake, Payette, Salmon, Henry’s Fork, Owyhee—forever in my blood. These days and miles and fish and landscapes are forever in my blood. Tomorrow is 9/11 and our flight back east. Tonight we drink bucket-beers at the stock car races. I feel like a good fight or some Howlin’ Wolf but I’m hungry and still have to pack.

**
12:20 a.m. Wheels-down in Rochester. Shuttle ride to the car, Army duffel, pack and rods at my feet, two frowning wives cluck about Yellowstone’s rustic amenities. One husband nods, Good fishing? I nod back. Montana? he asks. Idaho. My voice is 10-day gravel and far from being home.

 

(Originally published in Volume 4, Issue 2 of the Flyfish Journal)

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Filed under On the water, The road

I’M HOME. SORT OF.

I miss it already

Ten Days. Five different rivers. A whole lot of new friends. Idaho kicks ass.

Stay tuned for reports from the trip.

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Filed under On the water, The road

GRAPPLE AND GRIN

I’ve managed to get myself tied into a trip to Idaho with a close friend of mine. We’re going for work. Just enough work to be able to write-off all the fishing we’ve got planned. And according to the folks we’ve got plans to fish with, we’re very likely to end up tangling with browns that would likely rival, in weight and strength, opponents I faced on the wrestling mat in high school. If that’s the case, I’m going Vision Quest on some bruiser browns. If you don’t know, you better ask somebody.

The fight’s inevitable. Bring it.

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Filed under On the water

FRONTIER

I’m tired of small spaces.

I’m not talking about my space at work…although I am definitely tired of that too. I’m talking about our woods and water. Our wild places. We’re losing them.

There’s no such thing as a little patch of heaven. Little patches of heaven suck. They are what’s left when sprawl corners us. They are the fall-back position when the value of natural resources on the open market outweigh the value of what our wild places stand for – our foundation, our history, our soul, our frontier gutsy-ness and awareness and appreciation that has been slowly, politically, culturally drained, educated and socialized out of us.

Here, in Upstate NY, the Finger Lakes specifically, our wild is being whittled into manageable tracts where people complain about deer emptying flowerbeds, or beaver dropping trees in parks, or bear moving into the region, and demand local and state government to do something, manage something, just as long as it doesn’t hurt the animals or stop the sale of custom homes on lots with breathtaking lake-views.

Our wilderness is shrinking. It always has been in some way shape or form. Lewis and Clark delivered Jefferson’s Indian Peace Medals up the Missouri. The railroads connected the coasts. The bayou’d south was drained and farmed. Every port deep enough to dock ships exhaled more of this country than they returned. But it’s shrinking faster now.

Here in New York, a practically bankrupt state government legislates its way into the pockets of hunters and fishermen only to spend the revenue on things other than conservation. The Shenandoah watershed struggles with commercial polluters. Montana, Idaho and Utah face less public access and the High and Wide industrial corridor. Bristol Bay sits in the shadow of the Pebble Mine. The list goes on.

How can business intelligence possibly be stronger than the intelligence of living by one’s hands and the land? How can suits beat boots?
How can our dollar suck, but still trump the value of keeping our wild places wild– trading away the purest, most character-defining piece of our American-ness becasue of corporate/economic/political desperation?

How?
Because we let it.

We don’t need patches of heaven. We need to fight for heaven in it’s entirety.

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Filed under In the woods, On the water