When the day falls and the thin promise of neon rises, the brown liquor and beer go down easier, and with more truth, and there’s a vague life-or-death feel to the whole thing. I’m a pace-and-a-half from the dartboard, but I’m just as apt to walk to the docks—crowded sleeping silhouette-mass of mast wire, swing arms, buoys and hulls—and stare at the moon on the water, letting my girl run wild in my mind, or jump into a barroom mêlée between two hopeless drunk men over a homely drunk woman, if only to feel the blunt sting of one lucky punch finding my cheek before I start swinging till my knuckles are bloody.
The gravity of our last night north of the 49th parallel was settling in. A week in-flight, afloat, on-foot and on the road in a small portion of the 17 million acre Tongass National Forest now reaching its end. There was an other-worldly aspect to being there. Outside of the cruise ships careening to the sky from the main drag and local shoebox storefronts in the shadows plying their trade. Outside the chaos of the tourist-herds migrating from here to there and back in wide-brimmed hats and khaki shorts and sandals. Further outside. The rainforest mountains and calving glaciers in topaz brilliance. Further. An orca in the wide salt spotted from our pontoon plane. Further. Gauze-thick clouds swallowing snow-capped horizons and bear and wolf tracks on sand bars. Further, son. Go further.
Our days were spent surrounded by the old growth spruce and devil’s club and ferns and fireweed, in rivers thick with fish, from the salt to our feet and on to their glacial headwaters. Pinks and chum and dollies, but pinks mostly. Humpies. Angry, bright, toothy, headlong-in-leopard-spot haymakers on almost every cast. Fish six-to-eight pounds and the occasional humped male pushing weight to double digits. So many you could feel the hit on your swung fly and bury a fair-hooked solid strip-set before they hit your swung fly. So many that you let even shitty casts drift. So many that we made things more challenging by throwing dry flies – pink gurglers the size of hummingbirds—just to watch them rise and blindly fumble around after the fly behind those un-earthly kyped beaks. Our voices, hollering Humpaaaayyy!!! echoed up and down the river like kids with a new cuss word on the playground.
And now, a week spent and our last night just reaching good-and-loud, we’re throwing darts with frontier aim, like there are bears at the door and we’re warming up for the main event. Beer and brown liquor truth and the seven of us, rough-hewn and comfortable with the uncomfortable. Explorers, seekers, hunters, letting go of as much as we had gathered. We were hand-scrawled maps on bar napkins and midnight advice between rounds while the juke-box rambled and burned.
Fish anywhere from there on up.
Can’t wait to see how many rods you bust.
You need a beer.
Prodigal sons making peace with tomorrow’s journey home, shouldering a dart board confidence and capability that snipes trip-twenties or the walk-off double bull and roars fuck yea bitches and shoves somebody. While the deck hands and locals go on spending paychecks, getting good and drunk and loud like there’s no tomorrow, avoiding themselves and happy for our distraction.
(fp note: this piece originally appeared a ways back in the fantastic online journal, Revive Fly Fishing. You should absolutely check them out.)