There were few faces along the river. Many were leftover
weekend-goers from the 4th of July festivities. Others were people,
families and wayward souls living off the grid. They were stationed in
the forest with their old dusty RVs, outdoor picnic benches setup as an
all-in-one kitchen, dining room and den, and 4H petting zoos. One group
tethered two goats where food scraps were tossed beside a carriage of
horses that slashed their black wispy tails at flies in the shades. Off
the grid and way off the grid. Once passing by we saw a tan
dirty-blonde family of all ages caring for each animal while the
baby-stroller sat near the fire, downwind and getting smoked out.
Michael and I were geared up in our very own Explorer’s-Land:
an oasis of Nature, thrill and adventure. The first taste of the river
licked my toes, crawled up my feet to my ankles and proceeded to the
knees. Cold! Super cold! We were fording this Snake, on our way
downstream to its first hole, and this act of crossing the river would
become habit. We needed to live it, Michael relayed. “We must feel this
river, breathe it, drinkit, morph into it in order to hunt out those trouties.”
I nodded. I’m down.
“And we need to be that hatch off the waters so we can become them. It’s all yoga, brother. It’s all Zen.”
and Ms. Piggy. Yoga and the nature of science beyond the rationale.
First off, let me rewind. Michael and I first met in yoga class, and
some how, some way, we discovered a link to fly-fishing. A few e-mails
and phone calls later, flipping through the calendar, rearranging dates
and schedules—priorities, priorities—and here we were. Yoga and the Art
of Hunting for a Pig.
So when I mean becoming the river, that’s what I mean. We forded The Snake
countless times. Our bodies drank it, melted away into its cold
currents. And fording was true fording: crawling on two limber legs
across the rapids, juggling a fly-rod, a backpack and a $3000 camera.
I wore my Keens, the rubber Vibram soles useless against the slim of
these river rocks. Michael was properly prepared for such a common
expedition. With wading boots and neoprene socks, the felt soles stuck
to the uneven surface, and as I was wobbling in
the midst of a torrent with water approaching my loins, Michael would
already be out, drying, disappearing into the brush or around the next
bend. I’d catch up and he’d be hunched over at a hole, witnessing a
hatch of mayflies, searching for any risers, becoming it all. Then,
with an artform suitable for A River Runs Through It,
Brad Pitt… or excuse me… Michael B. would cast his fly into the air and
draw out the line of his reel as he rolled the leader front and back
like a slinky in slow motion. The estimated length of line whipped and
split the air particles above his head. Then, a bull’s-eye akin to a
native in Man vs. Wild,
that imitation mayfly landing directly in a sweet spot; the point where
fast water meets slow water, creating a sort of eddy or whirlpool.
Here, food collects and perishes to the mouths of Ms. Piggy.
Well, Ms. Piggy was hidden for the first half of the day. She sent out
her youth, little feisty 6-inchers who hit that fast current and wanted
to take off. They struck with rebellious vengeance, like a 16-year old
boy pillaging his parent’s liquor cabinet as friends only added encouragement. Let’s party!
And thus these little guys did, partying hard on the end of our lines.
They were quick, speedy, and lethal at a strike, easy to spit that
metal barbless hook out if you were a lackadaisical parental figure.
But when we brought those energetic monsters in, their colors were
Cutthroat trout are painted with a subtle rainbow
sheen behind concentric grayish ovals lining their midsection, like
spiraling chakras down the spinal center. Each Cutthroat is distinct
with a maroon orange pigment filling in the white cartilage beneath its
lower jaws. And Rainbow trout are rainbow, a glistening hue of various
summer colors bespeckled with a thousand black stars. Notoriously,
Cutthroats run larger, heavier fish the fisher peoples seek out. Ms.
Piggy within The Snake would come to us as a Cutt, or so we thought.
and out, fording, slipping, bushwhacking, balancing like a drunken
tightrope walker. But I made it. I never fell and dropped my camera
into the rapids. I never tipped over and drifted into oblivion. We
explored as pioneers upon the indigenous Snake for five miles down river, discovering deeper beauty as we proceeded. Hours later we turned around, headed up stream to reclaim those possible piggies we let pass.
Nearing dusk, we reached the 4-Runner. Sadly, Ms. Piggy was elusive, her young kin out to tease, to tempt.
“It was all practice today,” I reflected. “The river’s preparing us for what lay ahead mañana.”
“Oh brother, you know she’s lurking in there, and we’ll hit a new
section of the river tomorrow.” Michael handed me a cold bottle of Deschutes as we spread out the map on the hood of his car.
“Here,” he pointed. I watched his finger trace the thin blue line of The Snake. “I bet we’re here and we went all the way down here, right before this canyon.”
The topographical map showed a steep narrow canyon enclosing the river
some miles down. Tight brown lines squeezed together and plundered any
space surrounding the river’s mere blue trace. Then, it twisted and
bent in short S curves, like a snake—The Snake—side-winding through the landscape.
Back at camp, we were slammed into the past when Michael picked me up at Seattle’s ferry terminal. The F-bombs came out in
a fury. Due to our excitement, we forgot where we were and set-up camp
as if we landed in the Texan flats. But this was Washington, and no
matter what season—some words of advice here—be prepared! Bring
gear for the worst of the worse, for rain is always likely. The
pavement was wet. The wood was wet. Our chairs were wet. And yes, our
tents were wet, foolishly so because in our haste we did not bother to
throw up our rain-flies even after rolling out our sleeping bags and
pads. Everything was wet, and yet ten miles east, the sun glistened off
Decisions made. Movement progressed. In five
minutes of our arrival back at camp we were in the car packed up and
speeding back toward the light. Literally, ten miles and sun. That
deepening sun of heat, passion and profundity! A new campground with a
raging bonfire to dry out our tents, bags, pads and chairs. Soon that
sun-star disappeared, but we were warm inside and out. The river danced
over its banks. And hot food and delicious beer filled our bellies. We
dreamt of Ms. Piggy.
Our second day was uphill. We began at the point where The Snake flowed into The Moonshine.
Away we forded, instantly hooking those spirited trouties, alternating
between Cutts and Rainbows. The sun strong, the river bright and
refreshing. And as the adventure of the day drew us upward, we scoured
the terrain and discovered new holes with new hunts and new hatches. It
was beautiful. Then, the canyon.
From a wide braided meadow, the land suddenly closed in and we knew it.
“We’re here!” Michael called out. “We must’ve trekked already five or six miles!”
And it was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The large basalt walls
shot up from the arcing banks of the river and formed a rugged surface
as if an amethyst just cracked open after thousands of years of
chemical formation. The colors of the canyon were a rich iron-brown
with pockets of lime-green mosses and ferns. Each segment along the
river was unique: a sheer wall next to patterns of ethereal caves and
caverns that morphed into a geological texture akin to Devil’s Postpile in Central California’s Sierra Nevadas. A moonscape. A stranger in a strange land. It was a gem of a canyon,
enclosed by towering structures formed by the hands of Mother Nature
that continues to intermix with the elements of Time & Space.
And oddly, there were no fish. It was as if the canyon harbored a
mysterious energy, sacred to life, a garden reserved for the highest
forms. Sure, trout were way up there on the scale in my mind, but
apparently they respected this stretch of river, despite the luring
deep blue pools and their crystal clear waters.
A point of
time and impassability reached our expedition wherein we turned around
and headed back for those intangible pools. There lay the remnants of
our reflexes when we were too slow to hook those piggies. However, each
pool we hit there was nothing, not even a rise. We watched and waited.
Nope. Then we wondered and pondered. No action. Yet oddly, we kept
urinating. All day we had been pissing the daylight out of us, and as I
returned after heeding to my vivacious bladder, I squatted down beside
Michael. He gazed out into a brilliant pocket of water where a fast
current ripped into a deep eddy and spread out across the surface of a languorous pool.
“Did you know,” he began without lifting his eyes from the river, “When you shower you’re hydrating yourself?”
he continued, “your skin is your largest organ, and whether you’re
showering, bathing, swimming, or drowning your skin is absorbing all
that liquid through its pores. So the next time you’re feeling drunk,
jump in a lake, float on your back for ten minutes, and then get out
and keep drinkin’.”
Michael looked at me with that smile;
wise in the ways of man, cunning in the ways of the trout. “That’s why
we’ve been pissin’ so much because half the time we’re wading the
Suddenly as our eyes scoured the water, a slug—a giant brown-backed slug—slurped at the water with cannonball speed.
“You see that!” we both burst. Our thrill reached its peek. Our smiles disappeared off the sides of our face.
it struck again; one, two, three times all in the same spot right at
the heart of the current. She was a beast. She was Miss Piggy.
“See the hatch coming off the waters around?”
I saw little white spots fluttering a foot above the torrent. This is all I could identify.
“Those are the mayflies they’re chowin’.”
watched and could wait no more. This hole was mine. I missed a similar
piggy on our way upriver, but nothing that matched this size.
“Sixteen inches. Eighteen maybe.” Michael threw me some encouragement with a pie of pressure. “One shot, amigo. You’ve got one shot. See it out in your mind’s eye and visualize. Only one shot to land your bug at her nose.”
so it was. The grace, the ease of drawing out the line—the fluidity of
the waters surrounding me. It was the water I became, the same water I
kept peeing out. I was the river. Yes! I was the mayfly. Yes! I was Ms. Piggy… all eighteen inches of her. Give it to me! And thus, with a touch of awe, I placed my fly at her nose. End of story.
she was beautiful. She loved me. She loved how I looked and danced on
the water. She loved how I floated lightly, nimbly with precision. She
loved how I tickled her mouth. Yet, she hated how I set that hook with lightning speed.
I landed Ms. Piggy, all eighteen colorful sleek inches of her.
“A Cutbow!” Michael was more thrilled then I. He was dancing on the
stone shore. He was trying to photograph the fish with my camera, but
could not in any way figure how to work the thing due to his jubilant
Ms. Piggy, our eighteen-incher was a cross between
a Cutthroat and a Rainbow. She was dazzlingly colorful like the latter,
but had the markings beneath her jaw of a Cutt. I eventually held her
in my hands. She was still and breathing. And then, like all beautiful
things, she was gone.
The last fish in one of the last holes
on our last day. Another beer popped at the car as we reflected,
rested, packed up and cooled off our sun-kissed faces. Then we were
gone, just like the beauty of Ms. Piggy, just like the adventure now
burnt into our memories. Back on the highway, we crossed all those
crazy little towns. We passed a 4×4 Jamboree Trials convention ready to
tear up the tracks and run over chipmunks while razing precious
resources. We gazed up at the sentries standing on guard at the edges
of the roadway, secretly wishing they were Ents from Lord of the Rings capable of an animated lifestyle in-order to halt all Lord Saruman’s
depredations upon Mother Earth. The 4-Runner climbed west up the pass
and thus… back into the clouds toward a grey city of noise.
I hear the pigs splashing in the water and I know Ms. Piggy still feasts.