Saturday, August 11, 2007

Fishing the Fourth

This year I spent the 4th of July sitting on the north ridge above Livingston, Montana, watching the fire works. I was out there fishing, and staying with Pete and Brooke. That ridge is the best seat in the house for the fireworks show. Fireworks start pretty late in Montana, because twilight lasts so long at that altitude, and in that thin clear air. The schedule is that you get up stumble-dark early and drive ten miles up the Yellowstone River. You typically put your boat in about 6 am and drag streamers along the banks all the way back down to the town bridge. Pete and I like our fishing, so we don’t mind getting up early. The downside is that you have to get up early, but the upside is that on a day that the Forest Service would later say had a record number of people on the Yellowstone, we had the river to ourselves for over two hours. Not a bad deal when you are catching fish.
Like most guys in the super-guide category, Pete never looks like he is doing anything, but his boat is always moving at the same speed as the water, and he always seems to have his boat the distance off the bank that the weaker of his two dudes can still cover with his fly-line. And he does all this while preplanning his entrance into the next set of whitewater rapids and tying on a new fly for me. Guides are interesting. Dudes who come out for a few days invariably go home thinking “Oh, man, I would give anything to have his job.” Let me tell you a secret. You do not want his job, you do not want the physical labor it requires, you do not want to row through some of the sweetest trout water God ever created, and watch your clients miss fish after fish, and you certainly do not want to go down a river with a boat full of people who can’t fish, and don’t care. My advice? Be a dude, not a guide.
And this dude was in for the full experience: we had done the early morning streamers on the Yellowstone and caught big fish, we had driven out towards Big Timber, and floated the Boulder and caught big fish, we had stumbled back into town drunk with fatigue, and traded that fatigue for a similar scotch induced fatigue, and grilled steaks that fell over both ends of the plate, and now it was time for fireworks in the Livingston Valley. The classic Rocky Mountain sunset has faded by now, and the crimsons and yellows, the vermilions and improbable purples have seeped out of the sky, leaving only the jagged outline of the Absarokas on the south side of the valley. It is a clear night. Every star in creation is visible, and there is a coming moon, so the amphitheatre is about as good as it is going to get.
The north ridge in Livingston is mostly residential, mostly young families, mostly just quietly living the American dream, so small groups come down towards Front Street, the older children running and screaming and waving sparklers, and the toddlers on their Mom’s hip or Dad’s shoulders, with Grammy and Gramps bringing up the stragglers. The wind has died down now, and there is a heady mixture of sagebrush and fireworks smoke in the still air. The rip-rap along the side of Front Street serves as a natural bleacher, and you can relax and get into the mood. Just watch your step, ‘cause the next level ground is about five hundred feet lower down, and it ain’t the fall what gets you, it’s the sudden stop. Because of the families and small children and all, the mood up here is a damn sight more mellow than the vibe that is drifting up from the main drag downtown.

The Livingston Rodeo has been in full swing for a couple of days now, and the cowboys and cowgirls are ready to let off a little steam, so there is a pretty good ruckus coming out of the county fairgrounds. That’s the difference between Coors and 16–yr old Pinch Bottle Haig, I guess to myself, they are just getting started and I am about finished for the night.
But I am not going in until I get my share of a genuine 4th of July fireworks display, and here it comes…hoo-boy, this is living! Once it gets started there is a continuous cannonade of explosions, and a susurrus of approval from the crowds. When one of the big boomers heads skywards, the crowd turns their faces in anticipation, and when the red-white-and-blue sphere explodes and expands, I can see thousands of faces looking up from the valley floor, all smiling and exclaiming at the show. The most popular ones are big exploding balls of sparkles, with a time-delayed boom to follow it up. White flashes of light are lighting up the lower flanks of the Absarokas. “Gonna be some pretty spooked deer and antelope up there”, I thought to myself. The whole valley rocks with the noise, and between the fireworks, the sound of the crowd echoing across the valley, and the cowboy rock band tuning up at the fairgrounds, we got a lot going on here.
I-90 runs past Livingston on the other side of the valley, and cars are parked on the shoulder of the road watching the show. They have a pretty good seat for this, I thought, and could imagine in the future some now-kid telling his grandchildren “I’ll never forget it. It was the darndest thing, Dad, your great-granddad, couldn’t get the flat tire fixed so we were way late, and then just as we finally pulled into Livingston at good dark, ka-pow the first fireworks went off and we all sat up there on the Interstate and watched the show and I remember thinking is America a great country or what?”
I could feel them thinking this, while they ignored parts of what makes America great, right behind them. There were very few cars moving on the Interstate, or on the city streets, for that matter. But the lifeblood of America’s economy was passing through Livingston, and it wasn’t stopping for the show. Anywhere I go in the country now, there is a seemingly endless stream of eighteen-wheelers on the roads, bound for somewhere else. Truckers don’t seem to worry about the Fourth of July; they are on the road Thanksgiving morning and Christmas eve, and New Years Day is just another day behind the wheel for them. That is a real part of America as well, the relentless, 24-7, gotta-get-up-and-hustle work ethic going on in this country.
I felt a real surge of patriotism, as I watched the grand finale. Out here they always crank up the John Phillips Sousa, and a roar of approval of approval always greets the opening bars of ”The Stars and Stripes Forever”, and that roar pretty much keeps going to the final burst. This is a great country, I thought to myself, I hope somebody is teaching that kid watching on the highway all about it. If kids don’t know how we got here, they aren’t going to know where to go next. Anyway, I’m like those truckers, I’ve gotta be getting on down the road.
I have been doing a lot of traveling lately. It is not getting any easier. Next thing you know, I am going to be headed for TSA (Thousands Standing Around) wearing nothing but a speedo and carrying nothing but a toothbrush. And can somebody tell me how to get my name off the airline computer list that says “Put the red headed geezer next to the fat one whenever possible!” My seatmates have been some real doozies lately, not just Fatboy, but the Little Sister of the Poor, who mumbled feverishly and banged her beads as we took off and landed…I mean, let’s just say for the sake of argument that she has insider information? Makes you think about it, ya know? Then there was the size 14 lady in pedal pushers, a Brittany Spears shirt, muffin tops, and industrial strength body odor. Too bad they don’t make designer nose plugs, a guy could make a fortune out here.
Oh, yeah, then there was the dog lady: first of all, any dog that fits in a handbag and is wearing a bow on its’ head is not worth the powder to blow it up, and secondly, the dog lady was so stupid that when the vet gave her a valium prescription before she left, she did not know they were for the dog. I guarantee you she was whacked when she got on the plane, or that dog would have made her as nervous as it did the rest of us. As it was, she slept through the whole thing. Bark? What you talking about? Actually, it was more of a yap, or a shriek, than a bark. Labradors bark…nasty little handbag dogs yap. This one yapped and yapped, and all the way across the country, too. Little bastard was hoarse by the time we landed and its’ owner woke up, but it was still yapping. I went up the jetway like I was heading for the last flight out of Baghdad, and I could still hear that yap, fading behind me. Makes me nervous, come to think about it. Hang on here; let me warm up these ice cubes while I tell you about the rest of it.
Did I tell you about the vomit comet I got on in Ohio? The one with duct tape on the arm rest? Why should I make up stuff like this, when all I have to do is take a good look around? The more I think about it the braver I think I am, for traveling as much as I do. How many people do you know that will get into an aluminum tube that was built by the low-cost bidder, and stay on it after they know for a fact it is held together by duct tape? Not many people that brave, for sure.
But the real corker was the two-year old from Hell. I knew this was trouble when I squeezed into my aisle seat in cattle class, heard a noise, looked up, and saw a dirty-faced two-year old bearing down on me, barefoot, wearing a stained tee-shirt and diapers, screaming at the top of his lungs and waving a baggie full of Count Chocula comfort food. His mom, older sister, and dad were in hot pursuit. Naturally, they plopped down in the three seats across the aisle from me. “Uh-oh,” I thought to myself and fumbled for my headphones, “this is not good.” The two-year old from Hell had by now wrapped his arms around the drinks trolley in business class, and was loudly proclaiming “Want! Want! Want!”
“Kid, you have no idea,” I thought, “now I, on the other hand, really NEED something off that trolley, and not only did I not get an upgrade, but I am going to have to listen to you from Hell to breakfast.” Kids must have extrasensory perception, because he whirled around, took one look at me glowering at him, read my mind, and redoubled his shrieks.
Mom gave me a weak smile, unwrapped the 2YOFH from the drinks trolley and drug him caterwauling back to his seat next to mine. His big sister was lost in some video game with a vapid look on her face, but Dad had the best plan…he pulled on a pair of those $200.00 Bose headphones, leaned back in his seat, and missed the rest of the show. “Surely that kid is not going to carry on like that all the way to Denver, is he? Isn’t this why God invented Benadryl?” I thought. Shows you how wrong a fella can be. Kid screamed all the way, while Mom sat there with the stunned look of the thirty-something mother of two…”I went to Vassar for this?”
If she’d have left it up to me, no problem. I’d have grabbed that kid, headed down the aisle, pushed the mullahs away from the rest room, stepped inside, closed the door and faawhooop! Problem solved. As it was it only lasted from Washington to Denver or a lifetime, your choice. You want my opinion, Momma should have left the baby and kept the stork.
It’s not all bad. I get to see some pretty country when I finally get where I am going. The critters I chase, such as trout and quail, don’t like a lot of folks around, which removes most of the problem. They also tend to live in pretty places, so you see some great scenery. I still remember driving down a two-lane road that went absolutely straight on to the curve of the earth, and there were heat waves coming off the pavement and ripe wheat blowing in the wind. I remember watching the sunrise paint the Never Summers pink, and the sun set over the Absarokas.
So that is a part of it, but the real part of it is just flat curiosity. I go to all these places because I want to see what happens next. No matter how many times you go fishing, the next time will be different, so you have to pay attention. I went fishing recently with Ned Bonnie and Ivan Mahoney out in North Park, Colorado. Fishing is fun, but fishing with good friends is even better. The Trout Gods had smiled on us, and the weather was Colorado-Rockies-perfect. The last afternoon, we were fishing the Canadian River, which runs south to north, parallel to the Medicine Bow range on the east side of the valley.
They call it a river, but it is more like a creek. It twists and turns and is alternately choked with willows or beaver dams, so the wading and fishing is beyond tough. But if you like to catch trout as long as your forearm, this is the place for you. Intimate is the word I am looking for, because you don’t cast long distances here, you slip your fly into an opening or flip ten feet of line under an over hanging willow. The fish hit with a frightening intensity, and they are so close to you that when they take the fly they will often splash you as well. Any trout fisherman will tell you that an experience like this makes your heart race like nobody’s business. So we had had an afternoon of this and we were getting pretty beat. Ned had a brownie and a Diet Coke in his future, and Ivan and I could hear the tinkle of ice cubes in the late afternoon breeze.
Just as Ivan and I turned the last corner for home, I suddenly realized that I was walking past a spot where I had landed a monster Brown trout last year. “You go on,” I told Ivan, “I’m going to see if that fish is still in there.”
I eased down through the willows, and waded quietly around the corner, and sure enough, the same pool was there, looking just as fishy as I remembered it. You don’t get a lot of chances at a fish like this, so I was careful with my presentation. I was using a small brown dry fly that has a spot of white on top of it for visibility. I got lucky with my first cast, and the fly came bobbing back down the inside of the current line, just the way the book says it should. At the bottom of the pool I suddenly saw a long dark shadow detach itself from the bottom, and start a long rise towards the fly that was drifting down towards it. I remember thinking “I wonder what’s going to happen next?”

Friday, August 10, 2007

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Kilkenny - Mexico Olympics

Kilkenny - Mexico Olympics
Now THAT'S Roads and Tracks