Hope you like it.....
Bob waited at the train station, the old battered Dodge pickup truck’s windows were down and Bob’s booted feet hung out the passenger window. The feet disappeared into the cab and Bob waved when he saw Ben appear in the depot doorway.
“You still driving this old thing?” Ben complained as he eyed the truck up and down. It’s paint, once dark blue, had faded into a dusty blue-gray. Scabs of rust flaked along the running board and around the wheel wells.
“Don’t let looks fool you,” Bob claimed, “this old truck could make her way through anything short of a very deep lake.”
“It looks to me like she’s already proven that,” Ben laughed. Pointing at a large dent in the bumper, he added, “What twisted your front bumper, you hit a drunk or something? And what’s all this junk doing back here?” The pickup’s bed was littered with spare engine parts and tools. Ben added his bag to the collection and hopped into the cab.
“I hit a deer last month. I came around Chapman’s Curve one night and a big buck just stood in the middle of the road, staring at me. I couldn’t stop, and had no way to miss him. All I saw was brown fur and hooves going over the roof. He landed in the bed back there. Lucky I didn’t end up in the ditch.”
Looking at the litter in the bed, Ben teased, “He’s not still back there, is he? It’s hard to tell with all that junk piled up.”
“Naw, I just lowered the tailgate and slid him into a ditch. And that stuff you call ‘junk’ is needed in case we break down. This truck ain’t getting any younger, and spares are hard to come by. I’ve collected enough parts to fix almost anything that can go wrong. And if you have any ideas where I can get a new truck for free, you just let me know.” Eying the size of Ben’s suitcase, he added, “That’s a lot of luggage for a fishing weekend, cuz.”
“I’ve got business in Portland, and it gave me the chance to swing by here and spend a few days with you before I get into it,” Ben replied.
“All you need where we’re going is a flannel shirt and a pair of jeans. That, and a couple cans of beans will set you up for the whole summer.”
The cousins spent the drive to the cabin catching up on family events. Ben drank in the forest greenery that flashed by his open window. He’d been coming up here every summer that he could remember, until college and work interfered with his annual visit. Too many years had passed since he’d been here last, and he was surprised by how much he had missed it.
Finally, the forest leaves parted to reveal the cabin. Ben saw that few improvements had been made over the years. The cabin was situated in the center of an overgrown grassy clearing. Green painted split logs ran horizontally over a rough wood frame to form the outside walls gave it a rustic look, but it was sturdy enough. Grey asphalt shingles capped the roof, and three wooden steps led up to a porch where a rusty screen hung in a vain attempt to keep out the mosquitoes. Inside the front door, a rough kitchen table and four chairs served as the eating and sitting area, while a cast iron wood burning stove provided heat and a cooking surface. A sink with a hand operated water pump completed the kitchen furnishings. Two small bedrooms were each equipped with a pair of hand built bunk beds. Old green wool blankets hung in the doorway to provide a modicum of privacy. Toilet facilities, such as they were, were located out back, forty or more paces from the cabin.
Bob fired up the stove and before long the aroma of beef sizzling in bacon fat filled the cabin. A quick stew was assembled in the cast iron frying pan and the cousins ate their fill.
“Say, this isn’t what’s left of that deer you hit, is it?” Ben asked as he forked the last bite of stew into his mouth.
Stretching back in the kitchen chair, Bob replied, “Naw, you can’t eat a deer that’s been hit like that, everyone knows that. Their insides get all split open and it spoils the meat.”
“That’s why I asked,” Ben teased.
“Then you should’ve asked before you started eating, not after.”
Ben tried to settle in to sleep, but found the deep quiet of their remote location too great a contrast from the raucous noises of his city apartment. Eventually, he tuned into the chirping of the crickets and the murmur of the river that ran a couple of hundred yards away. He finally fell into a deep sleep where he dreamed of large fish sitting at a long mahogany table while they talked over sales strategies.
He awoke at dawn to the cackle of starlings that nested beneath the eaves. He staggered sleepily to the kitchen and splashed water from the pump onto his face. The ice cold water cleared the sleep from his head and invigorated him far better than the coffee Bob had brewed in a dented enameled pot.
“These better be starling eggs,” he commented to Bob. “Those damn birds woke me up before it was even light out. I want revenge.”
“Naw, they’re plain old chicken eggs.” Bob heaped fried ham and potatoes on their plates, and the cousins washed down the country breakfast with scalding hot coffee. Fortified by the food, they were ready for the day.
The old truck lurched into gear, and they were on their way to the landing where Bob kept an old rowboat chained to a tree. An early morning fog curled in the meadows that flanked the sandy track that served as a road. A small herd of deer raised their heads from their grazing at the edge of the meadow to watch unafraid as the truck bounced down the rutted path. Daisies and buttercups filled every sunlit space with their blossoms.
The sun was rising as they loaded the boat, and its warmth was welcome in the morning chill. As Ben pushed off, Bob lowered the outboard motor and yanked on the starter rope. The old Evinrude was well maintained, and coughed into life on the second pull. Bob expertly guided the boat into the current and pointed the nose upstream. The water ran clean and clear, and its swift flow provided little hindrance as they motored their way upstream. As Bob piloted, Ben started rigging the fishing gear.
At the end of each line, Ben attached a swivel with two eyes. To one eye, he tied a strong six foot leader already rigged with two small hooks. To the other eye, he tied a four foot weaker line rigged with a heavy weight. The weight would drop to the bottom and allow the current to draw the bait out and away from the boat, and the length of the leader would keep the bait suspended above the streambed. If the weight got caught on the bottom, it would easily break the weaker line and allow the baited hook to drift free.
As the boat puttered upstream, Ben rigged four rods. They could only fish one rod each, but it was always better to have a ready spare in case one got fouled on the bottom. This would invariably happen at the time the fish were “on the bite”, so the spare was essential. Duties completed, Ben had time to admire the view. Bob had brought the boat into a large pool, where a steep cliff formed a western wall. This wall would shade the deep waters from the heat of the afternoon sun. “Prime spot,” Ben thought to himself but Bob kept them going upstream.
At the pool’s head, the river tumbled over a rocky shelf, forming a miniature waterfall. The current was split in two by a large rock in the center of the shelf. A great volume of water streamed down the twin cascades, and the fast flow ensured any salmon migrating up the river would stop to rest in the pool’s calm waters before tackling the rapids. From the head of the pool, the main channel crossed at a diagonal from the eastern shore to the western bank, which ran sharply down to the water’s edge. The western shore was guarded by a steep granite cliff, nearly a hundred feet tall. Its flanks were thickly clad in cedar and fir trees, which scented the cool morning air. The eastern shore was flat and was scarcely higher than river level; its floor was cobbled with stones washed by the river into the plain and ground smooth as they tumbled into place. Centuries of spring floods kept any large trees from growing there, but wildflowers and small alders grew in abundance, along with scrub willow and poplar. Scottish broom bloomed with fierce yellow flowers, and purple iris drew the attention of butterflies. Huge dragonflies hovered in the morning sun, darting here and there in search of invisible prey.
Ben sighed contentedly and absorbed the amazing scenery. He’d spent too much time in cities and offices, and hadn’t realized how much he missed the outdoors until this very moment. The trip was therapy for his soul; any fish caught would be a bonus.
Bob maneuvered the boat to the very head of the channel. Further upstream they couldn’t go, for the cascade and the steep rock shelf guarded against any further incursion into the wildness beyond. Bob dropped anchor and let out enough line to keep them in place near the head of the channel. A battered plastic bleach bottle served to keep the anchor line afloat. While the boat’s nose pointed upstream, the stern gently swayed back and forth in the swift clear current. Bob secured the anchor line to a cleat at the boats’ bow. Once he was certain the line would hold, Bob stopped the motor and tipped the propeller up. “We’ll fish here awhile,” he quietly announced.
Ben opened the insulated box where the bait was kept. Sand shrimp or fresh salmon roe make the best salmon bait, and Bob had brought shrimp this trip. If they caught a hen they would have roe to try later. Bob and Ben each selected a shrimp and threaded the carapace through the top hook. A segment of the tail went through the second hook. Once in the water, this would present the shrimp head up, much like it would look naturally. “Never mind that shrimp don’t live in fresh water,” Ben thought. Salmon were accustomed to growing fat on shrimp, and seeing one here in the river would trigger a reaction conditioned by three or four years of making their living in the open sea.
Bob anointed the shrimp with the foulest smelling concoction Ben had ever encountered. “Stop complaining,” Bob growled, “This stuff is irresistible to fish.” The lines were tossed a few yards downstream, and slack was given to let the weight drop to the bottom. Bob had chosen the right side, which was nearest the thickly wooded western shore. Ben was off the left. The rods were placed in the oarlocks, and the slack was retrieved. “The rest is up to the fish,” Bob said.
Ben leaned back, stretched out his legs, and contemplated the cloudless sky until the corner of his eye caught a small movement. A mink noiselessly made his way down the western bank, darting among the gray granite boulders and along the trunk of a downed cedar, searching for a small fish to serve as his breakfast. A few yards downstream, an osprey perched in the topmost branch of a tall fir. A blue heron flew lazily upstream, and thought the shallows along the eastern shore would be a perfect place to hunt for minnows. As he landed, the osprey swooped down from the fir and brushed past the heron, who quickly decided there probably were better fishing grounds elsewhere. The heron took to the air and continued on upstream. Satisfied the interloper would not return, the osprey regained his throne in the top of the fir.
Just then Ben’s rod bent double as a salmon decided to snack on the shrimp. He waited a few seconds to make sure the fish had taken the bait, then picked up the rod and gave a strong pull to set the hook. The salmon responded with an even stronger pull, and headed back down river. “Fish on!” Ben yelled, and Bob scrambled to the bow and loosed the anchor line from the cleat, and allowed the boat to drift free.
Ben reeled against the pull of the fish, and at first made no progress. The drag screamed and line continued to run off the spool. But the boat was now floating downriver along with the fish, and Ben was able to retrieve some line. The salmon was fresh come from the sea, and used his strength in a desperate pull to break free. For five minutes they battled, and the water’s flow along with the pull of the fish had carried the boat into the large pool where the current settled down. Ben continued to pump the rod and retrieve what line he could, until the fish finally tired. As the salmon drew near the boat, they could see his silver sides flashing in the clear water. Ben brought the fish alongside the boat, and Bob positioned the net. The fish caught sight of the net and startled, and swam off for another run. Once more the drag screamed in protest, but Ben was slowly able to bring him back alongside the boat. The fish was too tired for a third run, and Bob deftly netted the first catch of the day and brought a beautiful chrome bright twenty-five pound king salmon on board.
“That’s a keeper,” Bob proclaimed as he lowered the salmon into the fish box. He pulled the motor’s starter rope and the engine roared as Bob piloted them back upstream. Ben renewed his line with fresh leader and hooks along the way, then went up to the bow. As Bob brought them to where the bleach bottle floated, Ben retrieved the anchor line and secured it to its cleat.
It was as perfect as any day could ever be. The cousins talked about life, liberty, and the pursuit of women along with anything else that came to mind.
As evening fell, they made their way back to the boat landing with four fish in the box. Ben had caught three, and knew that Bob had given him the preferred location. As they hauled the boat out of the water, Ben looked up at the deepening sky and breathed a prayer of thanks to God in His heaven for allowing such places as this to still exist upon the earth.