Yesterday, I drove over Rodgers Pass and down out of the mountains. My brother and I went for a drive about, over dirt roads that we have been driving since we were teenagers. The winder was sharp, nearly impossible to look into and made it feel less than pleasant, but I stopped to take a few pictures to share this amazing landscape.
Where I grew up the river was less than a mile from the River my brother and I, as two of the middle children of a family of 8, found escape and entertainment reality of “out of sight out of mind”. We would hurry through chores and dash from the house to grab the three things we needed, sleeping bags, fishing poles, and matches. Each of us geared up we’d take off. Down the driveway and up the road, over the creek, past the told railroad car and under the barb wire fence.
There was too much risk to cross the open field around the old cabin we would keep to the trees, take the long way; hurry through the cattails, duck along the banks and use the ditches for cover as if we were to rebel scouts in enemy territory. Low and fast we stayed alert and hoped we would get far enough away we couldn’t be called back.
Along the way we would pick wild asparagus, watch for carp in the slough, snatch up springs of mint, debate over cattail roots and rose hips, but would rarely bother with either.
Once past the field, across the old wagon road, and over the old culvert we were free.
We’d relax and slow down to an easy stroll. We would pause to pick June Berries, gooseberries, or Buffalo Berries or even Currents depending on the time of year.
We would choose a site that we both knew in the wonderland of the 100 acres of cottonwood forest. Maybe we would choose the Culvert Site, or the bank, the Rocks, the Fishing Hole or the Bank. There we would lift the sod from the fire pit, check the rocks and if we had a tent there or carried along we’d set it up. The next step was always firewood. Grass and twigs were set up to get it going, and wood stacked aside to last the night through. Just close enough to dry out but not so close as to risk catching sparks.
Then- the river
We would fish or go after crawdads in the back waters and side pools.
“Watch the rapids, think like a fish,” he’d say. “Go grab me some grasshoppers…”
With our treasures in hand, never less than one fish we would head back to camp.
Depending on the site we would cook our fish, in a pan, split over the flames on a willow frame or rolled in tin-foil, stuffed with wild herbs and slow baked in the coals. Each site had different “stores”, from salt and pepper in baggies buried in the sand, cans of tomatoes soup to dip crawdad claws in, crackers in sealed tins, even noodles were smuggled out to the Store carefully hidden from random passer-bys as well animals.
We’d spend a week at a time down there, dashing home to get our chores done and take off again.
At night when the coyotes were too close, the river running dangerous high, or the lightning striking too close as the wind tore at out shelters my brother would tell stories.
Stories of being alone in the artic with a lost polar bear cub as your only company: life as a civil war hero: life as a native medicine man watching the “white devils” destroy his world; lives full of challengers far more difficult than our won.
Together we learned that when life is overwhelming, when you needed to see beyond your self or the moment, or when you had no answer for a moral dilemma… tell a story.
The lessons learned down by the river have been with me my entire life, from fishing to learning to deal with troubles with a story, are lessons far more valuable than anything learned in a classroom. So today I write stories, while my brother laughingly says to all troubles in life, “you just need to go fishing more.”