Friday, July 26, 2002

Last day in Alaska

Leaving Alaska, Josh had a heavy foot on the pedal but I wanted to stay. As I thought about leaving, the name Alaska wound mythic spells around my mind and made me want to plunge back into the place. Driving east on the Denali Highway from Denali National Park, I watched the streams go by as the sun sunk on a bruised horizon. The snow on the Alaskan Range glittered above glowing green grass.
I asked for half an hour to fish at one of the stream crossings and everyone waited in the car. Chest high swamps all around the stream, called Crooked Creek, prevented me from getting to the water’s edge. The only good access to the stream was back the way we had come and I didn’t want to ask everyone to drive back. Instead, pushing my luck, I asked if I could get out again at Rock Creek, further down the road.
Half an hour later we were at the creek, a well contained run-off that rustles under a bridge on mile 110 of the Denali Highway. As they had done at Crooked Creek, Josh, Jen, and Nell hung out in the van and I headed for the water. The sunsets are beautifully long in Alaska. The sky was a deep red but I figured I still had 45 minutes before dark. Following an overgrown trail up the left bank of the stream, I fished for several hundred yards, then hacked my way to a perch on two slippery rocks at the edge of the stream. Near the end of the retrieve on my first good cast, an arctic grayling sailed up to the lure and grabbed it with a graceful twist of its body and a tuck of it huge dorsal fin.
I caught one fish after another and almost forgot where I was. Usually time flies when the fish start biting but on the last day of an Alaskan vacation, with the sun almost gone and a smooth, rippling stream at my feet, it went slow. It went so slow I watched my own arm bend out in a long, arching cast, the lure take flight, and the water open up to take it in. It went so slow and then it stopped. I stood motionless until dark.

Thursday, July 11, 2002

Reflections at the Canadian border

At the Canadian border, I must have made one too many jokes about marijuana. While other cars went quickly through customs and on their way, we were detained for over two hours, waiting on one Mounty "Joe" and a sidekick as they dumped out our carefully packed cargo all over the asphalt.
At the start of this trip, we weren’t potheads, but gradually, as we have returned to hippie pathways, we've learned that owning the title, despite having never smoked marijuana, is inevitable. Our rattling van gets hangloose signs from vagabonds on street corners. Teenagers approach us looking for weed. We once tried to explain that we were traveling in the van for its size, not to achieve peace and harmony, but no one bought it. Our license plate, “Dubsil,” is damning. It's a clever twist on the names of Josh's parents but somehow, at the gas stations of the great white north, it's strangely reminiscent of doobies.

Sunday, July 7, 2002

Fishing in Glacier National Park

Sometimes you get lucky. We weren’t feeling lucky when we awoke to a hard rain on Monday morning. Our plans for an overnight in Glacier National Park were out the window and we were looking at a quick drive-through on our way to the Canadian border.
We drove the Going to the Sun road with one quick stop in the rain at Logan Pass for a bathroom break. The storm hid everything around us. Occassionally a beam of light made it through the maze of bad weather to give us glimpses of a cascading stream on some glacier-carved monolith but that only reminded us of what we were missing. Our principle enjoyment came from the Nell's Spanish CD, which was about as exciting as it sounds.
At the end of the 50-mile scenic (when not raining) byway, we crossed over the St. Mary River and were just passing the kiosk at the exit when I half-heartedly looked back at Josh in the backseat and asked, “You don’t want to try that lake do you? Right there where the river comes out?”
The proposal was a stretch. Not only are the glacial waters of the national park infamous for their lack of fish. It was also raining, bitterly cold, and from the looks of the three foot breakers smashing into the pebble shoreline, desperately windy. But the absurd proposals offer the biggest payouts. If there was something biting in this storm, who knows what it could be? Josh replied without hesitation, “I’m up for it.”
We suited up in neoprene waders and rain jackets with hoods and trudged out across a flooding plain to the east end of the lake, where it seemed to be moving as fast as the St. Mary that flowed from it. With my eyes watering from the wind whipping off the water, I crawled my fingers down my line to the lure. I cut it off and tied on a bigger one. Josh headed down the lakeshore. “Woohoo!” he yelled. He was into the first of six mackinaws we'd catch that day, all over 16 inches in length.