My pal, Bill, wrote a fine little book called Small Trout. While the book seems as much about Bill and his general proclivities as it is about trout, it is a fine treatise on appreciating solitary afternoons, small creeks, frisky little wild trout (OK, and frisky big ones on occasion),the idiosyncrasies of friends and the vagaries of fishing. The fact is that the act of casting a fly into a stream, or for that matter, just setting out on a new trailhead, is an invitation for the world to surprise you. When people who are not outdoors folks think of backcountry surprises, their fears usually seem to take over: rattlesnakes, bears, wolves, mountain lions…or the more likely getting lost or wandering through a thicket of poison oak. Now, to be honest, I have had each of these, except wolves, happen to me, some on multiple occasions, but it has not deterred me in the slightest. In fact, one friend claims that the trip does not really become an adventure until you get lost. Besides, usually, you are not really lost, you just can’t find the car.
But the other kind of backcountry surprises are much more common; a brilliant pool, the brilliant glow of a golden trout, or the shocking colors on a brookie…a camp site that is perfect in every way…a moon rise that lights the night like a klieg light…a sudden deer, bobcat, or feeding snake. Once, while packing into the Sespe with my friends, Gary and Tod, we came upon a king snake devouring a rattlesnake…one end of the snake a rattler, one end a king. The king looked at us like “Excuse me, but I am a bit compromised here”. We left him to it.
Recently Bill was getting skunked on a small stream, but stumbled upon an explosion of mushrooms. He filled his knapsack and then packed in the next day with a bigger knapsack to harvest enough mushrooms to absolutely make up for the dearth of fish. Another time, Meredy and I set out for a walk into the Tetons, only to discover that the wildflowers had picked that particular moment to all come to flower at once. We could not stop grinning as we climbed up the trail in a profusion of color. Once, a stunning electrical storm… once a violent thunder storm (they say there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear). On too many occasions to cite, the backcountry sunset has just about given me religion. A morning at Seville Lake when a foot of snow had quietly fallen in the night gave me one of the most delightful wakings in my memory.
But even if you are not given to backpacking, camping, or even hiking, the world is full of treats if you venture out into it. Yesterday, on a very local walk, I saw three vultures circling to my right. To my left, there were two hawks circling and behind them were three gulls circling. I did not understand the significance, but I was deeply appreciative. Perhaps it was just a good day for updrafts.
The point is, the world is waiting to enchant and surprise us, but we must go out into it. And now I will do just that.