Maps, mud and margaritas

The map was sketched on a dog-eared piece of paper, no cocktail napkin being immediately available.

“Its about twenty miles off the highway,”explained Randy. “The road’ll get a little rough, but you should be OK. It’s been pretty dry up there lately, so it should be passable.”

I lifted my gaze from the map to the sky above, leaden for the last 24 hours, blacker yet in the direction the map would take us, the rain falling steadily as it had since yesterday evening. I’d been to this section of the creek once before, several years ago. I recalled a road little wider than a track in places, four wheel drive, gunning the engine through boggy crossings, making turns based as much on instinct as certainty.

“Well, if you don’t see lights on in the cabin by about 8:30 tonight, you’ll know where to start looking for us,” Rich replied to Randy, only half in jest. Gear loaded, we climbed in Cliff’s truck and headed off down the highway, turning north onto the dirt road at the appointed place. Manicured gravel soon gave way to roads that had evidently never seen a D9 or grader in their time. The clouds lowered to the mountain tops, mist hung through the trees and there was the occasional glimpse of a critter ghosting through the undergrowth. We passed a hunting camp, a small city of tents, trailers and Texas plates and plunged deeper into the woods.

Through the first gate, past the No Trespassing sign, and the road became more of a track, dropping steep and slick through the trees, barely wide enough for the Dodge. Down into the meadow, its bottom reaches resembling more bog than pasture land, the truck’s wheels tossing soupy black mud high into the air around us as we struggled to be free of the axle-deep ruts. A turn almost missed, a near sideways slide into the morass, once more through the bog and we began the final climb out of the meadow toward the canyon rim, below which ran the stream we’d come to fish.

Under the shelter of a cliff-top spruce overlooking the canyon, we wadered up then followed a game trail down through the trees, trusting that over the millenia the four-leggeds would have discovered the easiest way to the meadow below. The pathway was already swathed in the golds and yellows of fallen aspen leaves, elk sign and deadfall thick on the ground, while half way down a clear, cold spring gushed from a mountain-side grotto thick with moss and ferns.

After half an hour we emerged from the forest onto a knoll overlooking the meadow that was our destination. The rain had eased somewhat, the raindrops gently dimpling the surface of the stream as it meandered through the lush, knee-high grass. For a quarter mile or so, the canyon walls parted briefly, widening to allow the course of the stream to meander to and fro along its course before the canyon closed in again and reasserted its primacy.

For perhaps an hour the rain eased. While the fishermen appreciated the respite, to the fish it made little difference. They continued to feed with that single-mindedness that comes with the knowledge that the clock is ticking on the season. For our part, we struggled to keep dry flies dry, at times missed more fish than we caught, and at the end of the day dragged our weary bones back to the top of the canyon, each leaving a small part of himself to the meadow, while carrying a corresponding piece of it within.

At the cabin just on dusk, we kicked off muddy boots and showered up. Sitting back with a margarita or two and the Red Socks losing to the Yankees on the tube, I marveled at the ease with which we can step from one world to another and back again, and which of them do we count as the real one?