Making Peace: Personal Essays
[p.203]I drove from Kaysville and picked up Frank at his mother’s home in Ogden at 7:00 a.m. By 7:30 we were well up Ogden Canyon, with the sun full in our eyes each time we made a turn to the east. Frank’s body swayed with each turn, and flashes of light crossed his face. By the time we reached Huntsville, the sun was a good four fingers above Monte Cristo, the broad range of mountains where we were heading. The canyon opened out into a wide valley of alfalfa fields, the first crop just coming into bloom, and fields of young wheat not quite headed out. The slanted light glinted from the dew in the fields and from the irrigation ditches. The light caught some of the leaves on the east sides of cottonwood trees in bright green flashes and then cast huge, green-black pools of shadow to the west.
As we curved left around Pineview reservoir and then along the east side of Huntsville, watching for the South Fork turnoff to the right, I asked if we could take time to go by President McKay’s old home. “We should be on the river by 10:00, but we’re okay for a drive by,” Frank said. I turned left at the sign for 500 South, then north again on 200 West to the pioneer home where David O. McKay, president of the Mormon church while Frank and I grew into manhood, had been born and had lived with his parents in the late nineteenth century. Someone was maintaining the tall, gabled, white stucco home and what had been its farmyard, now just grass and rows of huge cottonwoods along the ditch banks. The lawn merged with that of a pioneer rock home to the north, with a lovely, curving, pillared front porch and balcony that shone freshly painted white against the red sandstone blocks.
[p.204]Just beyond the houses I turned east on First South, which went back across the main highway and then became the South Fork road. After about a mile I saw the sign to the Trappist Monastery off to the right. I wondered what President McKay thought of such a sanctuary in his valley, the monks living more fully than perhaps any Mormon he knew the principle of consecrating all worldly goods to God—and yet they renounced as well the sacredness of sex and family. We decided, from what we knew of him, that he probably liked having the monastery there, a hopeful sign of mutual tolerance, a kind of challenge even.
I told Frank about hearing President McKay’s last general conference address, in October 1968, when he talked about trying to get a spiritual witness of Joseph Smith’s mission when he was a boy here in Huntsville. I pointed at the sagebrush-covered hills to the north. “He said he rode his horse many times out onto those foothills and knelt and begged the Lord for some manifestation, but that when he got up he always had to admit nothing had happened.”
“You told us about that in sacrament meeting right after we came to St. Olaf,” Frank said. “Joanie and I were both amazed that a prophet had not had a testimony, even when he was a boy, and that he had tried so long without getting one. You were trying to make a point about serving doggedly in the church, but the main thing we felt then was worry. If it was so hard for him, what about us?”
Frank had been hired by the Spanish department at St. Olaf, the Lutheran college in Northfield, Minnesota, a year after I had become its Dean of Academic Affairs and president of the Mormon branch in that area. He and Joan had come from a year in Spain, where there was no Mormon congregation nearby. They had met the year before as students at Weber State in Ogden. Because they had left for Spain right after her conversion and their marriage, they had never really had a “normal” LDS church experience. Both had seemed to me overly precise and self-conscious, emotionally reserved, self-protective. My sacrament meeting talk, I remembered, had been aimed mostly at them, a plea to get involved, to experience church service and communion with common people in common struggles, as well as the study and self-reflection they had focused on in college and in Spain.
[p.205]President McKay’s point, which I had belabored, was that he did not get his spiritual assurance by pleading directly. The witness came later, he said, “as a natural sequence to the performance of duty.” After he had gone on a proselyting mission—which was not out of personal conviction but because he had trusted his parents, who said it was right—he received his spiritual manifestation during a missionary conference in Scotland. The guardian angels of the missionaries had become visible to him there, and he suddenly realized that the knowledge he had sought had come, not through seeking but as a gift while he was serving others.
“I probably overdid it,” I said, remembering how worried I had been about them both. I had asked them to perform rather humble tasks in the branch, she teaching children in Primary, he advising the young men. They had struggled for a while, trying to do things by the book and in perfect order, and only gradually had learned to relax. Then Joan got to know a red-haired boy in her Primary class whose Irish mother worked all night as a janitor at Carleton College, across the river from St. Olaf, and then came home to care for an abusive, alcoholic husband and get the three children through the day. Frank became friends with another boy, Tim McBride, who at fourteen had left his single mother and the younger children to live in a hotel in Northfield and make it on his own doing odd jobs. One Sunday morning when we met early for our branch presidency meeting, we found him sleeping in the chapel, twenty miles from Northfield. His friends had dropped him off the night before, and he had crawled through a window to be there when Frank came.
Frank and Joan gradually let down their guard and in “natural sequence to the performance of duty” had found themselves loving and being hurt, making mistakes and being forgiven, and having experiences that brought them spiritual conviction. After a while I called Frank as one of my two counselors in the branch presidency, and we became good friends. When I left St. Olaf in 1975, he took my place as branch president, and now, a year later, while he was visiting his mother for a week, he was going to teach me how to fly fish.
He felt the best place was the south fork of the Ogden River, high in the Monte Cristo range where the river was difficult to reach but full [p.206]of native cutthroat that Frank said were pretty easy to fool. He told me the best time was about at summer solstice, after spring runoff and before the river dried up too much. So he had arranged to visit his mother, who was widowed and living alone, and coordinated this fishing trip.
As we continued up South Fork Canyon, I pointed out, below us to the right, a string of tiny cabins along the river. One belonged to Charlotte’s Aunt Annie, and our family had stayed there a few times. I told Frank how one day I was casting a Meps spinner tipped with salmon eggs into a big curving hole back of the cabin, and our children were riding rubber tubes down an easy stretch of water up-river. I had been warned them not to float down around the bend where I was because the water swept under a pile-up of logs there, cutting out a huge hole that looked six to eight feet deep. I was having no luck and had just changed to a yellow triple teaser, when I looked up to see my six-year-old daughter, Jane, alone on a small tube, heading into the bend. I froze for a moment, watching her laugh in delight as the tube sped into the current, then launched myself across the hole, fishing vest pulling me down, and just managed to grab the tube and kick backwards before it went under the logs. Jane wasn’t frightened until I reached her, then screamed and grabbed my hair. The next morning, our twelve-year-old son, Mark, got up at dawn, took my outfit, the yellow triple teaser still on, and with one cast into the wading pond next to the cabin caught a two-pound German brown.
Right after we passed Aunt Annie’s, a road branched off on the right to cross Causey Dam on the South Fork, but we continued up the main road, which follows Beaver Creek and then goes over Monte Cristo into Wyoming, so we could fish South Fork far above the dam. Frank told me how he had grown up fishing the “Narrows” of South Fork, which were not then submerged under Causey Reservoir. Once, right after finals at Weber State, he had gone up early one morning, parked his car on Causey Creek below the Boy Scouts’ Camp Kiesel and headed up the trail that followed the ridge on the left, then crossed the creek and went over a hogback down to South Fork above the cliffs of the Narrows. As he got up on the first ridge, he could see flashlights below where the trail ahead of him crossed the creek toward [p.207]the hogback. He knew a small river like South Fork would be ruined for fly fishing if others got there first, so he went off the trail to the left and walked quickly across a suspended pipeline and about 100 feet above the creek, then dashed on up to the trail ahead of the flashlights.
“I was determined—and selfish,” Frank laughed. “It’s too bad that stretch of South Fork is gone forever. It stayed good most of the summer that far down. Now we have to go up into the headwaters, and it’s only good for a bit. I just hope we’re not too early in the season to get in. It’s been a wet year.” Frank was speaking in the way I remembered from first knowing him—quickly, accelerating toward the ends of sentences and dropping his voice a little so you had to listen with increasing focus. When he was hired at St. Olaf, some of the administrators were worried that students would miss what he was saying. I assured them I thought students would make the effort, that they’d find it worth their while.
About five miles up into the foothills of Monte Cristo, Frank directed me onto a logging road to the right. I had offered to drive our new Jeep Wagoneer because Frank was worried that there might still be mud in spots. At first it was easy going, the road mainly graveled, but after about three miles we turned to the right onto a small dirt road and through an open gate and began to find water in all the low spots. I got out and turned the lugs of the front wheels to give us four-wheel-drive, and we did fine for a ways. But then the pools got deeper, some extending for many yards in the two wheel tracks, with deep mud sometimes continuing for a quarter mile through the meadows and even up onto ridges.
Frank looked worried, especially where the wheel tracks had been eroded by the spring runoff to a depth of two feet on the slopes and I had to straddle the ruts and could only make my way from side to side—when I had to avoid trees and bushes that were too close to the road—by finding a place where the ruts were shallow. Each time I turned Frank was thrown along the seat, from my shoulder to the window or back. I pretended to know what I was doing, certain that if we slipped into a rut or high-centered in one of the pools I splashed through, we could be stuck there for a long time. I kept up small talk, admiring the flowers and occasional glimpses across meadows and can-[p.208]yons back down towards Huntsville. We had come at the height of the flowering of bluebells, which thickly covered acres of meadow and gradually merged into the early sunflowers bursting out on the dryer hills. We were going downhill, which meant that even if we didn’t get stuck, we would not be able to make it back up this slippery road unless there was quite a bit of drying during the day.
Finally, as we came out of a grove of pines onto a rocky, south-facing slope already heating up in the sun, Frank said, “Let’s leave the car here. The road goes down towards the river for a ways but it’s too steep to come back up in this mud. I’ve always walked from here, and it’s not too bad.” He had fixed a thermos of grape juice and ice, which he put down between the seats out of the sun. “We’ll need that when we’ve hiked back up.”
We got our poles and fishing vests and headed out. I had a new Garcia fly rod and a Pfleuger reel, and the evening before Frank had helped me tie the delicate flyfishing tackle and coached me in the basics of casting on his mother’s lawn. He had showed me how to tie a “nail knot.” It uses a small finishing nail as a base for a series of loops in order to attach line to leader in a continuous curve rather than a hinge and thus transfers the power of a cast smoothly out to the leader. He made up his own nine-foot leader from sections, starting with two feet of .016 inch diameter nylon and stepping down .002 inch of diameter through each of five twelve-inch steps, with a two-foot tippett of .004 inch, two-pound test nylon. He said for these less sophisticated fish I could get by with a 4x tapered leader and a tippet like his.
To connect my tippett, the night before at his mother’s home, Frank had showed me the “blood knot” he used between sections of his customized leader. It was beautiful to watch. He took two segments of leader and crossed the ends about an inch over each other to make an X. Holding the X with his right forefinger and thumb he twisted the short end on the left around the other section about four times and looped it back through. Then he took the new loop between his left forefinger and thumb and twisted the short end on the right around the other section a few times and also pushed it back through the loop. Finally, as he took both short ends between thumb and fingertips and gradually pulled them tight, the knot took symmetrical shape, each [p.209]end of a section looped around the other a number of times and back through the center in a long, smooth, secure knot that, like the nail knot, did not hinge. It was a delight to work through the steps to what looked like a hopeless tangle of nylon loops—and then, when I had done it right and pulled slowly, to see the blood knot gradually form and tighten up so that when I snipped off the tag ends with my nailclipper the connection was almost seamless.
Frank had then tied a fluff of wool at the end of each of our leaders and stuck a book under my right arm to teach me how to cast, first by demonstration, then watching and occasionally correcting my arm motion as I practiced. The book kept my elbow in and helped me concentrate on using just my forearm, getting distance through the timing and rhythm of my wrist action. “Accuracy will have to come on the stream,” Frank had said. He showed me the flies to buy on the way home to Kaysville, number 16 Renegades and Adamses. The Renegade looks like no insect in the world but is perhaps the best general fly, with a dark green-black body and two hackles sticking out in circular fringes, a white fringe forward that helps novices see the fly well, and a brown one back. The Adams is grey with a brown hackle, a subtler fly, harder to see on the water, but good in most situations, from canyon streams to big, heavy water like the Yellowstone and Madison.
As I was pulling out of his mother’s driveway, Frank had told me to get some fly dressing. “They have a liquid form now, a bottle you can dunk the fly in, and even a spray-on, but I prefer the white rub-on paste made by Mucilin.” I decided to get that.
My father had fished as a boy in Arbon Valley south of Pocatello, Idaho, where success had meant something for his pioneering family to eat with their bread and mustard greens. Known all his life as a “meat fisherman,” he was effective but unconcerned with style, and that was my legacy, though I was never as effective as he—and my life never so hard that I had to be. Even when we fished for food when I was six and seven during the last years of the Depression, my father could catch limits for both of us. I had seen his beautiful split bamboo fly rod and box of wet flies, including some gorgeous huge concoctions with names like Royal Coachman and Mickey Finn, but had never seen [p.210]him fish with dry flies. I had learned, by watching, only how to use spinners and simple lures, worms, cheese, and whatever else would get fish on the bank or in the boat the fastest.
I once saw my father, unable to tempt a five-pound brookie in a beaver dam with any of his lures, jump right into the waist-deep water and trap the big fish against the dam’s sticks until he could catch it with his hands. I still carry as an emblem, snagged into the two-inch square piece of sheepskin with wool side out on the upper pocket of my fishing vest, one of his specially-designed wet flies that he used his spinning rod to cast out with a bubble on the shore of Strawberry Reservoir—a double Woolly Worm with a huge red spot on its tail.
Frank is a stylist. He learned the techniques and emotions of classic dry-fly angling, partly from his father-in-law, one of the understandably grumpy non-Mormons in the southern part of Idaho where Mormons have become a majority. Some of Parley Wallington’s pain in losing his daughter to a Mormon was mitigated when his new son-in-law went flyfishing with him on the large spring creeks coming out of the lava walls of the Snake River Canyon near Twin Falls—and could soon match him in care and skill.
I would go with them the next year, after learning fly fishing at Monte Cristo, when we stopped overnight on our way to Lowell Bennion’s boys’ ranch in Teton Valley. Parley would give me a few of the tiny flies he had conjured up, using a tiny number 20 hook and bits of black thread and white nylon fluff. It would take me five minutes just to tie on a fly, struggling to get the leader end through the tiny eye and making a reasonable clinch knot in the dying light. Frank and Parley would each catch four or five fish before it was too dark, while I would snap off three flies on back-casts and spend most of the time retying, get two strikes and be too excited when I hooked one and break the leader—landing nothing. Not bad for a beginner, they would say. But I would realize more than before why Frank started me at Monte Cristo.
Leaving the Jeep behind us, Frank and I started down the steep road toward the river from where we had parked. I carried my fly rod as I had learned to carry my casting rod. To save time, I usually just left the tackle on after a fishing trip and broke the rod down into two sections, the lure hooked onto the handle of the reel and the line reeled in [p.211]a bit to take up the slack. I had carried my rods that way for years—and had lost lures, tangled my leaders, and broken tips. Frank, however, had clipped off his practice “fly” the night before, reeled in his line and leader, and put the reel in his fishing vest pocket. Then he had put the three sections of his rod into an aluminum tube, which was padded with electrician’s tape on the end so he could use it for a walking stick.
After about a mile of switchbacks the road angled into a draw and ended at a small man-made pond that collected water for cattle from a spring just above it. When we drank from the spring my teeth ached from the cold water while the sun burned hot on my shoulders. We picked up a small trail down through the aspens at the bottom of the draw and gradually it seemed cooler, the overflow stream from the pond constantly rippling on our right, dew brushing onto our hands from the grasses and small stretches of wildflowers opening up from time to time along the path. The variation of color was startling after the groves of green pines and the masses of bluebells and sunflowers in the higher meadows. There were white-topped yarrow and fluorescent orange Indian paint-brush, large pink penstemons, with an occasional white-flowered variant. In one dry, sunny spot there were two sego- lilies, each just a light green stem and a three-petaled white blossom on top, but then a surprise inside—chartreuse at the heart, with violet stamens, and at the base of each petal a dark purple-black arch, like a heavily painted eyebrow over an eye-spot of green. I wanted to pull one up to taste the bulb that pioneers had sometimes eaten to survive, but it seemed wrong.
After another mile, Frank, who had begun to trot and moved out fifty feet ahead as the path angled up a sidehill, turned back with a smile. His voice was too soft, but I could see his lips forming, “Can you hear the river?” I could only hear the slight wind in the pines. Then as I came up to Frank at the ridge I could see, in the canyon opening below, patches of moving water, light blue-green over the orange bottom, the patches to the east reflecting dots of silver, and could hear the water—just like the sound of the wind in the pines at first but more complex, a mixture of undertones that sorted out into specific tones as we got closer, one for each splashing falls.
Gradually I could see farther up and down the canyon, how the [p.212]river had slowly cut through a great layer of limestone from the ancient seas as the Wasatch Mountains sheered up from the tectonic plate to the west. Because the rock layers had tilted up from south to north, the north slope had eroded far back from the stream, with a few small grey cliffs but mainly broken rock and topsoil at an angle of repose that allowed scrub oak and grasses and a few pine groves. But I could see that the south slope was much more abrupt, the grey limestone cut straight down for hundreds of feet in places. As we moved down I could see straight across into the cliff face and make out ledges that ran level in both directions out of sight, some of them with water oozing out and down the cliff walls. One ledge brought an iron solution out that had oxidized in long loops of gold down the face.
The trail got steeper, and I began to think of the return hike in the late afternoon sun, but Frank’s excitement caught me up and we loped the last hundred yards and out into the river. We knelt right in the water to bathe our heads and necks.
While Frank got his rod set up and his fly on, I practiced casting up the stream into a large hole, where I normally would have dropped a worm. I saw the fly floating on the water a few times, but it usually disappeared when I cast. Frank came up and said, “You’re standing right where some of the best fish are—were.” He took me upstream and showed me how to cast to eddies along the riffles in the wider, graveled areas of the river, how to see the places where the fish are able to stay without much effort and could watch for food passing by in the current—or for flies landing on the calm water above them. He pointed to a spot about twenty feet beyond us. “See the fish there.” I couldn’t, but I didn’t say so, just watched. He started playing out his line in false casts above the water, pulling from the reel with his left hand as he brought the rod back with his right, then letting the extra line go out with the cast, three feet farther each time. He did this four times, until the fly, which I could barely see looping over at the end of his cast, was stopping about two feet beyond where he had pointed.
On the next cast the fly dropped and floated for a moment on still water and then started going to the right into the current, while the [p.213]leader and line stayed on the slower water to the left. The fly disappeared in a tiny swirl, and at the same moment Frank’s hand jerked slightly back and his rod immediately bent as the orange line moved swiftly across and up the stream. He played the fish back and forth twice across the riffles, then quickly down to a sandy bank just below us. He reeled up and shifted his rod to his left hand to hold the fish in still water while he grasped it in his right hand, just behind the gills.
“Don’t want to tire it out,” he said, then lifted the fish up and quickly slipped the hook from its gristly upper lip, held it side-ways for a moment for me to see the gold and rust-red smudges below each gill that give the fish its name, the same red continuing in a quarter inch band down each side, divided by a dark, blood-red line. As he held the fish in a quiet eddy while it started to breathe water again, I could see the light grey-brown back, mottled with black spots, that made such good camouflage against the sand and gravel of the shallows. When Frank let it go, the fish stayed still for a few seconds, quietly breathing, then suddenly became only a swift flash of shadow up the stream.
Frank looked at my fly and said, “I forgot to tell you about flattening down the barb on the hook so you won’t hurt the fish. You’ll lose a few but won’t leave sores that might get infected. You also need to dress your fly.” He took out a pair of needle-nose pliers and showed me how to gently press down the tiny barb without bending and thus weakening the main hook. “If you’re not careful, the hook will break off there where the barb was, and then you’ll be too safe.” I practiced on two other Renegades in my flybox and then got out the little round tin of Mucilin fly floatant I had bought. It contained a white paste that looked like Vaseline but wasn’t nearly as sticky. Frank showed me how to dry my fly by squeezing it between folds of my handkerchief, then take a little of the Mucilin between finger and thumb and rub it thoroughly over the fly, getting the layer thin enough that it didn’t mat down the hackles.
I cast in the riffles without doing any good, while Frank caught two more fish. He said, “Try the lower end of a hole, like the one under that falls, but down at the end of the pool, where the water starts to speed up again. Cast up onto the edge of the current and let it float out into the quiet water.” I tried what he said but lost sight of the fly, so [p.214]when the swirl came to the right of where I was looking I jerked too late and the fish had already felt the hook and let go. I started to move upstream, but Frank said, “Try it again, there are more fish there. And these cutthroats aren’t too smart. He may take it again.”
I kept my eye on the fly as it followed the current, trying to learn how to be able to see it after it started floating down. A shadow come up under it, and the fly disappeared. I was surprised but jerked in time and had my first fish.
I caught four or five this way at the lower ends of pools and holes, gradually learning how to see the fly as soon as it dropped, follow it on the current, and set the hook when the fly disappeared. My nerves got set so tight that sometimes I would jerk too quickly, released by the shadowed movement of the fish to the fly, and pull it right out of its mouth. Once, when I did this, I automatically continued the jerk-back into a backcast and then cast out again into the same spot, where another fish took the fly. But I triggered too quickly again and so again continued into a backcast and once more laid the fly out softly. Again the fly disappeared, but I waited a beat and set the hook perfectly.
The fish came straight up out of the water, the largest I had seen that day, maybe eleven inches and thick-bodied, with the red stripe clearly visible. I was so elated that I forgot to strip the line back and keep my rod tip high as the fish made a rush across the stream toward me. The unbarbed hook could only stay in place under pressure, and as the fish moved past me downstream, shaking the slack line, the hook came loose. As I finally pulled the line tight the fly flipped straight back and hooked into my sleeve.
I sat down on the bank, letting the adrenalin slowly ebb away. Frank had been watching, but merely said, “That was a good fish. Come and try this next hole.” He led me through a high mass of willows on the left bank, where we had to hold our rods high and keep ourselves up out of the impossible tangle by pushing over the bigger willow stems with our feet and then stepping on them from one to the next. On the right the south wall of the canyon closed in to the river so that when we came out into a small meadow of grassy sedge and segmented horsetail we were looking across at a deep hole carved under the rock cliff, which continued up maybe four hundred feet. Pines [p.215]were growing right down to the water’s edge of the left so that the river seemed to come out of a dark cavern, with a sharp line where the sun, now approaching noon, broke straight down over the rock face and across the river.
Frank motioned that the hole was mine but I whispered, “Go ahead,” and moved back to his left to watch, feeling a strange reluctance to cast up into the cavern and yet an overwhelming desire to see what might happen. Frank false cast a few times, the tiny grey Adams curving in a fifty-foot figure eight in the sunlight and disappearing further into darkness at the front of each cast. Then he let it drop and began slowly gathering line in his left hand. Just before the fly floated out of the dark into the bright water at the end of the hole, I could see a shadow coming up slowly from nearly four feet below it, then a quick rush the last foot, and Frank struck just as the fish lifted the fly from the water. I knew I would have struck too soon.
While he landed and released the fish, my breathing calmed down, but I wanted to stop for awhile and suggested, “Let’s have a sandwich.” Since we didn’t keep any fish, the large pockets at the back of our fishing vests made perfect lunch baskets, and we each took out cheese sandwiches and apples. A small brook came out of the pine grove to our left and where it crossed the tiny meadow had filled with watercress. I picked some sprigs and put them in the sandwiches, knowing the tang would go well with the mild cheddar. In his vest Frank had a collapsible tin cup, concentric rings of overlapping metal that beaded up with the cold water and leaked slightly, but I lay right down on my belly to drink, putting my face deep into the pool where the brook opened into the river.
After lunch we moved farther upstream, where the river came out from the edge of the wall and was hemmed in by chokecherry bushes on both sides. Frank wanted to teach me to roll cast. We started below the bushes and came up the shallower right side. Frank let out only about fifteen feet of line and leader, with his fly floating to the left and back of him. Then, without backcasting, which would have hooked the chokecherries, he held his rod straight across the stream and with a quick clockwise turn of his wrist flipped the fly upstream into an eddy on the other side. As the fly floated down past him, he moved upstream [p.216]a few feet, letting his rod tip follow the fly and then, just before it began to drag, he flipped it upstream again, this time into an eddy a few feet higher. He continued this for about five flips and then invited me to try. I was awkward the first few casts, not getting the fly upstream very far, but on the fourth cast the fly disappeared and I struck just right. “Good student,” Frank said, clearly surprised, and then left me to continue on my own.
We had decided to quit at 3:00, leaving us time to hike out to the Jeep—and still have plenty of daylight in case we got stuck going up through the mud. Frank had agreed it would be all right to eat two of the fish, so I had brought some tinfoil and some butter that I had left to cool in the river at the bottom of the draw we had hiked down from the car. At 2:00 we agreed to hike downstream from that trail head to where Frank remembered there was a beaver pond and then fish back up.
As we came out of the pines above the beaver pond, a doe was going up a steep trail across from us that led into the cliffs. She turned to face us and calmly watched as we watched back, frozen, hardly breathing. I could see her dark nose and eyes and the huge grey-gold ears turned full toward us, the sun shining through the hair along the edges. Then she turned slowly and walked behind a boulder.
We stood there awhile, watching the fish, who must have been startled by the deer, slowly come back from the river above and from under the banks into the clear, calm beaver pond. We knew they were too spooked to take a fly on such still water, even if we could make a perfect presentation, so we started in the riffles just above the pond and continued back up the river. We took turns with the holes and stretches of riffle, silently leap- frogging, not watching each other fish. The only sound, over the complex roar of the river, was the drone of a jet passing high above toward the Salt Lake City airport.
We got back right at 3:00. Just downstream from the trail head a fallen log had produced a long, narrow hole down the center of the river, with shallow ripples to the left. “Show me what you can do,” Frank said, and I ignored the hole, working up the riffles, and landed two nine-inchers in quick succession. As I unhooked each fish, I [p.217]quickly turned it over in my hand, grasped it upside down with the head protruding out two inches between my middle and forefingers and rapped its nose sharply on a rock. This killed the fish instantly.
Frank continued fishing around the bend that the east ridge of the draw pushed out into the river, while I found a sandy bank and gutted the two fish. With the small blade of my pocketknife, I sliced each open from anus to gills and then stuck the knife upright in the sand to clean later. I hooked my left forefinger through the mouth and my thumb up in front of the gills to close with my fingertip. This gave me leverage to break out the front cartilage, where both sets of gills were attached, using my right forefinger and thumb, and then continue pulling downward to strip out the two front fins just behind the gills and then all the inner organs right to the anus and break off the end of the intestine there. Then I held each fish in my left hand and pushed my right thumb up the backbone, breaking the membrane that covers the main blood vessel and stripping out the blood to the front, continually washing the fish in the stream to take away the clotting blood.
I retrieved the little bottle of butter, kept hard in the cold water, went up on the ridge overlooking the river and built a fire of dead pine branches in a small stone firecircle I had seen there on the way down. While the fire was burning into embers, I poured out flour and salt and pepper onto a square of tinfoil and rolled each fish in it, then watched Frank fishing below me, admiring the intense efficiency of his movements as he looked up river, moved into position, cast and struck, played and released.
I suddenly realized I had for some time needed to urinate but had put it off, driven by the excitement of fishing and the job of preparing the fire and the fish. Now I felt the need intensely, from my belly down through my thighs. I moved over to some low elderberry bushes that hid me from Frank, opened my fly, and let loose with great pleasure. Just as I did so, a hummingbird whirred up the river and hovered directly in front of me, facing me so close I could see glints in his carmine throat and, on the heart-shaped inside of the tail that bobbed up and down to give him stability, black-tipped feathers with an inner ring of white. I stared back at him from a foot away, startled out of time; his head remained perfectly still, the eyes fixed on me, in the midst of the [p.218]whirring wings and bobbing tail. Then I realized he had mistaken my father’s special fly on my vest for a strange new, red-spotted, flower. After a moment, showering glints of green from his back, he whirred off, so fast his wings made a small rattle.
When the fire had burned down to red and white embers and no smoke, I called to Frank to come, spread the butter inside each fish, wrapped it in the foil, and placed it between the embers and a flat rock face at the edge of the firecircle. I gave each fish about two minutes in this little oven and took it out of the foil steaming. I offered a prayer, and we ate with our fingers, licking the little puddles of butter and juice off the foil. The seasoned skin we lifted off first had the strongest taste, the bread-white flesh underneath mild as Dover sole without its sauce. We ate in silence, casting the long-ribbed skeletons, that we lifted out entire, into the bushes behind us, and then licking the foil until it was clean enough to keep.
I felt the danger of not getting out soon and was anxious to leave. But Frank lay back on the needles under a pine and talked about fishing. He told about going to Montana while he was in college and being in camp with a group of world-class fly fishermen, the kind who wrote books and gave expensive lessons and guided excursions. He was just beginning to learn and so one day secretly followed one of the most prestigious anglers as he went out on a large and difficult river. All day he stayed under cover and watched the expert make perfect approaches and presentations, constantly changing his fly patterns and sizes. Frank was astonished at the man’s skill, the length and variety of his casts, the softness of the fly descending, even before the line touched the water, the way he could cast across the current to an eddy and still keep a fly in a natural-looking float for five or six seconds, constantly “mending” his line by flipping the floating line deftly back upriver before it could start to drag the fly. But the great angler didn’t get a single strike. The fish simply were not taking anything on that day on that stretch of river.
That night in camp Frank overheard the others in the party, who had gone out on the lake, ask how the man had done, and he replied, “Oh, I only got twelve.” By the end of the story, Frank’s voice had [p.219]quickened and softened, turned in on itself, so I could barely hear him. “Why couldn’t such a good fisherman simply tell the truth?”
We were silent awhile, and I thought about the first time I had watched Frank fish. We had moved from Northfield to a farm house that had been willed to the college along with eighty acres of ground and a fifteen-acre woodlot with a small stream running through it all year, enough to support trout, something very rare in southern Minnesota. Right after Frank had joined the faculty I invited him out to fish with me. We each took one side of the stream, fishing with worms, and I moved on ahead but then circled back and hid behind a clump of elderberries in order to watch his meticulous, thorough approach to each hole, different from anything I had seen before.
Frank next told me about a friend he had made the previous year in Rochester, about sixty miles from Northfield, where Frank, as Faribault Branch president, went for monthly meetings at the church’s district headquarters. The man was a counselor in the district presidency and assigned to supervise the Faribault Branch, which meant he interviewed Frank each month and visited the branch often. “He was a gentle man, softspoken. He liked bringing his wife and coming on fast Sunday. We’re still keeping up that custom you started of having a potluck lunch to break our fast after testimony meeting. He learned about our problems with a congregation spread out forty miles in every direction and only one or two experienced families, most of the rest new converts.
“As I came to know him better, he invited Joanie and me to stay at their home when we went down for district conference. We met his daughter, a senior in high school and a cheerleader, and he mentioned once that a football player from a broken family had dated her a few times, had gone to church and on a few family outings with them, clearly attracted not only to her but to her secure home.
“Then one Sunday Lynn missed a meeting he should have been conducting. It was announced that his daughter had just died that morning. We learned that she had tried to stop dating the boy and still be a friend, had even kept including him in family doings, but he had persisted, continued to pressure her, then joined the army and went away for a month. That Saturday he had returned on leave and tried to [p.220]get her to date him, had even parked outside early in the evening until they had the sheriff ask him to leave. Later he called and asked to come by to pick up something he had given her before, and when she let him in he stabbed her and wounded a friend who had gone to the door with her. Then he fled. Lynn took his daughter to the hospital and blessed her, but she had died that morning.
“The next day, on Monday, Lynn and Kathy went to the high school and talked to the students in an assembly about what had happened. They spoke openly about their anger and grief. They also reminded the students that two families were grieving that day, their own and the young man’s, and they should remember both. Nearly 2,000 students and town members came to the funeral and the burial. Lynn and Kathy stayed for hours at the cemetery, embracing the students, comforting and being comforted. Lynn told me later, ‘I don’t want anger to destroy us. I want to forgive.’ And they got help—from their own prayers and those of church members and from a psychologist who came and worked with the whole family.
“About a year later I asked Kathy how she was doing. She said, `I am a happy woman who cries a lot.’”
Frank’s voice had become so low he had to repeat that, then coughed and went silent. I waited a while and Frank asked about teaching religion at the LDS Institute at Weber State, his old school. I told him how I had been asked by the bishop of one of my students to speak in sacrament meeting at their Ogden ward. I had talked about how hard it is to accept the modern revelations against materialism, how hard to live the covenants we make in the temple to consecrate everything we have to building the Kingdom of God. I read from section of the Doctrine and Covenants that announces that the world lies in sin because one person possesses more than another and that we should be equal in temporal things or we cannot be equal in spiritual blessings.
The next week the director of the Institute came out into the reception area where I was checking my box for announcements and said, “I need to talk to you about a complaint about your talk last Sunday.” I thought he was joking and joked back and started to leave, but he told me to come into his office. I learned that a member of the ward where I had talked had called church headquarters and tried to get me fired. [p.221]The complaint had been referred back to the director.
I told Frank how angry and humiliated I had felt and still did, because that fellow “Saint” had not talked to me but had gone over my head to some authority, clearly interested mainly in punishment—and also because that authority had even listened to the complaint and pursued it, rather than telling the complainer to talk to me. I had described my sermon to the director, who had agreed it seemed to be orthodox enough, but, he finally said, “It’s best not to talk about controversial things like wealth.”
The director told me the man’s name, and I went to see him, defensive and full of desire to condemn him. I found him a very amiable person, a collector of toy soldiers which he displayed in gorgeous arrays all over his house. He said his anger had been aroused at me because his ward, in a declining part of Ogden, was full of widows and elderly couples on fixed incomes, and I had seemed to him to be thoughtlessly accusing them of not doing enough for the church, asking them to sacrifice more.
When we packed up I clipped the fly from my leader, reeled up the line and put the reel in my back vest pocket, and carried the rod carefully in sections. It took almost an hour of hard hiking until we reached the little reservoir and could drink from the spring there. We finished in one long push to the car and then sat on the tailgate drinking Frank’s grape juice straight from the spigot of the gallon-size Coleman thermos, looking up at the slopes of Monte Cristo, now turning golden in the westering sun. It wasn’t until we put our gear in the back that I noticed I’d left my knife in the river bank.
Frank and I had one more trip to South Fork, the next year. The year after that I tried to take Charlotte and my children in but found the gate locked where we had turned off the upper logging road—I learned later that the Deseret Cattle Company, which leased the land, had decided to keep people out. It was much too far to walk to the river from there, and we turned back. I think often of Monte Cristo and the river that flows on with no human visitation, without the arc of Frank’s perfect cast and without his softening voice. I think of deer that come down to the beaver ponds to drink and how they spook the fish, how [p.222]the hummingbird appears and is gone. I think of those red-throated fish measuring the pools in their shadowed flight, swift as the jet shadows measure, in the silent noons, that continuing valley.