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Fool's Gold

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Fool's Gold

He awoke easy, not with a start like he often did, having two older brothers. 

Poking his nine-year-old nose through the split in the curtained window barricading the north run of his single bed, he gathered in a high-elevation, sapphire pre-morning sky. That color he’d so often fallen into, eyelids first, whenever staring at moss agate rings and things on display in the curio stores sprinkled around town, mere seconds before being tossed back out on the sidewalk when it was realized a little kid with a dirty face and a pocket full of marbles wasn’t really in the market for a $40 bolo tie.

Daybreak was coming over the mountains. Time to tiptoe the floorboards for some food. This was his favorite hour of the warm summer season, before any crankiness got up when the sun and work did.

With brothers in the same room and parents separated only by a shared bathroom with velvet curtains instead of doors, which, by the way, have very little insulation value when disguising farts to sound like the calls of the Pileated Woodpecker, he sock hopped the silent planks that were always willing confidants in his clandestine wee hour wanderings. Out the door and down the hallway into the ‘game room’ where the roulette and poker tables were sleeping under bed sheets guarded by a bank of nickel-plated slot machines and back lit by the green glow of the ‘Ladies’ and ‘Gents’ signs, he let his nose take in the ghosts of the evening before: tobacco, booze and toilet water almost, but not quite, wisping visibly.

Behind the ‘Gents’ sign, he drained the first order of business then picked up twenty cents worth of pocket change, an average take on a Saturday morning. The ‘Ladies’ generously providing another six bits. 

Lighter by nearly a pint and, at the same time heavier by nearly a buck, he headed for the kitchen in his half-worn Keds and kept his eyes peeled for the glint of anymore silver on the dark carpeting. Passing the starkly naked buffet tables, he went through the double swung doors and toggled the lights out of habit. Sliding open a chest freezer lid, he picked up a bag of fresh frozen trout brought in by one of the local characters. Not just any trout though, these were the color of sunrise, glistening gold even through the frosty bag! Stunned afresh from the previous afternoon’s first ogle-eyed encounter, he thought about his own chances with his trusty new Zebco 88.

Priority struck again when his gut instincts pointed it out with an echo below his ribcage, prompting a trip to the reach-in refrigerator. Out of a ceremony he’d practiced for a couple of years at least, he hefted a six inch skillet off its hook, lit one of the front burners on the massive cast iron range and scrambled a couple of eggs while they cooked in a pat of butter, hopping occasionally to surveil the progress. Two slices of Eddy’s bread went down white then returned nicely tanned. Buttered up, they sat next to his steaming eggs while he plotted the rest of his morning.

Surprises—all be them good ones—are what fuel a young boy’s heart and with that in mind, he gauged how far out it was to the waters those golden trout, he was told, had come from.

“Three miles, maybe four,” he considered, “Half an hour if I don’t run into any stalled moose.” As he ate, he prayed that the door to the back of the bar might be serendipitously unlocked so that he could fetch his pole, creel and tackle before anyone could scuttle his plans.

His prayer answered when that door opened and the aroma only the rarified atmosphere a back bar possesses folded around his four foot frame. Eyeballs, finally re-dilating after the brightness of the kitchen lights, picked out his gear from the family collection as well as an old pin-up fishing calendar by the door, prompting him to give thanks to the god of happenstance and little fishermen, a god he’d learned to thank often and sincerely.

He was also thankful he’d remembered, the night before, to oil the hinges on the heavy eastern door of the hotel, the one his dad used to expel inebriants through, occasionally one flailing under each armpit.

Outside in the not-far-from-timberline air, the day was shaping up as expected. The only things moving in this town full of tourists and their handlers were three ravens in winged search of freshly scattered garbage cans courtesy of the nocturnal bear population.

The next several minutes watched as he pedaled the length of town, veered left then right onto the dipsy-doodled dirt road to his favorite stream, the south fork of the Madison River. A place where, decades later, well paid city dudes would gladly shell out thousands of dollars to be outfitted on. A place where he’d seen bobcat and/or lynx, Sandhill Cranes and even a cow moose with calf, both incredibly albino and standing belly deep in current, regarding him as ‘friendly;’ goofy looking, but friendly.

Across the old log bridge two miles out, then hooking left instead of right where the cranes hung out at a meander called Black Sands, he rolled on south under the dark canopy of firs and bull pines, their aroma going all the way to the bottom of his bellows.

Almost three miles further, he stopped where the stream played up close to the road, hemmed in by the ties and twin ribbons of the Oregon Short line laid in from the Idaho side of the great divide in ’07, on which he’d been a passenger once, wide eyed and mystified, rocking in a gentle sway next to his grandmother all the way from Pocatello.

The sun still lazed below the tree line to the east, stalling for more quiet time. Water so clear, the boy could easily pick out the stone fly nymphs milling around on the bottom of a large backwater remnant of a failed channel reassignment attempted by a heavy spring runoff. He wagered with the only fool handy that this was where that bag of ‘goldies’ originated. Resting on a flat boulder, he sponged in the beauty and mulled over the possibilities at hand and fantasized over the accolades and head pats he’d be getting when he returned with a creel full of trout the color of bon fire. The itinerant drinker who’d brought those in the day before, after all, had three free congratulatory beers and a shot of whiskey in front of him before his stool even had a chance to feel the heat of his butt! 

What a fledgling tadpole, like himself, might get for the same effort, he could only happily conject. People already delighted in rubbing his ‘flat top’ as it was, butch wax slowing no one toward hesitation or even repeat offences. What was it about a tow-headed kid on a bar stool sipping cola, crunching ice cubes and gawping at the clientele that caused such affection?

Twenty feet away, a gangly legged bug skipped across the stillness of the morning and a bright flash of metallic yellow came out of the overhung bank and took it on its third and final skip! More yet appeared as what seemed to be a migration of wings and gangles danced along the surface to get devoured by no less than a dozen Golden Trout. Watching this, he sat dumbfounded by luck and beauty in the same zoology lesson.

He apologized to a worm he was threading onto a #10 hook and cast it well away from the feeding frenzy lest he startle his quarry back into hiding. From behind bushes, he played his line out along the bank to the dead end of the inlet, where he sat and waited. His worm wiggled excitedly in the cold water and fought for air as hatchlings danced and pranced like little fairies into the wide-open jaws on the surface.

Patience lasted until he noticed his worm taking a nap instead of waving for attention, so he reeled in a little line to draw the night crawler more directly under the noses of his intended catch. The bait wiggled its free end like a come-hither finger out of the loose grey silt. The boy thanked him for the imaginative effort and waited, possibly with a little too much effort.

After a length of time immeasurable to a young boy’s enthusiasm, he began to ponder this unusual brand of trout. Were they possibly near sighted? Not by what he was witnessing! Maybe they were only capable of looking up! Maybe they were hard of smelling! He, after all, couldn’t smell a dang thing under water and he knew for a fact worms had a definite odor as he could still vaguely remember having one or two up his nose back when he was a bit more naïve to that old come-on, ‘double-dare ya’.

Thinking the time appropriate, he began to utter words and phrases he’d been picking up and storing at random from cooks, hairdressers, bartenders, musicians and traveling dingleberries, each explained in living color by his two older brothers who always seemed to be on the cutting edge of new things to learn anyway. Patiently, he considered the meaning of each one just to burn more time, as “time and patience are what it takes to be a successful fisherman,” he’d been instructed over and over again. This theory hadn’t once seen fit to increase his yields any, if at all.

Patience, however, began thinning out like fog on a hot August wind. “You sonsabeeches blind or WHAT?!” he gave in. “Pay attention, will ya? Daylight’s burnin’!” He gave a tug as a trout came by, the worm trying his best to duck this time but the trout took his head off on instinct, rolled it around then spat it out like old bubble gum and went after another hatchling. “What ARE you, a food critic or something?” he blurted, vehemence showing its ugly head where pleasant rosy cheeks previously sat. He reeled in to try a different form of tackle, possibly a miniature depth charge if he had such a thing in his little box of tricks and sinkers.

Fresh out of M-80s, he sifted through a tangle of spinners that might’ve taken all morning to separate had he had nothing better to do, when his recently dewaxed ears—courtesy of another week at grandma’s house—picked up the sounds no one fishing alone cares to hear break the silence in such a serene setting; those of brush and willow being snapped and flattened a short distance away by several hundred pounds of furball behind a pair of dark beady eyes in search of anything resembling protein or needing the crap ripped out of it.

With as much attention to not making a sound as he’d earlier used getting out of bed, he collected his gear, got on his bike and put a solid mile behind him before the drumbeat in his chest slowed below a hundred and twenty per minute.

He sits easily now, writing this memory from fifty odd years ago, a mere fart in the skillet of time, and wonders if those golden beauties are still out there beckoning some young kid’s intentions. He succinctly hopes so as either would be a shame to waste.

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Scott Clawson Scott Clawson No, he's not the electrician, he's the OTHER Scott Clawson, who's a quality builder when he's not busy busting a gut while writing his humor column for the first issue of each month, or drawing his Acres n' Pains cartoons.

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fishing, Acres n Pains

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