So, my best buddy from high school built a house nearby a few years ago. It was awesome news. I envisioned hanging out late night when he was in town and reliving old memories revolving around quotes from Fletch and Caddyshack. With him living thousands of miles away, this news was well-received and plans were made (in my head at least) for endless nights and days of fun. The band was getting back together.
Then reality hit. When people build a second home and spend their vacation times in the same place, they create their own existence in that place. And that means it doesn’t always include you. It means they will have their dinner parties with visiting friends or locals they know better than you. The band, it turned out, wouldn’t have as many gigs as I thought.
In February, after another one of his visits where we didn’t hang out much came and went, he put his foot down: “I am coming back this spring and we are going fishing. Pick the dates.” That was welcome news, of course, and I quickly chose my favorite time of year in Montana–late April/early May. As the time approached, the four days of fishing was still undecided–where would we go?–and I needed to put the search in high gear. What is a perfect four-day fish?
Their are several answers to that question in Montana, thankfully, but only one really good answer that time of year–the vaunted Smith River. If you haven’t seen or floated or fished or kayaked or canoed the Smith River, please do it. This river is well-known for its deep canyons, spectacular vistas, and (sometimes) great fishing. It is a Montana treasure. (for the record, it is under threat, which is a topic for another time)
So we procured a permit to float the Smith and ensued on planning our four day, just-the-two-of-us journey. The planning and packing is always fun for river trips…it feels like that aspect extends the trip’s life by days. And packing for river trips is pretty simple–just load it on the borrowed-from-a-friend raft and you are good to go. Just make sure you have some subsistence food and plenty of flies and what could go wrong?
It turned out nothing went wrong. Outside of the spike in the streamflow the night before we left and the change from pretty-clear to pretty-not-clear, everything was easy. The floating was easy and sanguine, the fishing was glorious as the few fish we did catch kept us wildly enthused, the camping was spectacular as we traced the path of the sun (and then the moon) across the canyon walls. It was 96 hours of escape. Of telling those same old stories you will never tire of hearing. Busting each other’s balls endlessly. And knowing their is no place you’d rather be.
At the outset, the fishing was such an important part of this trip–like it is most times I am on the water. And we fished very hard, barely taking time away from casting (mostly to sip on canned beer). But quickly it became more about the search for wild brown trout. It became about a time to stop, slow down, and reconnect with someone important to me in the past, in the present and in the years ahead.
The river really doesn’t care about all of this. It has a job to do–to carry it’s water from its headwaters near White Sulphur Springs, Montana, to Ulm, Montana where it can pass that job off to the Missouri who then takes the job of delivering it to the Gulf of Mexico. The river is just there as a passive participant and the canvas upon which memories can be drawn. That’s why I like rivers so much, I suppose, because they have their own agenda, but are happy to accommodate yours for a short while. Like bonding again with a great friend–in a great way.
Life is damn busy. I wish it weren’t so…but, we are likely in this mess for a while. So next time you have the chance to hit the road (or the water) with an old friend, you should take it. The river can be just what you need to re-center and re-adjust and remember what is truly important in life.