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  • Tuesday, March 18, 2008

    Down In The Valleys

    There's Water
    there's fishing
    .. The cloistered mind of the high country tends to forget that there are other bits of humanity that seem to enjoy four full seasons and a world with minimal snow.
    .. We took our annual 'tax trip' to the lowlands and experienced a range of landscapes, fishing opportunities, and cultural milieus; seemingly worlds away from the high valleys.
    .. It's a gentle trip, save for the office time and the resident tax grump. It's a trip that reminds us about the outside world. It's a trip that allows our trusty steed to stretch it's legs and breath some different air.
    .. It's a trip of short duration; into a hectic world where there are more cars for sale at the Ford dealer than in the whole town of West Yellowstone. It's a chance to spend a couple of nights discovering that all those TV Channels are really the same. It's a chance to observe the pub-customs of a college town. It's a time to remind ourselves that all is not white.
    .. We left the land of skis and sleds early. The roads were dry, the sky was troubled, the breakfast had settled, and winter was clearly present in the heavy boots, parkas, steamy breath, and scattered snow flakes. It was a warm 12 degrees and life was stirring about as the weekend was awakening.
    .. Heading north we entered Yellowstone National Park. The meadows at the confluence of the Gallatin River and Fan Creek are still so deep in snow that both the willows and the water are buried. The trailhead sign is just visible above the drifted snow, and there's little to suggest that three months hence there will be good fishing here.
    .. As the day brightened and the canyon invited us to the lower elevations; it is very obvious that fishing is a lowland thing this time of year.
    .. The Gallatin River above it's West Fork can be fished - if you can find it. Much of it is hidden beneath snow and ice. Some of it is guarded by drifts that could swallow a semi, and a bit of it is inviting and cold.
    .. It's an especially beautiful river this time of year. It gives promise of some pleasant diversion at some time in the not too distant future.
    .. There are fishers on the lower parts of the river, and their density is directly proportional to the ease of access and lack of snow. Some were catching fish, some were fishing; all were happy to be on the water and enjoying a 'day in the country.'
    .. Sadness and tragedy greeted us as we entered Bozeman Town.
    .. Cars crashing into each other had brought out the constables and firefighters.
    .. The line of cars waiting to exit town was long and troubled as the medics tended to the injured and the firefighters foamed the gasoline on the roadway.
    .. The tax business was completed in a perfunctory fashion and the visiting with friends and pub crawling started. The social amenities were accomplished in a matter of days. A couple of nights were even spent sleeping - bizarre concept - and then back to the high country.
    .. The return trip was a saunter up the Madison River.
    .. There was dirt everywhere. There was very little snow. There were colors like browns and yellows and hints of greens. There were 'gophers' - Richardson's Ground Squirrels - and there were farm implements on the road. It must be Spring somewhere.
    .. Black's Ford was busy: there were boats on the water, there were fishers in the water, there were license plates from Utah and Wyoming. And, there was all that dirt.
    .. Moving up canyon the Madison River became populated with boats and fishers. Sports and their guides enjoying a bit of late winter fishing. The geese and the ducks seemed unaware as the boats glided by. The dust from dirt roads blew on the river and sparkled as the boats and sports passed.
    .. Put in at the bridge? Put in at the big lot? Put in at Greycliff? Drive more? Fish less? Go up river? Go down river? Hit the riffles first? Go slow to the glides? Pound first or last? Lead or Follow?
    .. Decisions that are lost on the riders and are pondered by the guides. How to get the best tip? Where to find the fish? What flies to choose? Will there be something on the surface? It's a game that will last through Fall - It's starting early and low this year.
    .. There are a pair of hay wagons slowing traffic. Kids feeding the stock. No fishing for the the residents today. The sun is out, the ground is firm; the Spring rains are yet to come.
    .. No wheel ruts to negotiate and the stock needs fed. Hug the shoulder and allow the travelers to pass. Watch the boats, and go as quickly as the tractor will allow. Maybe the gophers will still be out when we get done.
    .. The drive is a gentle one. As Ennis looms in the distance we see the mountains and our destination. The sky is so big it won't fit in any camera. The clouds are being blown apart and squalls of snow can be seen in the upper valleys.
    .. Snow is on the ground and beginning to cover the dirt, The colors are becoming muted. It's still winter up there and it looks like it snowed last night.
    .. Above Ennis the road is a black snake wending through snow covered elk browse. The pronghorns are well disguised but the elk stand out like so many flies on a carcass.
    .. Chomping the last of the winter forage and the first of the spring grass; they ignore the trucks and cars and buses and guides with their boats in tow. Soon they will disperse to the high valleys. Soon they will calve and soon they will be fat and sleek and shiny.
    .. Now, however, their ribs are showing. The bulls look the worst. Their mane is shredded, their ribs leap out like a washboard, and they move slowly, very slowly.
    .. Some have both antlers, some are rag-horned, some display the bloody stumps of antlers just shed. And they chomp.
    .. The monochromatic landscape is soothing to the cloistered mountain mind. It is familiar and friendly. It's what the world ought to look like in March and April. The mountains whisper 'come hither,' and our trusty steed quickens its pace. Where is the gentle postcard of late winter? Where is the beauty that is shrouded in white.
    .. We see the white expanses grow as we head up slope and, up the road. It gets deeper. It gets softer. It soon is as many shades of white as the colors in the coat that Joseph wore. It is not all one white, it is many whites. It is soft and sharp, it is round and jagged. It is blinding and muted. It is home.
    .. The clouds are closer up here, the sky is a bit smaller, the wind punctuates the conversation between the clouds, and trees, and mountains. There are many different whites in the clouds. They seem to move faster. They are animated like never seen below. They seem, somehow, more a part of it all.
    .. Soon there will be color enough. Riots of small blossoms will appear on the edges - where the dirt first appears. There will be snow in the corners until June, this year --- maybe a bit left for the 4th of July. We'll see.
    .. The Madison River looks asleep up here. Last night's snow has covered the lonesome foot prints to the fishing spots in the tailwater. It seems dormant. It hides a secret - there are fish there, and they are getting ready for their Spring mating rituals. They will dance with you if you send them the right offering. And only the neighbors will know.