Posted October 22, 2020 – Narrated by Carmen
“Come, fish, come. Come, fish, come. Sam’s at the gate with a frosted cake. Come, fish, come.”– Barney Fife, as played by Don Knotts in The Andy Griffith Show, Episode: The Jinx
I don’t fish.
On a family fishing trip I crept too close to the rushing creek. Now, some sixty-odd years later, I am alive only because Daddy could run faster than water. As he ran, he periodically threw his lanky frame down upon the soggy bank – pressing his chest against the mud so he could stretch his extra-long airplane mechanic arms down into the opaque water to fiercely claw up any fragments that felt promising.
Tree roots, clods of clay and slimy branches littered daddy’s determined path as he worked hair-on-fire down the bulging creek.
Onlookers agonized that his efforts were only a pitiful heartbreaking futility. But, at last, in one great swoop, he caught something that turned out to be my hair, and by those strands flung my gasping flailing self onto the grassy bank, kinda like a bear does a salmon.
And that was the last time they took me fishing.
Jim doesn’t fish either.
He burned out young.
On weekends, his dad woke him in the wee hours to go to the 32nd Street Pier in San Diego to catch the military fishing charter boats, The Kim or The Miss Norris, for a full day of deep-sea fishing.
And, on those annual sweltering-hot summer trips to Mississippi, Jim learned the family secrets of low-country fishing. With the right bait and ice cold beverages, a guy could catch anything. But mostly what Jim caught was chiggers and tics.
Like me, he wouldn’t have a clue what bait to use or where to cast the line, much less how to clean a fish.
For a couple of redneck kids, we are lousy anglers. But that may soon change. Learning to cut our hair during COVID has invested me with the confidence to make a big ol’ mess out of just about anything.
The Andy Griffith Show is on my mind quite a bit lately, mostly because it is still the best show ever produced for television. Late this summer, we hung out at a natural alpine lake called Fish Lake, a place with that familiar all-American Mayberry vibe.
Fish Lake is a fisherman’s oasis, renowned for its twenty, thirty and even forty-pound Mackinaw Trout, which are much easier to hook than a cell signal.
Good thing we had a deck of cards and stocked up on groceries.
But the natural thing to do at Fish Lake is to fish for your dinner. I hear there is no limit on perch. Yum.
Deeper into the woods we go where safety is not necessarily in numbers and quality of life with all of the creature comforts can be life-threatening. We miss swimming pools, bandwidth, and Trader Joe’s.
At first, Covid made me feel fragile – as if I were being swept into the unknown. The process of adaptation was difficult, but Jim and I have crafted routines into our lives to make these new wide-eyed realities manageable.
As I celebrate my Beatles Birthday, I look back on my life and see how early life experiences prepared me for this moment.
Social distancing throughout a hepatitis epidemic in Italy, and maintaining civility in a public crisis during The Cuban Missile Crisis in Florida served as primers for this era. The Duck and Cover and Highways Of Agony generation is notorious for childhood hang-ups, but calmness in a national emergency should be one of our best things.
The ordeal can be harsh but good endings are worth waiting for.
Someday, this will be over, and we will be able to make trips to Canada again, and bask in the luxury parks between spells of wilderness dry-camping. Since January, level places to park the rig and partial hook-ups is fabulous, and any water source within bucket distance is gold.
We are avoiding tightly packed RV parks where most people with our list of heart conditions avoid the pools, spas, showers, toilets – almost everything they offer. These days, the pad and hook ups aren’t worth the resort price tag.
It’s the hand we’ve been dealt.
Covid kind of tipped LIB over into what some would call living rough, and believe us, it’s not for everyone. Dry-camping for months on end was never our intention, but those one-hundred bottles of reserve wine acquired on our recent tour through Lodi is a real game changer.
After wading through all the murk of coronavirus, one thing is crystal clear … we are content wherever we are as long as it is safe and we are together.
Certainly, in these disquieting times, it would be natural for us to retire the rig and move into a condo where we can experience the ebb and flow of this crisis in a mainstream way.
But, for now, we are focused on the shoreline, reaching for opportunity, discovering places like crystal clear fresh water ponds and mountain lakes which facilitate soothing activities.
“I’m not really wise. But I can be cranky”– Andy Griffith
Cycling, swimming, hiking, kayaking and wildlife viewing is still safe and available in thousands of publicly funded environments where social distancing is the whole point and always has been … and fishing is the key word search.
Lakes are our COVID defense plan.
It all began in Arizona with Fisher’s Landing at Martinez Lake, then Watson Lake in the Granite Dells and then, Dead Horse Ranch. Moving up through the Western Slope of Colorado we discovered one of our favorite campgrounds ever at Blue Mesa Reservoir in the Curecanti National Recreation Area.
Heading back into civilization we spent two weeks at Boyd Lake State Park in Loveland and discovered Horsetooth Reservoir in Fort Collins. I almost wept as we pulled out of Pristine Steamboat Lake at the foot of Hahn’s Peak, but quickly recovered when I spotted Crawford Reservoir from the highway – our final Colorado destination before entering Utah with a healthcare project.
A street curb, of all things – not a root, rock or stump – was the obstacle that came between Jim and his achilles tendon, the first serious injury we’ve suffered in almost five years of LIB.
If not for the excellent medical care he received in Moab and San Diego, Jim’s experience could be a cautionary tale. So, no city mouse vs. country mouse ballyhoo here. And, thank you, Medicare.
As a week-long heat wave moved into the entire western region, we drove out of Dead Horse Point State Park.
Seeking a cool, safe place to convalesce, Jim aimed about 9,000 feet high for the heart of Utah in the Wasatch Range. We passed through ranch country, farmland and pleasant well-kept Mayberryish towns …
then, we climbed melting mountains that looked good enough to eat.
Pressing our hands against the cool window glass assured us that the ascent would be rewarding.
Our beautiful alpine campsite and the crisp mountain air was sublime therapy. While the rest of Utah was a sizzlin’, we were chillin in the aspens.
From our site, less than 100 yards from the water’s edge, I rolled my kayak down to the lake for daily paddles.
This was the perfect course for Jim to rehabilitate. A daily walk down the hill and back up again was not overdoing it. He couldn’t have found a better place to rest and recuperate.
The unusually dry weather prompted the forest service to post wildfire warnings. The lack of rainfall may explain why so many critter-people shared our campsite with us. A steady parade of unmasked locals kept us company throughout those restful late-summer days at Mackinaw Campground.
Two unexpected mind-blowing sights caught us by surprise. We’d never heard of Pando or Capitol Reef National Park – each, a fascinating day-trip from Fish Lake.
The Pando Aspen Clone
Answer: Pando, is a clonal quaking aspen stand – called trembling aspen in Canada.
The Pando Aspen Clone is the most massive single living thing on the planet.
But due to decades of forest mismanagement, this quivering giant is in a state of deterioration. It is dying because it is not regenerating. The younger parts of the clone are being over-browsed by an abundance of herbivores and, in some areas, dehydration is a culprit too.
We’re not botanists, but it seemed obvious that saving Pando should include protections from the ongoing threat of blossoming human hormones. This mating ritual is not attractive or sustainable.
Fish Lake is located in The Fishlake National Forest, about an hour drive from Capitol Reef National Park.
If a single natural North American landscape were selected to exemplify the battle between good and evil, Capitol Reef would be a strong contender.
Known both as Robber’s Roost and The Land of The Sleeping Rainbow, the 100 mile Waterpocket Fold or Wrinkle On The Earth gave our eyes a good run in the park. Around every bend was a scene from a film or a theme from a book like Madelyn L’Engles A Wrinkle in Time.
The dramatic extrusions …
and psychedelic strata …
and wind erosions which, at first glance, look like Babylonian relief carvings …
really messed with our minds, arousing mystical thoughts and that creepy sensation of being the subject of display before a phantom audience.
“All I’m saying is that there are some things beyond the ken of mortal man that shouldn’t be tampered with. We don’t know everything, Andy. There’s plenty going on right now in the Twilight Zone that we don’t know anything about and I think we oughta stay clear.”– Barney Fife, The Andy Griffith Show, Episode: The Haunted House
We drove The Beast along the scenic drive at 20 mph, listening to baroque music as we toured this ideal location for a sci-fi film about a secret base of operations where a team of inter-galactic peace keepers fight an evil regime (Has that been done?). And we munched through a year-old sleeve of roasted peanuts I found in the glove compartment and rehashed all of the “why are we here” questions.
But we didn’t come up with anything new, and all those peanuts just made us thirsty and all that thinking just made us hungry.
After exiting the park, Jim pulled off and Yelped with his usual expert confidence and announced that dinner would be “a special surprise.” But as we passed burger joint after pizza joint after burger joint, I lost confidence and suspected he’d accidentally yelped “Capitol Hill, Washington.”
But, Holy Mother of Capitol Reef! What a rewarding dinner to follow that long, hot, dusty drive through the middle of nowhere.
Full to the gills, we journeyed home, arriving before sunset as evidence of deer fatalities seemed common on that winding highway.
Our last night on Fish Lake went as expected. The sun crested over the mountain with a splash of tangerine sky and shortly thereafter a shoal of stars emerged from the depths as the mouth-watering fragrance of fresh fish braising in butter and garlic over hot coals ghosted aimlessly through the trees.
And, as usual, I opened the discussion about our lack of a rod and reel and how I’d like to start fishing. I tempted Jim with recipes … “Steamed perch on rice … Grilled trout and kale … Jerk-spiced salmon wrapped in banana leaves … “
“It’s time to stop making excuses” I said, ” We should take advantage of those free and discounted fishing licenses many states offer to seniors.” But Jim countered that it might be a big hassle since we pass through dozens of states a year.
“Well, maybe our LIB family can inspire us and share ideas … about what equipment we need, how to store it, how to plan seasonal fishing trips and secure permission and licenses? Wouldn’t that be awesome!?”
“Sure, Jim said, “Til’ then, there’s always chicken.”
If you want to see our exact route, click here.
*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.