EUGENE AND THE KING GOLDEN TROUT

MAY 20, 2007

 

Its been a foggy week on the Island, our hometown set here on the edge of the San Francisco Bay. Still no word from the authorities regarding our standing application to become a Sister City to Lake Woebegon. The Dispatch Department has followed all the usual channels of communication: three carrier pigeons, two encryption hamsters, and a marching band that includes Gropius on Hardart and Inflateable. The engineers are all scratching their heads, as somebody usually says something at some point.

The last time the pigeons came back from their mission a bit woozy with shreds of what appears to be rhubarb adhering to their beaks.

Meanwhile, all along the coastal range, the fogs are surging over the crest and down through the trees in some Tolkein fantasy. Babylon, having enjoyed its Spring -- lasting some 36 hours -- is now settled back into its usual briskly chill habitude of fog and shivers which so put off Sam Clemens more than one hundred years ago. But so entrenched is the San Franciscan in his sense of superiority over Los Angeles, he stalks about his business in tee-shirt, bermuda shorts and sandals no matter how frigid the temperature, absolutely denying the weather as it is, for the season is summer and for summer he will dress, will he, nil he.

Max calls up from Burbank to say how they are all basking under sunny skies and everybody is at the pool and, heck, must be all overcoats and galoshes up there in that fog, guy.

No, we are all wearing shorts and sunglasses here. Thanks for calling. And Max? Please stay in L.A. Please.

That North-South rivalry has been going on for some time here and shows no sign of letup.

Sure, we have our summer rituals. The groundsquirrels all come out to scamper along the Strand and between the BBQ's at Crab Cove. We do have baseball and other dangerous sports. The parasails and windsurfers all congregate at the end of 8th Street and jollify the sky with their colorful kites. A few people bring real kites out there and among the simple diamond-backs from Walgreens are the fabulous dragon kites from China, looping and swirling right above. Over at John McClaren the Samoan Islanders set up the posts for their summer cricket tourney and there they go, big pony-tailed guys hurtling across the pitch like locomotives.

Fishing, of course, remains a popular sport, and one often will see anglers angling around the breakwater and bridges, often with apparent success. There to trundle home with their perch or whatever to toss into the seasoned frypan.

These people are idiots. Nobody but a fool would eat anything out of the mercury and cadium-laced bay. The entire reason the Island is an Island is that Oaktown used to dump so much sewage into the Bay it backed up around the occasional peninsula of Bolsa Alameda, so the Army Corps of Engineers cut a channel and turned the occasional peninsula into a permanent island.

No, fishing is what one does in freshwater lakes and streams, just about as far from the Bay and fertilizer-packed Delta as one can get. From the Russian River, there is the salmon run, followed by bass and steelhead with a few channel cat thrown in there. Up in the High Country one goes for rainbows, brookies, and the increasingly elusive Golden. The Golden Trout is so elusive that you can't even find a decent picture of one on the internet. Here is one.

They can only be found above 10,000 feet elevation and cannot compete with any species. Nowadays, few longer than 10 inches can be found at all. Sometimes they are called "pink trout" because their flesh is reddish on the plate next to brookies.

California trout, once teaming the streams so thick the natives here needed only to stand straddled over a weir to spear one among a dozen passing underneath to fetch dinner, now have become decimated to the point that every one of them trout out there has developed a critical eye towards feeding, with cautious approach and studied apprehension. Eugene Gallipagus is known, after prepping his rod, to crawl on his belly up to the riverbank to crouch behind a bush, and from there to cast up stream to allow the fly to drift down past his location and even then, sometimes they get the word somehow among themselves what the boy is up to.

"Hear Eugene is fishing up there again."

"Oh, that boy with the hat."

"Yep."

"Here comes something . . . "

"Oh I don't think you should go for that. Looks like a badly tied hare's ear to me."

"Yep."

"I aint fooled by that thing. Let's just sit here a while."

"Yep."

"Them young'uns can have it."

"Yep."

And the rest of the day is ruined for fishing.

Northern Californians can be emotional, but not as effusive as Southern Californians. When Southern Californians get emotional, they cry and mess up their clothes. Like Phil Spector, they occasionally shoot their guests at home. When Northern Californians get emotional, they break things or each other in strange places. The public bar fight was invented in Northern California by Jack London, who spent a lot of time here writing about workers rights and so forth. And getting into fights in bars. To the end of his days, he bitterly regretted making money on dog stories, and often would start a fight in a bar on the subject.

He may not have been the best exemplar of leftist thinking, but he sure wrote a good dog story when he had a mind. We can say that now, because he is not around to break anybody's nose.

Back to Eugene. One day he was fishing for trout at Lake Martha, which is the lake where, according to myth, golden trout first diverged from rainbows in evolution. The lake is some 11,500 feet in elevation and has a gravel place there which had been lake bed at one time far in the past people call Wotan's Parking Lot. If you have ever been there, you would know what I mean, for that is just about as flat and barren a spot for yards as you could ever find with Mount Goddard looming over the spot like some castle. Needless to say, the entire place is a four-day hike from nowhere with no showers, dancing girls, or trail for days.

Eugene went out in the morning from the shelter down below to the lake there -- no trees or bushes for miles in all directions, so you got to camp down below -- and he threw in his line. Now as it happened Eugene had a flask of that special brew Padraic had done up a couple of Thanksgivings ago and he was drinking this stuff instead of water. Seems this special homebrew involved the leaves of the rhubarb plant, which may account for its distinctive hallucinatory properties.

Eugene had not meant to take this brew up in his water flask, intending to use it at night for medicinal purposes, but Wanda had filled the sucker up at base camp, thinking she was doing a special service.

So come late morning there was Eugene at high Lake Martha, surrounded by shadeless Wotan's Parkinglot, the sun starting to beat down and not even cover for the damn trout along the lake shore. All the trout can see perfectly well the man is up there -- not a rock to hide behind, and not much is happening.

Eugene gets thirsty, pops the top of his canteen and downs a swig, realizing at once what it was. Oh, well. Damage done. So he keeps on tossing out his line, getting more and more leisurely as he takes a swig and another. Soon he plops down right there on the bank -- there is a place where the Parkinglot is high enough above the lake to make a sort of bank there and Eugene nestles against this embankment with his line sort of idly floating on the surface.

Soon enough it seems he has a strike and, after a brief struggle, an immense golden head appears above the surface of the lake. It's at least three feet wide, the largest fish of any kind Eugene has ever seen. It's a rare King Californian Golden Trout and it speaks to him.

It speaks to him in the language of Trout, which only true trout fishermen can understand. Those who fish for cat or steelhead or salmon know not the language of mountain trout. Just ask them. For they are interested only in size of catch and not the glory.

Do you speak the language of trout?

But Eugene understood, and unto him was imparted the wisdom and the scriptures of the Great Golden Trout. He was to drop his earthly trappings and go among men and spread the Word of Trout. For of field and stream we are born and into the field and stream we shall return. Glory unto the Trout! Glory unto the Brown! Glory unto the Rainbow! Glory unto the Golden who is first among them!

Eugene arose as if awoken from a dream and he cast forth his rod and descended from the mountains not unlike the Israelites of old, and he spoke the Word of Trout and all were amazed, not the least the Unitarians, who had never conceived of such a thing. And the Lutherans spake of walleye and smallmouth and knew him not for they are a prudent folk and not inclined to speak of such things. Of the Catholics, who fish not unless for sole, he was shunned and they abjured his talk for they like not that which causes Fuss and Bother preferring shame and humiliation and the exile of the rhubarb.

Among the Bhuddists he sewed confusion for they are verily Vegan.

Any whose way was the sword and violence were struck dumb with dismay and scattered like chaff in the winds.

If you come to California, wear flowers in your hair -- and carry an Ultralight, for the trout of the Sierra are fine and small and like not immensity. And consider the Word of the Trout, who saith, Be not asshole upon the Earth but do as little evil as possible and practice joy all the days of thy Life. Thus, I say unto the Great Golden Trout. Peace.

Eugene was put on three day hold at Villa Fairmont, about which place we shall speak anon.

And that's the way it is on the Island. Have a great week.

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