I’ve always had an inner mountain man. I’m one of those guys who feels he was born a hundred years too late. Deep inside me is a grizzled old man yearning to live off the land and fight Indians—although nowadays my inner mountain man would call them indigenous peoples to be politically correct before he shot them. He’s a tough old guy with long gray hair and a full beard who never bathes, which is probably why my inner mountain man lives a solitary existence. The character Gramps in my novel Graves of His Personal Liking was the incarnation of my inner mountain man.
My mountain man taught me a lot when I was younger. I remember once walking across a shallow ice-covered slough in waders. The ice was just thick enough to hold my weight for about five seconds, then I would break through and plunge waist-deep into the water. Ice water would splash on my shoulders and face as I sank to my knees in the soft mud at the bottom. I would struggle to get my feet free, claw at the ice to get a hold and climb back up on the ice, only to break through a few steps farther on—this wasn’t nearly as much fun as it sounds. Once when I broke through, a jagged piece of ice split the crotch of my waders flooding them with ice water. The sissy city guy in me said to work my way the ten yards to shore, take off the waders and walk around the slough to my truck. My mountain man, on the other hand, said it was a mile around the slough to the truck, but only a couple hundred yards across the ice. So taking his advice, I continued to break ice to the truck. By the time I got there, I couldn’t feel anything below my waist. I was shaking, and I was afraid certain body parts had frozen solid and snapped off. It was an hour later before feeling returned to my lower extremities, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
My mountain man taught me a lot that day. I learned he was tough as a badger, determined as a beaver and had the brains of beef jerky. But I knew I could accomplish anything with that stout old buzzard inside me. Something has gone horribly wrong. My mountain man has become wimpified. It became glaringly apparent the other day. We were planning our yearly trip to fish for salmon. My wife told me which motel we would be staying in, and I went on-line to see if they had cable TV with a channel that I could watch a football game I wanted to see. TV? Football? My mountain man doesn’t care about either of those when he’s salmon fishing.
When I first went salmon fishing with my friend Franny, we slept out in a tent without even an air mattress to keep us off the ground. It rained most of the trip and a leak in the tent resulted in a small trickle of water running through the tent. By the end of the trip, it had grown into something maps started marking as a bona fide river. It didn’t bother my mountain man. He considered it a close fresh water source and a sanitary system that washed the dirt, debris and occasionally Franny, out of the tent. If my bedroll got wet it wasn’t a problem. I dried it out or just slept in it. My mountain man had shivered before, and he considered it a built-in alarm clock: if you don’t sleep, you don’t oversleep.
We fished constantly on that trip, from first light until way after dark. We fished out on the piers standing in the cold, wind and rain, because my mountain man laughed at adversity, and because it was warmer and drier standing out there than it was in our tent. When we ate, it was something we had hunted down ourselves, a salmon, a hunk of bear meat or a Big Mac. There was no time for sightseeing or side trips. Nothing existed for my mountain man but the lake to fish in and the tent to not sleep in. I didn’t shave or shower. It was the life my mountain man was born to lead, and he reveled in the hardship.
Now we stay in a motel with a warm, dry bed. The only time water will run is when the toilet is flushed. I’ll shower and shave daily.
My wife came up to me yesterday and said, “Since the fish bite best in the morning and evening, we could use the rest of the day to see some places I found on-line, especially some cute little shops and boutiques.”
I expected my mountain man to rise up and say in his booming voice, “WE ARE GOING FISHING, WOMAN. NOT ON SOME LA-DE-DA SHOPPING TRIP!”
Instead, a meek little voice came out of me that said, “Okay,” and the next thing I know I’m looking up the channels the motel gets so I can watch a football game. What happened to my mountain man? He gave in and agreed to go shopping while on a fishing trip. When I was young my mountain man didn’t know the meaning of the word capitulate. In fact, there were a lot of words he didn’t know the meaning of, because as I said before, he’s as dumb as a turnip. But he was tough, and sometimes tough is enough.
Maybe when I get out there and I’m actually fishing, my mountain man will come back, and we won’t do any of that girlie shopping that doesn’t belong on a fishing trip. If it happens I’ll do a post with pictures. I better check if the motel has free WiFi.
BOOKS BY JOEL JURRENS
THE ALMOND PEOPLE DUE OUT 2017