Recognize these guys?
The first person who can identify each member at the toga party will receive a free box of note cards!
“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”
~ Sir Isaac Newton
“It all comes ’round on the river.”
“It’s been a great week,” my fisherman said as he reeled up the last cast of his trip. “I’m exhausted… but I can only imagine how you feel! It’s nice that you get tomorrow off to relax before the next group arrives.”
If you only knew the half of it, I thought to myself. Saturday was exchange day at the lodge.
Imagine if you can, the logistics of transporting 24 anglers, their mountain of gear, and a week’s worth of frozen salmon, all by float plane, to a small village on the Alaskan coast where the only seaplane base is a tiny pond at the edge of the tundra. Once there, everything and everyone is loaded into vans, and taken to a small airport where three other lodges’ guests and luggage will all be processed in an airline terminal the size of a modern kitchen.
Just as everything comes together, a jet lands with the next week’s guests. Sixty or seventy very excited anglers, all of them anxious and impatient to begin their adventure descend and the melee is renewed. The process barley works, even if everything goes perfectly, but it never is, and the word “perfect” has never been used to describe an exchange day at any lodge.
Exchange days are, far and away, the most stressful day of the week, and at many fishing lodges there’s an old and timeworn tradition; the crew gets together on Saturday nights to blow off a little steam.
Such events are tribal in nature; leaders are acknowledged and individual contributions are recognized. Problems are discussed and complaints aired. Competent members ascend to higher levels of responsibility, mates are chosen, and most importantly, the legends and the oral history of the lodge are passed down to the younger generation.
If you’re a guest at a fishing lodge and are invited to one of these private parties, consider yourself fortunate, as you’ve been paid a high compliment; you’ve been accepted as an honorary member of the tribe. The stories told around the fire at one of these gatherings are a priceless gift.
One summer night, the fire was roaring out at the back forty, and one of the pilots was straining his industrial strength blender trying to keep up with the crew’s requests for Margaritas. Liberal amounts of alcohol began to have its effect, and the stories began to flow.
“Hey Rusty? Do you remember the guy from California and his kid? The ones who killed all those grayling?”
“Oh yeah, I remember.” The old guide responded, smiling into the fire. His face reflected the flames and danced in his eyes. “The Boss was so mad at the new guide for letting it happen that he made us stay up ‘til midnight cleaning them; one hundred and sixteen grayling. ‘Come Friday night,” he cackled, “we didn’t have enough room for all of ‘em in this fella’s fish box, so we stuck a dozen or so into each of his bags. They must have smelled like cat food when they landed in Los Angeles!”
Rusty took a sip of whiskey and shook his head at the memory. Then he looked and me and grinned. “Why don’t you tell them all about the frozen Broccoli, Mr. White?”
“Hell, Rusty, he deserved it,” I said. “Don’t you remember how late we were up that night rebuilding all of those fish boxes?”
“So, we were up late one Friday night building fish boxes and getting ready for the big Saturday show,” Rusty continued. “We’d just finished the last box when this old guy comes out to the fish house, and because someone told him that sockeyes are better eatin’ than anything else, he tells us that his group’s boxes are to have only Sockeyes in them. We explained to him that we mixed Kings and Sockeyes in everyone’s boxes, and that it’d take hours to break them all down to rebuild the way he wanted. So, the old guy goes to the Boss, and complains, and we stay up ‘till the crack of tomorrow.”
“Man, what a bummer!” A new guy said.
“Well, two days later the Boss gets a radio phone call from the old fella,” Rusty continued, “and it seems that somehow he ended up with 40 pounds of frozen broccoli in his fish box instead of salmon!”
“The Boss was fit to be tied.” I interrupted. “The old guy was plenty steamed, and it cost The Boss almost four hundred dollars to overnight a box of sockeye out of Anchorage.”
“That little stunt almost ended a very promising career.” Rusty concluded.
“My favorite story is the one about the new guy eating raw caribou brains.” I went on, hoping to prompt our friend, the pilot, to tell of a practical joke so devious in it’s design, and cunning in execution that it had become legendary.
“We were having a toga party at the girl’s cabin,” the pilot began, as he topped off a half-empty margarita that’d been thrust at him. “This new guy was always having way too much to drink,” he continued, arching an eyebrow at the guide whose drink he’d just refilled. “So I figured we’d fix him. I made a little tray of hors d’oeuvres; you know, the usual stuff, cheese, crackers, Lil’ Smokies… and in the middle of the tray, with a lovely parsley garnish, there was a caribou brain.”
“I even had one of those little serving knifes stuck into the top of it,” the pilot continued, ignoring Rusty and I who were now snorting and wheezing; trying desperately not to laugh. “Well, after a few more beers, the new guy really digs in, and after he eats about half the brain, I finally stop him.”
“How come?” A new kid from Minnesota asked. “Why’d you stop him?”
“Do you know how many parasites and brain worms a caribou has?” the pilot asked. “I didn’t want him to get sick!”
“Holy cripes! What’d he do then?”
“What’d ya think, numb nuts?” Rusty cut in. “When we told him what he’d been eatin’, he ran outside and puked his brains out!”
“Holy cripes-by-golly!” The kid said.
“Well, that was a problem.” The pilot explained. “He messed the girls’ porch up real bad, and their party ended poorly. They were plenty upset.”
“They got even with us.” Rusty continued, “A few days later,” we’re all down on the dock, you know, getting everything fueled and ready to go, when one of the girls radios down and asks to talk to the pilot. The radio is turned way up, so everyone can hear, and she asks him to pick up a pregnancy test while he’s in town.
Jeezus! I thought one of the guides was going to walk right off the dock,” Rusty frowned. “It was an awful trick!”
“What’d you do then?” One of the kids asked. “How’d you get back at them?”
“Well, we waited a few days to catch them off of guard.” The pilot continued, “And then we snuck into their cabin in the middle of the night and stretched Saran Wrap over the toilet.”
“Then what?” But, the kid didn’t get to finish.
“Then nothing.” I interrupted. “Nothing happened for days, for weeks.”
“So, we struck first.” Rusty continued. “In the middle of the night we took the head from a really big Chinook, snuck it into their bathroom, and planted it in the stool. It was a sight to behold, with that big hooked nose sticking up out of the gore. You should have heard the screaming the next morning when one of them sat down on it!”
“It was truly amazing,” I added.
“But, they got us in the end,” the pilot continued. “Somehow they found out that Bob, here, takes his tooth paste straight out of the tube. You know, he doesn’t squirt it on his brush… right into his mouth. They finally struck one Friday night when we were playing poker, smoking cigars, and having way too much fun. The next morning we woke up in rough shape, and the first thing Bob does is to go brush his teeth. They’d emptied the top inch of the tube, and refilled it with anchovy paste! It was close, but he lost it in the sink.”
“Man”, a new guy whistled. “Those girls play rough!”
“You don’t want to get it going with lodge gals.” I finished. “Things can get nasty in a hurry.”
A few extra logs were tossed on the fire, and the sparks rose high into the twilight to mingle with the late summer stars. Somewhere in the distance a loon called to its mate. Everyone seemed lost in his or her own thoughts and a well-deserved quiet drifted over the crew. It was getting late, and Saturday would start early, especially for the gals.
A few of the couples drifted off, and the newer guys headed up to the bar for one last round. “Remember when you and I could do that?” Rusty asked, nodding at the kids as they walked away. “They work like dogs all day and party all night.”
“Are we getting older or smarter?” I asked, nudging a log with the toe of my boot and sending another column of sparks into the darkening sky.
“Both, I hope.” Rusty said, ducking his head as he disappeared into the old, decrepit cabin. “I think I left a bottle of ‘Jack’ out here last September.” He came out with two tin cups and a bottle.
“Remember the old times,” he said, blowing spruce needles out of the cups and pouring a good measure of whiskey into each, “and remember what I taught you.”
One of the many lessons I’d learned from Rusty was about Karmic balance.
“It all comes around on the river,” he once told me. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. When you lose… you can usually get even.”