Tuesday, August 30, 2011

If Saturn Returns, Tell Him I'll Be Back Monday

Posted By on Tue, Aug 30, 2011 at 4:00 AM

Location:Tamarack Lake

Tamarack Lake Photo by Clinton Begley


For nearly five solid minutes all we knew of the world we saw through tiny rectangles. Jockeying for position in the fading light, each of our lenses trained high to capture a glowing amber peak battling an evening rainbow for center stage in the big sky of Montanas Bitterroot mountain range. As the minutes passed and the sun dipped below the opposing ridge-line to snuff out the giant alpenglow candle above us, my other senses recovered one-by- one. Amish butter and lemon thyme filled my nostrils as the aroma snuck between the camera and my face to remind me of the cutthroat trout I'd left simmering in a pan on the lakes granite shoreline. While hurrying back to tend to the fifth of six such meals the four of us would eat that day, the sizzling and crackling of the cooking fish re-emerged from beneath the sound of Tamarack lake draining in rushing cascades down the mountainside below us.


After a stop at the Sawmill Saloon in the logging town of Darby, for some native brews, 25 cent pool and a dollars worth of Johnny Cash on the jukebox the day before, we hit the trail at around four oclock and made quick work of the seven miles and 2200 vertical feet of trail to the lake. We'd spend the next three days cooking fish as soon as we caught them, and marveling at the cirque that surrounded us. One afternoon we took turns punishing our finally empty 16oz cans of Hamms with a .22 revolver for their once burdening weight on the hike in. I chose to put a few rounds through one of my cans for its burdening taste as well. Each morning after breakfast, wed each retire to our own selected spots of warm granite to soak up sun and commune with the last patches of snow praying for September as they clung to the mountains shaded faces.

Ursa Clinton Begley

I'd been in town a grand total of three days prior to hitting the trail, but already I was in good company. My friend Matt moved to Missoula three years ago for a teaching job from our hometown of Quincy, IL and hasnt looked back. Fellow Quincyan Eric just got a gig in Idaho to work on a Masters of Poetry and made the short drive north to get in some trail time with us. Our token Montana native Dylan played the part of state welcoming committee as he attempted to coax me into executing a stylish rock launch into the frigid snow-melt lake. Having demonstrated my aquatic fortitude while wading belly deep earlier that morning to access prime fishing holes, I was impervious to his admittedly creative scrutiny of my masculinity. Besides, at least I had something to show for my submersion. Breakfast.


I'd spent nearly the last decade with Montana on my mind and every daydream had looked exactly like Tamarack lake. Like many, I suppose that I could tritely attribute the writings of Maclean and photography of Adams to the initial spark of inspiration. But truth be told I cant really point to any single factor that led to my infatuation with the state. Perhaps a cumulative amalgam of lore, literature and art are to blame for the ethos of Montana inexorably penetrating my psyche. All I know is that I had felt its gravity for years.

Tamarack Lake Reflection photo by Clinton Begley

Yet even in the silence as a million flickering strips of yellow passed by and the earth turned beneath rubber becoming less familiar by the mile, I never paused to consider the void that would be left once the pull subsided and I finally dropped my bags onto a dusty Montana doorstep. So far, it seems, the void has been in the shape of a trout, which lucky for me is easy to fill with herbed butter, golden skies and the satisfying report of a .22 revolver.

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