Saturday, June 5, 2010

On Backtracking - The Trip Home from Green Island Lake

MORE THAN A HALF MY LIFETIME AGO, I hiked in to one of the hidden gems of the northern Sierra for a little camping and fishing. I’d never caught a fish before, but Green Island Lake was the sure thing neophytes dream about and true fisher-people laugh at. So with friends Randy and Patti and their faithful Collie–Shepherd mix Sheba (may she rest in peace), we hiked down the two-and-a-half miles to the lake from the parking area where I’d locked my ’71 Super Beetle. Prepared for at least two days, we set up camp a few paces from the marshy shore, and I pulled out my Fenwick rod and Quik reel. My dad – the Old Timer – would be joining us for the second night of this trip, so I needed to be careful not to harvest all the fish in this one afternoon.

Hours passed.

Fortunately, we had packed some frozen “Hobo Stew,” a concoction of ground beef, chunks of carrots, potatoes and onions seasoned with salt and pepper; wrapped in aluminum foil to be set in the coals of a campfire for baking. These, with a morsel each of a seven-inch rainbow trout (arguably the stupidest fish in the whole lake that day) would suffice for dinner. Rain began to fall at about dusk, smothering the clouds of mosquitoes but soaking my hastily erected pup tent.

The morrow dawned foggy and dank and we determined that if we broke camp early enough, we could save the Old Timer from hiking down to this miserable little spot.

With backpacks hoisted and secured, and following trusty Sheba, we trekked away from the lake and down the trail toward the car. We passed through glades knee high with lupine and paintbrush, across chattering brooks and beneath black-barked firs. And it was at least an hour and a half before we realized “down the trail” was not the direction we should have gone. Sheba was a trusty and loyal companion, but no scout.

We paused and cursed. The fog had melted. An azure canopy stretched above the towering firs.

“Return to camp?”

“Back track to the trail junction and head home?”

I hate so to undo what I’ve done. I didn’t want to hike back up the untold distance to find the junction.

I sat on a stump.

We’d have to make a decision before nightfall.

SOMEWHERE BACK IN TIME, I was writing the novel like the carefree neophyte novelist that I am. Following a trail known only to my imagination, I took a similar wrong turn. It was well after completing this my best – well, longest – work that something became clear: one or two of the major elements of the main characters didn’t fit. Their actions didn’t advance the story. In fact, their actions were so out-of-any-norm as to be contradictory. And the story flagged. Many of my prized lines and funny quips just didn’t belong. I knew it. I had let my imagination lead me down the wrong path at some unmarked trail junction.

Now I sit on a stump. It’s been three weeks.

I know what to do. I just need to muster the gumption to do it.

ABOUT 4:00 PM we arrived back at the parking area. There, parked next to my ’71 Volksie, was Dad’s yellow VW Type 181 “Thing.”

Days later, the Old Timer reported that the lake was beautiful, and no, he didn’t fish, but some other camper at the lake – because he’d exceeded the limit – gave him three fresh trout that Dad gutted and fried up that night in butter.

© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press


  1. Good read.
    You do have a good memory Mr.B but while I remember the story in general
    I'd have to depend on you for the details anyway. Good read. R

  2. Oh Mr. B. you are my favorite story teller. Who cares if the facts are straight, it conjured up lovely memories of faithful dogs and good friends. Didn't we skinny dip in that lake?

  3. Perhaps this is why we caught no fish.