There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A whale of a trout fishing story

It's all very sad. "Whales in West Sac," moans The Bee's front page. Large color photos show humps on humpbacks floating in the river and clumps of chumps lining the levees.

And then I realized: I know what the whales are looking for.

It came to me in a "Trout Fishing in America" moment. Suddenly, everything was made clear and bright with trout and cold, rushing water replacing the murky Sacramento River Deep Water Ship Channel.

I don't know why I didn't realize it yesterday. Certainly Richard Brautigan wouldn't have missed it. Maybe it's because it has been so long since I have been trout fishing. More than years, it's been ages.

My stepmother's father took me and my brother trout fishing on a stream that flows out of Big Bear Lake in Southern California. I was only 10 at the time. My stepmother's father was the age of a retired World War II general with medals and decorations framed and hanging on a wall behind the recliner where he sat when he wasn't teaching step-grandchildren how to fish.

A dirt road crossed the shallow stream, meandered alongside for a while and then crossed back. The general followed the road for some time. I didn't know what he was looking for, perhaps a good spot to fish. I'd never been fishing before.

And then we stopped a few yards behind a truck parked in the middle of the stream. A man got out of the truck and waded through the stream to the rear. The truck was carrying a big tank. The man climbed onto the truck and dipped a bucket into the tank. He then threw the contents in the stream.

"Let's go fish," the general said as the truck continued up the road. The general earned his medals in the war for his skill in logistics, the branch of military science having to do with procuring, maintaining and transporting materiel, personnel and facilities. That explained his fishing background.

There in the stream I could see four or five small trout swimming in circles, bumping into each other, scraping their bellies in the shallow water. It must have been very confusing for the trout, going from the dark tank into the stream and all. At least it was shady.

The general showed me and my brother how to bait the hooks with bright red salmon eggs, and then we tried to lure the confused trout to eat the deadly treats. Eventually we got back into the car and raced to catch up with the stocking truck. Two, three, maybe four times I watched the truck driver splash the river with trout and drive on.

Whether we caught any fish that day is lost in the expanse of time. But that Trout Fishing in America experience must be the reason why I didn't see the whale by the side of the road at the corner of Engle and Mission avenues just across the border from Carmichael yesterday morning.

I had boarded my bus at the stop near my house, forgoing the Transitarian's Diet of extra exercise so that I could find out who the woman was waiting at the stop, the stop that had been just for men up to this point. (Not counting women who just visit.)

When I got to the bus stop I recognized her. She was a regular rider, a familiar face, but normally already in her seat when I board. I took my regular seat in the back of the bus and the woman took her regular seat in the middle.

This was all part of the puzzle because a short while later the bus turned from Engle onto Mission and there it was.

The whale had an 82 on its back just like our bus. Looking at that 82, I felt as if I was coming upon myself, having arrived in one of those time-travel-folded-space-wormhole thingies.

Our bus slowed and I watched the driver lean over to look inside the whale. The driver examined the whale from the back to the front. He stopped to offer help, but no one was there, not a driver or any passengers. Not a living soul was around.

The driver slowly pulled away and headed for the next stop. It was as if he were trying not to disturb the whale.

Today, my eyes opened, I look back and see the big white whale floating by the side of the river. I'm on a whale-watching cruise and our ship's captain has rewarded us with a closeup view of one of Earth's most majestic creatures.

I think the whales in the ship channel are looking for the 82 whale. But when I went by the corner of Engle and Mission this morning, the whale was gone. Perhaps that's the source of the whales' confusion.

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