Richard Brautigan took his typewriter with him in 1962 when he went camping in Idaho with his wife. The dark and rain fell across the long folds of the mountains that lie like an Indian blanket, eternally quiet and laden with ghosts. It’s was a good place to take a typewriter, a good place to write.
He never went to the Big Two-Hearted River, and Hemingway was dead then, anyway, so it didn’t much matter. Brautigan banged on that typewriter sitting next to mountain streams that Hemingway quit visiting years and years before. As Brautigan typed, trout flitted between the keys, moss slapped against the pages. Out of those streams sprung a book. The poet took that book home and set it on a shelf, the Blue Dun on a number-sixteen hook he caught it on hanging from its lower lip.
Late in the fall that year, while the book swam in the bookshelf and cast its beneficent eye across Brautigan’s living room, I was born into a world needed trout, wild trout, and lots of them.
This morning, I shook the temptation to sleep until the last minute possible for me to make it to work on time. I boiled water and made tea. My wife had already left for work. I looked at the headlines, but threw the paper to the floor and tied flies instead. I fastened the hook vise to the table and thread my bobbin. I arranged duck feathers, rabbit fur, and pheasant hackles. As I wound thread around a number-fourteen hook to begin an Adams mosquito, I remembered Brautigan. I fished my notebook out of the bookshelf and hoped to catch something next to my vise. I had only nibbles and feints, nothing serious—my pen nib was never even pulled under.
But I tied and tied, snipping away at yarn, chenille and strands of peacock feather. Winding floss and ribbing around number-twelve and fourteen hooks, I wondered if a trout would even see something that small in water darkened by clouds and fraught with dangers of cold and predators. But it wasn’t mine to decide whether the hackles gave the flies adequate action. My duty was to tie, and I did.
The flies gathered in a little pile on my table—a mosquito, two grubs, a wooly worm, a late emerging nymph, a hare’s ear with silver ribbing, and something buggy with a tail of bright red yarn. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched them wend themselves about, happy to exist at all. Among them was not one thought of cold and dark water nor of being unwound or flung into sycamore or willow branches by my casts. They put no reflection to barbs rusting in a fly box or to death by sandpapery trout teeth. They just flitted about, oblivious to danger, perfect for trout.
I noticed the clock, and it was getting late. I picked those flies out of the pink and black print of the table and put them into a little plastic box with my other flies. Barney Buzdikian had tied some of the tiny ones already in the box five years before and let me have to fish dry. Others were from O’Kelley, who reveled in underwater browns and blacks; he tied flies with dark hackles, streaked with striking gold and silver ribs. Until now, none of the flies in the box were mine. I had not tied in years, and the flies I had tied long before were hanging from trees or had rusted away under rocks.
I closed the box with a snap. I had tied, and it felt good, even if my notebook was not as lively as Brautigan’s typewriter. Showered and dressed, I picked up the newspaper and glanced at it. I read the world still needed wild trout, even if it didn’t know it. Then, I stopped on the way out the door and paged through Trout Fishing in America.
Some say it is the greatest novel ever written. Tough call, really. Every book that talks to a man or woman’s soul is great—every soul a folio of pages with people and trout stamped on them.
I thought of cutting out Brautigan’s chapter titles and pasting them above the articles in the paper. The world would change for the better with titles on its pieces like “Red Lip,” “Tom Martin Creek,” and the “Last Time I saw Trout Fishing in America Shorty.” It would be a good place filled with people who knew about trout, people who had found salvation.
But I was late to work.