Monday, August 27, 2012
Simply How It's Done
It felt awkward, I must say, walking into the restaurant wearing my waders, but I followed Len’s lead. He hadn’t steered me wrong yet. Well, there was that bridge pool that he said was only “waist deep," but that’s a story for another time.
As we finished wading our day's second lengthy stretch of spring creek, the sun began to push the trout we were chasing into deeper cover and it made good sense to call it quits before it was straight up and seriously hot. The forecast called for low 90s, wicked for this part of the country, and it was well on its way. We climbed a makeshift tree root ladder out of the streambed, crawled into the Ridgeline that we’d shuttled earlier that morning, and drove the dusty farm roads back to Len’s Mountaineer, parked downstream, at our starting point. Four miles of side roads, one of water, or a half-mile as the crow flies. Measure how you will.
Back at the truck, I reached to drop the tailgate for a seat to pull off my wet Freestones, but Len paused only long enough to toss his rod and huge salmon net into the back of the Mercury, then slid into the driver’s seat and cranked it up. “Let’s go get some lunch.” I scrambled to follow, five-point turning the Honda on the narrow track and hustling to stay close enough to his rear bumper to see where he forked, far enough not to choke on his dust.
Fifteen minutes of country dirt and a half-hour of county asphalt carried us back into the heart of Richland Center where we parked on Main Street, a block from the middle of town, in front of Gables restaurant, regionally known for its Friday night bluegill fish fries. Once again I thought to drop the waders, but Len went straight for the front door, unchanged. I shrugged, and joined him. We smelled of late-summer sweat, rich Wisconsin creek bottom, and bushwhacked wild mint - with a low note of fish. A not altogether unpleasant bouquet, to my unsophisticated nose, but one that I feared our fellow diners might not equally appreciate.
I needn’t have worried. The handful of lunch patrons that sat scattered about the small dining area gave us scarcely a glance as we slipped into a booth – slick waders gliding easily over the smooth leather benches, exquisitely polished, no doubt, by several decades of the in and out of workingman’s denim. It was all I could do to keep from sliding onto the floor.
Our waitress arrived – that is, if it’s proper to refer to someone’s grandmother as “waitress” – and without a hint of irony inquired “You guys been fishing?” The room grew silent and every head tilted in our direction like some old E.F. Hutton commercial. Before I could wrap my head around what other possibilities there might be for our current attire, Len spoke up. “Yep. We’ve been trout fishing up in the hollow.” Heads nodded in silent approval. Eyes returned to their plates. Life was good.
We ate our hearty breakfast-for-lunch casually, exchanged a few pleasantries with the folks at the nearest table, and, with a firm handshake and promise to do it again, parted ways - Len for home and I for Spring Green and some old friends. And we stayed in our waders until we arrived at our destinations – at least I did. It seemed that it was simply how things were done here on the Driftless.
I wonder if he sleeps in his?