"This may not be the way it actually is but it certainly is the way it should be"
Winston S. Churchill "The Second World War"
It was all the same as I had last seen it. The lake, a deep blue on this day, with a second lake tucked behind ever so shyly, then the mountains. Lonesome, The Castles, Charlie Brown's Mountain. This latter was our own name thanks to a late snow field shaped like a kite that lasted most of the summer.
Looking at the camp ground I could see some sites with people, others empty.
I really wasn't surprised to see Ron and Bill. They were more or less locals and enjoyed each other's company in many outdoor activities. They were at their usual camp when I walked up to them, sitting around the fire pit, each holding a can of beer.
As I approached them "Ron said, Well so you finally got here. And Bill added, "what kept you?" They both laughed. It was not a question that needed an answer.
I said, "Any of the other old regulars here?"
Yes, Ron said, "the Campbells are here and so are the Mortons". Then, "Did you stop at the other camp.?"
I said no.
"Well Jim's there and Joe the Mushroom Man and some of the Missouri folk too." "Mary is holding down your usual camp. She's friendly but keeps to herself most of the time. We see her with her Cat out wandering through the meadow. He continued, " I would offer you a beer but I guess you want to get to your camp."
Right, I said, "I'll take a rain check on the beer."
As I walked in that direction, I came over a slight rise and then saw Mary and Cat were behind the camp in some of Natasha's favorite rocks. Cat spotted me first and then Mary turned to see what Cat was looking at. When she saw me she stood up and placed Cat on the ground and walked to meet me.
It was a long embrace. There was that wonderful sweet smile as I always remembered it and she laid her head against my chest. We didn't say much, being together again told it all. In the distance there was the faint rumble of thunder.
I said, "well, the afternoon thunder storm is on time."
There was so much to say, so much to talk about, but now was not the time.
Mary picked up Cat and the three of us moved into the trailer. All was exactly as I had last seen it, here at Camp site #7, its second home.
I said, "So what's for supper."
She said, "Want to guess?" And I replied promptly, "Beartooth chicken". There was that sweet smile and she said, "right the first time." Beartooth chicken was a camp specialty that Mary made in the style of a Chicken Sec with enough broth so that noodles could be added. It was always one of our camp fare favorites.
The rain arrived with much noise and flashes of lightning and continued through the evening making the trailer a snug refuge with feelings of comfort and serenity.
We were already in bed when the last shower had past, the thunder a distant memory.
The next morning was clear but frost glistened on the meadow like a billion small diamonds. The sun would soon sweep it away and only a few clouds remained to the east over the plateau.
"What would you like to do today.", I asked. "The Pony Hill Road looks open, is it?" That happy smile appeared and I said, "Bet you would like to go to Paradise Lake. "This had always been her very favorite hike and I knew the answer before she said it.
While Mary gave the Cat some 'outs', something Natasha demanded each morning, I got our fishing gear together.
Then we were off on the familiar route, no set trail but making our very own way across a meadow filled with wild flowers, then a rise of a small hill and down to the first lake. We saw no one at first lake. From there we followed what we always called one of Mary's ''greenways" that were a part of this glaciated mountain wonderland. They were small narrow grass and flower meadows tucked between walls of granite and stands of high elevation conifers. Our greenway betrayed the recent passing of a whole family of Elk.
Our lake was well named. On one side a granite ridge descended gently to a grass and rocky shoreline. The other side rimmed with granite faces and timber. Like the first lake on this day we had it all to ourselves. Our favorite fishing spot was a gently sloping glaciated granite face that made it just right for casting and space for landing the well sized Brook trout that lived here.
Our routine was always the same. I carried the fishing poles and gear and Mary our picnic lunch. I always assembled Mary's pole and reel first and today she had caught her first fish, a nice plump 12 inch Brookie before I even got my line into the water. Mary always used Zeke's cheese bait while I generally started with a spinner.
There was a flurry while helping Mary land her second fish and only after did I get my first strike. One cast later I had a fighting 13 and one half inch Brook trout on the line.
By noon clouds began to gather. We left our poles with lines in the water but past experience generally showed the fish stopped biting this time of day. So we happily sat together on a rock ledge eating our simple fare. Mary favored peanut butter and jelly while I was partial to ham or bacon sandwiches with a pimento cheese spread. It was impossible to ever grow tired of this idyllic scene. The trees cast lacy shadows that simmered in the still water. On this day a Mama duck was leading a rather large family across the lake, leaving a visible wake on the water.
We then packed up our five fish and started for home. As we reached the first lake clouds were darkening but we did reach camp before the first distant sounds of thunder began.
Natasha knew we had fish and was beside herself with excitement. Generally one of us had to hold Cat while the other cleaned the fish to keep her from getting her nose cut off. Supper was fresh Brook trout prepared our favorite way, breaded and baked in the oven. One of the joys of our camp at this high elevation was it cooled off rapidly in early evening making a little oven warmth most welcome in our trailer.
After supper we watched the storm as it moved on. Mary said, "So you knew where to find me." Yes, I said, and you knew this is where I would look for you. We both laughed, embraced and wondered at the magical beauty of it all.
The next morning was again clear but the night had not been as cold and the meadow showed no signs of frost. After breakfast and Cat's 'outs', I said that if the creek was fordable we could go to Mary's Landing. This too was one of her favorite places, on the far side of our camping lake. The name was, of course, our own. Over the years we had our personal names for many of our hikes and fishing treks.
The creek was down and the ford easy, hopping from rock to rock, allowing us to keep our boots dry. We had our own special route to Mary's Landing. At one point it took us up a sloping meadow rich with lupines and elephant heads beside a large outcropping of granite. On a few occasions we had seen an Ermine and her young scrambling away from us, all dressed up in their beautiful coats. This day, as always, Mary looked for them but they were not to be seen.
However Mary was busy counting the varieties of wild flowers she saw. This was her regular habit and at the end of each day she would give me the tally. "Today I counted 37 varieties, or some such number. She also knew their names and although she told them to me often I never would remember. I would say what's this bluie or that yellowie. She would then, for the ninth or tenth time, give me the name. It was just another of our private games.
At Mary's Landing there was a breeze across the lake blowing toward us, its usual direction. Here the lake formed a small bay, the water was not deep but it was, we knew, a favorite place for Rainbows. Here I also used bait since the water was too shallow for a spinner. On the rare day with no breeze I could use a fly.
The fishing this day was intermittent leaving much time to admire the countryside with wild flowers showing everywhere. Mary had a nice nook with a shallow rock face and low growing fir that made a very nice shelter from the breeze which freshen as the day moved toward noon.
We had each caught three nice sized Rainbows and were ready to leave when we saw a man moving in a unsteady gait walking toward us from an unlikely direction. He had descended from a ridge made up of rocky ledges thick with scrub fir and tangled brush. There were no trails, no easy access in the area from which he had come. When he saw us he moved faster, though we could see only with great effort. I moved toward him and when we were close he said, "Thank god, I didn't think I would ever see anyone. I don't know where I am."
He was a tall man, rather angular with long arms and legs. I thought him to be bordering on middle age. Hatless, his dark, close cropped hair betrayed some grey streaks. His brown eyes were wide with apprehension. Although he did not appear to be injured his face and hands showed deep scratches, some slightly blood marked.
He was much bedraggled and his clothes, quite fine in their original state, now were soiled and even shredded in places. He was certainly not in camping or hiking attire.
I replied, "Well your problem is solved now. The campground is on the other side of the lake and the highway just a bit further. Walk with us and we will be in camp in less that an hour and I will introduce you to Ron, our camp host, who can help you."
So we started back toward camp. Mary and I always had a steady but unhurried style of hiking so he was able to keep up with us but saying nothing. I could see that he was confused and until he wanted to speak I was not going to ask him any questions. I did offer him a drink from my canteen which he gratefully accepted.
I watched him carefully as we crossed the creek but he did manage it though with some difficulty getting one foot wet in the process.
We moved over a rise into the meadow that was in front of the camp, now clearly visible. Here he stopped and sat down, very weary indeed.
I said, "We are here, as you can see, so rest awhile friend" He looked at me still with the tiredness and puzzlement he had shown since we first met. Finally he shook his head as if to clear it and took a long look at his surroundings. The adjacent lake, the second in the distance and then that magnificent backdrop of mountains still pocked with last winter's snows.
Then he spoke to me almost pleadingly and said, "I do know this place, I was here as a very small boy with my sister, Mother and Dad. My Father and Sister drowned in that lake when the canoe capsized. I must be dead, the plane flew right into the mountain. What is this?"
I replied in a soft voice, " My friend, I believe you will find your family in that campground. You see we call this place Fiddlers Green"
This written as a memorandus on the passing of my loving wife, Mary Hilbers
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