Years passed and I headed to Yellowstone National Park with my wife. Our car broke down just miles from the park entrance. Great I thought, now we were stuck in a back-water town within range of magnificent country. I was very wrong. Ennis happened to be a Montana fly fishing Mecca, so I got some hot tips when I paid for repairs. We set up our tent in the Park next to the designated trout bearing river. It was a pleasant spring evening and we climbed into our Eddie Bauer sleeping bags. (Disclaimer: This is not product placement. My wife and I met when I worked for a couple of years at Eddie Bauer. She had a career there so we eventually were fully outfitted in EB clothes and gear from warehouse sales. We even owned a second hand EB Ford Explorer. This was not the car that broke down in Ennis.)
During the night we woke suddenly to the sound of breaking branches. Were bears prowling? The question of the moment: Do we run for the car or hunker down in place. My cousin got himself into this situation once and ran for the car…but forgot his keys. Dashing back, he managed to grab the keys out of his tent just as bear claws ripped the tent walls open. Not my vision of a good morning.
But then car doors were yanked open and slammed shut. Rapid footsteps could be heard crisscrossing the forest floor. No bears. The temperature had dropped into the high teens and no one was prepared…except for us. Families huddled silently near hastily built camp fires. The scene had the horrific look of The Road.
Next morning, I was conflicted. How hungry were those frozen travelers who had desperate looks in their eyes? I was eager to fish so I reluctantly climbed out of my cozy bag, pulled on some chilly clothes and unzipped the tent flap to assess the situation. No one was drooling for my body fat, so I headed for the river with my fishing gear. I tied on a fly and cast a few times only to find that my hand was curled stiffly, almost frozen, gripping the rod. My commitment could not overcome the lure of my warm bag…so I quickly retreated, to cast another day. I had to admit to myself that I did not measure up to the characters in A River Runs Through It. For them, fly fishing was a religion and no sacrifice was too great in order to be immersed in the sacred waters. I was not among the chosen.
Later we found devoted fly fishermen standing in the slow moving river, casting lines in sinuous arcs towards eddies of crystal clear water. On the banks, hot steam vents blew pure white clouds of mist into the crisp air. This was truly an other worldly scene, almost heavenly. These devotees had found their bliss.