This is the story about your first 18-inch Westslope Cutthroat trout. At this time, you were only six months conceived and your name wasn’t Everett - it was Butternut Lebron. But that’s a story for a different bedtime.
I wonder, butternut boy, if you remember that flash of green sliding up through the water column. I wonder if you remember the sunset red on its jaw as it sipped foam, hook, and feather off the surface. Did you hear the splash through the ambient auditory ocean of her womb? Did you hear your mom shouting, “C’mere you motherbleeping trout!”? Or is that cutthroat just a back-brain memory, saved into the twitch of your forearms, and the cones and rods in your eyes?
By all standards, your mom is a badass. Don’t roll your eyes at me. Yes, I’m talking about the mom who drives you to basketball practice and helps you finish your homework. When I first met your mom, she scared me, which is a feeling you will likely become familiar with. She was a trip leading, dory rowing, class V whitewater running boss lady. I was a first year guide in a rubber boat who could barely catch the eddy for camp. Your mom watched me cast a Parachute Adams around the Main Salmon eddy full of eight inch pikeminnow and said, arms crossed, “Your cast isn’t terrible.”
I took it as a compliment. I couldn’t even impress her with my stories of fishing and drunken college revelry around Missoula, Montana, because she had lived there first. She knew I wasn’t as cool as I pretended.
We became friends, your Mom and I, because I have a golden retriever-like approach to befriending the wolf ladies around me. Four years later, she was pregnant with you. She showed up after a Middle Fork of the Salmon trip to say hello to your dad. He was going back on the river; I was heading across Idaho, the same direction as her.
“Let’s go fishing,” she said. It wasn’t really a question.
Growing a butternut like you was a lot of work for your mom. Yet that woman has a river inside her bones, Everett. While some moms would’ve spent the summer feet up, watching HGTV reruns, your mom strapped on her river sandals, packed the truck, and went on a two week solo road trip. We spent the night tucked into the backs of our rigs under cedar trees and that big Idaho sky. In the morning, she carried you and her fly rod down to the river. We pushed through the bear grass and blooming purple lupine to find the best, fishiest spot. I gave her the top of the run because you only fish six months pregnant once or twice in your life. And, because even pregnant, I was still a little scared of her.
Your mom moved slower than normal that day because you were a heavy little squash. But once settled in the river, there was nothing more graceful than watching the two of you set the hook on those trout. To catch a fish is to experience three seconds of the purest joy there is. And I know that joy moved from the cutthroat, to her arm, to her heart, to her blood, straight into you.
Everett, when a cutthroat slides its body up towards your fly for the first time, I know you’ll feel that jolt. Maybe it’s time we all go fishing, the three of us. You’ve softened your badass mom in some ways, and you’ve also made her fierce. It’s hard to explain, but I bet you will see it in the way she gently removes the hook from the mouth of your first cutthroat.
Your Aunt Emerald