Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Catch

*An introductory note of myself. I have known Brock for many a year now and I was invited to write on Brock Baj'er. I will be posting travelogues periodically under the title of "Just Ramblin'', tales of experience and impressions I have encountered. The first one published here in its entirety is a true tale from the Russian River near Guerneville, California in the year 1960. Hope you enjoy. Yours, Longlifeskinnyman*

"The Catch..."

We used to pile in the car, traveling up from the house to encroaching and overwhelming areas of trees. Forests of old. The river could be heard as dusk drew around us. It seemed to get louder as the night grew darker. Perhaps it was the sense of such newness to my experience, getting to know the world around me through my senses. Especially of sights, sounds and smell.

It was an adventure of the senses to a small boy. Slowly winding our way up into tall, tall Redwoods and Pines. From lower lying gentle hills into sharp, jagged terrain. The air was fresh. Sparkling clean. Not like the heavy, dusty air we had left back in town with summer heat closing in on our bodies. It was clear air.

We would head off the highway onto a dirt road. The kind of road that was fairly well traveled, but dirt none the less. The dust of the road would vaguely rise and swirl behind us in the deepening shadows of the trees. Our destination reached, we'd pull up onto a small alcove next to the road. I would get out with great expectations of the unknown. Pleasant unknowns awaiting me.

The nets, coolers and other paraphernalia would be leisurely pulled from the rear of the family station-wagon. The last rays of the sun were just glimmering on the loud, raging torrent of the river. It may be that the river actually did increase in decibles with the rise of darkness, or it may have been a fancy of my mind but indeed, it was screaming.

The slush and swoosh among the rocks was immense. We would find an inviting inlet where the river would swirl into a calm. This is where we were to lay our traps for the unsuspecting delicacies we were to catch.

The nets were laid on the ground to be straightened out and baited. Little squares of rope tied together by many strands of twine.Then there came the bait! The liver that was used, with its bitter rotten-ness and spongy, black-red texture, was tied with daring and agility to the nets. The smell was furious to my nose, but, what it attracted and what that was, is why we rejoiced in the catch! The cooking of these little creatures was a celebration. A celebration in delightful culinary exquisiteness that has not been surpassed in my life.

The bait set, we would gently lower the net into the calm pocket of river that we had set camp by. Then, we waited. The darkness had by now, completely closed in about us. It felt close, though above us at a small distance were wooden pillars of gigantic length, staggering into the night sky. Perched a-top those pillars was, of all things, a roller skating rink! Up above us, we could hear the faint laughter of the folks on small rubber wheels attached to leather shoes. This brought them much enjoyment. Almost as much enjoyment as we shared below when we hauled up our catch!

High, high above, in the floorboards amid the giant bolts and nuts which held the skating rink precariously above the river, bats were nested! From time to time, we could hear the gentle flap of one or two of them flying in the dusky nightfall. The chirping and squealing of the night creatures was unsettling. Chills went up my spine, but not of cold. You know the old stories, of bats getting caught in your hair and then having to cut it all off, if your blood wasn't sucked out of your body by these ravenous creatures... These thoughts ran through my young, impressionable mind. And young I was to believe these things.

Again, I chilled at the thought of the winged ones above us. As we waited, the laughter and music rolled and peaked like waves on the ocean mingling with the flushing roar of the river immediately in front. Swirling, gulping, and flowing at a tremendous pace while our small pocket of a nook stayed calm, getting us ready for our golden-red treasures.

Forty-five minutes. An hour. Nigh on ninety minutes passed. It was never cold, to my recollection. Rather, a welcome warmth stood in the air.

After two or more hours, we were ready to pull up the catch. Tugging at the net lines, feeling that it had considerable more weight than when we submerged it, told us this. As slowly as the net was lowered, much more carefully did we pull up the four quarters of the net. Equally it had to be pulled, so as not to let any of the treasures slip from our reach. Ever so slowly were the corners hoisted. Inch by inch. The river would spurt and splatter against the side wall of rock that lined and tumbled so gently against the river's rage. At one point, one corner may have slipped through someone's agile, knowing fingers, but this was a rare occasion. Almost always was the net pulled up completely intact.

The dark of the night seemed to deepen into a blue-black hue that had a light all in its own. And the stars! A magnificent sparkling blanket of lights, winking in celebration with us in our endeavours of the night's work. The talk and laughter among us seemed to get more animated as expectations grew with each pull of the net from it's watery dark.

Aahhh, but the delights, the treats of fresh water! This is where the expectations lay. In those red morsels of tenderness that could be vaguely seen as the net drew nearer the surface.

The lights of the other campers I could now see, or, rather, was more aware of them, as I saw their fires reflecting off of the river's rush to the ocean. Menacing in it's sound, with flickers of orange engulfed within, but gentle in what it was willing to give of itself to us.

As the net's top lines broke to the surface of cool wet, a muffled clicking sound could be faintly made out above the din and slosh of the river's torrent, upon walls of ancient smoothness of stone. A clicking which rose in magnitude as the net was finally pulled up above the surface and was gently drawn to shore.

"Tchica-chica-tchica-tchicathica-tchca-tchic" they seemed to say to me. These creatures clawing and reaching out to protect themselves from an unknown fate. With the net resting on the ground, the firey creatures were now well aware, at the least, that they were out of the water. Their pinching and snapping at the air was proof enough of this! Clicking, as they were, to my ear "tchicatchicatchica" they kept saying to me.

A chill breath of air from the river now seemed to mingle with the warmer air that hung close to the shore. The din of the river had grown to a quiet roar, reverberating in the backround, so to speak, as it seems I had gotten used to the loudness if its flow.

We bent over the net, laying there, open wide with these clacking-clicking, greenish-red wonders. Ours for the taking, if we dared attempt it! Very careful of hand did my father pick them up, along their fat bodies, just behind their flailing protrusions. I attempted a small one, but the movement of the smaller wiley creature, reaching back to nip at my tiny fingers, was just too much for me to take. I dropped back onto the clicking pile, frightened for my wits! I had not yet realized that they, being smaller than me, could not inflict serious of damage.Yet even today, I would not like to find that out!

We gradually picked them up, one by one-oohhing and aahhing at the many sizes. Laughing at the ones bending their awesome claws in helpless defense. One large grand-daddy was most impressive in his reach, for even my father was un-nerved at negotiating the handling of the grand one.

But, deftly did he catch him up and with sure quickness, deposited him into one of three gunnysacks used for portage of our fresh-water finds. Along with us, the jovial neighbors enjoyed with us our catch and beamed with exilaration at the largest of the lot.

The gunnysacks in which these crafty beasties were placed were large! Large enough to go over my head and cover me, head to foot. The "tchica-tchica" that had been speaking to me throughout the evening since we had lifted the nets were now muffled by the thickness of the sacks. Faintly the sound came from the bags like so many castanettes, clacking at a distance. The odor of the sacks, like hay bales in a barn after a year of curing, mingled with the freshwater scent, was of... home. Comfort. Fire in the hearth, cold, wet, storm-blowing-outside, snug-in-the-house... home.

I started to feel somewhat saddened that, long lived some of the larger ones had been, their lives were now close to an end. My sadness was but fleeting, as I came back to the immediate world about me, in the darkness, silent rumblings of the river, glittering with the shining of stars and moon above, reflecting off tiny white caps in the rushes of water flowing by.

With the picking of the tastiest creatures done, we would start to pack up. It was usually near two or three in the morning. The river's rush still calming our souls. Carefree. Most of the bits of rancid liver had been consumed by our watery friends.Slowly, carefully the nets were folded then set to one side. The fires of the campers across the way were dimming to embers, glowing red underneath black ash. With the fires smoldering, billowing grey smoke that blended swirling into the blue-blanketed night, shifted by the silent breeze coming through the wood. The trees started to sing, with the wind flowing their branches. Slight whisperings and boughs bending, creaking older branches.

Buried in the gunnysacks, quiet movements and shifts of our catch, along with the nets, were then placed into the back of the station-wagon. I always got to sit in the back with them, along with one or two of my sisters. We were joyous, to say the least. A successful evening. Full of wonder and delight, as well as adventure. We started to rattle and clunk back down the road we came, whisping swirls of dust behind.

While in the very rear of our huge vehicle, I usually tired quickly. Especially on excursions as these, what with the dazzling starlight and mists off the roaming river. I easily fell sound asleep, the gentle movement and bump of the road, absorbed by our land yacht, rocking me to my slumber.

I'd wake up in time for our arrival into our driveway. Even more excited now, all of us, finally, were to partake of our catch in the manner we had all been looking forward to since our trip began! We were to feast as the grandest kings of old.

The clatter of different size pots would echo in the kitchen.Water flowed from the tap, filling them to the brim. The stove on, once the water started to simmer and steep, pinches of salt and tufts of dill would be added. This was done to bring out the succulence of our feast. At the proper moment, we would put the objects of our nightly excursion into the bubbling waters of the pots that half covered the stove top. Gingerly, so as not to burn our fingers, we all took turns in placing the goodness into the pots. Their clacking and clicking had subsided, for being out of the water so long was slowly drawing the life from them.

They lived for the water.The freshness kept them alive. Flowing over their bodies, reproducing, continuing their lives calling. For thousands of generations, no doubt. But, all this did not matter to a boy such as I, all of nine or ten years of age, and just watering at the mouth for these tasty treats, simmering in a most delicious brine.

The actual boiling of our catch, in all reality, did not take that long.Twenty minutes, at most. But my young mind's impression of twenty minutes was more like forty.

The minutes ticked away, ever soo slowly. The loud ring of the timer was the signal. The feast was on! Peeking into the pots, now simmering down from the flames being lowered, the lusty little critters wre just floating. Entangled in a flotsam of limp dill-weed. The feast to be had before us had turned to a bright red-orange. Quite different from their living, dull red-green hue when they were fresh pulled out of the water. They had turned a brightness of colour that was almost as glowing as the sun itself.

With corn cob prongs, my mother would commence pulling out the catch which was steaming and rolling in its own water and juices, just waiting to be devoured. In our own impatience for "good eats" not withstanding the scorch of hot water, we children would risk, with extreme quickness of hand, to dip into the water, our fingers and thumb like the prong: pulling out our own picks for consumption.

All would be piled on a plate, after one or two of our attempts at picking, yow-ching and dropping the steamy wonders back into the bubbling waters. Nut crackers were at hand to crack the morsels, just slightly so we could sip the juices and tender meat out of the main bodies of the long awaited prizes.The pincers would be cracked as well and the tenderest of meat were hidden in them to partake. Then, we would use the pincers as forks to dig out the rest of the delights in their bodies.

The laughter. The fun. The smell of the salty brine water, as if the ocean had come into our home to waft of it's pleasure. The family of it all. The love in it all. It was one of the most memorable, and tastiest, nights in my life.


pyrochik said...

How fun! Sounds like fun even as a grown up. Too bad there aren't any places close by to me to go and do that. I always wanted to do a crawfish boil!

pyrochik said...

cool story! I'd love to do that sometime.