MAYBE YOU THINK being a wilderness gossip columnist is easy.
It might sound like a dream job, just watching the river flow — until the nightmare unfolds and you must answer the basic questions of life in the universe.
Like, “Why is that fish duck flying around in circles?”
It’s a female merganser.
She has a nest up in a hollow cottonwood. She knows she’s being watched by crows, eagles, raccoons, hawks and, now, a government-sponsored invasion of Canadian fishers that all love to eat baby ducks.
The hen lands in several different trees up and down the river, not staying too long in any of them.
These are false landings that make it harder for the myriad predators to determine the exact location of her nest.
Mergansers have a lot of enemies.
I used to be one of them, birdwatching mergansers with my poison pen because they eat fish.
It’s part of a horrible secret from my dark past.
It took me years to become an overnight excess, until I was the only Forks fishing guide to offer float trips with “Twilight” character cutouts.
For an additional fee and service charges, the “Twilight” tourists had the once in a lifetime opportunity to go fishing with Edward and Bella.
OK, maybe they were just cardboard reproductions of the “Twilight” characters, but I sell dreams — of hooking silver fish in blue water while partying with the latest Hollywood heartthrobs.
Unfortunately my Twilight figures were not waterproof.
After a soaking, I had to tape Edward to a kindling stick to give him enough backbone sit upright.
And poor what’s-her-name just sort of washed out until she looked like an anorexic version of “The Mummy.”
Things went OK with my first Twilight Fantasy Fishing Trip.
Except for the other fishing guides, whose uncharitable remarks only revealed how bitter they were about not thinking up the idea first, and the delusional vampire groupies who wondered if we were going to catch a hundred-pound salmon.
I said it was a good day to try.
Then it was “fish on!”
We were snagged into a spawned-out bull trout. It tore off downriver like a runaway shopping cart.
The “Twilight” people said they wanted to get their fish picture taken with the “Twilight” characters just like the informative brochure said, but we had to land the fish first.
At the time, we were spinning down the middle of a river whose Indian name means “fast flowing water.” The shores were walled with piles of giant downed trees that made landing stupid.
Below us, the river split and there was no way of knowing which way to go unless you flew over it first — and my helicopter was in the shop.
The floods of winter had ravaged the landscape. I was lost on a river I floated a hundred times.
I would have asked one of the other fishing guides for directions on what channel to take, but they looked like they were choking on something.
Just then I saw a mother merganser with her young swimming ahead of us.
I figured she probably knew more about the river than all the fishing guides put together.
I followed her downstream through a brush pile and into the splits.
The “mergie” took the right channel but it was rough.
The bull trout snagged up and broke off on a log, and the poor “Twilight” characters failed to execute a crucial “limbo” move in the brush-pile.
Edward and The Mummy got ripped and tossed in the bilge.
Following that merganser might have saved my outfit, so I can’t badmouth these fish ducks anymore.
Pat Neal is an Olympic Peninsula fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist.”
He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or e-mail at [email protected]Pat’s column appears Wednesdays.