An Ode to Pickle-Jar Lakes (A Selection from the Forthcoming Novel, Milk and Honey)

***Please keep in mind, as you read this, that this is a very rough draft of what will, one day, be a novel… I am currently revising/rewriting…***

When Luc wasn’t at the Church on his days off, he loved nothing more than to drive into the Kananaskis Country with friends, some joints and a few beers.  He and his friends were hardly athletic, cardiovascularily speaking, so the mountains he chose to hike weren’t much bigger than the foothills on the drive west.  The important thing to Luc, however, was that he was able, on these occasions, to get away from the telephone and the people who incessantly bothered him.  He was an introvert at heart.  His reluctant, occasional extroversion completely drained him.  He valued those trips to the mountains with his friends even more than he valued his puffs; sometimes, he would even go without pot when he was high atop a mountain range.

Luc’s favourite Kananaskis destination was Picklejar Lakes.  It took about three hours to the beginning of the trail and the hike was, at times, quite treacherous, especially for Luc who coughed the whole way up.  He and his friends loved the place, however, and went there many times in any given summer from early July, when the lakes opened for fishing, to mid-September, when the first snow flew.  Others who took advantage of the lake’s seemingly endless supply of cut-throat trout(fishing the lake was like fishing a Pickle-Jar) noticed Luc’s posse’s incredible fish-harvesting luck and word spread throughout the community of outdoorsmen.

One August long week-end, Luc and his friends planned a grand excursion.  It had been years since they had all been to the lakes.  Some had families, they all had jobs, mostly in the service industry, where time off on long weekends is hard to come by.  They spent months planning the trip, yet, they neglected to bring enough food.  This often happens: one loads up his pack with all the essentials, namely, beer, a couple t-shirts, waterproof matches and more beer.  The weight of the bag increases quickly, until it reaches an unfathomable weight.  Sacrifices must be made: one of those t-shirts is put back into the drawer- “They won’t mind if I fuckin’ stink- I’ll have my own tent, afterall. Shit!  Food!  What’s light?  Mmmm… couple of buns and some beef jerky’ll do.  We’ll be catchin’ fish… Yeah!  I’ll live off the land for a few days!”  The pack ends up being comprised of 95% beer, 3% Shelter (tent) and 2% food.  This is one reason many friendships end on camping trips.

And so, Luc and co.’s trip began.  They piled into Chris’ flat bed Ford early Thursday afternoon, right after Luc finished his shift at the Butcher Shop.  The cab of the truck was packed, so Luc volunteered to sit in the back of the truck “to keep shit from flying out”.  The bags were too heavy to be at risk of being blown out of the box and there was a number of bungee chords for further insurance, but Luc always loved solitude; his friends respected that.

The posse reached the first of four lakes at dusk.  The sun disappears quickly in the Rocky Mountains, so they hurried to set up camp.  Arriving early, they were able to claim best site in the area. It was close to the first lake and also close to the creek in which they fetched coffee water, cleaned dishes and bathed in (if, that is, one chose to brave the sub-zero temperature of the water.  The group jokingly referred to one of creeks deep pools as “the hot tub”).  Many city folk, including Odette, warned Luc about the possibility of contracting “beaver fever” from the waters of mountain streams, but he argued that he’d had a fever for beaver since puberty.  The group set up their tents in the dying light of the western sun.

A huge drunken spectacle ensued.  Beers were shot-gunned, joints were lit, conversations were had and explosions set off.  By the end of the night, the group had gone through their vast reserves of insect repellent, mini-propane tanks and matches.  If not for the late night storm ,which finally forced them into their tents, a forest fire surely would have consumed them all.  Despite the debauchery of the first night in the woods, all members of the crew woke with the sun’s re-arrival the next morning.

Six hours into fishing (well, most of the men fished—Luc, however, decided to walk slowly up the mountain bearing no weight, this time, aside from his copy of the Imitation of Christ and a canteen full of water) other campers started their descent into the valley of four lakes.  Other campers were always unwelcome.  Fisherman, by nature, are solitary creatures.  Though Luc never claimed to be a fisherman, he condescendingly referred to other campers as ‘tender feet’ or ‘fuckin’ day hikers’. He cursed under his breath before hesitantly welcoming them to Picklejar Lakes.  On that day in August, an unusually large number of campers set up tents by the lakeside.

Luc didn’t come down from his Rocky Mountain perch until the sun threatened, once again, to disappear.  He enjoyed watching the stupid movements of his miniature friends from high above.  He read The Imitation of Christ twice through on top of the rocks high above the campsite; it seemed to be a fitting place for him to read that book.  He was, however, careful to conceal it from his friends since they would have laughed out loud had they seen evidence of his piety.  He told them, instead, that he was reading Kerouac up there.  He saw it as much the same thing, anyways.

Luc’s friends heard his descent before they saw him.  The echoing sound of rock terrified them all.  They often looked up at the rock’s looming shear face and considered their fates should the boulders decide to come loose.  Luc’s descent created thousands of mini avalanches. Michael continued fishing as Luc skipped down the mountain.

Luc greeted his friends by the light of a familiar fire.  He had a glow about him, an unnatural, supernatural glow, which reflected and refracted embers and flame alike.    “D’ja see all the tender-feet that came down the mountain today, Luc?” Nathan asked.  Luc smiled.  He had stolen the phrase from his uncle Pierre long before, and Nathan, in turn, stole it from him.  “Naw, I was on the other side of the face reading Visions of Gerard again.  Have you read that one yet?”  Nathan stoked the fire silently, choosing not to reply.

Another party commenced, much akin to the one the previous night, minus the explosives.  They made lots of noise, but it died down when they retired to their respective tents.  Luc had a bad case of “bearonoia”, a term coined by the group and often repeated by it.  Luc loved bears, but he feared them tremendously.

The second morning was worse than the first.  By now, the men were deprived of sugar; they were ornery and didn’t know why.  The previous evening, Nathan burned Luc’s coffee-pot-holding-stick and Luc was pissed off.  The two weren’t reconciled until Nathan offered Luc a fresh pack of DuMaurier’s; they were brothers again.  Luc smoked by the fire with a contented grin upon his face.  Hungry and tired, the men went to the banks of the misty lake in search of breakfast.  Michael caught the first fish: no surprises there.  It was a big one and he summoned Luc from his tent to kill and clean it for him.  Luc chuckled as he did so: Michael was a tough woodsmen, but he was afraid of getting his hands dirty so Luc obliged his friend, throwing the guts from the kill into the lake with a splash.

By noon, the combined efforts of the crew had drained the lake of almost all of its cut-throat trout.  Luc didn’t even cast his spoon in the water that day.  Instead, he shouted insanities from the fire.  “Michael, drag your line across the ground for thirty seconds before your next cast!”.  Michael obeyed and caught a big ‘mother’ over one pound in ‘girth’ on his next cast.  “Nate, hock a loog’ on that big-ass fuckin’ spoon you got there and you’ll catch a big one, swear to Christ!”  Nate soon reeled in a ‘beaut’.  Luc crushed its head and threw its guts.

The other campers at the lake couldn’t help but notice the group’s success.  Tails slapped the water’s surface and hoots and hollers echoed from the south-east corner of the first lake.  Luc’s friends continued to follow his insane instructions and continued to catch fish.  Other fishermen tried the techniques Luc screamed from the fire without the same results.  They felt absurd and shook their heads in disgust.  By noon, the other fisherman surrounded Luc at his fire.

“OK. What’s yer fuckin’ secret fat ass?” The other campers demanded.  “I’m not a fuckin’ fisherman, ask my buddies over there.”  “Don’t fuckin’ lie to us, man” one particularly ornery fisherman screamed “We know that you friends are no experts.  Most of ‘em are using twenty pound test, for fuck sakes.”  The fishermen were outraged.  “Christ almighty” Luc mumbled under his tobacco-stained breath.  He reached into the flame and grabbed his can of beans.

Nathaniel, worried, whispered into Luc’s ear.  “Luc, we need to feed these fuckers.  They’re starving and pissed off.”  Luc took his friend’s words seriously, he too saw the looks of hatred being shot at them from all directions.  Nathaniel and Luc took a look at their dwindling resources of food, which consisted of five small fish cooling in the stream, and a small loaf of bread.  “Luc, we’re fucked.  We’re never gonna feed these ravenous bastards; we’ve got nothing.”  “Go get those fish from the stream” Luc replied.  Nathaniel dutifully went to the creek and retrieved the fish.  “Man, we’ve only got five here.  I’ve got a couple pieces of bread, but fuck, look at all of these tender-feet.  What the fuck are we gonna do?”  Luc smiled knowingly.

“Nathaniel, put the fish in that garbage bag over there by my tent.”  “Dude, there’s only five left.”  Just do it, Nathaniel, trust me.”  Nathaniel slowly walked over to the garbage bag; he was wearing flip flops and stubbed his toe on the way.  He came back to see Luc smiling in the center of a big, angry mob.  “K.  Here is the last of the bread.  Hand it out to all these fuckin’ day hikers and tell ‘em to leave us alone.”  “Luc, there’s not enough here to go around!”  “Trust me, Nathaniel!”  And behold, there was enough food to go around; some of the fish Nathaniel was handing out from the magical garbage bag were in excess of five pounds, an unfathomable mass for the Picklejar fish.  The mob took the gifts and were completely amazed.  They were humbled that day, content to leave with fresh trout to fill their bellies with at their own campsites.

Luc knew well the hearts of his fellow fisherman.  As soon as the crowd dispersed, he packed up his gear.  “You fuckers can stay here if you want, but I’m fucking makin’ tracks.  All these tender feet trottin’ around… they barely know how to take a shit in the woods, much less hang a fucking bear hang.  I swear t’ Christ I heard a big ol’ grizzly bear sniffin’ ‘round m’ tent last night.  I’m out of smokes anyways and I could really go for a fuckin’ can of Coke right about now.  I’m gonna sleep on my big fuckin’ king size bed tonight after taking a long hot shower.  Who else is in?”  Luc’s proposition made sense to his posse, though they convinced him to wait a couple of hours so they could clean up the mess they had created in the few days they had been staying there.  Michael wanted to fish a bit more too.  Luc didn’t really have much of a choice in the matter, Chris had driven—Luc needed a vehicle to get home.  The chances of hitching a ride back to Calgary, smelling and looking like Luc did were slim.  He started walking early and his friends caught up to him a few hours later.  They pulled into Calgary close to midnight, all exhausted and smelling of fish, BO and campfire.

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