Salmon Fisher’s Journal – McKenzie River 02-20-2010

Just Fishing the McKenzie River –

Chris Daughters, Matt Stansberry, and I had the good fortune of spending about three hours together on the McKenzie River.   The morning had been our usual – work like crazy, multi-task, make decisions, accomplish tedious necessities, pause once in a while to laugh hysterically.”   Then in the middle of the afternoon, we just went fishing.  We parked my rig at the take-out, stopped by the Quickie Mart for a forbidden treat, and drove upriver.

Chris dumped his boat in the river, threw my waders and boots behind the oarsman’s seat, where they remained for the rest of the afternoon, and we drifted away from the pressures of the world.  My cell phone was locked in the truck. I strung up a nifty new Echo 4-weight Switch Rod with an Airflo #6   40+ line, grinned at Chris, and dangled the end of my fly line where he could reach it. Chris, being a perfect gentleman, rigged me with leader, indicator, and flies.  I fished in street shoes, no Polaroid glasses, and nary a tippet, nipper or hook hone in my pocket.

We drifted downriver, drifting our nymphs through little buckets and along fishy-looking seams where Chris guided us.  “Make your next cast a little closer to the foam line,” Chris coached, or, “try running one three feet off the oar tip.”

The sun was shining. No wind.  We were seemed the only party fishing that afternoon.  The Switch Rod was an absolute pleasure to fish.   We chattered like squirrels as we rode the river’s flow.  We explored deep and trivial topics.  Mostly trivial.  Matt offered elk steak sandwiches.  I removed the cheese (which someone else promptly ate) and pretended I didn’t notice the mayonnaise.  Yum.  Bud Light and 7-Up for me, classy Micro Brews for Matt.

We caught fish; this in spite of our low level of concentration and penchant to jabber on and on about  McKenzie River alternate futures, fish biology, people, and such.  Two trout, surprisingly, were holdover hatchery fish, remnants of last year’s fishery subsidy.

Twenty years ago, we would have caught at least a dozen or so wild native whitefish on a day like this. This day, though, we caught only one.  We  babbled about how old these fish can be (ten to fifteen years), how rarely we see little baby whitefish in the river (true, it’s rare to catch or see Whitefish under ten or twelve inches); how they grow little after they first spawn at about age 4 or 5; noted that they spawn in fall by just spewing eggs over gravel without digging redds like trout (the term is broadcast spawning); and speculated about why Whitefish populations have nose-dived in our lifetimes (wondering if they are an environmental warning sign).

We regretted the short sightedness of  trout fishing fixation that allowed so much time to go by while native Mountain Whitefish have slipped into near oblivion.  Then we dug ourselves for not knowing more about Pacific lamprey, same deal, and shortly went back to yammering about the river habitats most likely limiting  Redsides and cutthroat.  Just couldn’t help ourselves, I think.

The sole cutthroat of the afternoon was a post-spawning male of about 12”; all shiny and jumping around in classic slow-moving cutthroat water,  showing off his I’m-a-guy sloped forehead.  We wondered if most of the cutthroat were still up in tributaries, and whether cutthroat numbers in the main-stem McKenzie would jump  when they returned from their overwinter spawning areas.  Not knowing for sure, we decided we were right, and launched off into a preaching-to-the-choir sermon about how important it is to protect these tributary habitats where cutthroat overwinter spawn, and grow for a year or two before they drop into the mainstem.

One fish we released was a 12” wild Redside female, a sexually immature fish.  She was probably a three-year old and was missing a maxillary bone,  evidence of a previous tussle with an angler in some past season.

Late in the drift,  we all watched a decisive “bobber down,” and in unison, we set the hook.  Like sports announcers, we conducted a play-by-play, line peeling off the reel, wondering if we had intercepted a post-spawning summer steelhead.   Nope.   This was a wild female Redside,  quite possibly an honest 18”.  Who cares. This hen fish was strong and deliberate , clearly the fish of the day, and certainly among the finest fish any of us could hope to see all season.   We admired the tiny little spots tucked along the upper edge of her great gold-ringed eye; four huge dark spots on her nearly translucent, olive adipose fin; and that Redside stripe painted across her opercle and the full length of her lateral line to her tail.

This female was most likely five or six years old. We paused to reflect. Five or six years escaping predators, seeking shelter during floods, avoiding or enduring angler’s hooks,  and finding sufficient food to sustain her eggs and pass a genetic message to the next generation of wild Redsides.  Wow. Her vent wasn’t distended yet, and we guessed that she was still at least a month away from spawning.

Our day was one of those frequent gifts we enjoy, probably taken too much for granted.  We floated this river within a few miles of two-hundred-thousand people, give or take a few. Our heads were filled  with river sounds.  We were buoyed by clean, clear water.  We caught honest-to-goodness wild, native trout.  We told each other stories about how people fished these same pools a hundred years ago.

In February, 2010, we still found wild fish here.

A wet fly swung on a tight line near the takeout rose a big trout.  A second presentation brought a big boil, brief tension in the fly line, and then nothing but the river’s pull.  A parting river-gift.

Thanks, Chris and Matt.  Thank you, McKenzie River.  Thank you, wild trout.  Thank you, all who are working to keep the McKenzie River a place where our kids and their kids can go to experience a beautiful living river and all the creatures it can nurture.

And goodnight Moon.

JN

Standing Up for Wild Fish

Speaking-up for wild salmon

Preface. This little story is not an effort to beat a proverbial dead horse.  It is not about good guys and bad guys.  It is just about ordinary people being people, three decades ago.

I write this story now, so my sons might read it to me when I’m in a nursing home, mumbling about Clouser Minnows while being spoon-fed my morning oatmeal.  I tell it so people will understand how slowly some fish management changes have been implemented.  I tell it so, maybe, the dialogue regarding managing hatchery and wild salmon will be conducted with the benefit of understanding where we have come from and where we need to go.  Hope you know what I mean, because it sounds pretty obscure.

I remember a career-threatening event that occurred in 1977. An article had been published in Salmon Trout Steelheader or some similar magazine – a expose’ about state and federal fish management agencies cutting-off natural spawning areas upstream from hatcheries.  I think the article was principally addressing fish-passage barriers at hatcheries on Columbia River tributaries.

In Oregon, it was a traditional practice wherever practical, to build a barrier dam of some sort at the hatchery, preventing passage of adult salmon or steelhead.  This was done because the hatcheries typically took water directly from the river, and water taken into the hatchery would carry disease organisms shed by salmon and steelhead that had spawned upriver from the hatchery.

I was fresh out of Oregon State University, working in a temporary position studying wild trout in the Willamette Valley; I got fired up reading the article. I now realize that my indignation became the object of great humor and entertainment for the experienced biologists who worked in the Research Division.

I fumed. They goaded me.  “This is just wrong.” I sputtered.  “Of course it’s wrong,” they incited.  What data do we have to prove the benefit of blocking fish passage at hatcheries,” I asked, suspecting that fish management agencies relied as much on anecdote as on data. “You should ask them for the data,” my more experienced co-workers suggested, probably smirking behind my back. “Why don’t we treat the water and let fish spawn upriver anyway,” I asked the lunchroom audience.  “Because it’s easier to block fish passage than install expensive water treatment equipment,” they replied, savoring the daily escalation in my devotion to this cause.

Properly gauging my level of angst over the wrongs being inflicted on wild salmon by these fish passage barriers, a savvy biologist made a simple suggestion.  “Why don’t you write a memo, Jay,” he said, a look of innocence on his face.  I jumped on it.  I hand-scribed a scathing memo to the Chief of the Hatchery Division, handed it to our secretarial assistant, proofed her draft, signed the edited letter, and put it in the Main Office mail slot for the courier to deliver.

I asked the Hatchery Division Chief to list all the places where hatcheries blocked passage to natural spawning areas.  I asked for data on disease incidence at hatcheries with and without such barriers.  I enquired about treatment options for hatchery water.  I lectured about how it was wrong to prejudicially favor hatchery production over natural production.  I was righteous.

My elder peers smiled knowingly when I dropped my memo into the mail slot.  They knew the system.  I was providing entertainment.

I never received a response from the fellow who was in charge of the hatcheries.

The Research Division Chief called me into his office and very kindly explained that my buddies had been having fun at my expense, that his assistant should have known better than to let me send the memo, and that it (the memo) might have unintended consequences on my career, but probably wouldn’t cause me any real harm.  He offered very sincerely to personally broker future issues within the agency chain-of-command, to see what he could do if I was concerned about other management issues, and suggested that I could probably have my hands full just keeping up with my research anyway and wouldn’t it be better to leave management matters to the managers.

Years later, I learned that the Hatchery Division Chief had raged when he received my memo.  He was not happy to be challenged by someone within the agency on this issue.  I also learned that he confused me with another research scientist as originator of the memo:  he confused Jay Nicholas, a just-hired, seasonal worker, with Tom Nickelson, a permanent, Research Project Supervisor.

Close call.

And what about fish passage above hatcheries today? Many of the fish racks have been dismantled, or are in the process of being torn down, or are being replaced with weirs that will allow selective upstream passage of naturally produced salmon or steelhead, confining hatchery fish below the natural spawning areas.

It took decades to implement these changes. Today, there are fish managers who still don’t want anadromous fish above a hatchery where they could spread disease to the hatchery fish.  There are fish managers, also, who accurately recognize that hatcheries are disease factories that threaten wild fish populations.

The balancing act is different in 2010 than it was in 1977. I think that more people on the inside and on the outside of the management agencies realize that hatcheries should be managed cautiously, that great efforts should be made to sustain native wild Pacific salmon populations.

Yet the dilemma of managing hatcheries in a way that they do not harm our best  wild fish populations continues.

JN

The Stories We Do Not Write . . .

The Things We Do Not Write About….

It has become clear that there are three topics I am uncomfortable writing about:  1) certain – let’s call them magical – days on the river; 2) stories that reveal the deeply human side of my friends; 3) stories that reveal the deeply human side of my life.

This realization slapped me square in the nose when I realized that I had not, could not, didn’t-want-to write about a particular day last Salmon Season.  I hooked a Chinook salmon, a huge, chrome, perfect fish; and I realized oh my god this is wonderful and beautiful and funny and sweet beyond comprehension.”

I shared a dream with Salmon that day, in a great, snag filled pool.  We wrestled.  We played games.  We made love.  At dusk, we each slipped away to our own worlds.

When I got home, I wrote about a different day.  I wrote about a day when I sat in the boat, watching ice crystals grow on my rods, casting my eyeballs out-of-their-sockets to no avail, with not a single grab or pull or tug or line-rub to show for my effort.

Why?

Most fishing days are beautiful.  Most fishing days involve our quest to learn about the fish, their habits, and how to place ourselves where and when we are more likely to actually catch a fish.  These days involve refining our skills at wading, casting, fly tying, line mending; fly presentation; reading the water; observing wildlife; observing people; our fly rods, lines, leaders, nippers, and lunch; peeing in our waders; numb fingers; good or bad sportsmanship; knowledge or ignorance; and the like.  All of these elements are fair game for a fishing journal, even our feelings of surprise, joy, frustration, revelation, and the like.

Some moments on the river, though, transcend all of this. These moments occur in a heartbeat, an hour or a day; some stir such deep passion that writing about it risks killing the magic. These moments have nothing whatsoever to do with our skill, knowledge, tackle, flies, lines, boats, anchor points, retrieves, strategies, patience, or water conditions.   These moments, these perfect days, are about the Salmon, and us – period.  Nothing but us and the salmon, embraced by the life energy of universe.

People who write novels have it good. They can write about anything and pretend that they aren’t writing about themselves, their friends, their feelings, or any thing that they ever thought about doing, or did, or almost did, or wished they had or had not done.

Novelists can write about the most intimate aspects of being men and women within the safety of creating fiction.  Give-your-life-up courage.  Sacrifice-everything for love.  Poop-your-pants terror.  Blow-your brains-out-despair.  Black depression.  Drunken elation.  Screw-the-consequences rage.   God-what was-I-thinking shame.

Near the conclusion of Blade Runner, the character played by Rutger Hauer laments that the things he has seen in his life, all of his memories, will be lost forever when he dies.

This thought haunts me.

I want to write about deeply personal things, I really do.  But I haven’t.  Not so far anyway, maybe never.

Meanwhile, there are flies, and casting, and cool tackle, and good times fishing with friends.  Meanwhile, there is plenty to be grateful for that is wonderful and not so deeply personal that it is off-limits.  Meanwhile, there is plenty to write about, photos to share, sketches to sketch, and stories to tell.

JN

McKenzie River Memories: Prince Helfrich

Sometime in the summer of 1966, quite possibly in May, I met a man fishing the Metolius River.  We were there anticipating big rainbow and browns acting recklessly during a mid-day Green Drake hatch, poking our way around great blue-green pools in the river canyon upstream from the hatchery at Wizard Falls.  The weather was perfect for Green Drakes – cloudy and warm – but the bugs weren’t popping like we had hoped.  Not many people fished that stretch of water in the 60s.  Most just walked the trail from Canyon Creek to the hatchery for the beauty of the scenery, for exercise, or to make a few casts along the way.

We met on the trail, exchanged a few pleasantries, and recognized that we were kindred spirits.  We sat under a great Ponderosa near the river and shared river stories.  We both knew many of the good fishing places up in the canyon.  He knew the Metolius through the lens of many decades; I knew the River through four whole summers.  We had both experienced good fishing and caught a few big trout during exceptional hatches.  I was 17 something and I guessed that this man was in his 60s.  At my young age, it was difficult to say, so he could well have been younger or older.  Soft spoken, smart, loved to fly fish.

We showed off our fly boxes, holding up the flies we had the greatest confidence in.  I remember one of his flies, about a size #10, tied on a long shank hook.  The fly had a gray body and palmered brown hackle.  It looked much like a fly we would now call a Stimulator.  Prince told me it fished well during the McKenzie Caddis hatch, a phenomenon I knew nothing about.   He expressed special interested in the Parachute flies I showed him.  We exchanged a few flies and I asked for his address, so I could send him some more.

Prince Helfrich, Vida, Oregon.

I tied up several dozen parachutes and shipped them off to Prince.  No Zip Codes back then.  Telephones were black, had cords, and rotary dials.  Jimi Hendrix was a kid practicing for a concert at Woodstock that was three years off.

Months later, Prince wrote to say that my Parachute flies had been the best he had ever fished.  Ever. He related a story about how he had broken a leader tippet with his fly on a rock, then watched as the fly drifted  downriver, promptly gulped by a big trout.  That was on one of the BC Rivers he fished.  I barely understood that Prince was a fly fishing guide of the highest caliber.  World class.  After all, I was an inexperienced punk teenager.

Prince’s letter was handwritten. Cursive writing of the sort one rarely sees these days, what with e-mail and the electronic gizmos we use to communicate.  Today, he might have called me on his satellite phone.  Not then.

Prince sent me a packet of tapered trout leaders.  These were hand tied, and the material was dyed a dark green color I can still see in my mind today, more than 40 years later.  Prince invited me to fish the McKenzie with him one day the following season, and I accepted.  I had no idea whatsoever what I was going to experience.

I drove down to meet him at a take-out below Martin’s Rapids.  I think the place is known as Helfrich landing now.  Prince’s wife drove shuttle for us.  We put the boat in the McKenzie somewhere upstream and fished our way down.  The day was sunny and warm.  It could well have been June.  I remember how effortlessly he maneuvered his green wood drift boat through rapids and around rocks.  I was focused intently on fishing that day.  Too intently to appreciate the gift of spending the day on the river with him.  My fly rod was a 6’, 6 wt. Phillipson, equipped with a Pflueger Medalist 1494 and an Ivory Scientific Anglers Air Cell Supreme line.

We  fished only dry flies. I should say, to be precise, that only I  fished dry flies.  Prince didn’t fish; he guided me down the river and we talked. The fishing was a little on the slow side, he told me, but there were enough trout taking bugs on the surface to keep me busy.   I don’t remember how many were hatchery fish and how many were wild.  I killed some trout and released some.  I’m pretty sure Prince suggested politely that I should release the larger fish.

Prince pulled his boat ashore on an island about midway through our day’s run.  Out from under the seat sprang a well-used fry pan, a small fire flashed to life in a rock circle in the sand, and we were shortly enjoying  a lunch that featured my morning’s catch.  We sat in broken shade of the island’s trees, the river close by.  I can’t remember what we talked about.  I do know that I wasn’t much of a listener at that age.

There is so much I wish I had understood then, so many questions I wish I had asked him – questions about McKenzie trout, the history of the river, and his life.  Especially about his life.  But I was pretty much a dumb-shit back then.  Sadly, the greatness, the possibilities of that day were lost to my ignorance and youth.

I remember seeing a great trout feeding in a pocket in deep, treacherous water.  This trout was undoubtedly a big Redside.  We both saw the fish rise several times as we approached.  Prince worked expertly to maneuver the boat within casting distance.  It was going to require a looooong cast with my silly little rod and inexperienced skill-set.  The boat came into range, for a moment, I stripped one more length of line off the reel to make the cast, and the reel fell off the rod, plunging into the river.  Prince was trying to hold the boat in position for me to execute the cast to this fish, no easy feat, and couldn’t figure out what I was doing and why I hadn’t given the fish a chance to eat my fly.  Then he saw me hand-over-hand trying to retrieve fly line faster than it was spooling off my now deep-in-the-river fly reel.  He laughed, I shrieked, and the moment passed as we drifted out of reach from that green-backed, red-stripe sided trout.

Near the day’s end, Prince invited me to go to work for him as a “boatman and river guide”. I said I would consider it.  I had no idea what a high compliment that job offer was.  An honor.  Weeks later, I wrote to Prince and declined.  I needed to stay in College, I told him.  I was in Navy ROTC, I told him.  I was going to be a scientist, or something like that, I told him.  It was over four decades ago, but I think I remember, also, being afraid that I might not have the right stuff to be a river boatman of his skill.  I think I remember being afraid that I might not measure up to the demands of the work, not even beginning to comprehend what it takes to be a full time professional fly fishing guide.

I continued to send Prince a few dozen Parachute flies every spring while I was at OSU as an undergrad.  When June of 1971 rolled around, instead of fishing the Metolius, Siletz, or McKenzie, I was called to active duty in the Navy – a young officer in Dress Whites assigned to a Destroyer out of Norfolk, Virginia.  I think we exchanged a few letters after my return to Oregon.  I wish I had saved his letters.  There is much I wish I had done differently in my life back then.  Years later, I learned that the Helfrich family name was recognized and respected across the Pacific Northwest and beyond. 

Still is.

A road not taken.

JN

Winter Steelhead Fly Avalanche…

What the heck.  If a little is good, more should be better, right?

Who cares if this is eight flies in the Fly of the Day category?

Following, for your steelhead drool, are some of the flies that dress out my winter boxes.  Just a few, mind you.  I might follow with some trout flies next time.  Or sea-run cutthroat flies.  Or sketches of flies.  Or some crazy ramblings.  Whatever.

BTW, all of these flies are tied on Daiichi 2151 hooks, size #1 or #2.

Eventually, I will figure out how to build a link from this site to a series of demo videos that Chris Daughters shot for the Caddis Fly.  Techno Dino that I am, this is amazing.

JN

Fly o’ the Day… Intruder-lectable

Delicious

Stunning…

Waddington Shank:  35mm

Rio Knottable Wire Bite Tippet, 20# + #2 Gamakatsu Octopus hook

Butt:  Jay’s Zowie Dub (Ultimate Egg)

Body:  Royal Blue Diamond Braid body

Eumer Finn Raccoon Zonker Fur, black + Grizzly Krystal Flash (Copper/Blue) + Hareline Pseudo Eyes (7/32); all spun together in dubbing loop with aid of Petitjean Magnum Magic Tool

This is one of my Last Shadow Series of Intruder flies.  More will follow.  I spent some time with Chris Daughters at the Caddis Fly recently.

http://www.caddisflyshop.com/

We shot two hours of fly tying videos.  Chris took a pile of photos of some of my fun flies and I will be posting them regularly for a while.  Maybe one per day, maybe more.  All fishy.  All are pretty easy to tie.  I’ll provide a materials list and a few notes with each, although many only require the notation – add water and set the hook.

Sort of.

If it was that easy, it wouldn’t be any fun at all, would it?

JN

Salmon Fisher’s Journal: February 7, 2010

Salmon Fisher’s Journal: February 7, 2010

The way it is – see – is that not everything can, or should be told.  Here is what will be told, for now.

Fresh hatchery steelhead were caught.

Coffee was poured.

Flies were fished, diligently too.

A shiny hatchery kelt was admired and then released.

It is amazing how silvery these hens get after they spawn, and how slim they are.

The inside of a steelhead stomach was examined – and found empty.

Two feathers were examined, the contents of a fresh hatchery steelhead caught weeks earlier.

Returning home in the dark, I saw the bushy bearded, homeless man I have wondered about for years.  You see, I overheard this man back in about 1994, in Willamette Park, muttering to himself.  He was looking out at the river at the time.  I couldn’t understand much of what he said, but I did recognize the word steelhead.  I wondered if he had once fished.  I wondered if the Viet Nam War took his sanity, or bad drugs, or simply life and his genetic biochemistry.

I have seen him many, many days since then.  Slim.  His red beard like a wild untrimmed hedge.  Always on the march around town.  Always with a big black plastic trash bag over his shoulder.  Always going somewhere.  He cooks at the shelter in the picnic area at Avery Park.  We (Lisa, Jackson and I) were going to deliver a “care” package to him a few weeks ago, but we retreated when we heard him shouting – probably at demons only he could see.

I still wonder how steelhead may once have figured into his life.  I wonder too, how much different he and I are, or could have been, or will be someday.

Then I drove by my friend Andy’s home and delivered a steelhead for him – on his 93rd birthday.   He cut off a shoulder for me and began filleting the rest of the buck fish.  Andy will savor every tiny scrap of that fish.  He will boil the head and make fish soup.  He will scrape every flake of meat from the skeleton.  Nothing will remain but bleached bones.

I went home.  Lisa and Jackson were away for a few days.  I cooked up my part of the steelhead, little pieces in a frying pan with olive oil and nothing else.  Great fish makes great fish, no frills needed.

Fresh winter steelhead, Bunny Grahams, and Blade Runner.  Then sleep.

JN

Winter Steelhead and Auschwitz

Winter Steelhead  and Auschwitz.

Mid February, I went steelhead fishing.  Just a few afternoon hours on a close-to-civilization river.  I fished alone.  The water was too low.  The river, however, was gorgeous.  I knew that a fly guide had walked his clients through the run before I got there, coaching them to swing their flies through every sweet spot I would fish.  I managed to make a few far-bank casts and hoped that a big red-striped buck was tucked under the brush waiting to slurp my Intruder.  I even slid my finest Violet/purple two-tone MOAL Leech through the run, after resting it for a half hour.

I learned about the local river visitors by observing streamside debris:  they drink Coors Light, Bush Beer, Red Bull, and follow current events (apparently the talent search for Ms. Nude Oregon is in progress).

My flies swung well.  My mends stayed intact.  My casts – well – were casts.  No rods broken this trip.  No grabs.  No pulls, tugs, yanks, or any sign of anything responding to my fly, save a willow stick that failed to trigger even a hint of adrenaline when it stopped my swing.

I walked by two beaver ponds in a river-braid and watched juveniles feeding on the surface just before dark.  I wondered if they were coho, steelhead, or even cutthroat.  Young fish able to find shelter in winter ponds gives hope for future runs of wild fish.

I hurried past NO TRESPASSING OR ELSE signs, hoping that my local friend really did have the landowner’s OK to OK my being there.

The next morning, I was sitting in a coffee shop, trying to write a journal entry about the previous day’s fishing.  Not much to write about an unremarkable day.  Fishing wise anyway.

So there I was, when an elderly gentleman asked if he could join me for coffee.  Sure, I said, noting that he was using a walker.  The barista came over and asked Serge if he wanted his usual, and he did.  I was sketching salmon at the time.  He said some nice things about my art, not knowing anything at all about Chinook.

Uncharacteristically, I asked his age.  Ninety-three.  His accent was vaguely French.  I told him about my friend, Frank Moore, who was a teenager in Europe and the Normandy Invasion.  His eyes fixed mine.

Serge is Jewish.  At the age of about twelve, he was taken to a Nazi military police station, in the same hotel that housed the Gestapo.  He was identified as a Jew.  The officer he faced behind a desk happened to be a customer at the Barber Shop where Serge worked.  Jews were not allowed to attend school, so Serge worked at the Barber Shop, lathering customer’s faces in preparation for the Barber’s straight razor.  The officer recognized the young boy, of course, lectured him, and told him to get out.  If he had been delivered to the Gestapo side of the Hotel, or if another Officer had been on duty, he would have been sent to Auschwitz.

Months later, a knock came on the door of his family’s home.  They knew who it was and what it meant.  Serge kissed his mother goodbye for the last time, ran upstairs and quietly escaped to the roof of their home.  Three stories above ground, he hung silently from the edge of the roof, until he “gave up,” and fell to the ground.  Not a scratch.  No injuries.

Serge ran away.  He was given shelter by the French Resistance.  He moved around from house to house, village to village, until France was liberated.  Members of the French Resistance, the families who gave shelter to people like Serge, took terrible risks.  As a fourteen-year-old, Serge carried a Thompson Machine gun.  I asked if he ever shot anyone.  “No,” he said, “the gun was for protection,” but he was never in a situation where he needed to use it.

Serge’s parents died in Auschwitz.  He never saw or heard from them after the knock at the door.

Serge told me he could still see the face of the man who had likely turned his family over to the Gestapo – couldn’t remember the man’s name, but could still see his face.  His family knew the knock would come someday.  I didn’t ask why they hadn’t fled before that day.

It was customary for the Nazis to invite neighbors to loot the homes of Jewish families when they were taken away to Concentration Camps.  It was clear that they were not ever coming home again.  Forty years after the war ended, Serge and his wife, a Catholic, not that it matters, returned to France and visited their neighbors, still living in the same house after so many years.  Serge told me that he recognized a painting “of a beautiful lady” that had belonged to his family – now hanging in his neighbors house.

Serge said nothing at the time, only whispered to his wife that he wanted to leave.  “I’m too old to travel now,” he told me.  “I had a stroke last year and can barely walk now.”  “But if I could ever go back there again, this time I would say something to them about the painting.”

Serge talked about the French who worked with the Nazis, the collaborators.  No wonder the term “collaboration” has a bad taste in the context of environmental protection negotiations.  He told me that the French “took care” of the Nazis and the Nazi collaborators when France was liberated by the Americans.  He told me that the Americans took prisoners.  The French did not.  “You mean they killed them all,” I asked?  “Not all,” he said.  It depended on the crimes they committed.  But the French, basically, took no prisoners, and many Nazis and Nazi collaborators were killed.  Serge was very matter-of-fact telling me this.

We sat there some time, talking.  Serge managed the Hilton Hotel in Portland.  “Steve” Spielberg interviewed him researching the movie Saving Private Ryan.  He has seven grandchildren.  A replica of the “beautiful lady” painting once hung in the Spaghetti Factory restaurant in Portland.  He bought it from the owner, and the painting now hangs in Serge’s apartment.

Eventually, we parted.  Walking out of the coffee shop, I handed three-bucks to the homeless man I had walked past for a year.  He has two shopping carts to carry his stuff; a fishing rod crammed in corner of each cart.  “What’s your name,” I asked.  My conversation with Serge left me feeling very brave, very brave indeed.  “Dilly,” he answered.  “Did you ever fish much?’ I asked the question I had been wanting to ask for a year, but never uttered.

“Oh sure,” Dilly answered.  “One time I caught 60 trout in an hour; my buddy caught 59.”  “We were up at Lolo, with the Boy Scouts.”  “One time we got ice from a snow bank and packed out 512 trout.”

“You take care of yourself,” I said to Dilly, feeling very sad all of a sudden.

Off I went with my life.  No Auschwitz.  No shopping carts.

Wonder when I’ll be able to go fishing again?

JN