A FISHERMAN'S PARADISE
After our first view of the lake, the instant decision was to make a permanent camp there for a few days. And this we did. Tents were put up for the luxurious-minded, three of them. Mine was erected over me, when, as I had pre-determined, I had found a place where I could lie comfortably. The men belonging to the outfit, of course, slept under the stars. A packer, a guide, or the cook with an outfit like ours has, outside of such clothing as he wears or carries rolled in his blankets, but one possession--and that is his tarp bed. With such a bed, a can of tomatoes, and a gun, it is said that a cow-puncher can go anywhere.
Once or twice I was awake in the morning before the cook's loud call of "Come and get it!" brought us from our tents. I never ceased to view with interest this line of tarp beds, each with its sleeping occupant, his hat on the ground beside him, ready, when the call came, to sit up blinking in the sunlight, put on his hat, crawl out, and be ready for the day.
The boats had traveled well. The next morning, after a breakfast of ham and eggs, fried potatoes, coffee, and saddle-bags, we were ready to try them out.
And here I shall be generous. For this means that next year we shall go there and find other outfits there before us, and people in the latest thing in riding-clothes, and fancy trout-creels and probably sixty-dollar reels.
Bowman Lake is a fisherman's paradise. The first day on the lake we caught sixty-nine cut-throat trout averaging a pound each, and this without knowing where to look.
In the morning, we could see them lying luxuriously on shelving banks in the sunlight, only three to six feet below the surface. They rose, like a shot, to the flies. For some reason, George Locke, our fisherman, resented their taking the Parmachene Belle. Perhaps because the trout of his acquaintance had not cared for this fly. Or maybe he considered the Belle not sportsmanly. The Brown Hackle and Royal Coachman did well, however, and, in later fishing on this lake, we found them more reliable than the gayer flies. In the afternoon, the shallows failed us. But in deep holes where the brilliant walls shelved down to incredible depths, they rose again in numbers.
It was perfectly silent. Doubtless, countless curious wild eyes watched us from the mountain-slopes and the lake-borders. But we heard not even the cracking of brushwood under cautious feet. The tracks of deer, where they had come down to drink, a dead mountain-lion floating in a pool, the slow flight of an eagle across the face of old Rainbow, and no sound but the soft hiss of a line as it left the reel--that was Bowman Lake, that day, as it lay among its mountains. So precipitous are the slopes, so rank the vegetation where the forest encroaches, that we were put to it to find a ridge large enough along the shore to serve as a foothold for luncheon. At last we found a tiny spot, perhaps ten feet long by three feet wide, and on that we landed. The sun went down; the rainbow clouds gathered about the peaks above, and still the trout were rising. When at last we turned for our ten-mile row back to camp, it was almost dusk.
Now and then, when I am tired and the things of this world press close and hard, I think of those long days on that lonely lake, and the home-coming at nightfall. Toward the pin-point of glow--the distant camp-fire which was our beacon light--the boat moved to the long, tired sweep of the oars; around us the black forest, the mountains overhead glowing and pink, as if lighted from within. And then, at last, the grating of our little boat on the sand--and night.
During the day, our horses were kept in a rope corral. Sometimes they were quiet; sometimes a spirit of mutiny seemed to possess the entire thirty-one. There is in such a string always one bad horse that, with ears back and teeth showing, keeps the entire bunch milling. When such a horse begins to stir up trouble, the wrangler tries to rope him and get him out. Mad excitement follows as the noose whips through the air. But they stay in the corral. So curious is the equine mind that it seldom realizes that it could duck and go under the rope, or chew it through, or, for that matter, strain against it and break it.
At night, we turned the horses loose. Almost always in the morning, some were missing, and had to be rounded up. The greater part, however, stayed close to the bell-mare. It was our first night at Bowman Lake, I think, that we heard a mountain-lion screaming. The herd immediately stampeded. It was far away, so that we could not hear the horses running. But we could hear the agitated and rapid ringing of the bell, and, not long after, the great cat went whining by the camp. In the morning, the horses were far up the mountain-side.
Sometime I shall write that article on "Wild Animals I Have Missed." We were in a great game-country. But we had little chance to creep up on anything but deer. The bells of the pack-outfit, our own jingling spurs, the accouterments, the very tinkle of the tin cups on our saddles must have made our presence known to all the wilderness-dwellers long before we appeared.
After we had been at Bowman Lake a day or two, while at breakfast one morning, we saw two of the guides racing their horses in a mad rush toward the camp. Just outside, one of the ponies struck a log, turned a somersault, and threw his rider, who, nothing daunted, came hurrying up on foot. They had seen a bull moose not far away. Instantly all was confusion. The horses were not saddled. One of the guides gave me his and flung me on it. The Little Boy made his first essay at bareback riding. In a wild scamper we were off, leaping logs and dodging trees. The Little Boy fell off with a terrific thud, and sat up, looking extremely surprised. And when we had got there, as clandestinely as a steam calliope in a circus procession, the moose was gone. I sometimes wonder, looking back, whether there really was a moose there or not. Did I or did I not see a twinkle in Bill Shea's eye as he described the sweep of the moose's horns? I wonder.
Birds there were in plenty; wild ducks that swam across the lake at terrific speed as we approached; plover-snipe, tiny gray birds with long bills and white breasts, feeding along the edge of the lake peacefully at our very feet; an eagle carrying a trout to her nest. Brown squirrels came into the tents and ate our chocolate and wandered over us fearlessly at night. Bears left tracks around the camp. But we saw none after we left the Lake McDonald country.
Yet this is a great game-country. The warden reports a herd of thirty-six moose in the neighborhood of Bowman Lake; mountain-lion, lynx, marten, bear, and deer abound. A trapper built long ago a substantial log shack on the north shore of the lake, and although it is many years since it was abandoned, it is still almost weather-proof. All of us have our dreams. Some day I should like to go back and live for a little time in that forest cabin. In the long snow-bound days after he set his traps, the trapper had busied himself fitting it up. A tin can made his candle-bracket on the wall, axe-hewn planks formed a table and a bench, and diagonally across a corner he had built his fireplace of stones from the lakeside.
He had a simple method of constructing a chimney; he merely left without a roof that corner of the cabin and placed slanting boards in it. He had made a crane, too, which swung out over the fireplace. All of the Rocky Mountains were in his back garden, and his front yard was Bowman Lake.
We had had fair weather so far. But now rain set in. Hail came first; then a steady rain. The tents were cold. We got out our slickers and stood out around the beach fire in the driving storm, and ate our breakfast of hot cakes, fried ham, potatoes and onions cooked together, and hot coffee. The cook rigged up a tarpaulin over his little stove and stood there muttering and frying. He had refused to don a slicker, and his red sweater, soaking up the rain, grew heavy with moisture and began to stretch. Down it crept, down and down.
The cook straightened up from his frying-pan and looked at it. Then he said:--
"There, little sweater, don't you cry; You'll be a blanket by and by."
This little touch of humor on his part cheered us. Perhaps, seeing how sporting we were about the weather, he was going to like us after all. Well--
Our new tents leaked--disheartening little drips that came in and wandered idly over our blankets, to lodge in little pools here and there. A cold wind blew. I resorted to that camper's delight--a stone heated in the camp-fire--to warm my chilled body. We found one or two magazines, torn and dejected, and read them, advertisements and all. And still, when it seemed the end of the day, it was not high noon.
By afternoon, we were saturated; the camp steamed. We ate supper after dark, standing around the camp-fire, holding our tin plates of food in our hands. The firelight shone on our white faces and dripping slickers. The horses stood with their heads low against the storm. The men of the outfit went to bed on the sodden ground with the rain beating in their faces.
The next morning was gray, yet with a hint of something better. At eight o'clock, the clouds began to lift. Their solidity broke. The lower edge of the cloud-bank that had hung in a heavy gray line, straight and ominous, grew ragged. Shreds of vapor detached themselves and moved off, grew smaller, disappeared. Overhead, the pall was thinner. Finally it broke, and a watery ray of sunlight came through. And, at last, old Rainbow, at the upper end of the lake, poked her granite head through its vapory sheathings. Angel, my white horse, also eyed the sky, and then, putting her pink nose under the corral-rope, she gently worked her way out. The rain was over.
The horses provided endless excitement. Whether at night being driven off by madly circling riders to the grazing-ground or rounded up into the corral in the morning, they gave the men all they could do. Getting them into the corral was like playing pigs-in-clover. As soon as a few were in, and the wrangler started for others, the captives escaped and shot through the camp. There were times when the air seemed full of flying hoofs and twitching ears, of swinging ropes and language.
On the last day at Bowman Lake, we realized that although the weather had lifted, the cook's spirits had not. He was polite enough--he had always been polite to the party. But he packed in a dejected manner. There was something ominous in the very way he rolled up the strawberry jam in sacking.
The breaking-up of a few days' camp is a busy time. The tents are taken down at dawn almost over one's head. Blankets are rolled and strapped; the pack-ponies groan and try to roll their packs off.
Bill Shea quotes a friend of his as contending that the way to keep a pack-pony cinched is to put his pack on him, throw the diamond hitch, cinch him as tight as possible, and then take him to a drinking-place and fill him up with water. However, we did not resort to this.