My friend John catching trout and on horseback in Yellowstone
Yellowstone. The place of wonder and imagination that has captivated the hearts of those who wish to preserve and sustain the Divine chaos of nature for future generations. Yellowstone National Park is a region that has captivated my dreams for longer than I can remember, and here I am being asked to write about this hallowed ground. A place in which I have never been.
I have learned that writing, if it is to be worth its salt, should show not tell. The reader should be able to find themselves transported to a particular place- to smell it- to feel it. So how in the world am I supposed to accomplish this?
Several of my friends have traveled to storied Yellowstone and have shared amazing tales with me about breathtaking vistas that seem to have been freshly painted by the hand of God. Accounts of wild fish that are so vibrant in color that they look as if Monet has kissed them with his brush. And the hidden places. The bones of animals. The herds of great beasts that have roamed this countryside for untold centuries. I listen to these stories and my pulse quickens and I feel the passion that is nurtured in dreams come to life.
But even these are second hand...
So, I will write what I know. I will share the truth, and perhaps convey in words what I feel in my heart.
I can imagine walking through tall grass along the banks of the Yellowstone River spooking swarms of grasshoppers that lift their heavy bodies in slow arcs away from my feet. The feel of the spray from Yellowstone Falls as it crashes and rolls through a canyon of its own making. To feel the passion and fear of seeing a huge bear as it lumbers through the dead fall. I can see the peace and grace of deer and elk as they pick grass at the edge of the tree line. Pronghorn prancing away from the unfamiliar shape of my presence, the cool push of Tower Creek as I dapple my bare feet in its waters. Many is the night when sleep has evaded me that I have lay in my bed and imagined these sights and places till I finally faded.
But for me, as an avid angler, at the end of the day, its all about the fish.
Within the waters of Yellowstone are Cutthroat trout. A gem of the majestic west to be certain. Glistening in the light. Colors of green and gold shimmer across their bodies, dark specks growing in number as they grow closer to its tail, and the crimson streak that provides their legendary name jutting out around their gills-pulsing as they breath-lightly flecking their sides.. Face first in the current they dance and dart after food and race away from shadows overhead. Programmed to be ever watchful of the dangers from above, the slightest dark movement from the surface world sends them darting for cover.
It has been this way for the cutthroat for centuries, but a new danger has invaded the world of the cutthroat. This dark form is not the shadow of a bird, or perhaps the angler, this danger is one of their own kind. a fish that is predisposed to self preservation, and their introduction into the storied waters of Yellowstone has put the cutthroat in dire jeopardy.
Lake trout. As much in metaphor as in reality, these dark forms have taken hold of the territory and have, by their own nature, started muscling out the cutthroat. A dark fish with light spots that traverse its body it looks much like an Arctic char or brookie that has had its soul removed. The lovely colors of orange, magenta, and yellow chased away and all that remains is the darkness, the shimmer of cold silver, and an appetite that leaves no room for any other species.
A bounty has been placed on the head of these invaders and perhaps on a small level it has been successful, but the task of removing a species is not as easy as one would think. To evict them from the waters of Yellowstone and retain the health and beauty of the place is much like pushing a boulder uphill with a turkey feather. You might be able to do it, but it won't be easy.
In my home waters of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, an ongoing effort to remove rainbow trout from the higher waters that are the last stand for the southern brook trout has been moderately successful, but even after shocking, and even going so far as to poison the water, the rainbows still manage to reappear.
The lake trout is not an evil creature. They are just living as they have been designed to live- to exist and thrive in the waters they inhabit. But their habitation has placed the native species in a very precarious situation and unless an answer is found, the numbers of the beautiful cutthroat may dwindle to an alarming amount. It could be that if an answer is not found, catching a native cutthroat in Yellowstone would be an anomaly.
So, I submit my post. With all the passion I can muster for a place I have yet to visit, I offer as much of the truth as I can put on the page. It is much more than telling, it is showing, and I hope that I have shown the desire I have to protect this place, learn as much as I can about it and the problems facing the Cutthroat, and share the truth with others. At the end of the day, all we can hope for is that we have shared the truth and tried to do something. Even if all we have done is involved ourselves in seeking out a solution for protecting the park, we have honored nature as well as the memory of men like F.V. Hayden and their vision.