The Snake River meanders and rambles down through Swan Valley like a giant kid, taking its time in places and gushing in others, paying no heed to onlookers and the other creeks and streams that flow into it.
One of the creeks, Rainey Creek, ends its mountainous journey by dumping itself into the river about two miles from the Swan Valley store. Just past the store, toward Palisades Dam, stands the Palisades LDS Church, marking the road into the canyon from which Rainey Creek tumbles.
My brother-in-law John and I went to Rainey Creek on the opening day of fishing season many years ago. After leaving the paved road, we dodged mud puddles, swerved around rocks that had fallen onto the road and straddled ruts that caused my Volkswagen Rabbit to shimmy and shake.
We finally pulled off the main dirt road and onto another one, actually a two-rut path that runs along the creek and through various cedar patches. We rolled to a stop in the Cottonwoods, a campground so named because of the few trees that produce some semblance of shade and bits cotton-like fluff during the early summer.
We pulled on our waders, baited #6 hooks, placed green canvas creels around our necks, and headed upstream. We fished the new holes made by downed pine trees and the old holes that have run deep for years. We watched our lines drift quickly through each hole, periodically catching the bottom, tugging just a bit to give us the sensation of nibbling fish. Soon, we parted company and took turns fish the holes.
I stopped just above the big hole near the main campground. There was a white canvas tent and a beat up old truck parked nearby, but tent or no tent I was going to fish that hole, the best on the creek. I waded the creek and sneaked up on the back side. I dropped my in the swift current, and let it drift into the hole while I skirted the edge of the camp so I could stand on the bank.
As I watched my line drift, I was mesmerized by the swirling ripples under a branch that dipped low and touched the water like a baby playing patty cake.
All of a sudden, a real fish grabbed my hook and headed downstream. I tried to steer him to the bank, but he fought to stay in the current. Finally, when I had guided him almost in, he spit out the hook and started to roll back into the water. I rushed the fish and tried kicking him up on the bank, realizing why I was never very good at soccer. I missed him completely, and he disappeared downstream.
Disappointed, I reeled in my line and headed upstream to find John. He hadn’t caught any fish either, and we trundled to the car to eat.
In my old blue cooler I’d packed the “fisherman’s delight” (or at least one fisherman’s delight)–white bread, no butter, wrapped around cold hot dogs, with granny apples for dessert.
We ate silently in the car while two wild canaries played tag in the trees along the creek. A truck rumbled down the upper road and interrupted the silence for a few moments. Bits of dust lingered in the air and settled on the cedars along the roadside. About a quarter-mile downstream, a lone dog barked at the muffled tone of an old motorcycle. Two small kids, both wearing helmets, saw us and began to turn around, bouncing through the sagebrush until they had straightened their course back to their campgrounds.
We didn’t catch any fish that day, but as I sat there, munching on lunch and contemplating Rainey Creek, I caught instead random visions of my youth: wading in the creek in faded Levis and black Converse tennis shoes; my cousins and I racing our trail bikes down the dirt paths; climbing the hill just above camp, hoping to find a deer antler or some cool find; making rock dams across the creek next to the main campground; and watching my Uncle J.D.’s chest waders fill with water while leaning down to get a big rock for us; eating plateful after plateful of Dutch oven stew.
As I munched on my apple, I thought of Dylan Thomas’ “Fern Hill”:
“Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means....
In the pebbles of the holy streams.”
Surely I found a holy stream at Rainey Creek.