Time travel’s not all that hard if you follow your nose. Smells go straight to the emotional memory center of the brain, returning many to their mother’s kitchen by way of a whiff of freshly baked bread, to their father’s workshop by the dusty scent of fragrant woodwork, or to dreamy, long-forgotten vacations on the ozone fresh portent of incoming rain. Here, I ride the dark, luxuriant aroma of newly tanned cowhide back to the farm’s old tack room. My early childhood smelled like this. With luck, my Heaven will too.
It’ll smell like Lou Taubert’s.
I’d left my cowboy boots home, thinking it presumptuous of me to wear them here in Wyoming; a greenhorn easterner’s attempt to play cowboy. I’m sorry that I did. My plain, rough ropers would have felt right at home in this western institution, though a bit ugly-ducklingish amongst all the roughriding finery. Endless racks of boots, hats, and all manner of pearl-buttoned comfort. Above, a floor for the cowgirls. A third, above that, packed with saddles and tack. I happily wander them all, often with my eyes closed.
They all smell of leather.
I suppose I should talk more about the fishing. It is, after all, what brings me here. The opportunity to float along these broad, storied waterways can not be passed up and, in truth, there’s little in the east that compares with these stunning western rivers, full of feisty fish and old stories. A trout angler’s dream. But as I get older I find that my trips become less about tight lines and more about loose heartstrings; more about letting places resonate inside me. And the things that often do the plucking reach far beyond the river and into the community that surrounds it. Here, I’m smitten with Casper.
The bronze buffalo with the Pollock-esque coat standing in the lobby of the The Nicolaysen Art Museum sums the place up pretty well; a steadfast western foundation with a cosmopolitan flair. Sure, as I walked the galleries I expected Fredric Remington, Doug Russell, Ben George (and I wasn’t disappointed), but Dali and Picasso also greet me. That and 1,042 paintings by the 5th graders of the Natrona County School System; an exhibit that reflects the NIC’s commitment to an early and substantive art education and, by extension, to becoming a “cultural anchor” to the community. It’s working.
I miss more than my share of my takes. It’s hard to concentrate on a strike indicator when the scenery flowing past is so alluring. I suppose that’s part of the reason that nymph fishing is not my first preference. I’m too easily distracted. Another day I’d throw a streamer, keep busy, but sometimes you just have to do what the conditions dictate. I try to keep my eyes on the indicator, but they keep wandering to the skies.
While the North Platte runs through the heart of town, a short drive gets me to more remote, storied stretches like The Miracle Mile and Gray Reef. I have the pleasure of the later for a couple of days, staying with the crew at The North Platte lodge and fishing out of The Reef Fly Shop. In many ways I’m out of my element. I’m an eastern warm-water and salt angler, unpracticed in the finicky ways of trout and unused to such wide, shallow expanses. But the pull of big western water is hard to resist and the North Platte provides the big sky experience that every fly fisherman should have in order to complete his bucket list. Chunky rainbows, two-thousand per mile, they say. That’s a lot of refusals, when you think about it. Even on an epic day.
As my eyes wander from the float, my brain follows and I try to imagine a half-a-million people walking past this place on their way to new lives. A half-a-million. They came through here - this intersection of the Oregon, California, Pony Express, Bozeman, and Mormon trails - heading west in search of a future. It’s hard to wrap my head around what that means in these days of air travel, interstate highways, and global communications. The National Historic Trails Interpretive Center helps with its hands-on exhibits, simulated rides in stagecoaches and Conestoga wagons, relics and maps and walkthroughs, it endeavors to bring that migration to life. I resolve to return to participate in some of the field trips that start there and think about how it will feel to tread in the footsteps and wagon tracks of such a migration.
I miss another take.
The float ends too soon, as all good things do, and we head back towards the lodge, though not along the most expedient route. Fremont Canyon’s close by and is not to be missed. Besides being stunningly beautiful, it has a true crime story of its own, worthy of TV. From the rim of the canyon we watch trout slide through the pools, one-hundred feet below, but there’s not enough day left to climb down and try them.
It doesn’t matter. I’ll be back, someday. While the smells of Lou Taubert’s transport me back to my childhood, Wyoming’s big skies, broad waters, wild lands, and the footprints of countless pioneers transport me as well, perhaps back for generations. Tight lines and heartstrings. Casper has made an impression.