We have found Longfellow's forest primeval, the murmuring pines of the Eastern Sierra. The trees breathe out; we breathe in.
Soon I will be up to my ankles in snowmelt, casting out to the most elusive of creatures, the rainbow trout, which eat like actresses (hardly at all) and turn up their noses at commoners (like me). I hate rainbow trout, the beautiful idiots.
Like the perfect sentence, they elude me. You can actually spot the little snobs in the pristine waters, swimming lazily, shaking their slender Alpine butts at the bottom of the creek.
I have caught brook trout before, but it seemed almost a fluke, like finding a fifty on the sidewalk, or an old Ali MacGraw movie on TV.
More often, I don't catch them at all. I've tried all the tricks: salmon eggs, Power Bait, jewelry. What's with these trout? Must be vegans. Must be gluten-free.
Yet, here I stand now, up to my ankles in snowmelt, the temperature of my urban blood slowly beginning to cool. I'm lost, borrowing from Longfellow, to the sweet serenity of brooks.
Admittedly, my wife and I are trying to downsize our vacations, just as we're starting to downsize our lives. The grocery list is half what it used to be, and Christmas spending doesn't quite eat us alive anymore.
So family vacations can be more modest and sensible. Where we used to wagon train all the way to Tahoe, we now take five-hour trips to the mountain forests of the Eastern Sierra. Where we once took all four children, we now take one or two.
In this particular case, it's the two sons, no daughters. Left the girls behind to do God's work — public relations. They remain in L.A., with their pricey shampoos, scented like kittens. Still, I miss them. A reluctant empty-nester, I will always wish they were near on days like this, freckled and painted by the summer sun.
Tell me, at what point do you quit vacationing with the kids? Apparently never. As much as I like the mountains, they like them even more.
How'd that happen?
Raised in L.A., our older son could've latched on to many worthy pursuits. Nightclubs. Fast cars. Theme parks. Ariana Grande.
But this is what he and his brother love. Long hikes to far-off lakes. The quivery aspen. The beguiling rainbow trout, marinated in snowmelt.
"We never catch anything," the little guy grumbles after a long day on the lake.
There are traces of gold dust in every minute of this family jaunt. First, there are the acoustics of the north woods — an oar womping the side of an old canoe, a black Lab splashing off a pier.
Most of California is frightfully dry, but not this little pocket of June Lake. There are meadows full of mule deer. Somehow, the lakes are filled to the top of the teacup.
To be fair, not all is perfect in the Eastern Sierra. It is home, for instance, to the absolute worst restaurants in the world.
One night, we sit three hours, growing increasingly crazy over the slow service.
Not sure where the tipping point was, but we'd started the meal sort of mellow, the warmth of late July still in our necks.
"We're in no rush," I reminded the table.
"Not at all," agreed Posh.
After the server's first couple of failures, we even made excuses for her, suggested maybe she was working two jobs and was exhausted at the end of a second shift. Maybe her boyfriend had run off with the baby sitter. Maybe her engine blew.
By the third hour, I was murderous.
"If I don't get my glass of Cab soon ..."
"I'm going to choke someone with my bare hands," I say.
"Just relax," Posh says.
"Go for it, Dad!" says one of the boys.
That'd be a good story to tell later — the night Dad throttled the waitress in front of a dining room full of hikers and fishermen.
I can imagine their shocked faces. Assuming they ever got their food, the other diners would finally have a fork full of buttery trout halfway to their mouths when this moron in the Cubs T-shirt attacked his poor server, who didn't do anything, really, except to totally flub the drink order, the salads, the entrees, the check.
As deputies led me away in cuffs, my sons would smile apologetically and try to explain:
"Really, if he'd just caught a fish," one would say.
"Yeah, he never really catches fish," the other would add.