Enchantment Slapstick

It was the Mona Lisa with a mustache painted on her. It was Michelangelo's David wearing a thong bikini. It was "La Boheme" performed by Homer and Jethro.

Enchantment and low comedy. A man catching a large bass with his ankle. You should have been there.

I was.

Bright September day, finally turned cool after a long hot spell. Droughted leaves dotted the sluggish stream and cicadas rasped in the weeds. But the nights had been cool and the water now was cold through my thin waders.

I was stream fishing, a form of escape more precious than any. Streams are a constant adventure; every bend opens up new possibilities. Streams are wildlife arteries, carrying the lifeblood of the land. They wind far from roads, through the backwoods and the remote pockets of Missouri.

This stream is inconspicuous and, from the evidence, rarely fished except at the crossings. It is representative of many watercourses that aren't known for canoe floating or don't have trout or some other blue ribbon attraction.

They're merely back-40 tributaries that drain farms and woodlots, hundreds of miles of them, mostly murky, often muddy. I found this crossing in the Conservation Department's Atlas, an invaluable source of places to go.

I've fished such streams for 30 years and only rarely has anyone shared the stream with me, other than kingfishers, deer, turkeys, great blue herons, little green herons, basking turtles and the inevitable, noisy blue jays.

Blue jays nag everything. A blue jay never is happy. Life is a constant irritation. Blue jays would make good fans for a losing baseball team, long rows of them in the bleachers screaming at the umpires and the outfielders and the hot dog vendors.

Now they screamed at me. "Yah can't fish, yah bum yah! What're you doin' here anyway, yah ugly mutt! Yah oughta be back in the minors!"

And so on.

The stream crossing looked like an encyclopedia of everything that is wrong with Missouri streams. Someone had dumped a bunch of household trash on the gravel bar. The first flood would strew it downstream for miles. There was a graveling operation on the other side of the crossing, along with copious evidence of intensive beer parties.

Cow tracks (and other evidence of their bovine passing) littered the gravel.

This mid-Missouri stream once was as pristine as the deep Ozark rivers, but a century of careless use has turned it into a murky, graveled watercourse, slimed with algae and clogged with