Dame Juliana at Rock Springs

Steve Bird

Active Member
Dame Julianna at Rock Springs

The wind off the high plateau whipped his hair against his cheeks and shoulders and rattled the exit sign on the outskirts of Rock Springs. It was a Sunday and traffic on the interstate sparse. A redtail hawk passed above the empty highway, head tilting, alert for road kill. A line of brown hills entrained in the distance, and a small stream coursed from them and down across the plain to run parallel to the road between him and the red brick backsides of a couple of low buildings tagged to the end of town. Some old tires and a rusty engine block lined the embankment behind the buildings. The creek looked clean, what he could see of it. Maybe it held trout. He’d been there since early morning, about five hours, most of that time occupied wondering if there were any trout in the creek.

A motor growled. He looked up and saw the car approaching. The road was straight, open. He watched the car. A dark blue Chevy. When he was sure the driver could see him he stuck his thumb out. There was animated movement among the passengers inside the car. Ah good, he thought, they are making room, yes, slowing down, the windows are open… the guy riding shotgun is wearing a cowboy hat…

The car drew up alongside him and a beer bottle launched from the front window immediately followed by a large paper cup hurled from the rear window. The driver tromped the gas and the tires lit up with a hurt yelp. A whoosh of air flicked his ear as the bottle zipped past his head, but the hurler of the cup made better aim and it spiraled like a football and dissembled a moment before impact, the plastic lid falling away to reveal the contents splashing forward like a cupful of amber jewels to burst against his chest. The Chevy swerved speeding away, its occupants with their heads out the windows looking back to assess the damage and their arms banging the sides of the car, jubilant, donkey-laughing and howling at the result.

Stinking beer piss soaked the front of his t-shirt and dripped from his chin. Tight lipped, he stripped the shirt off, dropped it on the ground, looked down the road at the receding car.

“You fucks. You rotten FUCKS!” He raised both arms and shook his fists. The long Wyoming sky, empty.

He went to his pack leaned against the exit sign, fished out a bandana to wipe his face. He looked down the road daubing his cheek and neck, shook his head. Must be my lucky day. The bottle would’ve killed me for sure.

He gathered the pack and wet shirt and walked across the road and down through a strip of tall grass and then through a row of alders lining the creek. The steep, weed covered embankment leading up to the buildings on the opposite side blocked the unremitting wind off the plain. The creek formed a pool there, unseen from the road. He scanned the pool for trout, saw no sign, then stripped down to his underpants and waded in to scrub with sand scooped from the bottom. He stretched out and let the cold water flow over him for awhile. Then he gathered his clothes, washed them and laid them over some willows to dry. A magpie flew into the alders and leaned from a branch to watch. It was late summer and the creek was low. He found a sunny spot of dry streambed gravel and sat down then lay back resting on his elbows. The sun felt good. He figured he’d stay long enough to dry his clothes.

Looked to be a couple of good runs downstream. Possibly deeper water in that section beneath the alder canopy. He watched the flow. Tossed pebbles. Then he stood up and went to his pack and got out his gear and assembled it, tying a #14 Coachman wet fly to the end of his tippet. He’d be fine wearing just the underwear. Nobody’d see him. Besides, without a Wyoming fishing license he needn’t push his luck wandering very far, he told himself. He would try those two short runs and see if there were any fish. Something to do while his clothes dried.

He dangled the Coachman in the creek until it soaked and sank. Working downstream, he roll-casted, quartering and swinging the Coachman through the first run, meticulously covering it, for nothing.

The second run was deeper, the stream choked to about four feet wide between the alders. He crept up on it slow, careful not to rattle the stones or let his shadow fall on the water. Crouching, he tossed the fly against the far bank. The fly swung away from the shallow edge water, drifted down and across toward the deepest part of the run while he followed its arc lowering the rod tip – and when he felt the fly was into the sweet spot, the dark water at the end of the swing, he reached and bowed, dropping the fly back. He let it dangle. And then he slowly raised the rod and the fly rose and its rising halted with a jolt.

He played the fish kneeling down, and it fought well for a ten incher. At hand, it was svelte and firm. A lovely bronze color, black spotted on the rear half. A new one, a kind he hadn’t caught before, though he recognized it from pictures. His hand cradled it gently in the water, turning it to get a look at the twin red slashes in the lower jaw folds. He admired the trout for a few moments, then removed the hook and supported the fish upright until it gathered itself and kicked away. He was satisfied, done. It was the most likely trout water along this portion of creek anyway, he figured. Beyond the run, the alders played out and the stream channeled into a ditch before disappearing into a concrete culvert passing under the highway and then out into an overgrazed pasture where the banks were void of any growth and flanked with muddy cow trails.

He was standing at his pack taking the rod down when a woman’s voice spoke.


Startled, he turned. A young woman in a hooded, brown robe stood at the bottom of the embankment across the creek. She had a broad face and striking pale olive green eyes, wide set. She held a towel and a bottle of Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap.

“Ah… hi…” he stammered, his eyes involuntarily glancing down to see if his drying underpants had lost their transparency. They hadn’t quite.

She assessed him up and down. “Do you always fish naked?”

“Um… yes. I do. Whenever I get the chance,” he heard himself saying, twiddling the rod sections, unable to locate the rod tube lying in plain sight next to his pack.

She laughed, a trailing loop of birdsong, then kicked off her sandals, lifted the hem of her robe and waded across. Her unfettered breasts struggled behind the coarse linen of the robe as she found her balance in the flow.

He turned away, spotted the rod case and made himself busy.

She laid her things on the gravel bar, unfastened the braided cord of her robe and stepped out of it. The robe poured away from her onto the gravel. She shook out her march brown hair and it fell in lush ropes to her waist.

“Hope you don’t mind, but I really need a bath. Don’t worry. I have some soap that won’t hurt the fish,” she said, stepping naked into the water, demure, pale.

“Oh no. Don’t mind. Creek’s all yours.” Nonchalant, he reached to check progress on his drying clothes.

His first thought had been to get dressed in a hurry, but he postponed that notion. This girl thought nothing of being all the way naked in front of him. He wasn’t going to complain. And his things still weren’t dry. He sat down at the edge of the stream. She washed her hair, the soap lather running down her back and into the cleft of her bottom. And he sat, thoughtful, while she bathed unabashed.

“You on the road? I take it you’re not from around here. Bathing in the creek and all. Name’s Tyler, by the way.”

She smiled. “Nice to meet you Tyler Bytheway. I’m Julianna. Juliana Berners.”

He contemplated that. Then he laughed and said, “Sorry, ‘Cross’, my name is Tyler Cross.”

Her lips spread soft and playful across her wet face. “Yeah, I’m on the road. On my way to Washington. Port Angelus.” She nodded toward the buildings at the top of the embankment. “The transmission went out on my bus. The mechanic had to order one. Supposed to be here in a couple days.” She pointed to the rear end of an old, school district short-bus parked alongside the shop. It was painted blue. There was a long wooden rod with a heavy line trailing from its tip, leaning against the back of the bus. “They said I can camp here on the bus until the work is done. That place next door is a café. Nothing open today though. There’s a little park across the road, I picked nightcrawlers there last night, and the creek… so it’s not a bad place to be broke down, really. You hitchhiking somewhere?”

“Yes. I’m going to Massachusetts. From California. Nightcrawlers?”

“Wow, coast to coast. That’s a long way to hitchhike. Guess you’re not a man who’s in a hurry.”

“No. Not really. Applied to go to school back there. Still got a month. Figure I’ll hang out here until my clothes are dry. What are you doing with the nightcrawlers?”

“Used them for bait. Angyled three nice trout from the pool here, early this morning. Found some wild scallions too. Gathered plantain and dandelion greens over at the park for a salad. You wouldn’t want to eat the café food.” She scrunched her face to demonstrate the distasteful affect of the café food, then lay down in the pool to rinse. And having rinsed, Julianna emerged from the water, gathered her towel and wrapped it around herself while coming lightly over the stones. She sat down by him to share the sunny spot.

“Are you… You have the same name as a famous nun… Are you a nun?” He tried to keep his eyes averted. Julianna sat very close, their shoulders occasionally brushing. She smelled like peppermint. He tossed a pebble into the stream.

She smiled, ambiguous, then turned the question back on him. “And you, Tyler Cross, who, and what, are you?”

He couldn’t answer that. He tossed a stone.

They talked until the sun was low, the gravel bar in shade. He liked her. She possessed a quick wit and he liked the frank, unexpected things she said.

“You are a gypsy,” she announced. “You have the body of a gypsy.” She smiled coyly, admiring him openly. She leaned into him, her shoulder sun warmed and conspiratorial. “I’ve been expecting you,” she whispered. “I have supper for us. The trout. You said you’re not in a hurry…”

He looked down the creek and laughed. “No,” he said, “I’m not in a hurry.”
Steven Bird © 2010

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