Dear Trout Fishing in America:

I met your friend Fritz in Washington Square. He told me

to tell you that his case went to a jury and that he was acquit-

ted by the jury.

He said that it was important for me to say that his case

went to a jury and that he was acquitted by the jury,

said it again.

He looked in good shape. He was sitting in the sun. There’s

an old San Francisco saying that goes: “It’s better to rest in

Washington Square than in the California Adult Authority. ”

How are things in New York?


“An Ardent Admirer”

Dear Ardent Admirer:

It’s good to hear that Fritz isn’t in jail. He was very wor-

ried about it. The last time I was in San Francisco, he told

me he thought the odds were 10-1 in favor of him going away.

I told him to get a good lawyer. It appears that he followed

my advice and also was very lucky. That’s always a good


You asked about New York and New York is very hot.

I’m visiting some friends, a young burglar and his wife.

He’s unemployed and his wife is working as a cocktail wait-

ress. He’s been looking for work but I fear the worst.

It was so hot last night that I slept with a wet sheet wrapped

around myself, trying to keep cool. I felt like a mental patient.

I woke up in the middle of the night and the room was filled

with steam rising off the sheet, and there was jungle stuff,

abandoned equipment and tropical flowers, on the floor and

on the furniture.

I took the sheet into the bathroom and plopped it into the

tub and turned the cold water on it. Their dog came in and

started barking at me.

The dog barked so loud that the bathroom was soon filled

with dead people. One of them wanted to use my wet sheet

for a shroud. I said no, and we got into a big argument over

it and woke up the Puerto Ricans in the next apartment, and

they began pounding on the walls.

The dead people all left in a huff. “We know when we’re

not wanted, ” one of them said.

“You’re damn tootin’,” I said.

I’ve had enough.

I’ m going to get out of New York. Tomorrow I’m leaving for

Alaska. I’m going to find an ice-cold creek near the Arctic

where that strange beautiful moss grows and spend a week

with the grayling. My address will be, Trout Fishing in Ameri-

ca, c/o General Delivery, Fairbanks, Alaska.

Your friend,

Trout Fishing in America


We left Little Redfish for Lake Josephus, traveling along the

good names–from Stanley to Capehorn to Seafoam to the

Rapid River, up Float Creek, past the Greyhound Mine and

then to Lake Josephus, and a few days after that up the trail

to Hell-diver Lake with the baby on my shoulders and a good

limit of trout waiting in Hell-diver.

Knowing the trout would wait there like airplane tickets

for us to come, we stopped at Mushroom Springs and had a

drink of cold shadowy water and some photographs taken of

the baby and me sitting together on a log.

I hope someday we’ll have enough money to get those pic-

tures developed. Sometimes I get curious about them, won-

dering if they will turn out all right. They are in suspension

now like seeds in a package. I’ll be older when they are de-

veloped and easier to please. Look there’s the baby ! Look

there’s Mushroom Springs ! Look there’s me !

I caught the limit of trout within an hour of reaching Hell-

diver, and my woman, in all the excitement of good fishing,

let the baby fall asleep directly in the sun and when the baby

woke up, she puked and I carried her back down the trail.

My woman trailed silently behind, carrying the rods and

the fish. The baby puked a couple more times, thimblefuls

of gentle lavender vomit, but still it got on my clothes, and

her face was hot and flushed.

We stopped at Mushroom Springs. I gave her a small

drink of water, not too much, and rinsed the vomit taste out

of her mouth. Then I wiped the puke off my clothes and for

some strange reason suddenly it was a perfect time, there

at Mushroom Springs, to wonder whatever happened to the

Zoot suit.

Along with World War II and the Andrews Sisters, the

Zoot suit had been very popular in the early 40s. I guess

they were all just passing fads.

A sick baby on the trail down from Hell-diver, July 1961,

is probably a more important question. It cannot be left to

go on forever, a sick baby to take her place in the galaxy,

among the comets, bound to pass close to the earth every

173 years.

She stopped puking after Mushroom Springs, and I carried

her back down along the path in and out of the shadows and

across other nameless springs, and by the time we got down

to Lake Josephus, she was all right.

She was soon running around with a big cutthroat trout in

her hands, carrying it like a harp on her way to a concert–

ten minutes late with no bus in sight and no taxi either



Calle de Eternidad: We walked up from Gelatao, birthplace

of Benito Juarez. Instead of taking the road we followed a

path up along the creek. Some boys from the school in Gela-

tao told us that up along the creek was the shortcut.

The creek was clear but a little milky, and as 1 remem-

ber the path was steep in places. We met people coming dowr

the path because it was really the shortcut. They were all

Indians carrying something.

Finally the path went away from the creek and we climbed

a hill and arrived at the cemetery. It was a very old ceme-

tery and kind of run down with weeds and death growing there

like partners in a dance.

There was a cobblestone street leading up from the ceme-

tery to the town of Ixtlan, pronounced East-LON, on top of

another hill. There were no houses along the street untilyou

reached the town.

In the hair of the world, the street was very steep as you

went up into Ixtlan. There was a street sign that pointedback

down toward the cemetery, following every cobblestone with

loving care all the way.

We were still out of breath from the climb. The sign said

Calle de Eternidad. Pointing.

I was not always a world traveler, visiting exotic places

in Southern Mexico. Once I was just a kid working for anold

woman in the Pacific Northwest. She was in her nineties and

I worked for her on Saturdays and after school and duringthe


Sometimes she would make me lunch, little egg sandwich-

es with the crusts cut off as if by a surgeon, and she’d give

me slices of banana dunked in mayonnaise.

The old woman lived by herself in a house that was like a

twin sister to her. The house was four stories high and had

at least thirty rooms and the old lady was five feet high and

weighed about eighty-two pounds.

She had a big radio from the 1920s in the living room and

it was the only thing in the house that looked remotely as if

it had come from this century, and then there was still a

doubt in my mind.

A lot of cars, airplanes and vacuum cleaners and refrig-

erators and things that come from the 1920s look as if they

had come from the 1890s. It’s the beauty of our speed that

has done it to them, causing them to age prematurely into the

clothes and thoughts of people from another century.

The old woman had an old dog, but he hardly counted any

more. He was so old that he looked like a stuffed dog. Once

I took him for a walk down to the store. It was just like tak-

ing a stuffed dog for a walk. I tied him up to a stuffed fire

hydrant and he pissed on it, but it was only stuffed piss.

I went into the store and bought some stuffing for the old

lady. Maybe a,pound of coffee or a quart of mayonnaise.

I did things for her like chop the Canadian thistles. Dur-

ing the 1920s (or was it the 1890s) she was motoring in Cali-

fornia, and her husband stopped the car at a filling station

and told the attendant to fill it up.

“How about some wild flower seeds?” the attendant said.

“No, ” her husband said. “Gasoline.”

“I know that, sir, ” the attendant said. “But we’re giving

away wild flower seeds with the gasoline today. ”

“All right, ” her husband said. “Give us some wild flower

seeds, then. But be sure and fill the car up with gasoline.

Gasoline’s what I really want. ”

“They’ll brighten up your garden, sir.”

” The gasoline 7″

“No, sir, the flowers.”

They returned to the Northwest, planted the seeds and

they were Canadian thistles. Every year I chopped themdown

and they always grew back. I poured chemicals on them and

they always grew back.

Curses were music to their roots. A blow on the back of

the neck was like a harpsichord to them. Those Canadian

thistles were there for keeps. Thank you, California, for

Your beautiful wild flowers. I chopped them down every year.

I did other things for her like mow the lawn with a grim

Old lawnmower. When I first went to work for her, she told

me to be careful with that lawnmower. Some itinerant had

Stopped at her place a few weeks before, asked for some

work so he could rent a hotel room and get something to eat,

and she’d said, “You can mow the lawn. ”

“Thanks, maram, ” he’d said and went out and promptly

cut three fingers off his right hand with that medieval mach-


I was always very careful with that lawnmower, knowing

that somewhere on that place, the ghosts of three fingers

were living it up in the grand spook manner. They needed no

company from my fingers. My fingers looked just great, rigl:

there on my hands.

I cleaned out her rock garden and deported snakes when-

ever I found them on her place. She told me to kill them, but

I couldn’t see any percentage in wasting a gartersnake. But

I had to get rid of the things because she always promisedme

she’d have a heart attack if she ever stepped on one of them.

So I’d catch them and deport them to a yard across the

street, where nine old ladies probably had heart attacks and

died from finding those snakes in their toothbrushes. Fortu-

n ately, I was never around when their bodies were taken awa!

I’d clean the blackberry hushes out of the lilac hushes.

Once in a while she’d give me some lilacs to take home and

they were always fine-looking lilacs, and I always felt good,

Walking down the street, holding the lilacs high and proud

like glasses of that famous children’s drink: the good flower

wine .

I’d chop wood for her stove. She cooked on a woodstove

and heated the place during the winter with a huge wood fur-

nace that she manned like the captain of a submarine in a

dark basement ocean during the winter.

In the summer I’d throw endless cords of wood into her

basement until I was silly in the head and everything looked

like wood, even clouds in the sky and cars parked on the

street and cats.

There were dozens of little tiny things that I did for her.

Find a lost screwdriver, lost in 1911. Pick her a pan full of

pie cherries in the spring, and pick the rest of the cherries

on the tree for myself. Prune those goofy, at best half-assed

trees in the backyard. The ones that grew beside an old pile

oflumber. Weed.

One early autumn day she loaned me to the woman next

door and I fixed a small leak in the roof of her woodshed.

The woman gave me a dollar tip, and I said thank you, and

the next time it rained, all the newspapers she had been sav-

ing for seventeen years to start fires with got soaking wet.

From then on out, I received a sour look every time I

passed her house. I was lucky I wasn’t lynched.

I didn’t work for the old lady in the winter. I’d finish the

year by the last of October, raking up leaves or somethin

or transporting the last muttering gartersnake to winter

quarters in the old ladies’ toothbrush Valhalla across the


Then she’d call me on the telephone in the spring. I would

always be surprised to hear her little voice, surprised that

she was still alive. I’d get on my horse and go out to her

place and the whole thing would begin again and I’d make a

few bucks and stroke the sun-warmed fur of her stuffed dog.

One spring day she had me ascend to the attic and clean

up some boxes of stuff and throw out some stuff and put some

stuff back intd its imaginary proper place.

I was up there all alone for three hours. It was my first

time up there and my last, thank God. The attic was stuffed

to the gills with stuff.

Everything that’s old in this world was up there. I spent

most of my time just looking around.

An old trunk caught my eye. I unstrapped the straps, un-

clicked the various clickers and opened the God-damn thing.

It was stuffed with old fishing tackle. There were old rods

and reels and lines and boots and creels and there was a metal

box full of flies and lures and hooks.

Some of the hooks still had worms on them. The worms

were years and decades old and petrified to the hooks. The

worms were now as much a part of the hooks as the metal it-


There was some old Trout Fishing in America armor in

the trunk and beside a weather-beaten fishing helmet, I saw

an old diary. I opened the diary to the first page and it said:

The Trout Fishing Diary of Alonso Hagen

It seemed to me that was the name of the old lady’s brother

who had died of a strange ailment in his youth, a thing I found

out by keeping my ears open and looking at a large photograph

prominently displayed in her front room.

I turned to the next page in the old diary and it had in col-


The Trips and The Trout Lost

April 7, 1891 Trout Lost 8

April 15, 1891 Trout Lost 6

April 23, 1891 Trout Lost 12

May 13, 1891 Trout Lost 9

May 23, 1891 Trout Lost 15

May 24, 1891 Trout Lost 10

May 25, 1891 Trout Lost 12

June 2, 1891 Trout Lost 18

June 6, 1891 Trout Lost 15

June 17, 1891 Trout Lost 7

June 19, 1891 Trout Lost 10

June 23, 1891 Trout Lost 14

July 4, 1891 Trout Lost 13

July 23, 1891 Trout Lost 11

August 10, 1891 Trout Lost 13

August 17, 1891 Trout Lost 8

August 20, 1891 Trout Lost 12

August 29, 1891 Trout Lost 21

September 3, 1891 Trout Lost 10

September 11, 1891 Trout Lost 7

September 19, 1891 Trout Lost 5

September 23, 1891 Trout Lost 3

Total Trips 22 Total Trout Lost 239

Average Number of Trout Lost Each Trip 10.8

I turned to the third page and it was just like the preced-

ing page except the year was 1892 and Alonso Hagen went on

24 trips and lost 317 trout for an average of 13. 2 trout lost

each trip.

The next page was 1893 and the totals were 33 trips and

480 trout lost for an average of 14. 5 trout lost each trip.

The next page was 1894. He went on 27 trips, lost 349

trout for an average of 12.9 trout lost each trip.

The next page was 1895. He went on 41 trips, lost 730

trout for an average of 17.8 trout lost each trip.

The next page was 1896. Alonso Hagen only went out 12

times and lost 115 trout for an average of 9.5 trout lost each


The next page was 1897. He went on one trip and lost one

trout for an average of one trout lost for one trip.

The last page of the diary was the grand totals for the

years running from 1891-1897. Alonso Hagen went fishing

160 times and lost 2, 231 trout for a seven-year average of

13.9 trout lost every time he went fishing.

Under the grand totals, there was a little Trout Fishing

in America epitaph by Alonso Hagen. It said something like:

“I’ve had it.

I’ve gone fishing now for seven years

and I haven’t caught a single trout.

I’ve lost every trout I ever hooked.

They either jump off

or twist off.

or squirm off

or break my leader

or flop off

or fuck off.

I have never even gotten my hands on a trout.

For all its frustration,

I believe it was an interesting experiment

in total loss

but next year somebody else

will have to go trout fishing.

Somebody else will have to go

out there.”


We came down the road from Lake Josephus and down the

road from Seafoam. We stopped along the way to get a drink

of water. There was a small monument in the forest. I

walked over to the monument to see what was happening. The

glass door of the lookout was partly open and a towel was

hanging on the other side.

At the center of the monument was a photograph. It was

the classic forest lookout photograph Ihave seen before, from

that America that existed during the 1920s and 30s.

There was a man in the photograph who looked a lot like

Charles A. Lindbergh. He had that same Spirit of St. Louis

nobility and purpose of expression, except that his North At-

lantic was the forests of Idaho.

There was a woman cuddled up close to him. She was one

of those great cuddly women of the past, wearing those pants

they used to wear and those hightop, laced boots.

They were standing on the porch of the lookout. The sky was

behind them, no more than afewfeet away. People in those days

liked to take that photograph and they liked to be in it.

There were words on the monument. They said:

“In memory of Charley J. Langer, District

Forest Ranger, Challis NationalForest, Pilot

Captain Bill Kelly and Co-Pilot Arthur A. Crofts,

of the U. S. Army killed in an Airplane Crash

April 5, 1943, near this point while searching

for survivors of an Army Bomber Crew.”

0 it’s far away now in the mountains that a photograph

guards the memory of a man. The photograph is all alone out

there. The snow is falling eighteen years after his death. It

covers up the door. It covers up the towel.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Richard Brautigan's poem Part 8 of Trout Fishing in America

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