Last Best Streams: #329.

Slacker Solstice.  All I knew was the name and coordinates to a recently hayed field deep in the Ozarks, an old bungaloid house in a grove of black walnut, a barn, a tattered greenhouse, and a goat paddock out back.  Two dozen Rainbow People types milled around the house, playing guitars and singing.  Lots of cargo shorts and sun dresses.  

                “A friend invited me, then flaked” I told one of the hippies who looked like he may very well have been in charge. 

                “No problem, brother,” he said, shaking my hand and grinning.  “Pitch a tent and make yourself at home.”  So I found a mostly level spot between a couple round bales, laid out my gear, and walked off toward the stream. 

                It’s the bastard child of a bigger, more popular river.  This one’s farther out, in rougher country with thinner soils, fewer trees, steeper hills, and little in the way of blacktop.  Forty minutes from the nearest town of more than ten thousand.  It’s a scenic stream, but not really marketable, most years the midsummer flow isn’t enough to sustain two or three hundred canoes, kayaks, and rafts a day.  Its isolation means it’s developed an eclectic if dispersed population: old-time hardscrabble farmers, wannabe cattle barons, hillbillies, boilerplate white trash and tweakers, bikers, American Redoubt type apocalypse preppers, Holy Rollers and snake handlers, and yeah- hippies.  All those social circles aren’t necessarily intertwined, but all share the single common trait distilled down to “you do you.”

                The fishing’s fine, I catch a decent smallmouth and a couple goggle eye.  It’s hot and I crack a beer and grab the mask and snorkel, swimming through schools of shiners and chubs to check out darters, turning over rocks for sculpin and madtoms and crayfish or maybe a mudpuppy.  The longest day of the year, I stick around until late, throwing popping bugs and occasionally catching fish until late.  The last fingers of light are slipping across the hayfield, I listen to the din of conversation and singing and guitars and drums as blue woodsmoke curls from the grove of black walnut. 

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