Last Best Streams: #1063.

Just a quick trip off the highway at 10,800 feet, through the spruce and riparian grasses, to a creek only a couple yards across.

I have a soft spot for small, high-altitude creeks like this, places where water was ice and snow maybe only a few days before. The fishing isn’t great, there’s often winterkill, but they can be critically important spawning tributaries for the last few wild populations of native trout throughout the west. And they’re one of the tiny tendrils of a system stretching from here at the spine of the continent, winding all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

I worked upstream, picking pockets and cuts where the creek worked narrow slots against a bank, prospecting with small, bushy dries. For a long while, nothing. Then, an olive-backed flash from underneath an overhanging willow. Then, a handsome, gullible cutthroat.

I’ve been thinking about that stream a bit recently, how impervious it seemed up there. I don’t know how much of the planet’s land surface exists above ten thousand feet, but it can’t be much. And for a stream, whose biggest influences are uphill, maybe that’s a good thing. A protective thing.

I’ve watched a thick, red line of wildfire surge toward the creek over the past several days, wondered if it’s been engulfed, wondered when or if it will return. Not in my lifetime. Not likely.

I feel gratitude and guilt, having seen it when I did.

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