Every time I go to Redfish Lake, I think about author Richard Brautigan.
The hippie novelist of the 1960s is best known for his classic 182-page novel, "Trout Fishing in America." In the free-flowing narrative, he carries readers in and out of literature, cooking, sex, Mormonism, the West and, yes, fishing.
His character also travels across central Idaho, from McCall then to Lowman, Stanley and Redfish Lake. There his character discusses the fine art of catching minnows in a baking pan crusted with vanilla pudding.
Brautigan became an overnight sensation and a symbol of the counterculture that sprang up in the 1960s. He later moved to Montana’s Paradise Valley south of Livingston, a hangout for artists, authors and actors.
There he joined his Montana neighbors in their fascination with guns. He committed suicide at age 49 in 1984. In his brief time, he became an unlikely icon of the time and the place.
A friend from college bought Brautigan's Montana house on the Yellowstone River and I visited him in 1989. He showed me a hole in his kitchen wall where Brautigan had shot while drinking.
Then he took me out to the barn down by the river. Hanging on the wall was the fly rod and creel of the author of "Trout Fishing in America."
Now one of Brautigan’s Montana neighbors, novelist William Hjortsberg, has written a long biography of the author, "Jubilee Hitchhiker," reviewed today in the New York Times.
As I looked out on the lake from the porch of the Redfish Lake Lodge Saturday, I remembered watching my daughter and her friend catching minnows in the early 1990s. Even then Brautigan’s offbeat humor came to mind.
“The minnows were an Idaho tourist attraction,” he wrote. “They should have been made into a National Monument.”
Today, some of the minnows, the baby sockeye, are listed as an endangered species and the entire area has been protected for 40 years as the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. I know that doesn’t mean anything. But that’s what made "Trout Fishing in America" a strange and interesting read.