September 30, 2012
Robert and I are waiting at Jackson Hole airport. We’re excited to meet John, Brodie, and the two boys flying in from Big Oak Ranch in Alabama. The plane is parked and folks are filing through the main doors, one by one. John and Brodie Croyle, two men well over six feet, should be easy to spot, so we tuned our eyes to anyone stooping through the tall door frame.
After a few minutes, they step into baggage claim. Oddly, it wasn’t their height that clued us in; it was the smiles glued to their four faces like an early Christmas morning. We shake hands, hug and introduce the crew all around. The boys, Houston and Gilbert, seem excited. I actually think they might try to cast a line right in the airport lobby.
We divide up in the SUVs and start over the pass between Wyoming and Idaho. John and I lead, while the rest followed. At the top of the pass, we pull over for a quick photo op with the valley beneath us. It is a spectacular day, sunny, crisp with a scent of cottonwoods in the air.
The two boys, fourteen years of age, dash to the sign that divides Idaho and Wyoming. Standing on each side, they yell. “We’ve never been out of Alabama, and here we are… straddling two states at once.”
Arriving at the Lodge, we help everyone get sorted and settled. A bit later, we meet back at the outdoor deck that overlooks the property, gobbling sandwiches, while Justin Hays, the manager of the Lodge, gives the run-down on the Lodge history and the Snake River. The boys listened like players in a huddle.
A pick-up truck drives through the gate and parks beneath the tall cottonwoods, and a man and young boy step out.
A father and son. Our third boy for the trip.
Rayna meets them and introduces herself and ushers them to where we are sitting. Everyone stands, introduces themselves, and Rylee, the young eleven year old, removes his cap as a sign of respect.
He dons a newly cut Mohawk!
We all laugh and take turns touching the bushy tail like it might be a good luck charm on the river.
From that moment, Houston, Gilbert and Rylee became fast friends. They tangled up at the casting pond as Justin, Shade and Rolle gave casting instructions in preparation for tomorrow’s first day of fishing. Three teachers, three methods. Justin preferred the “Bible under the arm-pit” look to keep the elbow in. Shade was all about accelerating the forward cast, and Rolle reinforced the back-cast speed. All three instructors dodged the “live-flies” swirling about the casting pond. Houston pulls in the first “pet rainbow” and high-fives Shade. That particular fish grew several inches a day as Houston retold his “first fish” catch. By the time he left, that foot-long rainbow grew to a thirty-inch monster. Hey, that’s what fishermen do.
As the line from Forrest Gump reminds us, “life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get,” I watched from a distance as the dynamics of the group settled in. We learned about the challenges and the blessings of these three kids, and I felt a tug deep down inside me.
Sometimes life gives us far more than we ever expected… or ever deserved.
And for that, I am truly thankful.