Every organization I’ve ever belonged to has at least one splinter group within its ranks. These are usually like-minded people that somehow end up influencing the direction the organization takes. Clicks, as they’re called, can also be like-minded people that walk a different path from the crowd and could care less what anyone thinks, but don’t interfere with day to day operations as long as they’re left alone to do their thing.(Sort of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” situation.)
The Ostrich Society is no exception. Within its ranks is a group of trout fishermen so set in their ways that haven’t changed since dry flies were tied to catgut leaders and silk line, cast from bamboo rods to rising fish – always upstream; some wearing herringbone tweed with shirt and tie. Every opening weekend of trout season, these guys camp at a secret spot on a river they never reveal, in tents. It’s been their ritual for over fifty years and a couple of them have attended every camp.
Though others know of their existence, few are invited to join because the “shakers”, as they’re known throughout the Society, are about as tolerant of new ideas, equipment and techniques as Seamus is when I change his dog food because I think he’d appreciate the change.
Every opening morning of every opening day, the “shakers” wake before dawn, fire up the propane griddle and begin the ritual of preparing pancakes, thick sliced bacon, toast made from homemade bread and brew coffee from a white speckled porcelain coffee pot so old the outside is now black from years of sitting on an open fire. They don’t set an alarm clock, they just all seem to roll out from their sleeping bags at about the same time – some think it’s because these guys are so old they don’t really sleep; every two hours they stumble out of their tents, in the dark, shoeless, cursing when they step on pine cones, twigs or things crunchy, on their way to heed nature’s call … hence the name “shakers.”
The camp consists of a wall tent that serves as a kitchen and dining room, several other tents for sleeping and collapsible chairs usually ringing a fire pit. No campers allowed. Chores are shared without fanfare – they’ve been doing this so long, they have a routine that goes without much saying. The only exception is Bull Johansen, who has been cooking pancakes since the first camp. At 78, he still flips pancakes, but looses focus sometimes and forgets they’re up in the air. (Someone stands next to him to remind him the pancakes he just flipped will come back down).
There is something to be said for following tradition and ritual; it’s comforting to look forward to the rekindling of memories that can’t really every be duplicated. The fun is in the doing with friends on a river you know and consider your own. Everything else is the glue that binds the memories together, year after year.
One of the rituals the “shakers” engage in is the fish fry. Though they return more than they keep, pan fried brookies cooked in bacon grease over an open fire is a must. Everyone contributes and the big cast iron frying pan has held many brookies, each time rendering them perfectly cooked with onions, green peppers, a little garlic and potatoes. Coffee with a shot of bourbon puts the finishing touch on the meal and gives a head start to dampening aches and pains from sleeping in tents on still cold nights.
The camp lasts five days and when they break it down they leave nothing that indicates they were there; they take as much pride in their cleanup as they do in the setup.