JEFF SHATTUCK MUSIC

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What is and what used to be.

2006. 2007. 2008. 2009. 201? How long will the effects of my brain injury last? And I don’t mean the good ones -- my new-found talent for songwriting, for example -- but the bad: the constant lightheadedness, the vertigo of bending down, of looking up, of looking left, of looking right, the twitchiness. Honestly, it’s gotten to the point where these problems have truly started to wear on me. In and of themselves, they’re not that bad, but their constant presence is like Chinese water torture, and I have no idea when or if they will ever completely go away. But hardest of all is the realization that I might never again do some of the things I used to love to do. For example, fishing in Wyoming with my folks.


Way, way back in the early 1960s, when my sister and I were toddlers, my Dad took the family up to Sunlight Basin, Wyoming, for a fishing vacation. I don’t remember the trip at all, but I grew up with the pictures, which showed cabins and a stream and trout hanging off of line. And I remember my parents talking about the trip (my Mom less enthusiastically than my Dad!) but we never went back. No, Sunlight Basin remained an imaginary place to me, a place where the waters ran clean, cold and fast, the mountains stood rocky and near and the trout always bit,

I can’t say what the catalyst was, but in the late ‘90s, my Dad started talking much more seriously about going back to Wyoming. I suppose it was because he was no longer running companies or flying around the world trying to figure out where to invest the ample cash of a Swiss power company. Or maybe he just figured, goddamnit, I like Sunlight Basin and I want to go back.

By 2005, we had been going annually for several years, every time, save for the first, we stayed at Hunter Peak Ranch. We developed a routine. First, we would drive from the ranch over to the Jeep road and down to Crandall Creek, which we would fish all the way down to where it meets the Clark’s Fork and then we’d fish up the Clark’s fork a little ways. A day or two into our typically four-day stays, we would take horses up the valley carved by Crandall to where the fish were big for mountain trout and where our catch was always best. With so many fish to eat, we had them for lunch, for dinner, even for breakfast, sometimes cooking them ourselves, sometimes having Shelly at Hunter Peak would cook them. Drink was always beer (Michelob) or a little wine we had bought on the drive in or brought from home.

Then I fell. As I lay on my hospital bed, I never for a moment thought that my fishing days might be over. Hell, the doctors just chuckled when I asked if I’d be okay to make a ski trip I had planned in a few weeks. “Sure,” they said, “you’ll be fine, just rest up.” Months later, I was still taking stairs one at a time, and I do mean one. at. a. time. I’d step up with my right foot, then my left, and repeat. I had a cane. Oh, and there was the little plastic bags Catherine carried with us whenever we went anywhere because you just never knew when I was going to get sick.

2005 was the last year I was in Sunlight Basin. As with every other visit, our fishing luck was strong, the weather good and the scenery just otherworldly. That year we finally ventured a little beyond the Clark’s Fork and Crandall for our fishing expeditions and drove up the Beartooth Pass to some alpine lakes, which are set in a treeless landscape that would be right at home in the Lord of the Rings movies. The Jeep road to our chosen body of water was especially rough, and I remember being once again amazed at the capabilities of 4X4 SUV. I don’t think we caught anything -- our tackle was wrong as we had spinners not hooks off of floats -- but I remember thinking that next year we probably wouldn’t bother with the lakes. They were pretty, but we were river fishers and that’s what we were best at.

Since 2006, my Mom and Dad have continued to make their now-annual trek to Sunlight Basin and every time, as the month of August approaches, I like to think to myself that maybe I will finally go back. Then I think about the rough terrain, the high altitude (causes me headaches, now), the bumpy drives in the 4X4, even just the plane ride to get to Cody and I know otherwise. But that’s what is. And what used to be is over. For now.