Outlaw Reflections: Virgin

Telluride knows from virgins. Well, a few. Only recently the town, supported by Quentin Tarantino and the cast of  his upcoming movie, “The Hateful Eight,” sacrificed a virgin to Ullr, Norse God of Snow, to end the drought. And by gum the gambit worked. Then there are the “Rocky Horror Show” virgins, those who have never seen the cult movie, who show up to Telluride Theatre’s now annual screening to be, ahem, deflowered. And now this story by Oleh Lysiak about the time he was a never-ever in the fine art of fishing.


“’Virgin’ was published as a ‘Fishing with Uncle O’ column in the San Miguel County Post, December 6, 1995 and remains my favorite,”  explained the author, now a regular contributor, thank heaven, to Telluride Inside… and Out.


Late afternoon, nearly dusk, shadows lengthen as I approach pink-tinged riffles on the Wood River in the alpenglow of rounded brown mountains south of Ketchum, Idaho. A flight of mallards rises, startled from a bend downstream, quacks at my intrusion, circles and heads south in search of another spot to bed down for the night. Sweet pinewood smoke hangs incense-like on the pale blue September breeze.

Twenty-five years younger, I walk amid aspen and spruce, fishing pole in hand, hook baited with salmon eggs, about to embark on a journey I’ll travel the rest of my days in search of the wild and wily trout, a virgin.

Nancy the Bear, my girlfriend and traveling companion, has talked me into fishing for the first time in my life. Recently discharged from the service, I’m on a quest to see if the exotic names of places in the world have equally exotic stories.

I managed not to get myself killed during Vietnam, my limbs and faculties intact. Instincts dictate I get as far away from my parents, government, and schooling as I can.

The Bear rigs my pole, line, baits the hook with scarlet, salty eggs. I’m a fishing virgin and the Bear is the only human I dare trust.

Ketchum is where Ernest Hemingway blew his brains into the orange juice when he figured he didn’t have what it takes. I read all Hemingway’s work. He is one of my great literary heroes.

The flight of ducks disappears downstream. I toss the bait into riffles unaware what is about to happen will transform my life.

My youth was spent on the asphalt and concrete of Philadelphia and New York. I rode the Staten Island ferry for fun when Manhattan bored me, or spent Sundays in Washington Square or Greenwich Village listening to Beatnik poets and folksingers.

Father worried I’d turn out tweaked if I hung out with riffraff and bohemians. The Metropolitan Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, The Guggenheim, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Rodin Museum were where I went to find refuge from the streets. From fishing I knew bupkis. Father didn’t fish.

By Ketchum I’m prepared to lose my fishing cherry. A woman turns my attitude around, points it in the right direction. The Bear grew up fishing the High Sierras, knows what fishing is about.

The salmon eggs make their journey through the riffles along glistening gravel on the Wood’s bed. I watch the mallards flap and quack when the monofilament straightens, feel the first indelible electric jolt, adrenaline rushing, when the trout strikes, as powerful today as it was then. The power of other feelings in life pales with time. The feeling of a fish on improves, the moment when you know, the fish knows although neither see the other, the power of realized possibility, primeval sense of hunt, connection to a wild overpowering instinct, return to the pagan despite the lure of technology. Gear may have changed over hundreds of thousands of years. The jolt remains the same.

Knee-deep in the river, I don’t know what to do. I horse the fish in, grab hold of the pole in one hand, line with squirming fish in the other, and run full bore crackling leaves and branches with every step stumbling, tripping, screaming: “Hey, Bear, hey Bear – I got one. I caught a fish. Hey!”


Editor’s note about Oleh:

I am reminded of the man every day. A talented sculptor, one of his mobiles sits on the coffee table in our living room. But I had not seen or heard from Oleh Lysiak for over 20 years. Ah, the wonders of social media. We rediscovered each other about a year ago, which was when I also discovered the artist is also a writer – at least nowadays – though making marks on paper is only one among a very long list of talents, some slightly sketchy.

O. Z. Lysiak winking

 A former Telluride resident, O.Z. Lysiak  once worked as a  San Miguel County journalist. He is also, as mentioned, an artist, author and poet. Two of his books: “Art, Crime & Lithium” and “Neighborhood of Strangers” are now available at The Wilkinson Public Library.

Given his street cred and the fact he wrote extensively locally in the bad old days, I asked Oleh if he would mine his files for past columns that might be of interest to our readers. I am thankful the man said “yes.” 

The column name? We hold certain truths to be self-evident.

Outdoor mobile, Oleh Lysiak

Outdoor mobile, Oleh Lysiak


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