Relaxing after a long day in the wilderness, Sean Hawkings agrees to join a friend on a short river float. “You won’t even have to paddle,” she tells him. Sean Hawkings first came to Montana as a ski bum. He was a lift operation specialist and took much pride in drinking PBR and bumping chairs at Big Mountain. Once the snow melted he ended up with his hands in the dirt at Purple Frog Gardens. There he learned some of his most important life lessons, like how to talk and work at the same time, make homemade beer, grow garlic, slaughter chickens, and process 400 lbs a food a week. He is not scared of bad advice or skiing a pond skim competition naked. This episode of Tell Us Something was recorded in front of a live audience on June 22nd, 2016, at The Wilma in Missoula, MT. 9 storytellers shared their story based on the theme “Bad Advice”. Today’s podcast comes to us from Sean Hawkings and is titled “The Suckerfish”. Thank you for listening.
Transcript : The Suckerfish
I just got done with the hundred mile bike ride overnight trip with my girlfriend, Beverly. I’m sitting in a hammock. I’m drinking wine. I’m eating cheese. I’m at Purple Frog Gardens. I’m listening to the 750 chickens that I’m gonna have to close tonight and open in the morning and realize we had a great weekend. I’m tired exhausted and I’m gonna wake up with enough sleep that Monday morning will be great. I’m killing. Usually I don’t have a recovery day but this is this is a recovery day.
Another farmhand, Heather Ma, sees us out there, runs up and says that we’re doing everything correctly and I try to pat myself on the back and she just gets me.
And she says, You’re doing everything right, but doing one thing wrong.”
And I’m like, “What is that Heather?”
And she’s like, “You should be on the water.”
And I kinda look up. I look at the sky and I see where the sun is and I realize it’s pretty late in the afternoon. I don’t think I really want to go on a river trip on a river I’ve never been on this late in the day when I have to work Monday morning. But for those of you who don’t know Heather she was born in Billings, she’s been to the Yaak and back. She’s put a kid through school and well you just can’t beat her charm. And she told me I wouldn’t even have to paddle!
So we packed up the canoes and the rest of the farmhands to the farm and headed north pass Old Knee heading towards Trego. We stopped at the Stillwater Bar. Heather being true to her form and telling me this is gonna be a relaxing event decided that she would buy us some ranch soaked hush puppies and some cheesy fries.
I take a snort of whiskey. I put down a beer down my gullet and I walk outside the Stillwater Bar to look at the dock out there, which is a very peculiar dock for those you have not been there. It has a large log on it about two canoe links long sits in the water, takes about 2 tree huggers to wrap around. It’s covered in carpet. It’s fixed on two ends with a rod going through so it rotates. It is fun for the whole family. Some advice that I can give you is if you’ve never been on it don’t try to run. Then I look over at the Stillwater landing to the east where they have a brilliant stage the owners who have retired love music and I love to have shows. In this stage is beautiful great carpentry joinery it has 220 power hook up it’s got 110 hook up you could plug in 30 Marshall cabs cranking to 11 and you’re still gonna have a good show. I’ve seen the Dirty Dozen Brass Band play there, my friend Vinny with 20 Grand Funk band, Nuwave Time Trippers. And it’s a venue that you drive to and then park your car. They give you wristbands, you set up your tent and you go down to listen to music. You need to go back to the bar you can go to your tent it’s just a great venue.
At this point in time I was a farmer and a college student and my financial adviser a.k.a. my wallet is pretty empty. So I learned a little trick and if you wait till dusk there is a road that goes behind the Stillwater Lake and if you have a canoe you can canoe to that dock. You’re not going to be part of the club. You’re not going to get a wristband. But you can listen to free music. Well I decided I was done staring at the bar and the landing and the dock. We decided that we had to get this trip on the road. So we packed up and we go to the to the where we’re gonna take out to drop off the vehicle. We get there. We do the drop off, the shuttle rig.
We put the keys in the gas cap and there’s this couple sitting on the bridge named Dirk and Sally. They’re sitting in this brilliant weaved Kmart special low rider chair underneath the bridge with their feet in the sand and Ugly Stick mounted between the two of them with a line in the water and a bobber. Sally, she was really intent at staring at that bobber, but Dirk was the social one. So he came up to us and he was smart, clever. He could tell that we were not putting in there but we’re gonna take out there.
And asked us, “Where you guys putting in?”
And we said, “Oh up at the landing.”
He goes, “Really?!” and he takes out a piece of paper and he writes a little chicken scratch on it and handed it to our friend, Joel, JoJo. JoJo puts it in his pocket, and he says, “I want to give you my goddamn phone number. “If you guys see some sucker fish you better call me because I can put it in my garden to help with the corn.”
I think to myself, “What’s a sucker fish,” but I didn’t want him to know that I didn’t know. So I was just like, “We’ll do.”
We jump in the car, we take off, we’re heading down the road and I get this tug on my shirt from my girlfriend Bev and she goes, “Sean, what’s a sucker fish?”
“I don’t really know. I think they’re in the river.”
“Well what happens? How do we know we’re going to see them?”
I was like, “It will become apparent.” And somebody says, “That’s the end of that conversation.”
We get to the landing we put the boat in the water we have a canoe with me and Bev and my yellow dog named Yellow Dog. I have my other friends in another Stillwater boat. It’s a two-person breakdown canvas kayak. Very not made for any whitewater. We had one whitewater boat with Joel in it but it we made it a Stillwater boat instantly when we forgot the skirt for it. We were wearing flip-flops Crocs, you know the attire that we would not need to paddle and we start heading down the lake to the outlet which becomes the beginning of the Stillwater River.
We hear in the distance this lady and she’s on her dock. She has a house right there at the outlet and we hear, “You’re not gonna make it very far”. At this point, we’re having type one fun and I am committed and I was originally from New Hampshire and my state motto is “Live free or die.”
I respond with, “Thank you.” We continue downriver. We get to the first portage, the second portage, the third portage. We’re starting to have type 2 fun. Then we realize the river makes this huge oxbow bend. And we end up 6 miles from the shore at the point where we could hike back to shore but wearing Crocs and we don’t want to bushwhack that far so we keep portaging. We hit this strainer. This is whe type 3 fun come in. Joel loses his one of his flip-flops. Everyone makes it over the strainer but our boat. I’m in the canoe which has Yellow Dog in it. My friend goes to pull the boat in, the water goes over the gunnel, the boat flips over. I’m looking at the bottom of the strainer and I’m thinking to myself, “This is not drinking wine or eating cheese.” I figured, “This is my way out.” I found a hole, I’m going to swim through it and suddenly I stop moving, and I’m like, “This is where I die.”
Because when you’re in a strainer and you’re not moving that means you’re stuck. But luckily it was my friend, Leaf, with his brute strength somehow pulled me out of the water. I look at him we kinda have this bro moment. We don’t need to talk to each other we just know Yellow Dog is still in the boat that’s upside down. So we flip that over. Miraculously, Yellow Dog jumps out of the boat and just starts doing Daytona laps on the island, just high on life. It was an uplifting moment for the group.
And then, I don’t know if any guys got morel mushroom picking but you know when you’re looking for morels and you find that one and then they kinda come out of the woodwork. And you find more. Well that just happened but it wasn’t morels. I just realized that we were hiking in poison ivy for at least four hours. Right now at this point it’s pushing midnight, 1 o’clock in the morning. Type three fun is not fun. Joel, I told him the best thing, he can do is wrap his foot with his shirt since he only has one flip flop on. And we’re going to have to continue the portage. Some of us have decided to cover ourselves in mud, hoping that would extract the poison ivy out of her skin. We’re not having fun. We’re not talking. Sometimes you look over at Heather, all of us. Heather looks down. We look down.
Joel just starts laughing hysterically.
We’re like, “Joel, what is so funny?”
And he pulls this little piece of paper out of his pocket. He reads the phone number and goes. “I get it.”
We’re like, You get what?”
“Well, we’re the suckers.”