I was working for a small advertising agency in Walpole, New Hampshire (the town that documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns, calls home). When my boss discovered that our biggest client was a fishing fanatic, he decided to take him on a fly-in salmon fishing trip to northern Maine. Trouble was, my boss didn’t know a dry fly from a Daredevle. But he knew I did, so there I was—after our narrow escape from crashing the float plane on take-off from Lake Sunapee—in a remote, rented lake cabin about 40 miles northeast of Mt. Katahdin.
|Mount Katahdin from Millinocket Camp, by Frederic Church, 1895|
As we were preparing our gear for the next morning’s outing, our French-Canadian bush pilot, Bernie St. Laurent, made us a bet. “See dis fly?” he asked, pointing to one of the dozen or so common black houseflies that shared the cabin with us. “Bet I can kill da ting and den bring ’im back ta life.”
The few beers already under our belts made us easy marks. “The hell you can!” my boss and I blurted, reaching for our wallets.
The show began on an impressive note with Bernie neatly grabbing one of the flies right out of the air with his hand. He plopped his palm down on top of a beer glass he’d filled three quarters full of water, trapping the fly. Then he carefully stuffed a paper napkin under his hand until its wet mass held his poor victim underwater with no escape.
After struggling for a while, the fly finally stopped moving. “You guys tell me when you tink he’s a goner, eh?” Bernie said. Just to be sure, we waited a couple more minutes before giving him the nod.
“Okay den,” he said as he removed the soggy napkin, the dead fly’s leg barbs still attached to it. With a toothpick, he carefully pried the corpse away and positioned it, upright, on the table. He reached for the saltshaker and began sprinkling the wet carcass.
Bernie waited a bit longer and then began delicately plowing aside the salt with his toothpick. Soon all that was left was the last wet layer of crystals that clung directly to the body. Like a fly brain surgeon, he used the instrument to gently dislodge individual crystals.
It took several minutes, but finally he’d gotten just about all the salt off that he could. Then, with a wry, confident grin, he tapped the fly’s corpse with the flat end of the toothpick. On the fourth tap, the fly’s wings twitched. Then it shook its legs and began using them to scrape off the remaining salt.
In less than 20 seconds, the damn thing shook off the last of the salt and flew back to the window sill to tell his friends of his alien abduction.
We all agreed that Bernie had earned his money. Now, if only he’d had a way of sprinkling some of that magic on the salmon!