The Most Beautiful Thing [read free]

In the Most Beautiful Place

By Brody Barrus

This story is offered free in its entirety.

Every bend of the South Fork of the Snake River as it slithers and cuts through eastern Idaho bleeds beauty. Tall luscious cottonwoods tower over the river, providing a home to hundreds of bald eagles. If I’m lucky, I may catch a glimpse of a mature bald eagle diving toward the water like a kamikaze pilot, only to pull up at the last second, grasping onto an unsuspecting trout with its razor-sharp talons. Below the cover of the cottonwoods, whitetail deer and shiras or Yellowstone moose thrive. On occasion, I see them along the banks getting a drink of water or going for an afternoon swim. Throughout the canyon section, the willowy banks abruptly transition to sky-high cliffs. When I gaze upon those cliffs, I sometimes begin to feel almost hypnotized by the thousands of swallows that flutter about like a cloud of mosquitoes. The South Fork is so rich with beauty, it is truly difficult to take it all in at once.

Below the surface of the river, prowling the depths in search of hatching flies, worms, or perhaps a school of minnows, is what I consider to be the purest form of beauty to be found: trout. The South Fork is home to several different species of trout: brown, cutthroat, rainbow, and the occasional lake trout. After hundreds of trips down the river catching thousands of fish, I have become particularly obsessed with brown trout. They are as tough as a mule, meaner than a two-headed snake, sly as a fox, yet also are one of the most beautiful works of art Earth has to offer.

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Boat fishing on the Snake River. Courtesy Brody Barrus.
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The author displays at male brown trout in spawning season. Courtesy Brody Barrus.
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A male brown in summer. Courtesy Brody Barrus.
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The Snake River South Fork. BLM photo.
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Without fail, each time I catch the first glimpse of a brown trout darting through the water, thrashing, throwing its head, and violently fighting to stay in the river, I feel a wave of adrenaline and excitement. Being able to trick a brown trout into gorging on whatever bait I might present is only part of the challenge. Getting the fish into the net can prove just as difficult. Mature brown trout are powerful and will try anything to get away, such as lying in the heavy current, which can cause your line to snap, or jumping out of the water and spitting the hook, or swimming into a logjam in search of shelter. After successfully netting a brown, the thrill that kicked in during the fight immediately turns to respect and amazement as I admire the natural beauty radiating from the trout.

Its colors vary depending on the time of year and the gender of the fish. During spring and summer, both male and female browns turn a buttery gold riddled with black and bright red spots. As summer transitions to fall and spawning season approaches, a male brown trout’s appearance rapidly changes: the buttery gold of summer turn to a much darker, richer gold, occasionally almost an orange-like color. The top of the fish’s nose flattens out, and, most noticeably, the kype or hooked jaw develops as a weapon to fight off other males. In the midst of the spawn, male browns are vicious-looking, their mouths resembling that of an alligator.

I’ve traveled throughout most of the United States and to several foreign countries but I have yet to experience anything as rich with beauty as the South Fork. Some people may think of beauty as a fine piece of art, tucked away in an art gallery. Some may find it in their spouse or significant other. The dictionary defines beauty as “the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit.” That definition is helpful, but it doesn’t give the concrete answer of what beauty is to me. I find it to be most prominently displayed on the South Fork of the Snake River, which crawls with wildlife. The landscape throughout is eye-popping—and, of course, somewhere below the surface, the beautiful brown trout hides, waiting to ambush its prey.

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