Where Do the Fish Come from?

First answer: I have no idea.

Driving up the ‘mountains’ - all fifteen hundred feet of them - in Mark Twain National Forest, western Missouri, we stumbled on a sign pointing to the highest point in the entire state. Immediately Derek slammed on the brakes and pulled the car into a seemingly random gravel side road, leading up to Taum Sauk Falls lookout point. Parked the car, draping a damp rainfly over the windshield and off we set, bright and bold.

Warm sun poured through a thick canopy, and the path started flat, and then decided to decline for what seemed too long. Suddenly, the trickling of water could be heard. We continued to walk, and then there it was - a tirade of rocks surely descending down the cliff face. Pools of water here and there. First thing was of course to dip in. Replenished after days of arid heat, I noticed darting minnows through the shimmering water, there! Fish!

But how did they get there? The obvious answer was that they were here because of the waterfall that ran down the cliff and has since dried up, leaving only pockets of water in rock crevasses. But still, in the nearly 100-degree weather, I was surprised that the water had not run out of oxygen to sustain life.

A basking snake, crayfish, a grey frog, a green caterpillar and multiple colourful lizards were some of the creatures we encountered throughout the hike.

Sharp rays of evening sun sparked over the treetops, and finding a good spot on a cliff off a few miles down the Ozark Trail, we set up camp. Due to the intense heat of the past few days, we had decided to leave warm clothing and the rainfly back at the camp in an effort to keep the weight of our packs down.

The canyon we had stopped in was devoid of any water, but clearly two adjacent riverbeds ran through. I set off to survey the area, gun in hand. Eventually, the thickets cleared up and the riverbeds joined and a shallow stream emerged, as well as man made rock stacks. Naturally, I took aim at the smallest top stone and shot at it, not expecting to hit anything. Instead, that pebble disappeared and the stack remained standing. I will never forget the look on Derek’s face.

Back at the camp, we divided up tasks with Derek setting up the tent while I found a fallen log that was brittle like cracked glass, and started a fire. It went up in a roar, the flames quickly rising until they were over five feet high and threatening a nearby tree. Wary of causing an uncontrollable forest fire because everything was so warm, the fire was diminished enough to be left alone.

That night, after the sun set and books could no longer be read, we retired to the tent. Warm flat rock felt like laying on a heated mattress, but sleep did not come quickly. Rather, being so exposed on the cliff face, winds that whipped up in the canyon below swept over our tent. Wearing nothing but shorts and a thin shirt, it was impossible to ignore the shivering despite an impressive starry view afforded by the lack of a rainfly. Eventually I had grabbed my backpack for some semblance of protection against the elements, and sleep finally came.

Only to be abruptly woke up to harsh daylight by hard pellets of rain that went straight through the fibrous protection of our tent. Packing everything hastily, we beat a miserable retreat to the car.

Best lessons are learnt the hard way

July 2017, Saif Bhatti

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