story<font face="Times New Roman"><strong>THE PUDDING MASTER OFSTANLEY BASIN</strong>Tree, snow and rock beginnings, the mountain in back of thelake promised us eternity, but the lake itself was filled withthousands of silly minnows, swimming close to the shoreand busy putting in hours of Mack Sennett time.The minnows were an Idaho tourist attraction. Theyshould have been made into a National Monument. Swimmingclose to shore, like children they believed in their own im-mortality .A third-year student in engineering at the University ofMontana attempted to catch some of the minnows but he wentabout it all wrong. So did the children who came on theFourth of July weekend.The children waded out into the lake and tried to catch theminnows with their hands. They also used milk cartons andplastic bags. They presented the lake with hours of humaneffort. Their total catch was one minnow. It jumped out of acan full of water on their table and died under the table, gasp-ing for watery breath while their mother fried eggs on theColeman stove.The mother apologized. She was supposed to be watchingthe fish --THIS IS MY EARTHLY FAILURE-- holding thedead fish by the tail, the fish taking all the bows like a youngJewish comedian talking about Adlai Stevenson.The third-year student in engineering at the University ofMontana took a tin can and punched an elaborate design ofholes in the can, the design running around and around incircles, like a dog with a fire hydrant in its mouth. Then heattached some string to the can and put a huge salmon eggand a piece of Swiss cheese in the can. After two hours ofintimate and universal failure he went back to Missoula,Montana.The woman who travels with me discovered the best wayto catch the minnows. She used a large pan that had in itsbottom the dregs of a distant vanilla pudding. She put thepan in the shallow water along the shore and instantly, hun-dreds of minnows gathered around. Then, mesmerized bythe vanilla pudding, they swam like a children's crusadeinto the pan. She caught twenty fish with one dip. She putthe pan full of fish on the shore and the baby played withthe fish for an hour.We watched the baby to make sure she was just leaningon them a little. We didn't want her to kill any of them be-cause she was too young.Instead of making her furry sound, she adapted rapidlyto the difference between animals and fish, and was soonmaking a silver sound.She caught one of the fish with her hand and looked at itfor a while. We took the fish out of her hand and put it backinto the pan. After a while she was putting the fish back byherself.Then she grew tired of this. She tipped the pan over anda dozen fish flopped out onto the shore. The children's gameand the banker's game, she picked up those silver things,one at a time, and put them back in the pan. There was stilla little water in it. The fish liked this. You could tell.When she got tired of the fish, we put them back in thelake, and they were all quite alive, but nervous. I doubt ifthey will ever want vanilla pudding again.
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