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An Imaginary Conversation With Jack June

We first met Jack June in 1972, and what a surprise it was. My wife and I were part of the hippie invasion driving up property prices and corrupting Anderson Valley youth with our New Age ways. Jack was a member of the old guard, bedrock Republican, frozen in time somewhere back in the late 19th century. But then he began to surprise us. At our very first meeting, we learned that a highly experienced forester could conduct a timber cruise from the comfort of a deck chair. Jack extended a hand and welcomed us as if we were members of the family, kind of long-lost cousins who managed to return from the big city. And when he drove off in his modest pickup (so different from the 4 wheel monster trucks of other neighbors), he leaned out and waved a friendly Boont Salute.

Jack was Boont from top to toe. (May he rest in peace with a frisky trout at the end of his fly line.) He was one of the most agreeable of the old-time Boonville pioneers, combining amiability and irascibility in a unique package rare in the outside world of Bright-lighters. His grin and salute greeted friends and (most of) his neighbors as he passed on his way to go fishing.

Jack’s working career — which did interrupt his fishing from time to time during the early years — was involved with the land and the woods. There was not an aspect of forest management or agriculture on which he could not offer expert opinion. Come to think of it, there were few subjects of any kind, from national politics to social norms, where he was not willing to offer expert advice, or to argue at length. And breadth.

But his true and genuine field of expertise was fishing, in particular, steelhead fishing in our beloved Navarro River. He had been around in the days of the great steelhead runs, when fish were so plentiful that when the mouth of the river opened to the sea with the first good winter storms, the first spawners came in so thick and heavy that a brave soul could walk shore to shore on the backs of the fish. Jack shook his head and corrected that stretcher, explaining, “It’s not quite true. One November I tried it, and I did make it almost all the way across. But they were piled up so high, and kept on leaping like popcorn popping that I had to turn around and go back.” Jack was committed to precise historical accuracy when it came to fishing. (Valley history, maybe not so much.)

Jack June's old house

Once encouraged to reminisce, he had stories to tell of the magnificent fish of the past, though he was careful to stick only to the facts. “People talk about big fish, but most of them exaggerate. In my experience, it was rare to actually land a fish much more than forty or fifty pounds.” He added, “There were exceptions, of course. I remember one hen I released in ’52 ran me up and down the river from Iron Bridge to Miner’s’ Hole. Never weighed her, of course, but I did get a picture.” He flipped through his wallet, but a copy was not there. “No matter. But that snapshot by itself printed out to 3 by 5 feet, and even on ordinary photo stock, it came in at 18 pounds and some ounces.”

Times changed of course, for Jack June and all of us. Navarro River quality declined and the great runs disappeared. Jack was no tree-hugger and did not waste his time whining about mistakes of the past. He adapted to the changes and no longer dunked bags of bait in the silted-in deep holes with dozens of others who spent more time clacking rods together and tangling lines than actual fishing. (If it can even be called fishing when no fish are landed, and the call of “Fish on!” means that someone has tangled line with companions two or three rods upstream.)

Jack usually loved a good debate, but the dialog about good times long gone became too repetitive and depressing to listen to. His idea was that the good times are now, so he started fishing the cut banks in the lower river with his fly rod, presenting tiny shrimp-colored flies resembling the ocean food of the just-returned-to-fresh-water steelhead.

Was he successful? Although no one actually saw him catch a single fish, he reported the results with precise mathematical accuracy. “Hooked fourteen today, missed two, lost six. One was a jack salmon, jumped straight out of the water into a willow, wound my line into a clinch knot and broke off, the fly still in the corner his mouth. Looked like he was laughing all the way upstream.”

The way Jack chuckled, I had to believe he was telling the absolute truth, even though a clinch knot is not all that easy to tie while jumping out of the water. Especially without fingers or thumbs.

Sad to say, even those days of depleted runs came to an end. So few fish were ascending the Navarro to successfully spawn that Jack no longer had the heart even to catch and release. But instead of complaining, Jack changed with the times once again. “I figure there’s a new way of fishing, and a new sport fish to chase. Remember this name: Navarro River Three-Spine Stickleback.”

It took me an encyclopedia search to understand what he was talking about. The Navarro Three-Spine Stickleback is a tiny bottom-dwelling kind of minnow size sculpin unique to our river system. “It’s ours, and nobody else can lay claim to it,” Jack said. “And there are lots of them. But scattered in the gravel, no more social than loggers and cowboys at the Lodge the night before rodeo.”

But how can a fish no more than an inch and a half or two be a sport fish? I wondered. “You just have to use the right tackle. And a little imagination.” Jack displayed his gear: a mini fly rod casting a small-gauge floating line, with a uniquely fine leader and tippet, which began with 4 feet of 8-ounce limp mono, then 2 feet of 4-ounce surgical thread, and another 2 feet of white horse hair clipped from the mane of a barrel-racing palomino. The end was next to invisible. “How do you tie something like this?” Jack winked. “Very, very slowly and carefully.”

I had to take his word that there were hand-tied nymphs tucked in his fly book. I might have seen specks of pepper, but I wasn’t sure. “They put up quite a fight on tackle this light,” he said. “I’m lucky to land one out of three.”

But if ever an angler had good luck, it had to be Jack June. There was no moment out on the river that he wasn’t having the time of his life, while building up material for tales of the fourteen hook-ups or the time a crawdad crawled inside his waders.

After all the stories were told and the laughter subsided, Jack June would hop in his pickup and leave us, a sly grin on his face, and a friendly wave of the Boont Salute. In his memory, why not offer the salute to your own best friends and neighbors? It just might catch on.

* * *

Jack Wayne June passed away peacefully in Ukiah, on Saturday, October 29, 2005 at the age of 82. Jack was born June 17, 1923, in Boonville. With the exception of his college years and the time spent in military service, Boonville was his life-long home. His mother, Blossom Vestal June, was the daughter of pioneer families who settled in the Anderson Valley during the mid 1800s. For more than 20 years his father, Harwood June, was the Justice of the Peace in Anderson Valley; he was a rancher, and was instrumental in procuring the Mendocino County Fair for Anderson Valley where he served as manager for over 26 years.

Following graduation from AV High School, Jack attended Santa Rosa Junior College where he studied geology and surveying. He was drafted into the army in 1943 and put his surveying experience to work as a combat engineer. His first overseas assignment was in New Guinea where Jack and his fellow engineers built airstrips and roads in support of US efforts to drive the Japanese invaders from the country. Eventually attaining the rank of Master Sergeant, Jack took part in General MacArthur's triumphant return to the Philippines, landing on Leyte Island just six days after the initial assault. Jack's platoon dodged Japanese bombs and sniper fire as they worked to complete the strategic airstrip at Tacloban. Jack finished his military service by taking part in the occupation of Japan and helping to build the first post-war airport at Yokohama.

After receiving an honorable discharge from the army, Jack returned to Anderson Valley in 1946. He worked with his father on the family's innovative apple ranch where he planted the valley's first dwarf trees, received a US patent for a new method of supporting apple-laden tree branches, and designed and built a modern cold storage and mechanized apple packing facility. He was also responsible for the prudent and effective management of the forest resources of the family-owned timberlands.

In July of 1958 Jack married his beloved wife Janese (Brunton) June. Throughout the years Janese worked in the valley as a bank teller, court clerk and postal employee, and eventually joined her husband in his forestry consultant business, J&J Forestry. Jack became a Registered Professional Forester in 1974 and he managed the timberlands of numerous private timberland owners; always ensuring, as with the family holdings, that the productivity of these timberland were enhanced and maintained while bringing just returns to the stewards of the lands, the timberland owners. He retired as a forester in 2005 after 31 years of service.

Jack absolutely loved Dixieland and big band music and earlier in their marriage he and Janese could be found nearly any Saturday night at a dance somewhere in the county. He as also an avid hunter and fisherman; loading his own shells and tying his own flies. He was even known to be on the river bright and early each Christmas morning, alone just he and the fish. On more than one occasion he would simply forget the time and return home late for the family Christmas dinner, somehow always placating wife and family with a great catch.

Jack was instrumental in perpetuating "Boontling," the language of Boonville. As a young boy he would seek out and listen to the old Boonters "harp" and because of his fascination with the language would write down each story and new word on any slip of paper he had available. Later, in 1971 a book on the "lingo" would be written by Charles C. Adams, a professor of English and Chairman of the Department of English at Chico State College, using materials provided him by Jack. Jack was renowned as an expert on Boontling and he appeared on a number of national television programs, including "On the Road with Charles Kuralt" and the game show "To Tell The Truth", in which each of two impostors tried to convince the celebrity panel that he was the real Jack June. The ŒBoont Salute" was originated by Jack and remains a popular means for Boonters to acknowledge their kinsmanship. In Boontling Jack's name was Wefuz. So named after his father, Harwood, who was called Fuzzy.

Jack is survived by his devoted wife Janese June, his son Eric June, his daughter-in-law Tamar June, as well as numerous loving nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his 2-day old son, John Wayne June; his parents, Harwood and Blossom June; his brother, Delmar June; and his sister, Evelyn (June) Berry. Jack was a member of the American Legion Post 385, California Licensed Foresters Association, California Forestry Association, and the National Rifle Association.

The family wishes to express a very heartfelt Thank You to Dr. Mark Apfel, Dr. Jack Power, Dr. Peter Cho, Dr. Brian Hanson and to the nurses, CNÅs, and staff at Pleasant Care. Their caring, compassion and thoughtfulness will never be forgotten. God Bless Jack's wonderful brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Ray and Lillian Brunton, whose love, presence, and unwavering support gave us enduring strength through this difficult time. God Bless Jim Cooley, a dear friend whose daily visits lifted Jack's spirits and brought him comfort. And God Bless Eddie Slotte, a special young man whose steadfast loyalty was more like that of a son than of an associate. Jack considered him a member of his family.

In accordance with Jack's wishes, a private, family graveside service was held at the Evergreen Cemetery in Boonville, CA. on Tuesday, November 1, 2005. Jack did not want his friends to grieve his passing, but instead to celebrate this bahl ole Boonter's life. So in keeping with his wishes a "party" for all of his friends will be held at a date later in 2006. Wefuz wants there to be a heelch of hootin', hobbin' and hornin'.

If you wish to remember Jack, please send a donation in his name to the Anderson Valley Health Center, PO Box 338, Boonville, CA 95415; Pleasant Care, 131 Whitmore Lane, Ukiah, CA 95482; or the organization or charity of your choice.

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