Thursday, June 30, 2011

Browns, Bug Bites & Beauty.

  "I knew, just as surely and clearly, that life is not a work of art,
and that the moment could not last.” 
~ Norman Maclean

Brown's Cabin, by Kendall Zimmerman

Five in stride we walked; four holding rods and one a pencil. Water and paper, our waiting canvases. An old jeep road singly filed us, divided by Western wallflowers and ordered by brome grass.

Rounding a bend in the road we came to the pond, and to a man and his son just packing up their rods. “Only a couple ‘a bumps,” the father said, “let’s see what you guys’ve got.” “Oh, I’ve got game,” Jay said walking determinedly past, like a baseball player up to bat, already swinging, already pulling out line. First cast….bump. Second cast….hooked-up! This painted him The Fisherman. John, Eve, and I spread out --assault style. Soon, more fish. We’ve got game too. And soon, the Two Bumps erased themselves from the picture….

…from this scene, where my world felt whole, centered upon this ground and comforted by uncounted time. I had been writing, drafting, and imagining this day for months now. I didn’t know how the story would be told or what the picture would look like. I didn’t know the ending. Yet I knew that whatever might be, there would be a story. I knew there would be a work of art. And, I knew it would be beautiful…..from the beginning sketch. 

I sat down and ate an apple, grazing as I gazed at four people -- a family, a moment, a work of art.....

…….into which I was now painted.

Black leeches stripped through the water, getting cheap glances and brown bites. Periods of wind mensurated casts, and fish began to rise in the off-beats. John was having the most luck. “What are they bitin’ on?” Jay whispered, the water carrying the question like an invisible tin can with a string. The end of my line. “Dries! Your Clown Shoe!” the tin can and string answered back. And soon, four pink shoes could be seen floating, walking us into late afternoon.
Risers pocked the pond like raindrops and shadows silently began their stalk of evening….

… we rounded another bend in the road.

Jay looked at me, his eyes like mirrors of the waters he loves…."This, is one of those days, Erin....this is one of those days.”  A third time echoed off a smile’s cornering lines as he looked across the pond. We must remember this, for this moment won't last. “We'll never have this day again….

...but, we will have better.”
While it’s true that life isn’t a work of art, every now and again there is a moment that is – transforming us into works of art -- beautiful lives covered with scrapes and dirt, and sunburns and ant bites. And those moments…..

….those moments will last.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Campfire Fuel.

This is my campfire. Gather around. I will tell my story. Then, you will tell yours. Memory grade  --- that, is campfire fuel.

Everyone has a fish tale, right? Just like everyone plays the guitar. How true, or how good, is what must be figured -- fish stories are usually tall; the guitars usually out of tune.

And recently I've been noticing, I'm being told a lot of stories. One of mine jogs memories and then other stories come running, in old gym socks and tennis shoes, lapping hurdles of time and place -- even, death. My grandpa told me a story this week. It may not be his voice anymore, and I may not be the little two-braided girl asking for "a story about when you were little, grandpa!" No, now I'm a grown woman sitting on an old wooden chair reading typed words from my Grandmother. The computer plays its part, The Mystical Medium. But it is still my grandpa's story. 

After I wrote about my fear and fishing for pike, my grandmother wrote:

“When we had been married a couple of years, we decided to take a trip up to Minnesota to a little cabin on one of the many lakes.  Grandpa wanted to catch a pike.  It rained the whole time we were up there.  One evening Grandpa decided that he was going to catch a fish so he went down to the little pier on the lake.  It was too stormy to take the boat out so he fished from the pier.  Much to his surprise he got a fish on his line, but when he tried to reel it in the fish swam around the mooring and Grandpa couldn't get it loose.  He finally had to cut the line and let him go.  That was the only fish he caught and "didn't catch" the whole time we were there.  We bought a pike when we got home and grilled him in aluminum foil in a little butter and it was delicious.  He would have been so impressed with your catch.”

And so the story ends. A picked up pike at the neighborhood grocers...oh revenge, how delicious you are. 

I yawn..... 
.....not the story, but the hour is at fault. 

The fire is dying. Yet, there is another log to throw on; and, there is always another memory for fuel. Light always lingers. Please, keep telling your stories. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Flies On Blind Dates.

4:30 a.m. and my alarm crowed like the rooster down the road; although he, was still asleep. So Banjo stepped in and played his part, the man of the house, kissing me awake. I didn't work today. Why did you not remember to turn off the alarm, my headache scolded.

Anyhow, I was up....and my pragmatism bid me be useful. So I was. Well, I tried to be at least....
.....I tied.

Light lands differently in morning darkness than in evening. It opens. Possibilities. Sometimes overwhelmment -- for good or ill. The evening sighs with relief shrugging off the sun, but the morning's shoulders are burdened with his course.

And so I sat at my tying desk, a little nervous about the day. I was being sniffed. My shoulders felt the weight of possibilities....

....the weight of a fly on my line,
...and of a fish hooked to the end of it.

And soon I felt the weight of my flies on other lines.

Jay asked to see my fly box again. He gave one to Eve too. There is something very nerve-wracking about this, about other people using my flies. Like setting up a blind-date. Will this work out? Paying more attention to their rod tips than to my own -- I wondered about my flies, out on dates with strange leaders...will they work?

After only a few casts in, Eve answered with a grin. Yes... 

Oh yes, they work.....I am lucky.....this will work....and beneath a blanket of wool grey clouds and a spitting sky, it was the lightest afternoon I've had in a very, very long time...

Monday, June 20, 2011

Epitaph, by a Pond.

Forgotten valleys are colder than remembered, as depression gullies out its place in the earth. The air holds a sweet stagnation in these places -- hooped and barreled between hills; fermenting, like a good wine.

Forgotten cabins are reminders that I am new to this land. Others have called it home long before. Yet, choosing these high valleys and harsh canyons for perhaps the same reasons...

...evidence that they were here. That, they lived. They lost. They won. They chopped wood and made supper. They sipped coffee, cowboy style. They loved here. They made love here -- on and to this land -- whoever lived in that home. And maybe, maybe they made love down by the pond too.

Here is their tombstone...its eyes still see what those closed now only dream...forgotten....

...ponds; waters still, holding my reflection close like just another cloud passing.... clear thoughts, to cast, fish, thin like cattle wintered too long in harvested corn fields. Stalky. Yet, strong and wild. And forgotten fish? They know flies. They remember. And perhaps, this is why they were forgotten in the first place. They are no fools...

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day.

"You have to put that worm on yourself," Papa said, as dirt squirmed through my fingers. I would have to do something about this nightcrawler, it seemed. Something, that is, if I wanted to fish. And then, I'd have to unhook the fish or tree limb. Whichever caught first. That was the deal. There was no sugar, coating my childhood; yet, it holds the sweetest memories, watering the sweetest of dreams. Good hibernates there, and when spring is long in coming, it is the place to which I go to be reminded that goodness, beauty, and green, still does exist in this world.....if only sometimes in childish dreams.

"That's rigor mortis" Papa said, answering my child-eye's silent question as we lifted a white calf's body into a shallow winter's grave. He had seen it in humans, he said. Bundled in my red-quilted jacket, I shivered from else than the cold.

"That's life" Papa said, when it got so bitter I couldn't swallow any more -- please, take from me this cup. "Try Tums, they cure everything," he typed with a :-) dad can always make me laugh, drying my tears with his humor. Like the Big Fat Greek Papa and his Windex -- Tums for heartaches...Tums for soul aches. And on occasion, Tums for heartburn.

I smile when he calls me "sweetheart" and still feel beautiful from years ago, hurt, and jaded about men I chopped my waist-length hair off. Men liked my, off it went. That would fix the problem. Yet Papa said, "that's not what makes you beautiful, Erin."

I feel able and independent when he shows me how to use powertools (having eye protection laid out for my mother's benefit of course). But -- I never use those, Papa says, Tim the Toolman wouldn't.

We grunt and laugh.

"You're cool," he tells me now, and my awkward introverted self actually feels 'cool' when he says it. While my dad didn't get to have any sons, my sister and I are about as close to a boy as a girl can get. She climbs rocks / I fish waters. Most days, we are both covered in goodly amounts of dirt rather than drama. He gives us power tools for Christmas presents --- and we use them. I suppose we could be called his daugh-sons....sounding a bit like his first pick-up truck

Little girls learn what men are from their dads. Like being on a hunt, we sit in blinds guided by our mothers, and watch and learn and take note. I watched. I learned. And I learned about more than men by reading my dad --  I learned life. Yes, in watching as I grew up, but moreso now hundreds of miles away, through his written words.

My dad lives in light of his death. Oh, he is still alive and well, and drinking Pepsi in Nebraska. No months have been sentenced to his life....and yet, they are. We all have only months to live, we just don't know how many. My dad knows this, he sees the ending of the sentences, he knows the pain of periods, and he lives because of it..... wise because of it.

I read his wisdom.....
.....and live because of it.

He deals in death, every day. Gathering cremated remains of life's hopes, dreams, and loves, he gives them -- as beauty, for grief through ashes. Looking into his eyes, I know he carries those ashes with him -- they are heavier than you'd think, and they don't blow away with the wind -- but maybe....maybe, it's in the waters...

.....the waters, floating away the ash, authoring a beautiful life...

Thank you Papa, for teaching me.  

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Question Shaped Compliment.

"Can I see your fly box?" Jay asked as we rigged our rods.

"Sure..." I said, skidding the box across the hood of my car. "Is this the Day of Erin's Flies or something?"

"Nah...they're just good flies.....and I want to fish 'em"

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

East of Eden...

.....banished every morning to work. I leave, so that I can return. I tell this to myself, and to my Banjo in the window.

And every evening I return to hard yet forgiving arms, holding me closely on a bed of rock. I've found this soil to be the most stable, the most safe, and where my feet are the most sure.

There is a railroad bridge crossing the highway, connecting the canyon to the world. The gateway to Eden. As soon as I cross its boundary, I sink into silence echoing loudly down the canyon's sides. I sigh...even in the loneliness of the canyon I know there are others like me (Norman Maclean). It is in this loneliness that I feel completely understood and understanding. The stillness beckons me -- be.

Tension releases and stress dissipates as soon as I cross those tracks....into my sanctuary.   

Finally, I'm home.....

.....even yet miles away, at the canyon's mouth teethed with tracks.

Softly passes the time here, as harsh as the land is. Daylight breaks slowly, light seen long before the sun. Intuition tells me, he's coming....yet he has a long detour through the plains, others get him first. I sense when he nears, like a dog who knows his master is soon to come home. And, I feel like barking, I feel joy, when he finally arrives. The plains get his virgin rays, but I get his golden -- the best saved for me...saved for the canyon. A lifelong love affair, only just barely a year old -- here, between me and these mountainsides.

Everything in the canyon struggles, everyday. But, I see strength in the defenses of plants and birds and mammals. The late-blooming wildflowers, the death-eating magpies, the fox calling for its mate. Weathered, wintered, and windblown; yet, we stand.

Notice, there is a kindness in anyone or anything who has to struggle to survive, towards others of like kind and making.

And the canyon...
...the canyon is kind to me.....

.....I've found my Eden.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Just one more cast.

Light lingered late into the evening, Lily wanted us, furtively winking...stay. Just one more cast. Just one more. Like that feeling of when you're a kid, having to leave your grandmother's house when she's baking cookies. There are treats yet to be had. You get the glimpse your mother doesn't want you to see through the oven-door window. And, you salivate. Please can we stay? Lily opened the door and the smell of pine baked with alpenglow wafted out. It would have been rude to refuse, after what she'd given. No, indeed -- she hadn't hosted others so well. And so we stood, Jay and I, outlined by twilight. An evensong of bullfrogs and a redwing blackbird boy-chorus, higher pitched and more immature -- bullfrogs have lived life, and they have the voices to prove it.

Just one more cast...

...after one more cast.

Jay looked at me, apologizing for not being able to help himself in that I'm really not sorry for this kind of way. "I've infected you too" he said, "haven't I?" My continual casts affirmed my sickness. He smiled. "Ok, we each catch one more, and then we"


Except, no deal.

"One comin' in fast your way....edge of the reeds!!!" ===> Jay whispered and pointed my way. I'm learning his hand signals...reading his rod tip and left hand like a border collie and a shepherd's cane. Soon, I'll do before he can tell. But right now, I still need his whispers. Strip, strip, strip -- in came my new micro-streamer pattern (The Lily Bugger, Jay took to calling her). Following, the trout broke the surface...a cutthroat of red. Red, rusted onto its gills as a reminder of the need for food -- these cuts...coloring feeding with the dangers of being delicate...of being too beautiful.

"Coming from your right....end of your leader." I whispered towards Jay, trying to remember his hand's motion. Got him! A cut woke the sleeping waters.

Now, we could go home.

After,  just one more cast....
.....just one more.

Lingering line in Lily's light for as long as she would let us cast...just one more.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Clouser's Flies.

By training, I am a classical musician. My college years were mensurated by a metronome, beating out parties and social ties, and beating in Bach, Dowland, Torroba, Piazzolla, and Segovia. I spent many late nights with men....all of them years dead. Alone in a room, I would shut off the lights and practice in blackness for hours (at least 5 a day) -- feeling like a madwoman trapped in a tower, I let my hair down (it was long, and had there been a prince he could have climbed up, had he the courage), and tried to play my way out...making beautiful sounds to hale men's souls out of sheep's guts...

But like the pied piper, the strings snaked coils around me and sounds followed me home. My ears, my mind...were (and are) never truly silent.

This was long ago. Now, the sounds following me are of waters -- my soul being haled.

And, as I was once given scales, arpeggios, and Bach suites to learn to perfection, I am now handed a plastic bag containing a book, "Clouser's Flies," some hooks, and some dumbbell-eyes. 

Study the master, I'm told.

And so I do.

I put up my growing-out hair, awkwardly thick, and flick on the lonely light above my desk -- the light, who looks down on everything I do; but contrary to that person you can never please, my light -- my light looks down with approval -- not always with what or how I am doing something, but for why I am doing it. Ah! Brilliant, that color marabou....I swear, he flickers encouragement. My dog Banjo sees it too. Ask him. His eyes always have answers. These eyes -- they are of one who sees all, but does not speak. Milky golden-flecked Magic 8 balls of wisdom, melting species and language into hot chocolate. Sip slowly. Sometimes wisdom is too hot - hard to digest - at least right away.

I tie on, in ambient silence.

Streamers -- with flattery in imitation; yet proudly, solely, my own -- flash, marabou, fox-hair, mink. And by the end of the night I am covered with creative refuse, from trying to make something beautiful out of fur and feather. Trying tie my way out... waters.

The light flickers. I've done well.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Sawhill Ponds.

Bluegill rise to kiss,
in love with the sun, they smooch
the surface, sounding
like teenagers, making-out
in the back-row seats of the Sawhill Ponds Theatre.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Nebraska Nugget.

"Ah, fish'll eat anything" a fly fisherman told my dad on his last trip to Colorado -- anything, like a college boy presented with something that looks like food -- he'll try to eat it. (I've personally tested this on a former housemate of mine, and I'm sure he'd go on the record as saying that plastic bananas are damn hard to peel.) You see, things like this should not be told to the people of my ilk, from whom I've been hewn. Anything? Really? For then we go about refuting or being refuted. Either way, we'd just like to know.

- My dad questioned, "so, what's the deal with all those fancy flies?" 
- "It's sex appeal -- for the man, not the fish," the fisherman replied.

He shook his head. Silliness. And anyway, what's wrong with these men that they need flies to turn them on? I suppose that if one wanted to, one could concoct some subconscious Freudian connection between streamer flash and glittery lingerie. But I know far more about the former than the latter, thus that is for another time, another place, and another post. 

A few days ago now, I stood down the shoreline from my dad, little knowing he was secretly and silently performing a test. Anything? Really? We'd already caught bass and saved a bullhead and I had lost myself, reveling in the relaxation that comes once fish are caught. The rest of the day? The proverbial frosting which, proved more than sweet -- deliciously buttercreamed.  

Papa laughed, that kind of surprised laugh that only comes when you've gone out on a limb and you realize one of two things: either (1. the branch is thinner than you thought -- or (2. the branch is stronger than it looks. Well, at least now you know. This laugh then turned into the guilted giggle of a little boy who has admittedly done something. 

My ears perked. 

"What? What is it? What'd you catch?" It must be huge! I thought. A green sunfish? Nice! Although, I didn't understand what was so funny about this fish. 

The Laugh started up again. Teasing, leading ----> "That was my fly!" Papa said. "Get out!" I exclaimed, pulling out my best Elaine Benes impersonation. Since when is he tying flies to use on his conventional gear pole? But sure enough, tied, in a Nebraska garage with a leftover yellow rubber worm and the bristles of a floor broom, my dad came up with a darn good fly pattern: The Nebraska Nugget.

It looks like corn....and yes, fish'll eat it. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Spell, The Sister, and The Smell.

My dad was beginning to believe that there weren't fish in Colorado. All these posts and pictures of mine must be from a different state, or be photo-shopped, or something, he said. Before every one of his visits this spring, the weather over ate on calm and upon his crossing of state lines, it got a bad case of the winds.

Memorial Day weekend my parents came out for a visit -- to try again -- and after two days, Sunday morning dawned still fishless. We had one day left and would have to charm the third. Mom heard tell of Walden Ponds and was wooed by name alone. We must go there, she said, it sounds so romantic. The birds' song would be vibrant, the water would be glassy, the fish would be bitey and even the mud would be magical. She felt it, thus it must be so. We'd spend the afternoon dabbling in existentialism.

My sister Erica has the smell. Fish love her. They swim to her instinctively with pheromonal attraction. I've never looked, but she must have gills someplace. I always teased her that she was adopted and that her real parents are aliens. She never believed me, but I never stopped trying to convince her it was true. Hmm maybe, yes maybe, she is the spawn of Sunfish. That's it. She is dangerous. She never needed power-bait -- she has power-smell. Fish know, but they just can't stay away. Like that woman who is just too beautiful - men know they'll be hurt - fish know they'll be hooked - but they just.....can' themselves. They want her.

We've been trying to figure this smell thing out for decades now, my dad and I. When we're all fishing together, she catches fish. We don't. We switch spots and fish in hers. Nothin'! They follow her. Now, she doesn't fish anymore. Evolved from gills to thumbs, she's morphed into a rock climbing monkey and is wicked good in that too.

Thus, a scientific experiment was in order. Does she still have The Smell? Testing the hypothesis of one's fish curse and another's magical power is a very scientific endeavor, you know. Erica wasn't coming fishing with us and before she left to climb we had her touch all the lures and flies in my dad's tackle box. The ultimate test. Is the attraction still there after all these years?  

We dabbled.


...we had the free will to do so...we chose to,
 and we fully realized that this whole power-smell thing was irrational. 
We desired the fish. It was worldly. It was futile.

Every decision has a consequence......

...and my decision to tie on a Wooly Bugger, proved philosophically sound.

We dabbled some more.

Come on power-smell, work! Be not simply good, be good for something. Then, from down the bank, I heard a quiet chuckle. "Did you get one?" I asked. "Yeah, but I was hoping you didn't hear my laugh and wouldn't notice" Papa replied.

More fish, bigger fish, redder fish, and bluer fish followed. The curse is broken.
The irrational, rationalized. Finally. Fish on...