Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Conjured waters rise; seductively,
a caddis dances, tripping over and under foot
of casts, thrown to nothing but dreams 
eddying in a paved river; silently,
waiting for movement; waiting for rises
and dashes of motionless orange,
caught and reeled away from bikes' tread
and commuters' dotted existence in oblivion,
through lines and leaders of a lone man's thoughts
feeding, in the silted memory of haunts.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Wading Through Poetry.

My college roommate (quickly turned best friend) Val, hated poetry. But she felt that she should like it, or at least try to like it. Give it a chance. So every night before bed, she would read a poem. I don't remember what poet she started with, but I do remember that their poems rhymed. She especially hated poetry that didn't rhyme, she said, it doesn't make sense. I think this had a large part to do with us being music students at a conservatory and being indoctrinated with sontata form and rondos and AA - BA - CA - BA, and themes and variations. The leitmotiv always returns.

By the end of sophomore year, Val may not have always liked poetry, but she did appreciate it. She'd taught herself to like at least some of it some of the time, and she was better off for it, she said.

And here now I find myself standing by a roaring stream, thinking about Val -- if she could teach herself to like poetry, I reasoned, I could teach myself this...

Here now for the confession: Wading scares me.  

I didn't start out fishing streams and rivers, I started out in mud flats and lakes. Good grief, my first fish on a fly was a carp. Moving waters make me feel pressured both literally and figuratively. I love being in them, mind you, but they press me to do difficult things, things I'm not completely comfortable with, nor sure of. Everything is moving, the leitmotiv is coming back, and I'm not ready for the progression. My frame feels too light, as if I'm going to be lifted up and flown downstream. I don't have a choice in the matter and it's a one way ticket. 

Thus, when I go fishing alone I tend to avoid moving waters. And this, has been bothering me. It doesn't feel right to avoid hard or difficult things. Or things I don't understand. Like Val and her poetry. So lately, I've purposely headed to creeks alone. I'm reading poetry before bed.

I'm going to keep reading the waters, the tells, the poetry of the eddies. I'm going to keep wading, and wading alone, until I like it. It doesn't even have to rhyme. 

So this morning, stepping slowly and carefully (thinking muleishly surefooted thoughts) into the current, I determinedly moved upstream. I didn't pick every pocket, or drift every run on the far side, but I did some. My confidence grew. And that is really all we can do in the end, reach what we can and move upstream -- falling, bruising, and looking tipsied sober. Can't go back though...can't go back. And so I go wading on -- with a bruised shin-bone and sometimes ego...and will have a few drinks at the end of the day to warrant my stance in the river.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


Leaves turn before the season ends,
like a woman who grays, prematurely;
beginning in one spot above her forehead
and then like a skunk, a white stripe grows
back, and age reaches lower limbs.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

"Very Sure About Certain Matters."

He walked and whistled bird songs in step, upon a four count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise. He would catch his trout on dries, he said...that's all I brought. And I admired that -- his confidence, and his integrity. He has standards, this man...the trout will come to him. They will rise, and they will want him. 

I on the other hand, was prepared to cast a wet or a dry, or even in fact, drop both. I felt desperate -- like one of those women with juicy written across her. Easy. She'll go for whatever. And my parents had taught me better.

So standing in a backcountry lake at sunset, I rigged a dry...and hoped. 

Yet as I watched this man, and as I watched trout after trout rise and take his dry, I wondered about the "good things," as Maclean would say, in front of me. The trout, the salvation by a dry fly, the grace -- the art. These things, they don't come easy. And these trout weren't either -- wading into a baptismal of glacial melt is a hard doctrine to swallow. But the good things in life never should come easy, and I know that art never does. In that, I have confidence. And this art in life that rest on a hope -- on the hope of a rise -- is beauty. And waiting on that hope -- is integrity.

I wondered again, as I looked at this man and his dry fly and the splash of a take in the evening's last light, whether all that really matters is the confidence you have in your hope...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Lincoln Private.

TMC 3769 size 8 (or 10)

Olive 6/0 UNI-thread
Camel 6/0 UNI-thread

Light ginger ostrich hurl

Tuft of badger guard hair
Brown Brahma Hen soft hackle

And what The Private caught...


~ Inspired by Mikko at Nordic Angler, and his tie of The Swedish Sergent.

Monday, August 22, 2011

With Thanks; or, When Streams Remember.

I've always had a hard time accepting generous gifts. It's not that they aren't appreciated, for they are. But they set my soul slightly off-at-ease, these things unearned. And also things expected, such as, it's your birthday, and you can not only cry if you want to, but can also bet on receiving some sort of acknowledgement of the day. (The best nods of the head are handmade -- or books, or the ones that show up randomly in the mailbox....days late, or early).

And at a high country trout stream, you can bet on trout -- and lots of them. This too, sets me slightly off-at-ease. It's a generous gift. In the abstract, fishing just shouldn't work. But it does, and I'll never get used to that.

I'll never get used to catching trout well into the double digits in one day either. It's like that feeling of sneaking into the refrigerator (when you're supposed to be readying for bed) and eating ice cream by spoonfuls (quick spoonfuls) out of the carton until your mother catches you. And sometimes at these backcountry streams, I feel like a moss-haired-mother is going to bark out of the pines....stop!

My hands feel too rich. There's chocolate rimming my mouth...

But that, in fact, is how I felt on my first overnight backcountry fishing trip. Laying in the tent that night I felt as if I'd unknowingly taken an advance. Spent. And I worried. I might never catch another trout again...

The next morning though, Jay wanted to throw just a few more casts. Just one more fish, he said. He hadn't yet caught the size of cutthroats he remembered this lake and stream holding thirteen years ago. Must have been a winter kill. I got the feeling that he needed to catch one like he remembered, for the sake of that time. So I grabbed my rod, rigged with a dry, and we took turns. They were hungry for an early breakfast, those brookies, and they rose to tell us so.

Then came Jay's turn again -- one of the last, last casts. He headed for a small hole. Small, but deep. He placed the cast. Perfectly. The dry fly swirled in an eddy, and a large cutt rose to greet his dry. Good morning. There wasn't the usual flash -- he took his time about it (maybe he was a little sleepy too) -- but didn't second guess his choice. He wanted that fly. And in timeless motion, he opened his mouth, broke the surface, ate the dry...

This, was the trout Jay had remembered -- the one he'd been waiting for. The one who'd called him back up the mountain and out for one last cast, perhaps.

Now, while I may be uncomfortable with generosity towards myself, I'm greatly at ease watching others receive such. And I loved watching Jay catch that trout, being given that gift again, after thirteen years. Almost identical too, he said, thankfulness watering his eyes with a mist only years can bring.

I'd like to think the stream remembered. Yes, I'm sure it did.

And even more than watching the giving, I loved watching the gift being taken back...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Above or below treeline, I ache to see them. It stems from my prairie childhood, I think, this longing to see. And perhaps this is also why my midwest soul likes plans (plans and plains -- any coincidence, do you think, that they are only one letter off?). Homesteaders might not have been the most bohemian, but they dug their heels into those plains, they made plans, they got things done. And for want of land, I inherited those things -- their character. To see far, look the distance, and to know what's coming and when. Judging by the thunder, only minutes. To know how far you have to go, and to be honest with yourself about whether you can. Almost always the answer is yes -- yes you can go that far. Just dig in your heels a little harder. Swear if you have to.

Growing up with a panoramic view (a clear 360 if you stood in one place and ballerina toe-turned), a tunnel of trees suffocated me.....for awhile. I had taken sight -- I had taken horizons -- for granted. But then -- then, I discovered treeline. That magical border which, upon crossing, transports me back to the prairie.

I love this place.

And I showed this place, this line, to my mother. Now she loves it too, and for the exact same reason. "I want to go above treeline" was her request for one day of her visit this past weekend.

"So do I."

And thus we went and found our souls wandering, out on the plains where they always have.....

Monday, August 15, 2011

Hard times, come again no more...

I've been told that after a great day of fishing, a well known writer says "Well, that one won't make it in the book." It was too good. And people don't want to read about too good of a day, I guess. It's like being too smart, or too pretty. I can't relate...

But I can relate to that writer. I know exactly what he means, and I wonder -- how masochistic is it, anyway, to hope for bad fishing to get a good story? To have something to write about. This is wallowing in artistic angst; like a pig in a sty full of mud. Do I stink?

The worst times make the best stories. The dampest campfires have fuel enough to keep a story roaring, for pages. Unexpected outcomes and suspense keep attention and interest; like a lover, you swing hinged on their every word, and your stomach tightens at the pauses. What will happen next? Hard times are the stuff of which novels are made, and out of which art is created. And even though we sing come again no more, those hard times linger forever in our ears. Haunting. Giving us stories -- to write, to read, and to re-tell for dessert around a hardwood dinner table. You can even have seconds if you want....there is more than enough.

This past week held one of the best fishing days of the season. Heck, one of the best of my life. My mom (visiting from Nebraska), Jay, Eve, Banjo and I hiked to a high lake. Within minutes of the first cast, we had the confidence to wager and race to 10 (for the record, Eve won). It was great. It was fun -- a lovely time. It was "what high country fishing is supposed to be." Yet at the end of the day, hiking out, I couldn't think of anything to write about. I couldn't think of anything but wow, that was a wonderful day. Even now, I can't. It was great fishing. Enough said. And really, how interesting is that? Great fishing isn't the stuff of stories; rather, it's of dreams.

Yet, I can't say I hope to wake up anytime soon. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Most times, I come back from fishing with stories. Carrying them -- instead of fish -- in a creel. I'm always looking for stories; like a birder, looking into a tangle of tree limbs for a flash of color, or movement. On this past weekend's adventure, Jay's sister Eve came with us too, and at a few points stated that we'd "better not write" about a certain thing or two. And, I won't. I won't look there for a story. No Erin, that was not a bird on that limb.

It's a dangerous thing, keeping company with two writers.

Most times, I walk back down the mountain with a mindful. It's like my eyes have overeaten, and they throw everything back up into words. And usually, like a little boy, I stutter excitedly about trout -- tongue tripping over what to say next while simultaneously trying to take mental note of flies for the next trip -- crane flies, I need to tie crane flies.
Opening the cabin door, first thing, the computer gets plugged in -- ready to crop photos and write and work until midnight (well almost midnight, but that is entirely number-of-hard-ciders dependent). Jay and I look at each other, why don't we just get Netflix like normal people? And that night, the computer just stared back. Watching a movie would have been more productive. I had nothing to say. I turned it off. Going to bed early.
Taking a break midday, we had eaten Swiss Cheese and sugar snap peas, as Jay told stories he remembered from David Hackworth books -- about the Korean War and mountain passes and unexpected survival. Rallying. We need to rally, he said. Perched, we strategized. We'd work clockwise, back around the other side of the lake -- first Banjo and I, then Eve, then Jay. We worked hard. But those cutts, they didn't want to think about food. Their biological clocks ticked and tocked and our timing was off. We had nothing that could feed their hunger.

All day we cast to cutthroats tucked in underneath a sheet of snow. It probably wouldn't all melt before the next season's layer arrives -- just like my own bed in the canyon which never gets down to what I remember as being the 'summer sheets' of my youth. This is flannel country, year round up here. There is always a chill, and there is always a quilt. Or two.

As the sun sank below the pass, rusting out the eastern valley's light, crane flies began to tease the water. I need to tie crane flies. And as the last rod tip was sleeved, there was a rise. Of course, there would be a rise now. We picked up our packs and didn't look back at the lake. Shoulders slumping, we trailed down.We were all quiet.

Jay led. Thinking. I could tell...

"I'm not used to walking for hours to have trout ignore me."

"Yeah...yeah...maybe, we should try a river next week..."

"Hell no! I'm coming back." He kept on walking. Focused. Straight ahead. "'s all about persistence."

Even, when it doesn't pay off. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

To Get Here.

Someone told me, faces will fade. 
After so many years -- two, or three, or five,
you won't remember. And he was right.

I can barely see through the static, that was
always there between lives, interference.

Yet age has cleared, not cataracted
my eyes growing younger in years, and they would
choose again, what they chose before,

to get here.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sore Mouths.

My Grandmother's conscience is bothered by my fishing. She writes to me, weekly, and over the years her words have made me a foundation of paper, surer than stone. Her present concern, however, is me "giving all those trout in Colorado sore mouths…don’t you feel guilty?" Yes Grandma, sometimes I do.

Sometimes I feel guilty when I find torn jaws or missing eyes, or leftovers from another fisherman in my fish's mouth. Or, when the one that got away gets away with my flies too. They'll rust out, Jay reassures me. Which is all well and good and fine, but yes Grandma, I bet their mouths are still sore. Sometimes, I feel the need to confess this -- for the sake of her conscience, and mine.

I make the fish of Colorado have sore mouths.

There, I said it out-loud (I spoke as I typed. I promise). Yet soon, I will make trout mouths sore again. I know I will. Like a bad habit, an addiction -- I can't help myself.

Last weekend, as I reeled in one of the last big cutthroats of the day, my stomach sunk. Besides my fly, there's something else in her mouth -- a treble hook lure, weighting the left side of her jaw. This wasn't going to rust out anytime soon. It must have been hard for her to eat, and I doubt if she'd been able to. She looked tired, and beat up, and mad at herself for having fallen.....again. Perhaps many a female has thought this about a fisherman...

Sometimes the guilt we carry is not our own, and as I looked at that cutthroat, at that moment, I felt guilty -- sick -- for the fisherman who walked away from this high lake, perhaps without a second thought as to where his lure had ended up. What you don't see, can't hurt you. Right? No one will know.  

Except, me.

Kneeling, I whispered -- just like I used to do for sick and injured farm animals -- It'll be alright, girl....hold still.....there. Tones and timbres transcend language and species, and I'd like to think she knew I was helping her. Yes...yes, I think she knew...

As she held deep and then slowly swam away, I held my breath hoping she would make it -- hoping that I had helped and had done my duty. And I was reminded about the respect I have for these creatures and for the lakes in which they live. Reminded, of what an honor it is to be acknowledged by waters. Reminded, of that honor's weight, and what it asks of me in return...