Thursday, September 29, 2011

Leg-fulls of Bruises.

"Why did I wear white....what the hell was I thinking?" Jay scolded himself.

"Don't know...but you hadn't had coffee yet."

"True. But I've got to get over this, I'm not in the military anymore. There aren't going to be snipers at the top of the canyon...I'll live."

"Yeah…I hope we both will."

Because really, we didn't know what was going to happen that day. There could be snipers at the top of the canyon. There could be. Was it a probability? No. But a possibility? Of course. All things are possibilities. Especially, when in unknown territory – which we were. 

The plan had been incubating for several weeks, and now it was time, it’s fall -- caddis are hatching. Both Jay and I had fished the river from the North and from the South before. But there was this section in the middle that we hadn't been able to get to. Yet. Because of The Narrows, as they'd come to be called. Impassible except for during low water flows (although, we didn’t know this before setting out, and hadn’t checked the flows that day. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss. For, had we gone one day earlier, we wouldn’t have made it through. But then again, there’s always that possibility that we might have…). 

Thus, there was this one stretch we'd never fished and which, we postulated, few others had. It was nearing Eden-like fantasies in my imagination by the time we started out that morning. It would be perfect. Untouched water, and trout that hadn’t seen a fly in perhaps, their whole life. They’d have little suspicion that what they were being fed were lies.

And so we schemed -- we’d drop off a car at one end, and drive to the other. Like a reverse float, except we’d be wading. So really it wasn’t like it at all, I guess. But that’s how I thought about it at the time.

What started as small rainbows – small enough to catch on a back-cast, and throw at your fishing partner’s head, all before you knew what was happening (and yes, this did happen) – turned into better and better fish around each bend. The pools got bigger and deeper, and their holdings grew along with them. Here, you could actually feel when you had a fish on. And soon, Jay pulled out a brown -- I knew he’d be there, he said.  

I stepped out onto a small ledge on a large square boulder which probably broke off the canyon’s wall eons ago. Who knows for how long it has been hiding trout here in secret. I like thinking about these things – about rocks as protectors – and that not only do you have to outwit the fish, but you have to get past the rock too. Jay said that the pool looked juicy, “you just know there are big fish in there.” I did, but also hoped -- against a fisherman’s nature -- that the trout not be too big. I was standing on the definition of precarious.

But I threw out a few casts anyway – tired, and sloppy – and in what looked like slow motion, my dry fly sank. Huh, must need more floatant. Or, a snag on my dropper? Or maybe…..just the trout I’d been hoping against.

I don’t remember what I said that alerted Jay to my situation at hand. But from behind my shoulder I heard, “A double header!” He had a big fish on too, “Damn…now this is when a net would be nice.”

“Yeah, maybe we should start bringing one?” I questioned.

“Nah, this is more adventurous.”

He’s right, of course.

“Just……hold on to him. I’ve got to get mine off first.” Jay yelled.

So I let my trout swim, tire, get angry, and fight -- and in his fighting, I saw him – it is in these situations that you really see people (and fish for that matter), as they truly are – in fighting, in anger, and in sorrow. A lot can be hid under a smile. It’s an amazing thing, the first time a trout breaks the surface. Before that, it’s like fighting someone in the dark. And sometimes when the light is turned on, you find that their fight was larger than their size. But in this instance, that wasn’t the case. This trout matched his fight.

“Okay…off! Now swing yours back behind you here….there’s a shallow pool, we’ll land him there.”

How exactly I swung around, I don’t remember. But I managed to.

“Don’t let him go down those rapids, Erin! You’ll lose him…..”

Yet even had I lost, fighting him would have been enough. In fact, that might have been a more fitting end. But I didn’t let him go down the rapids. I won. And by luck, my 6x tippet didn’t break.

“Well played, Erin….well played.”

My hands were still shaking. “Now you try a cast in that pool.”

So Jay climbed onto that same precarious ledge, made a cast, and I saw the familiar bend in the rod.

Now autumn light was urging us to pick up speed towards home – urging, that is, once we noticed her; like geese, finally heeding migration, and even when they don’t want to leave just yet, they must. Plus, we didn’t know how far we had to go yet. Foolishly, even though I know that the distance between two points on a map can be deceiving and is seldom ever short, I hadn’t checked the mileage. It looked walkable, and that was good enough. At least, that morning it had been good enough. Now, I wished I knew if it really was walkable.

I must have appeared worried because Jay looked back over his shoulder and winked. “Remember, we’re on an adventure.” I smiled. That’s right. We were. Whenever we go out together, for some reason we never go fishing -- we go adventuring. “Want to go adventuring tomorrow?” I know he means fishing, and my answer is always yes. It’s that mindset of come what may, you keep on keepin’ on. Even, through The Narrows. When you’re in doubt, Jay tells me, the best thing to do more often than not, is charge ahead. When your mind tells you that you can’t make it up that boulder or across that river; that your grip won’t hold, or that all of your 120 lbs. isn’t any match for the current --- really, you can do it. Your mind lies, showing you something that is false. Just like a fisherman to a fish. So I kept on, and took Jay’s offered hand… just in case I couldn’t, in fact, do it. I didn't entirely believe his optimism, but I trusted him. These can be two completely different things, believing and trusting.

And as the sun was setting, silhouetting pines against a grey-blue-sea sky, we finally got back to the car dropped off that morning. A full circle. We’d made it, white t-shirt and all. There were no snipers, or men with shotguns protecting their makeshift panning operation -- but there was evidence of such.

The car ride was silent. My mother always says that this is evidence of a good day -- when everyone is either too tired, or too deep in thought to talk. We got home after nightfall with legs full of a day's bruises. And here I’ll add that’s evidence of a good day too, leg-fulls of bruises.

“Had to work hard for those fish today…had to work for them.” Jay said.

“Yep…and it was an adventure…it always is…”

Monday, September 26, 2011

Simple, Important, Beautiful Things.

Years back, my grandma, mom and I went down to New Mexico to visit my sister who was going to college in Socorro at the time; and also, to see the migration of Sandhill Cranes. My grandma and mom are avid birders. Although, my grandma now says she is "past her prime" and is content to classify the unknowables as "immature." But, she has years experience and wisdom enough to do so. In other words, she has earned the right.

My grandma has a way of describing things which makes you feel that they are simple, important, beautiful, and infinitely complex...all at the same time. That, it is the little things which are worth noting -- the way the sapsuckers eat the suet all a bit differently -- some make little holes and some peck down one whole side -- kind of like people eating watermelons; the way the cats nap in the sun, soaking up rays like a solar panel; and the way the pastors voice quivered as he read a poem before the service on Sunday morning, like the old sopranos leading the hymns. But why are these things important? She knows...

On one of those early New Mexican mornings, everything was still except the air. It trembled, ready and waiting for the signal -- take off. My grandmother held her hands to her's so primordial...she whispered. And it was -- this migration, and these creatures, who have been doing this for millenia. The dinosaurs saw this, and it was beautiful and important then too. They knew...

It's impossible to tell from whom and from where the ok finally came, but it did, and the squawking crescendoed until it could no more, climaxing into thin air. The tension released...freely. My grandmother's hands still pressed against her chest, as if she was being raptured up with the cranes. When her time comes, I will think of her this way...with the cranes.

And as I walked out on some carp flats recently, and saw backs out of water -- feeding, doing what they've been doing for centuries, I had the same thought as my grandma did towards those cranes -- primordial. Adapting and changing. Revered by the ancients for their persistence and stoicism, the traditional Chinese dragon has the 'scales of a carp' for their shield, and The Dragon Gate enshrines endurance and courage, and the story of a carp who swam upstream and over the waterfall to be transformed into a dragon -- for, it had the heart of one already. In manicured ponds, for luck; or in abandoned gravel mine mud pits, forgotten -- they survive...they always will. They will always do their thing, these river dragons. They're survivors. Just like the cranes.

Why are these things important? I know...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Stillborn Damsel.

A hostage to home, her body 
young and broken, falling to pieces in health
betraying happiness; when she thought
she was only changing, and growing
into something more beautiful than herself;
and in death, she finally has.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Love Observed.

Jay’s parents have a tradition -- the kind that has no real start, it just evolves into being over time, the kind of time that can't be measured. He told me about it long before I met them and even then, I knew that John and Kendall Zimmerman have something very beautiful. This too having evolved over time, and like anything good and lasting, it wasn't sought, nor given. But yes, it was worked for. Jay likes to say that if you go panning for gold, you'll find yourself fools; but a farmer digging rocks out of an irrigation ditch will find himself gold. So it goes. And John and Kendall found the latter. 

Now the tradition is, that when they eat fish, John always de-bones some fillets for Kendall. She argues back that she is perfectly capable of de-boning her own fish, thank you. Which she very much is. But John looks at her, Eat them, Love. And so she does, saying I love you back.

They’ve always done this, and Jay says he has always known they loved each other because of it. It's predictable and assuring -- like bedtimes stories, and grandmothers baking pies and fathers who leave love-notes around the house for mothers. These little things that children pick up on, and that get incorporated into ideals – often, subconsciously. But still, you come to expect that books will be read, pie will be eaten, and someone will love you. And these things often end up being not so predictable (nor reassuring) in the end.

When finally I did meet Jay’s family earlier this summer, one evening we all sat around my cabin’s old wooden table eating a trout fry of stocker rainbows from the state park up the road. And sure enough, John began to de-bone some extra fillets on his plate, and fork them towards Kendall’s.

“You were right,” I whispered across the table to Jay and squeezed his hand underneath. It was predictable, in the best of ways. And it assured me too -- someone will love me...

Recently I thought about that dinner of trout again, as I was fishing for others; these were browns, to catch and release. And I thought about love – the kind that makes a hunter feed his partner first, and the kind that makes a fisherman save the best run in the river for his.

That afternoon, as I waded on the south side of a fork of the Saint Vrain, and Jay waded on the north, we moved upstream together hitting whatever pockets were in our range. The ones in the middle, we leapfrogged. I became a bit too preoccupied with getting one perfect cast under some hanging tree limbs -- frustratingly imperfect, that -- and Jay got to be a bit ahead of me as a result. When I finally I looked up-river, Jay was motioning back towards a thick middle run...I saved that one for you.

But it's your turn.

It's a good one though…the best…and I saved it for you…fish it! 

And so I did.....

Thursday, September 15, 2011

She Was Made For Trout.

We could see only a few trout through the surface chop. They were down deep. And spooky. That fish in a barrel thing, I guess; only this was a very large barrel. These were very sensitive fish.

I had met Dave, the Back Country Fish Nerd, early that morning. Bloggers fishing together is a great experience he said in an email earlier that week...and we should fish would be "neat-o." Really, how could it not be? We'd be fishing, after all. Plus like Dave said later, it's interesting to see the inside workings of another blog and its writer's creative processes. What will strike them about the day...what will they write about? So I found myself driving north along a windy highway, as coffee cooled and conversation began. We were headed towards trout -- this was going to be neat-o.

But after a few hours, there was nothing neat about our prospects. Strangely, after much looking we could find no inlet. Water must feed in underneath the boulder field from the upper glaciers we figured, and decided to skirt back around to the outlet. We had to climb over a lot of big talus, and Dave was goat-like -- in his element...

"In New Mexico, I grew up in houses built on this stuff."

"Well in Iowa, my idea of 'scree' was gravel roads."

He chuckled.

I did too....because it's true.

Finally though, we both found a good perch by the lake's outlet. I would have placed a serious bet that Dave was going to fall in trying to get to his, but again -- he was in his element. And here finally, there were bumps and bites...but only that.

"She's being suggestive, isn't she," I shouted over to Dave.

"Yeah, she is...kinda like a woman in a bikini...a little bit too small of a bikini...just a little bit."

"Not the metaphor I'd have chosen," I laughed, thinking that a woman in a small bikini wasn't really that suggestive at all, was it? Wasn't much left to the imagination, was there? But I suppose it was perfect for the lake....because she was showing us that she had trout -- she just wasn't giving us any. "And anyhow, men and Speedos just don't work that way."

"No, they don't. No one wants to see's bodies just aren't made for it." 

Except we did want to see more of this lake. She was made for trout, you could tell. But, was being something of a prude -- a very cold prude -- and I liked her all the more for it. In the end though, after making us put in the work, she did let us see a little bit.....and Dave was right, the day was neat-o.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


 "You're beautiful, like a May fly."
~ Ernest Hemingway

Many years ago now, on a late summer Iowa evening, I found myself walking through an unfamiliar pasture. It was actually right about this time of year, come to think of it – right about September. The grass was tall and dry, and the cottonwoods were starting to yellow and look like aged book pages. I was there in this pasture, trying to find my cow.  The farmer whose field it was walked with me, amused. An early spring attempt at artificial insemination hadn’t taken -- the next month, she cycled. And so this farmer had offered to pasture her for the rest of the summer with his herd -- which included a bull. Lovely, I thought. I had raised her from a bottle calf, and this would be good for her, to be in with a herd and learn to be a cow. Because as it stood, she thought she was a human, or a dog of some sort. While I was a good mother to her, I could never be one of her own kind. So I figured she’d have fun -- “Like summer camp” as my mom described it. Although, I know of no other summer camp where the end goal is impregnation.

In the last month of her stay, I called up the farmer, Chad Henderson, to see if I could come see Angel. Just to check in. It’s a big pasture, he warned. And I knew that, but assured him that she comes when she’s called. At this point, he laughed -- silly girl -- but said that yes, yes he’d go out there with me to see about Angel. I think he just wanted to see if she really would come when I called her. 

Chad lived in a big white clapboard farmhouse -- alone -- and was in want of a wife. Jane Austen’s truism about men in possession of good fortunes could also be applied to men in possession of working farms, I'd think.

And so that late summer evening, we walked, and I yelled out "Angel" periodically. He was right. The pasture was big. But we kept on walking, and I kept on calling. In between my bellowing he slipped in, like a paper -- like a secret note under a door...

“I offended a woman yesterday.”

“You did?” I couldn't imagine this soft spoken man offending anyone at all.

“Yes...I did.....I commented on her eyes. They are beautiful. But yeah, I love cows….you understand."

I nodded. I did.

“And so I told her that she had eyes like a cow’s.”

“Oh...she didn’t take that as a compliment, did she….”

He shook his head, looking down, “I don’t think she wants to see me again.”

“But cows have the most beautiful, soft, watery eyes. I know exactly what you mean...gosh, I’d fall in love if a man ever told me I had eyes like a cow's.” 

“Someday, somebody will. Don’t you worry. I’d tell you right now, but I shouldn't.” 

Flustered, I realized that I hadn’t called for Angel in awhile, and thus decided to do so right then…and called again...and again...and then finally, I heard a moo back. It wasn’t just any moo, mind you, I knew this one. I loved this one. And over a knoll, my Angel came running. I think Chad was scared she was charging, and stepped aside. But she ran right up to me, and put her big wet nose on my shoulder, licking my curls into frizz with her sandpaper tongue like she always did. 

Chad smiled, “You were right…she did come,” as he adjusted his baseball cap like men do, with almost a nervous twitch. “And you know what… she has beautiful eyes.....”

And now I sit here and wonder if Mr. Hemingway’s woman understood him and mayflies, and if she understood that being beautiful like a mayfly is a compliment.....just like having beautiful eyes, like a cow.

Catch & Release.

Read the 3 Reasons by Jay Zimmerman.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Patient Spouse.

 No I am not married. But yes, I have one...well my own version of one, I guess. It was a realization the other day as I was fishing. Standing on a rock I had waded out to, I looked over my shoulder and there was Banjo, on the bank waiting. So this is how many other fishermen feel. A spouse or a partner -- they come along just to be near you. Perhaps bringing a book, they sit and watch -- encouraging when the trout aren’t biting, and cheering when they are.

And mine sits and waits patiently too. It's a pleasant passing of time, for both of us. Although when there hasn’t been the splash of a take for awhile, he gets bored -- that's too much time -- and I get frustrated. He gives me a look, perhaps we should move down the bank now love, you aren’t doing very well here…

….but, he would never say any such thing.

He just gives me a wise eye, and keeps it on me. Silent, knowing he is right. He tucks himself into a patch of wildflowers, stretches out, and sunbathes -- baking his bones as my grandmother would say -- letting me stubbornly ignore his better judgment. Someday she'll learn. Then, there is a splash around my dry and the line is taken down deep. Waking, he starts wading out to meet me on my rock, and to sniff the trout. He loves sniffing trout (especially browns for some reason). Finally, something interesting. And then the line goes slack in what feels like eternity compressed, and then lost, in a moment.

He stops and turns back to shore...disappointed.

Me too, too...

Yet, he always gets excited when he sees my rod tube in my pack, and my vest and hat laid out. And he always wants to go -- always wants to come with -- even though he doesn't like water. But, he loves me. And that’s enough for him.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Cursed Casts; or, Old Wives and Their Tales.

Through the pine thatch, I can see blue -- like the sky through a straw hat. I step off the trail, and drop down to the lake. Heading for blue. Because these high lakes, they do something to me. Something for me. Something good. Hours on a dirt trail encroached by trees who watch with the eyes of locals; mine, look down. Trying to evade judgment....trying to keep on trail. And when it finally breaks, I'm free -- uncovered -- and I feel like I'm flying. Soaring. High.

Morning rises boil over the surface, like a tea kettle -- a very welcoming thing when "rolling" as my grandmother would say. It begs come in and stay awhile, and I want to do just that...very much. It's a beautiful thing that whatever is happening in life, of two things you can be certain: tea can be made, and trout will still rise. And those, are comforting.

I head for the inlet, put my backpack down, and promptly spook some fish. Damn. Rigging, I feel the nervous tension of not having a rod strung when trout are rising and feel guilty of breaking some sort of fisherman's code of which I remain unaware --> Thou shalt not be in the company of rising trouts without a strung rod. Or some such thing. And anyhow, what if they stop?

But they don't.

I cast, and within seconds a brookie has devoured my dry fly. This has never happened to me before, and I'm ecstatic. Smiling, I look back to find Banjo -- to find someone to share this with -- but he is already at my feet, congratulating. And then I remember the curse.....

I've heard about it before -- hookup on the first cast, then you're fishless the rest of the day. You're jinxed. Old wives, or old fishermen in this case, have their tales and superstitions. Oftentimes for good reason. Go outside with wet hair, you'll catch a cold; cross your eyes, they'll get stuck that way. Cats strangle babies, and boys have cooties. But icicles form in your hair and all is well. After childhood crossing of eyes, you may now wear glasses but can still see straight. Infancy was survived, even with a house cat. And after a first kiss, you decide that boys might not have cooties after all.

So maybe, just maybe, this first-cast superstition is also just that -- superstition.  Yet still, I try to mentally prepare for the hours of fruitless casting which might very well lay before me. Holding my breath, I cast again.....and as soon as my fly hits the water, it's gone. Really?! is going to be this good?

Banjo looked surprised too...

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Flannel Jackets & Sexy Legs.

Sitting, tying for waters you've never fished. It's like trying to buy a present for someone you've never met. Maybe you've seen a photo of her though. And maybe, she's wearing a blue flannel jacket with pockets. Lots of pockets. She needs something to put in those pockets, you think. And maybe, you dated her best friend 13 years back, and remember her talking about how she had this crazy obsession with legs. So now, you're just hoping she'll like yours.

The evening before fishing -- dressing flies for an unknown body -- using scraps of knowledge I've gathered. Designing. Day-dreaming for hours. And when the flies are finished, and placed in a plastic box to open tomorrow, I worry. I worry that she won't like it -- that the picture was smudged, that my memory has failed, and that the best friend was wrong about the legs. I worry that I'll give them to the two people I'm going to fish with in the morning, and they'll be duds -- my flies, that is. Nothing, cast-after cast, and then a change of flies and there will be a flash and a take...after take, after take. I can see the whole scene so perfectly now. It is of artistic temperament, I know, to be riddled with self doubt, resulting in an ego reminiscent of Swiss cheese. I try to remember this -- I'll always have holes.

That next morning, my plastic box of flies lays on a picnic table coated with dew. Jay ties one on, and takes  some for later too. He is confident, he says -- they look buggy. Still rigging, I hear a yell coming from behind a large boulder. Where is Jay, anyway? Already fishing. "Ah, he must have got a snag," someone says. I know Jay though, I know him well, and I know that he doesn't give generic yells when he gets a snag.

Running towards the boulder I clamber up on top and see him squatting, holding up a brown..."On the second cast! And a flash on the first!"

And my flies kept on keeping on. And by the end of the day, my ego had more of a semblance of cheddar.

The Curmudgeon Crumpler.

Hook: Skalka Scud/Czech Nymph #14.
Thread: White 6/0 UNI-thread
             Camel 6/0 UNI-thread
Legs: Turkey tail feathers (2 fibers knotted, trimmed down to 1 fiber past the knee.)
Wings: Montana Fly MFC Wing Material, plain web.
Elk hair.
Brown Saddle Hackle.

Step-by-step instructions at: Colorado Fly Fishing Reports.