Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Chasing Childhood Fears.

"Turn the page....fast!" my five-year-old-self said to my mother, clapping my hands over my eyes as pudgy shields against the creepiest centerfold known to man (or at least five year old girls, that is). I was afraid. Very afraid. And I have been terrified of pike ever since. Yes, all because of a children's book. Parents, be careful the stories you read.

Balloons belie innocence...

This was my favorite book, and I hated it.

And then I met Jay.

And then I started fishing with Jay.

I knew what this man did --- he fished for pike. I had read his articles, watched his videos, and looked through his pictures. They didn't help assuage my fears. No, no they most certainly did not. "You know, there is this children's book......" I said, trailing off into the mistake of telling my pike phobia to a man whose life mantra is "chase the fear." I got this feeling that he was going to make me chase mine right into, and out of, the cattails. He would make sure of this. And oh, how I dreaded the day. Maybe he would forget? Yeah, maybe...

But of course he didn't. Jay Zimmerman forget? Nah. He's like an elephant. "You're going to look a pike in the face" he said smirking staunchly, like a parent telling me I was to overcome my fear of eating vegetables ---> eat the broccoli! Pretend they are trees. Hold the pike! Pretend it's prehistoric. Prehistoric is cool. This didn't help. 

For a few months now, I've had my old ratted copy of Jiggy's Treasure Hunt, opened to the centerfold, propped up on the bookshelf in my bedroom. You know the trick, desensitization dealt through mental games. When I went to bed; when I woke up; when I changed clothes; when I wrote....I looked at the pike, and the pike looked at me.

Tuesday, April 26th --- rods were strung and ready and we stood on a pre-dawn rocky berm at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. Well, Jay stood. My head was fuzzy, my eyes burned with unfocused thoughts, the rod and line were bigger than I was used to, and I couldn't cast the rigging worth beans. My ankles tweaked, giving me away towards the unhappy pike partnership I was sure that was to come. It was like walking down the aisle to a butt-ugly groom. Ah, but he has a good personality. But pike? They can't even claim that.

I thought about Jiggy (and yes, I am just that kind of grown woman who stands fishing, thinking about fictional talking squirrels)....

"As the little squirrel stared, puzzled and disappointed, a large paw patted her on the shoulder, and she looked up into the striped face" and I felt a hand upon mine, and looked up into Jay's. He said I looked dejected. "I'm getting snagged up too!" he reassured, pointing to his line leading to brush behind him. "No worries, let's take a walk to the other end." I grabbed his hand. I tried to balance. What the heck was wrong with my ankles?!

Standing on the far end's bank, I hauled out more line, aiming into the murky cattailed waters. "Pike are all that is evil, and mean, and dark, and lurking in the depths" I said. I heard Jay snicker, and with his sweatshirt hood pulled over his ball-cap he looked sinister, like the Emperor Palpatine...."maybe that's why I like 'em."

My ankles seemed to be having a bit better go of it here, and my eyes went out to the lake's surface, glazed with storybook pictures. There was Jiggy. There was her little nest-boat with a maple mast and acorn leaf sail. "The badger started to laugh, 'There's your treasure right before your eyes.'"

And there was.......
......a pike!

Not in my head, but in the water -- and he was following my fly! I was scared. Bite. Hook. Set. Pow! Jay was yelling instructions excitedly. His casting strategy had worked. "No slack....no slack!....if he runs, give him line!......get him on the reel....fast!" But my head was the one reeling, trying to process and make my hands do. Before I knew it, Jay had his boots off, jeans rolled up, boyish grin on, and had jumped into the cattails to untangle the pike from the shoreline reeds, so I could hold it. 

And I did. Chasing the fear.....chasing the fear...

Jay said he was proud.


And I think Jiggy would be proud too.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

One a penny two a penny...

...hot cross buns...hot cross buns...

More than any other holiday food, I miss my grandmother's hot cross buns. (I also like the nursery rhyme song. It's terribly catchy.) Every Easter hot cross buns rose, up from the seasonal recipe grave. And after Easter dinner, my grandmother would scoot us out the door of the big white house on Charles Street with zip-lock bags full of leftovers. I didn't care about the ham. I wanted those buns. They were the next week's breakfasts and snacks and my mother made fresh frosting for each. Fresh powdered sugar frosting! Did you hear that?

Today, I missed hot cross buns.

I have missed them before. I have tried to raise the cross myself. I have failed.
When I was in college in San Francisco, there was a horrifying attempt involving a doubled batch and killed yeast. Those crosses were not raising that day. No sir. They littered the small flat's kitchen like little accusatory X's -- you killed us! I was my grandmother's recipe's Judas...  
And today I betrayed again. 

I kissed memories and didn't even get silver. 

With scars yet to heal from the San Francisco disaster of 2004, I could not bring myself to try yeast. No. No, you see, I learn from my mistakes. I would bake some little Irish Soda Bread buns. Quick bread. No yeast. I could do this. Throughout the afternoon, I moseyed up a recipe. And as I set the little cornmeal dusted crossed buns onto the parchment paper lined tray, placing them into the oven to bake, I felt a sense of pride. I had redeemed myself. But my self-redemption didn't last. This body was not to be broken for me.

There were two eggs still sitting on the counter.

I hard boiled them.....  


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"Be Offended"...

...the post stated, snarkily linking to the artist's website.
I clicked, and was not offended. I was depressed by a curtain being pulled down over my already dark mind. I don't need to see the nightmares of others. I have enough of my own. 
Thank you.
But this link got me to thinking (and no, it doesn't take much). Am I not offended enough throughout the day? Offended by the idiot women drivers on my commute, with sunglasses that make them look like nervous-nilly flies, eyeing for the swatter; the women who play coy games and give my gender a bad name; there are billboards telling me I need a boob-job, or I need to get another job, or go back to get yet another college degree, or I need to get high. I'm offended by "your" and "you're" continually. And by men who look at my chest and not my eyes (hmmm...maybe I don't need that boob-job after all!). Then there are those men who call me, a short-haired-woman, "sir." I am offended when I see children holding computer games instead of books, and batting in a caged Wii instead of dirt fields. I am offended when I see a couple at a restaurant sitting together talking, but in separate conversations on their cell phones. I am offended by inattention. I am offended by politicians, religiosity, and people who peel the skins off of their apples.
And I offend myself with my judgments. 
But really though, let me amend. I am not offended, I am opinioned.  I don't offend easily, but I very easily develop opinions.  Sometimes even offensive opinions.
If you like, read on --- to where my thoughts got me...
In losing beauty in art, we lose hope in life. In being cutting edge and shocking, just to "offend," the tension is lost. It's like lingerie. Indeed, it is the purpose of lingerie -- to be almost naked. But not. Almost shocking. But not. There is something insanely sexy about the imagination. And there is something animalistically attractive about tension. 
Art should pull the imagination taught and stretch it to belief. Art lets us live what will not be.....  
.....what cannot be.
That is why, perhaps, I still make-believe about talking animals, and magic, and wardrobes, and doors in the wall. That is why I love paintings of open fields with storms on the horizon. It isn't belief sugar-coated blind. It isn't marshmallowed happiness. Those wardrobes, they are very dark places. But if you walk long enough through coats of fur, the corpses of fears freeze, until they melt into snow -- it is still cold -- yet there is a lamp post....a lamp post...  
There is light. 
But the light can only be seen because of darkness. Because of tension. An oil lamp has no meaning in daylight. It is in the darkest night -- in the blackness that pitches my mind demons -- it is in that place that I cling to the oil lamp...to its light. It is there, covered, that I reach....for just enough light to see that yes, I am still here...
This is the truth of art, you are still here, and gives us the hope that we aren't the only ones struggling. Others are still here with you, and others have been there with you, in body and time or not. I don't need any help to be depressed, or trod down, or to feel alone. I have stimuli enough for that on my own. It comes easily. But art meets, greeting at its window with a different sill for each eye's view. Art isn't the friend that says "it will get better, don't worry." Sometimes there is a blasted lot to worry about -- and a blasted lot that should be worried about. Everything isn't ok. Everything won't be ok. No, there won't be a happy ending. But all the while art is the friend that says "this is hard, damned hard, but there is still beauty." 
Look around.....
...I am still here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Fool's Rainbow.

There is nothing like fooling a fish with your own fly, I was told as I tied up a box of leeches especially for one day: Friday, April 15th. My dad was driving out from Nebraska for a weekend visit, and Jay and I were going to take him fishing, to catch dinner...on my flies. 

This would engender the ultimate in fatherly pride. Fishing with your daughter, on her flies? That is pretty dang cool. But on that day, that dinner catching day, to say it was "windy" was a disproportioned understatement. And in this weekend's adaptation of the old proverb, anticipatory pride goes before falling in the wind, and we fell...hard. As we drove by the Home Depot in Firestone, its American Flag flew horizontal, streamlining our spirit's masts to half. This would not be the day we were hoping for. But in the end, we would still have trout for dinner. Jay had the foresight to go stock up on stockers the day before. The calm day before. "There is nothing worse than promising a fish-fry, and then not having fish" he said.

We stood, just barely stood, our ground. And then retreated, to dinner thankfully caught the day before.

The next morning, Papa and I decided to give it another go. Blocks do that, give another go.


We got to Frederick Reservoir early, and nabbed a spot on the rocky pier. I was the only fly fisher to be seen, and was offered the advice of Power Bait. Um, no thank you.....I have flies. I cast out -- over and over and over again -- throwing the line farther than I ever had. I felt powerful. I felt like every fisherman on the reservoir was looking at me, judging my rod, reel, and dismissal of Power Bait. Crazy woman. It felt good...

.....and I lost myself in a cloud of chironomids.

 Bugs in my head -- getting used to nothing happening. No bites. No reassurance. No indication I even had a fly on. I daydreamed. And looking up at the swarm I decided to try a chironomid I had tied. I had even plated its chain mail tail. A few minutes later, it was lost in a snag...

...and I went back to a black leech. Looking up again at the cloud as I tied, and then over at my dad. He was smiling, hypnotically making his fly (a fly I had tied!) swim in the shallows. "I would eat that!" he said, pointing to the hideously un-intended colors streaming off his line. Papa liked it though, and called it the "Christmas Jumper." My fly had tied my dad back into an excited little knot of a boy.....and I got to meet him.

Until ---> pow! Pulled back into the present. The creamy belly of a rainbow flashed a fool!  And everyone was right, there is nothing like fooling a fish with your own fly. But the strange thing was, I didn't even think about that at the time. I was having too much fun. I didn't stop a second to saveur. I didn't pause in pride. I just kept on fishing.
 
As we drove back home towards the canyon, I glanced over. Papa looked pleased. I had only one catch and he hadn't a thing...and he looked happy.  There is something about looking into waters and seeing possibilities reflected. You don't know what is beneath the surface. But, there is always something --- you just don't always get to see it. On that day, for that time, you may just get to wonder, and wait, and that is all. Those are all the eaves life drops you. 

"You know," I said, with a chuckle of surprise at myself, "I am a pessimist in life, but an optimist in fishing." "Me too," Papa said, "you have to be"...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tying Flies.

I feel like I am on a movie set. On a scape I have dreamt. Painted into a picture I have seen before --- like when Bert draws Mary Poppins a jolly holiday and they jump into the sidewalk, careful not to smudge what has been created, what is so beautiful...

I wander and wonder when I will wake to find myself alone again. But I don't. We walk towards the river, always towards the water. And he is still there...

...saying, "I think I know how you learn. I will tie one first.....just watch." He pulls close a black folding stool, the kind I used to lug around with my guitar to gig weddings with, and I sit down. I lean in to get a better view, but am careful to keep out of his light.  Of course he is right. He knows how I learn. He knows who I am, and how I work. He watches me closely. He observes. I can tell when his eyes are taking notes -- about me -- lining his memory in ink...not chalk that will wash away, or pencil to be erased. 

His hands move gracefully, and every step melts to fluidity. I listen. I observe. I look at him. I take notes.

It is my turn. Three of each color. A dozen total. But, practice the finish first, he says, reminding me of how I always used to practice the last lines of music first, bars measured to perfection. The finish must be strong. I tie whip knot, after whip knot, after whip knot. The motion feels good to my fingers...finishing something I have yet to start. Rounded five times, bowing in close...it's a gentlemen of a knot....

I begin to wrap, just as I saw him do, and thread spools off the bobbin. Good...good...now, don't twist the marabou so tight. Yes, much better, and my next fly doesn't look like it has a tumor beneath its tail. If I were a fish, I really wouldn't want to eat a cancerous fly.

He stares at me like I'm a little-green-man, an alien in this new world...in his world. Where did this woman come from!?  And why is she sitting at my tying desk? I wonder the same thing. I have watched him here, at this desk, peeking into this world from far away, up a canyon, before I was let in. Over and over and over again I watched his hands, moving mine as puppets.....shadowing. I wanted to be a part of this beautiful thing too. I wanted his hands to show me how. I watched and listened and translated his trade-talking-tongue.   
He walks over to the futon. To write, he says. And that is when I know I'm doing ok. He leaves me on my own. With my back turned, I smile. The vise is oiled by his hands, with touches of wear and worn fingerways of travel, and I follow them with mine. After a few minutes, I hear a snore. I keep tying...

I illuminate. Like a monk. The water like a skinned parchment, bare; eddying begs for colors, for words -- in order to be read. And, to glean that which is at the bottom and unseen...come out, I say....tying......

Looking down, there is one hook left. "Pick out any colors you want for the last one," he says, waking from writing. "Can fish see colors?", I ask. "Yes they can." And I sense that he is testing my bug-sensibilities as a fisherman. What will I pick? What I like, or what the fish will. I like buggy colors. My lenses are earth toned.

He smiles, and says, as I take my last fly off the vise and turn around for him to see --- You are a good fisherman...and that is your best one yet...



Thursday, April 7, 2011

Of Body of Brain.

I have always held the belief that what I have not been given in body, I have been given in brain. My endowment is not in cleavage, but in cerebral faculties. My curvy canyon road could closer be described as buxom, than could my figure. I may have been an awkward duckling for most of my life, but gosh darn it, I have always been able to think. And if I could only have one or the other, I always reasoned that in the bargain of brains and bodies, I got the best end of the deal.

Men like curves, I am told. Now I am told. And, I am told by a man. A real man. The information is accurate. A reliable source. This is encouraging to me and I am thankful for him, as I am in the very peculiar place of a woman trying her hardest to gain weight (I have gained 36 pounds in the past 3 years, you see, and am still barely 116 lbs.). They even like a little layer of fat, I am reassured. Softens things. Wait...say what? Crazy, right? I know. So, I've been wondering, what's the deal with the rail thin models, actresses, sex symbols? The "epitomies of femininity" which we are shown and we are told we should be. Tell me. And also, please tell me how women are supposed to be thin and yet have large breasts and butts (which are made up of fat, you know! Lose the fat, lose the figure). Oh yes, that is right...there are implants.

Everything is possible...

Women's usual reliable intuition runs counter when it comes to our bodies. We betray ourselves. Biologically, it makes sense that males identify fat with health with fertility. You know those paintings of the women of the Renaissance? They are "fat" by today's standard (surely above the National Institute of Health's BMI). But their body showed that they were being taken care of. They were, and could be, fruitful -- in many ways. They were well off. Satiated. Satisfied. And now, I begin to wonder about this change in beauty. I wonder...is it a subconscious shift?  

We know not what we do...

Social structures change beauty, which change expectations, which change lives. Only, our instincts are lagging behind modern brains...that is, as a culture, we don't want children anymore. Rather, we don't need to want them. We don't need them to run farms, to labor, to carry on our tribe and defend our territory. We can be individuals. But here is the rub of it -- we now have more of a cult mentality than the tribes, and dynasties, and Manorialism of ages past. Our culture is turning into a hive of identical individuals, sticking together with an annoying buzzzz. Can we have some new and different pollen... please?

And thus, we exist in diremptionous decades. Instincts lead us to desire that which we no longer need. But this loss, this change --- is freeing. It frees fat. And, we've become obsessed with losing it. Yet, in the process of losing it, we are also losing, if not have already lost......satiety. For all we have lost, what have we gained?

I have not been a Woman of the Renaissance. Or, perhaps I was --- but, I was the servant starving in the fields of wheat. And now, my body begins to show otherwise. Truthfully? It feels weird. I have hips. I have breasts again. I had forgotten. My belly has shape. It isn't completely flat or concave as it once was...there is actually food in it. And feeling food, feeling full...is strange; and, often uncomfortable. I struggle. I don't feel light. I don't feel that I can disappear anymore...

...I feel the weight of life. And sometimes, I just want to lose it.

But then again, that would be mentally melding -- sticking to the hive -- now wouldn't it...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Jay & Erin's South Boulder Creek Adventure, and What They Found...


They found, that some of the best things in life are at the end of dirt roads...

Things like truck-clock-resetting-aliens, and an old man intimidated to the point of calling you "kiddo" in order to keep his ego intact. Things like watching nervous young men try to inconspicuously change in the parking lot once they notice that one of the fishermen is a woman, and finding that at the end of the dirt road No Pebble Mine marks the spot...


And, there are baseball cap graveyards....


...and pockets to pick, waters to wade, hands to hold; and, stoneflies to watch.


There are Rainbows to chase and catch at the end of dirt roads.....


and there are flashed rewards...


And yes, there is always, always, cheese at the end of the adventure...and, at the beginning of the next...







Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Frugal Fly Fisherman.

I'm a frugal person by nature. I hoard. I save. Because, you just never know. When I was a kid, I hoarded my Halloween Candy in dresser and mattress, like an old bank-wary-post-depression era woman hiding wads of cash, fearing another crash; only mine, from sugar. I would still be eating candy corn when all the other kids had moved on to Peeps. Now, I hate Peeps (somewhat beside the point), and I have had to play parsimony with my inner old woman self. But don't go gettin’ crazy ideas about looking under my mattress...those are not the flies you are looking for...

Seriously now, beginning or for that matter continuing fly fishing in an economy such as this is hard. You've got to justify its place in your life, and be wise about how and where and why you spend. We all may think fly fishing is a need, not a want; but so is eating, and a nice bottle of wine every now and again. So go ahead, get in touch with your inner thrift. Let that little old woman (or man, as the case may be) out.

One of the biggest impacts you can have on trimming your fly fishing expenses is to start tying. For example, you can pay $2.25 for one zebra midge; or, a minimal amount on supplies and a few minutes while watching another mind-numbing TV show.  Buy your hooks in 100 count packs. Or, ask your local fly shop if they give quantity discounts. Another strategy is to tie all your flies on the same hook. Even traditional straight shank recipes can be tied on curved, and can oftentimes actually be improved by doing so. 

Now here's a secret, Hard as Hull has a cheaper and identical twin: Sally Hansen's Hard as Nails (as a date, she orders the hamburger instead of the filet mignon). I was told that years ago, the company wised up to the fact that they were selling an awful lot of product to an awful lot of men. Middle aged men. Curious, eh? Re-lable. Re-price. Re-market. Pow!

Another strategy for saving a few bucks is to tie bead head nymphs (you know, those things that aren't under my mattress) with lead wire instead of beads. A spool will tie a lot more flies than will a 25 count brass bead package. And for dubbing materials, there is always the give your dog a much needed summer cut savings plan. Not saying I've ever been involved in any such canine conspiracy or anything though... 

My local Fly Shop, Rocky Mountain Anglers in Boulder Colorado, is currently running a "Free Flies for Trash" campaign. Boulder Creek gets cleaned up, and just a bit of time spent picking up trash over a lunch break, or hour before fishing, gets you a free fly. Perhaps a good promotional suggestion for your local shop as well!

Now gear. Waders, be they $150 or $700 will only last a few years if you fish a lot (which we are all aiming to do, right?); and, this is an easy way to budget gear. After all, do you really want even more zippered pockets to lose your memory in? Now, where did I put those car keys?  Also, keep your eyes out for gear in unexpected places. I got my vest at Goodwill, and discovered on second use that it came with the previous owner's tied ant in the pocket! How many new vests come with flies attached?

And finally, "Go Local" is a pretty big deal rallying cry in many sectors right now, and it should be in the fly-fishing world as well. Expand your scope of species; it will expand your skill-set as a fisherman as well. I am lucky -- South Boulder Creek, a great trout stream, is 10 minutes from my front door. But, are lakes your stomping grounds? Try for some bluegill and bass. Or, take a challenge and chase some carp! Wherever you live, Go Local...to your streams and creeks, ponds and reservoirs. You'll save on gas! Get to know the waters, your waters, inside and out. Pick through all of their pockets and save money in yours. 


*This work originally appeared in The Blue Collar Issue of Blood Knot Magazine, April/May 2011.