Saturday, December 31, 2011

Grey Hair & Paperclipped To-Do's; or, Survival of the Coming Year.

I can’t pinpoint when it happened, somewhere mid-high school. Much like those doctor office first-visit-form’s questions about first periods – I don’t keep the start date in my memory, I’d rather forget, thank you very much. But somewhere in all of that, time sped up. I started wearing a watch and having to be places on time. Months came faster and faster, like someone flipping through a datebook, looking for a specific (yet still unfound) day, throwing ones I wasn’t quite done with just yet in the trash. And years piled themselves on, leaving physical evidence behind – a few grey hairs here and there and wrinkles beginning around my eyes. But I love them both. I’m not trying to hide them. I’ve earned them. I’ve lived. You can see the evidence in my face and in my body; grey hairs, the wisdom that comes from bad decisions; eye wrinkles, the laughs and the tear lines…some, still salty.

December 31st is a time for reflection. I learned that from my grandmother, The Birder. The thing about her is, she seldom tells you about life; instead, she shows you. All the grandchildren gathered at grandpa and grandma’s house each New Year’s Eve, and year after year I watched my grandmother quietly disappear into the basement around 10 o’clock. Standing at the top of the stairs listening, all was quiet but for a scarce flip of a page as she read the journals in which she religiously writes morning and evening (something which was my “resolution” year after year to do, and something at which I failed miserably). Each New Year’s Eve she goes back to read sections – sometimes the hard parts, sometimes the easy. The former have become more frequent, I think, as of late.  

And so now, this is the time (as I’ve learned), to reflect – on what have I done, and what I will do; on the good times and bad. Like my grandmother, I go back to re-read the written and that left un...
 
Although never being one for resolutions (things started at a given time with much ceremony seem far too easy to break), my midwest makings simply do what needs done. Not setting out goals and plans, I just go forward – breaking and picking up and piecing back together again -- putting to work my mule-like tendency to put my head down and pull with all my might.

I’m not spending too much time on reflection this year --there isn’t enough time -- what’s before me preoccupies. For being a light eater, there is much on my plate. Linear days are already marked and scheduled, with notes made; accumulating paperclipped to-do’s, to-reads, and quotes I want to remember. I still like my days in pen and ink…written out.

But I do think back, and last year was good, very good – with laughter, stories, and adventure; yet also deaths, tears, and changes. Life doesn’t ask permission of us for any of these things. We must just go on, for you never know what will happen in the morning, even as dark as the night may be, even when the moon is new.  

There’s much to be excited about this coming year; also much to overwhelm. I know how quickly the days will go and there is much to do – many projects, lots to research, much to write, much to learn. At one of my breaking points, Jay militarized me, go on, soldier, he said, looking sternly in my eyes- your mind tells you “no.” Right? Stop. You can’t go on, it tells you, Right? But your mind is a liar – albeit to protect, in defense – but still, a liar. A body can keep going long after the mind has said you have no more – like a chicken with its head cut off.

So I guess come this time next year, there may be some blood, some wounds, some exhaustion and dehydration – but I plan on still having my head, my wits about me, in the end.

And most likely, also a few more grey hairs and wrinkles.

But I’ll have earned them.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Morning After.

Thursday, 22 December, 2011 - 9:23 a.m.

Thirty inches of snow fell, overnight. I left a phone-message for my folks back in Nebraska when I made it down the mountain to work, and in a few hours they called back,

“Was that thirteen or thirty, did you say?”
“Three-zero. Thir-TY”

I always wanted this much snow as a kid, to tunnel into and hideaway; like the mice tunnels I saw in the fields, veining through thatched brome grass. Now, I don’t tunnel into it for reasons of time, not lack of want.

My kitchen window looks east, up a draw which I’ve been told by a self-proclaimed historian of the area was used in the 1800’s as a chute for ice blocks cut from a pond I’ve yet to find -- higher on the mountain than I’ve ever been as a result of private-property signs. But this morning as I ground coffee and looked out in the 5 o’clock darkness, my eyes guided by starlight and snow luminary, all I could see was white -- a solid picture window of it, drifts preventing even a view of evergreens -- and I could very well imagine blocks of ice being cut out there, right now. I felt dizzy and heavy -- the mountain's weight in glory pushing me back.

I grabbed hold the counter with my left hand, the one free of a coffee cup, and my eyes met with more of the same out the northern window by the sink. Landscape trussing outlining a flat space for car-parking has started buckling. Not too badly yet, but I saw its beginnings last spring after the thaw. Gravity, heartless as she is; a
few years and she’ll have her way, I thought. Percolation began, steam formed on the window, and I noticed some of the stems of a mint plant sitting in its sill had frozen off during the night. 

When I was going through the process of buying this place, the house inspector remarked that he’d never seen a mountain home with such a firm foundation. Unsurprisingly the earth here is rocky, and still shifting. Homes -- well the homes that last, at least -- have to be hardier than the bedrock. As I look out my windows and feel the mountain pressing against the cabin, throwing all its weight and pinning me to a wall like a fat-steer who knows he’s bigger and stronger, and all I can do is stand -- well, try to stand -- my ground.

I’m grateful for firm foundations. 

Monday, 26 December, 2011 - 8:11 p.m.

I write tonight after two days, sunup to sundown, spent hauling and chopping and stacking wood, mostly from a dead 70 ft. pine Jay cut down -- and the one before spent shoveling the said 30 inches of snow. The cabin has a gas furnace and a really nice one at that, or so says the inspector I had check it over last year before turning it on for the first time after 3 years’ vacancy. I can tell you, woodfires every night November-March or April (depending on the year), is a heck of a lot harder than thumbing the thermostat’s white plastic gauge a tad more to the right.

And I do not have a snowblower, believing the Appalachian Trail’s Grandma Gatewood when she said "Most people are pantywaists, exercise is good for you.” Every muscle aching makes you remember that yes, you can still feel. Hurting in this respect is good. Pain makes you feel alive, because life at it's innermost core, is nothing but -- and that, is a twisted kind of beautiful. 

I often think back to something my childhood best friend’s mom always used to say (as a panacea for shoe shopping -- all the Engelkemier women and all the Block women, have big feet),“Well they don't put a foundation under a privy, now do they!!!” No they don’t. And privys, are known to fall over... 

After the last storm, a coworker, surprised to see me at work said, 
“You got out!?”
“Yep...lots of shoveling.”
“By hand?”
“Yes...” 
“Wow...you’re a hardy soul.”

Really? Hand-shoveling is what now constitutes one as a "hardy soul"?

Pantywaist.

Woodstove heat and shoveling. These are the old ways of doing things, and yes, a bit outdated. Then again, so are most all my material possessions. I’ve never grown out of hand-me-downs. And perhaps one day, I’ll turn up my gas furnace and a John Deere engine will be ready and waiting to blow out my driveway. But I doubt it.

I have a firm foundation. I ain’t a privy.  

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Midnighting.

~ I wish the snow would stop crunching so loudly. Even my carefully placed heel-toed steps echo through the silent night, sung softly in my memories by a baritone. I climb the barnyard gate instead of opening it. The hinges are too squeaky, and the chicken fence strung along the bottom half of the gate to prevent goat-kids from escaping, would be much to loud on the crusty snow. The wind blows, and the gate chain clanks my nearing against its hollow green pipes like chime.

Shhh...!

I freeze onto the metal as degrees and icicles fall. And yet, there is still hope. 
 
11:47 p.m.
Yes, there’s still time...

Now I wait for silence to return -- for her to crawl back under the night's blanket and be wrapped up in her beloved, darkness. I keep still. Listening. Hearing nothing, I know at last...the blanket has found them.
11:56 pm.
Hurry...

Stalking shadows' length and movements, I read how to approach and move to the left. The afternoon's cud being chewed is the only sound, spoken from contented bellies; but my ears strain to hear their voices...
.....any voices.

Yes, I am eavesdropping. I admit it. Usually, an activity spurred by the whats in the eaves being dropped; in this case though, I am only interested in who is dropping them. My mother tells me that animals can talk at midnight on Christmas Eve. Not that they aren't talking presently, she says...but they speak in silence; when our language fails, they speak another. On this night though, on the eve of Christmas -- we can hear...we're given a translator. ~



And so now many years later, I remember those Eves of Christmases Past, spent listening -- layering coveralls over my flannel pajamas and pulling on rubber mukluks over two pairs of thick socks. Finishing with a hat, gloves, and a red synthetic-fill quilted feed company jacket, I would sneak out of the house and down to the barn, year after year, until I was undoubtedly too old to believe in such things as conversations with midnighting animals. 

Yet, I believed. And I still do.

So I'll layer up and pull on my boots, and am going to stay up late this Christmas Eve -- listening -- just like I used to do. And although there are no stalls filled with horses, cattle, or goats -- there is a mountain inhabited by mule deer, elk, mountain lions, black bears, raccoons, fox, ermines, voles and pine squirrels, just to name just a few. 




And there is a dog named Banjo sleeping on the couch.

The smells of that barnyard linger, absorbed long ago into fibers and follicles -- only now, woodsmoke and pine sap mask it. No amount of soap, it seems, will cleanse me of it -- of this need to compost -- telling the story of what's been digested, for better or worse. Writer and farmer Jenna Woginrich has named a diagnosis for this: Barnheart. And it’s a condition that needs “smells and touch and crisp air to heal” alongside “Small measures, strong convictions, good coffee, and kind dogs.”

I think -- no I know -- I have this too. Only mine, a form whose cells have divided, as if bucking the antibiotics of stable and field, morphing into a disease of the wild, not the kept. Perhaps eventually it will be studied and named Cabinheart, or maybe Canyonheart. Yes, I think Canyonheart would be it. I don’t need the diagnosis though, I know what I have.
And I also just so happen to have what this condition needs to heal. Far removed from my youth’s Iowa farm, I realize that it -- that barnyard full of manure and ice and cold shadowy superstitions -- is why I am holed up in a mountain cabin. It's why I've removed myself from city lights cemented into the stasis of change. It's why I see a full moon and remember a children's book being read to me about an owl. It's why I choose my dog walking mountain roads based on where horses are stabled. It's why I think owl pellets are cool, and it's why I always....always...look at scat. I do all of these things because yes, I have the disease.

This year, I bought Banjo a Christmas present (did last year too) and wonder whether I am becoming one of those odd women whose child is their dog. If I am -- and I probably am -- I really couldn't care less. Like Gierach wrote, “If people don't occasionally walk away from you shaking their heads, you're doing something wrong.” And in fact, those bumper stickers about dogs and honor students? I tend to agree. Go ahead, shake your head -- I think my dog is smarter than your honor student.

So yes, I bought Banjo a present and I'd like to hear what he thinks about it. I'm staying up late.

Right now though, he is keeping his thoughts to himself. Silent conversations center around our walks in the dark mornings, the musky smells of markings, and the coyotes that set off all the canyon dogs howling in subsequence like dominoes echoing off its side. It seems like a taunt, what those coyotes do....you're domesticated, they jeer...behind chain-link, tightly leashed, sleeping on 100-thread count Egyptian cotton instead of your old college flannel. You might be warm there, inside; but damn it dog, that's why you were given a coat. We laugh at you.

I hear him sigh, grumbling about something. The leash, perhaps? He runs in his sleep, breaking into an excited whine, picking up speed and then rolling into a laugh. Maybe he's laughing at me? Or maybe he's dreaming about being a coyote.

This gift might be just a pile of sinews and guts, but even so, good times can be had with a pile of guts...at least, I bet that's what a coyote would think.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On a Midwinter’s Night a Traveler.

The earth like a gypsy, is always traveling -- a prodigal life lived farther and farther away from the sun. This year, since the twenty-first of June. An annual issue of domesticity betwixt her and the sun, taking half the year to put back to rights. Sometimes it seems that all the woodstove-fires, all the soups and stews and rummed nog are offerings, pleading the sun’s return while assuaging the guilt of our mother. We’re sorry. We’re cold. Can we please come back now...?

And eventually, she always says yes.

Growing up, the winter solstice was a day of rejoicing -- soon, we wouldn’t be doing chores in the darkness anymore. Barely done with morning chores, “evening light” came early, calling us back out again. Heat lamps, cracking ice, 5-gallon buckets of boiling hot water to keep the troughs open for a few hours longer. Then before bed, begrudgingly tromping out to do it all over again -- mom, do we have to? They’ll be alright until morning....they’re animals. But the frantic slurping gulps of goats, cattle, and horses proved to us that yes, indeed, we did have to.

One becomes acutely aware of light living in rural areas. There isn’t much light pollution -- no street lamps, headlights, traffic signals, no ambient light seeping from other houses’ windows or porchlights -- and the pitch night sky plus altitude makes for ideal viewing conditions. My sister has a few college degrees now, one in astrophysics, and when we were kids she sold a horse to buy a 24-inch Dobsonian telescope (which now sits in the cabin’s spare bedroom waiting for her to have space for it again, prompting unsuspecting guests to question whether I am even crazier than they think....“Is that a cannon?!?”). I learned the sky from her back then -- the stars, planets, constellations, and international space station orbits -- and I try to remember it all now. Cassiopeia, The Three Sisters, Orion, The Dippers, Canis Major and Minor -- and our own Milky Way, usually unfindable in urban areas, to my eyes it appears as a solid white brush stroke, as if the rest of the sky has been waiting silently for millennia to be a finished work.


Taken by Erica Block, through her telescope in a cornfield. 
And then there are the planets: Mars, Uranus, Venus -- who never waver in their light. My sister taught me this: planets’ light appears unwavering. Theirs is solid. Sure. Steady through years. Stars however, flicker. As if in their insecurity they must grab your attention to see if they are, indeed, as beautiful as they think. A children’s verse has ceased to satisfy...

My night window is smaller here in the canyon than on the midwest plains. Tops of conifers and their branches reach out, grabbing away, and framing and shaping my view with a scalloped mountain mat, framed in shadowy Douglas Fir. Ironically, I see the night sky most often in the morning, on my 5:00 a.m. walks and runs with Banjo. When the moon is out, his face follows me, slipping behind the most-western mountain just as I reach back to the driveway. As if he’s been walking with me and is now also, home. I watch the paperboard coal sky change with the seasons -- different constellations being put up and taken down, by some giant teacher’s hand. 

And now at the winter’s solstice, slowly, we will get “more light” -- the dying words of Goethe, which are always brought to my mind at this time of the year. Blinded near the end, did he just want more light into his world which had grown dark? Or was it more profound than that, “light” long being a synonym for enlightenment, for peace of mind and soul’s assurance. The world is a much more dangerous place in darkness. What you don’t know is there -- what you don’t see -- what you don’t know -- will, and wants to hurt you. I suppose I won’t truly know what Goethe meant until my world, too, grows dark. Then, I wonder, will I beg for more light, or will I receive it? 

I don’t know. 

But I do know that I will receive this more light with a thankful heart. Midwinter. And yet for me it is not. Another month to go until my canyon’s winter reaches mid -- miles to go, feet upon feet of snow to shovel, firewood to haul and maul and stack, and many words to write -- before the season is done.

And so tonight, the longest of the year, thick in the midst of darkness, I call out, echoing -- more light...

Monday, December 19, 2011

On the Big Thompson; or Bad Life Decisions.

“Why does everything have to be so painful?” Jay said, missing a trout and hooking up with a coyote willow’s strike behind him. I was meanwhile busy untangling two midges who, had they not been tied by my own hands, I would have sworn were embedded with positive/negative magnets. All day, this attraction -- like I was playing chaperon over two horny teenagers, and was failing miserably.    

Fingerless gloves, numb hands, frozen guides, freezing feet. Why does everything have to be so painful, indeed. Why does everything have to be so difficult? Fly fishing is always hard, and it becomes almost impossible now.

Almost.

Right then it seemed that winter fishing was akin to a bad life decision -- one of those whose red flags your mother and father warn you about and whose control issues your best friend gently hints at. Your gut tells you to stop. Think again. Peel off some layers. Go back inside to comfort and warmth. Watch some Netflix.  But you don’t. You put on your waders, lace up your boots, and accept the decision you’ve made -- to fish -- for better or worse....to a point. To the point where, if you lose one of your flies one more time you won’t be able to re-rig. Your fingers have moved past the point of pain to immobility, curled into an arched fetal positioned fist, waiting to die.

And yet, this decision will also uncover of what you’re made, digging out some good, beautiful things, down deep there waiting.


We humans have a cerebral problem with pain -- in our bodies, lives (ours and others), and yes, in our fishing. We are fair weathered friends of the world, forgetting that almost every pain was at some point also a happiness. They come together. That's the deal, C.S. Lewis wrote. Seasons do indeed change....us along with them.

And as Jay drove the road back towards home, I sat in the sunny-side passenger seat and I fell asleep. For once an easy, painless thing to do.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Herd.

Tradition had it that my dad would take my sister and I out to cut down a Christmas tree the weekend after Thanksgiving. Piling handsaws, tie downs, and ourselves into the white Ford Taurus station wagon -- we’d get on the road towards Glenwood. Down a real gravel road -- dusty and chalky and bumpy, not what they consider gravel to be out here in the West. Here, it’s a mix of sand and dirt. I’m not sure what to call it. When I first moved to Colorado I avoided many a correct road when given and following directions, because it wasn’t “gravel.” Damn literal mind. 

This gravel road twisted through the Loess Hills -- once harboring the underground railroad and outlaws; now hiding quarter horses, meth labs, and acres of neatly planted rows of pines. Some farmers had figured out a profitable off-season venture -- capitalizing on big-city-people-across-the-Missouri’s delight in driving 45 minutes for the experience of sawing and strapping a pine to the roof of their SUV’s and the reminder that places with “$10 X-mas Trees. U Cut. Leave money in Coffee Can on Porch” still do exist. Plus, Iowa gasoline was always at least $0.25 cheaper. Many of my grandparent’s visit to our farm were based, I suspect, largely on my grandfather’s reading of the gas gauge.

It’s a dangerous thing though, sending a man -- more specifically, my father -- out to cut a tree which is supposed to fit into a house -- a one-hundred year old farm house with low ceilings, to be exact. Bigger must be better, and thus manliness must be measured by how much of the bottom half of the pine needs cut off before it will fit in the living room. My sister and I encouraged him though, to be honest....active imaginations visioned cathedral ceilings.....yes, that’ll fit just fine! Perhaps fresh air increases appetite of eyes as well as bellies, and it’s reported to me that this year, my mother’s eyes were the ones so curiously affected.  

For years now, I’ve missed that tradition. In San Francisco studio apartments I decorated Trader Joe’s rosemary trees, which fit perfectly in my one window’s sill. But that is just not the same....lovely as rosemary is and all. I did buy a tree one year and made it fit. But that also, is just not the same.

  


And then last year, finally, I had land. I had rooms of my own. I had trees of my own -- and I walked with Banjo up the mountain out back and cut a small pine from a grove that needed thinning. No longer was it about finding the right shape and size to fit the house (or not) -- it was about pragmatic pruning. I’ve a mountainside to care for, and it’s good forest husbandry to cull the herd every now and again.  

There is something to be said for new traditions which will someday be old, yet will die with me. I am a mountain’s keeper, and it keeps me in return. The dead wood which I have hauled off its sides, is now chopped and stacked (although I wonder why we don’t say “mauled” wood, for that is what was used, and what was done. Yet like so many other of our semantic games, we choose the tidier verb, “to chop”).

Again this year I go up the mountainside with Banjo, and Jay now too -- up until we find a duet -- and mute the louder of the voices, letting the warbly one remain to gain confidence, straighten her spine, and sing even louder. The cabin’s Christmas tree will never be straight nor full -- canyon trees are like their people -- wiry, with branches bent by the winds -- yet they’re strong, and don’t demand much. They don’t need to be perfect, they just need to keep on growing. And come what may, they will grow -- in rock cracks smaller than a #2 pencil or a roofing nail, among incorrigible soil. So I will always have Charlie Brown trees -- for the tradition has become not to seek that which will be the most beautiful for the indoors, but that which will be the healthiest for the out. 


Thoreau once wrote, wood warms us twice -- as will that which our small search-party labored up through a new 14 inch blanket of thick refrigerated warmth, to find. In fact, this tree will warm me three times over: the finding and chopping this year, the splitting & stacking next fall, and finally the burning next winter.

Come January, this small pine will be laid behind the woodshed to age until next year when, perhaps, it will warm the cabin as another one of the herd is trimmed.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Growing Up.

morning walks
past an empty playhouse
built of red and white
skis like candy-cane stripes
wrapping around
waiting
for children and laughter
at christmastime
months away
or past

forgotten decorations
on a dead pine
behind the woodpile

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Worth One Thousand Words; or, Life Abbreviated.

Cameras keep us honest, and photos keep us straight, narrowed in on a 6x8 chiaroscuro or jpg attachment of place -- the condensed cream soup of our day’s doings. Perhaps the camera’s advent was the demise of storytelling as it had been; at the very least, it helped usher in the start of it. Now, we can see for ourselves...we don’t have to be told. And it’s much faster this way (easier too) -- getting right to the point so that we can get on with tweeting, texting, and facebooking -- our life’s stories, incomplete in structure, sentence, and punctuation, showing us as we are --> abbreviated. A picture can indeed sometimes be worth a thousand words, but all too often, we let it do all the talking -- and while talk is cheap, stories are not.

On a Sunday afternoon, warm by late November standards, I walk past a man standing in a river -- the river which I thought I had to myself. Silence echoes above the current, as waters move quietly through the winter months; perhaps not wanting to call attention to the fact that they are still running, and the ice hasn’t quite got the better of them yet; they hibernate, hunker down, and wait...like the rest of us.

A small English Springer Spaniel bitch greets Banjo first, and then me. Her dock tail looks frantic and her eyes smile in chocolate. The wet fringe of her legs and ears clump together into soon to be frozen dreadlocks and Banjo eyes her suspiciously -- as he does every dog who likes getting wet. If she fell in, well ok then, she gets a pass. But her willful romps back to her master through pools which are on her, neck deep, erase entirely the possibility of falling in. Banjo backs away. The man turns around: eyes as chocolatey as his dog’s, a blue-bobble stocking cap and a camouflage canvas jacket. He looks every bit of what my grandmother would describe as a “nice young man” -- yet the kind none of her granddaughters ever seem to bring home to her.
This, a result of The Anne of Green Gables complex: wanting Gilbert Blythe, not Fred Wright. But now, I’m on a tangent.

With a wave and a smile, I keep moving on downstream.

Downstream far enough to where I am sure I’ve given the man and his dog enough room and won’t run into them again. He’s moving upstream. I’m moving upstream. All’s well, although it hadn’t ended yet.

I wade in. The water is low, barely over my boots in places, and Banjo follows me out to some rocks forced into the middle from strong spring runoffs. I work a pool, deep with eerie glacial blue-green, its basin boiling up aspen leaves that have been kept underwater between and under rocks, like specimens in formaldehyde. And as the lid is loosened, they float away, looking like the soft yellow underbelly of a brown trout; sumac blushing like the gill plate of a stream-born rainbow -- convincing shadows at which, I set the hook.

The nymphs sink further than I think they will, and on the third drift they snag on the bottom. My annoyed and impatient roll-cast frees both flies, and I shorten up my line a bit before casting again. There’s always some amount of reticence after a snag -- like falling off of horse: you always climb back on, but it takes awhile to get back to a full-on gallop again. Now, I know that the yellow mountain willow branches are behind me, and that the rock at the bottom of the pool is angled upstream, and that the ground, as I learned as a youth, is hard to fall upon.

Mindful of these things, I make another cast and feel the weight of a take and see the flash of a rouge side. I land her, a nice rainbow, and hold her gently in the water as I fumble for my camera in an inside zippered pocket of my vest. She gets away.   

“Any luck?”

I look up, and into the face of the man I’d seen earlier in the day with his spaniel, already greeting Banjo again.

“One rainbow. A nice one for this stretch here....eight to ten inches, I’d say. In that pool back a ways, there by that rock face....they make nice deep pools. And you?”

“18 inch rainbow, right around that bend there!”

“Nice!”

“Took me 4 minutes to land her......7X tippet on and all. Ya know at first, I thought I’d snagged the bottom....she just held deep down there. Frozen. Glad I didn’t try to snap her off!”

I chuckle. “That’d be my luck.”

“It’s usually mine. Hey, what’re you using for flies by the way?”

“Nymphs...little tungsten beads for heads.”

“Yeah, me too.”

“Guess we’re doing the right thing then” I smiled, still halfway out in the creek.

“Yeah. Guess we are. Well, see ya around, maybe...”

“Yep. See ya around....”

He turned and with a high careless whistle, the spaniel followed -- and I watched them both until they camouflaged back into the landscape and movement evaporated.

And as I did, I thought about how 100 years ago, we certainly wouldn’t have been lugging cameras around in our fishing vests and pockets. Our catch-of-the-days -- even lives -- would be documented only through memories and words. Often, orally. We would have no physical proof. No evidence. Instinctively though, we want someone to know what we’ve done and what we’ve caught (however not, always, where we’ve gone). We want to tell our fishing stories, and when you don’t have a photograph, words must come out of the darkroom -- as they have for ages past, and will continue to do in ages to come. Why am I so sure? Well it’s really quite simple: I am sure, because fishermen love stories, admiring and relishing one well-told as we admire and revel in a fish well-played. Fly fishing has a history riddled with great literature -- Juliana Berners, Izaak Walton, Robert Traver, Ernest Schwiebert, Norman Maclean, Thomas McGuane, John Gierach, Ted Leeson, Kathy Scott -- it’s shaped our sport. And besides, fishermen also seem to have the creative tendency of developing their own unique standard of measurement (something which making the move to metric wouldn’t fix). You can’t really embellish a photo, now can you ---> but you can in a story to a stranger on a stream.

While photos do capture a sense of place, emotion, and time -- the words said, things learned, and thoughts entered into, and then exited -- these things, no photograph can tell. Not in a thousand words.

Which now, I have gone over.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Summer's Loss, Winter's Gain.

Light. Blue-grey in color, as if it’s seeping through a snow cave to wake me with the same warmth I remember feeling in a sleeping bag dug into a bank of snow high in the Sierras on a snowshoeing trip during college. Snow and ice aren't just cold, they’re also strangely insulating -- similar to how a pedal point quiets itself by simply always being there. The constants, are often the ones overlooked. I put back on my wool hat peeled off in my sleep, scratch the ice off the insides of the bedroom’s windows, and am greeted Good Morning by snow. Lots of snow. Surrounded by it, I feel warm -- just like in an ice cave. Over a foot and still falling on top of the thirteen inches we got a day ago. I start the coffee pot sputtering, auguring aches and pains...reminding me of an old man.

I grab a shovel from the shed whose door I have to dig open with my hands, and start at it. My muscles are still sore from the previous batch. My back and shoulders and chest. They tell me that I did something, that I worked and sweated for something, and I like that feeling.

And I like the feeling of this season, of winter, if for nothing else but the fact that it makes me appreciate the canyon’s short and sweet summers all the more. Living through something being taken away makes you adore it even more when it returns. Love, a lost puppy, wildflowers, food. I've grown accustomed to denying myself things, and in many ways thrive by doing so -- even, if those things never come back. Perhaps though, I’m just incredibly selfish, and this is how I combat it, how I punish and train myself to be thankful: by taking things away.

In the same vein, I took away temperateness so that I could fully bask in the sun. I sought out harsh, long winters, so that those 4 months of summer would be divine. Salvation, it’s said, comes through washing...mine comes through snow. I find myself through this loss.

Yesterday, I looked up the property records for the small string of houses along my road, trying to figure out and satisfy my curiosity about the survey lines out the back mountain, and I noticed how many times this house has sat vacant. It was three-years lonely when I bought it, and back in the 80’s, it sat for 10 years, alone. When I first moved in, Neighbor Tom walked down the road to welcome me to the canyon, and tell me that people usually only last one winter. They miss the convenience of city-life, the cell-phone reception, the connectedness, the friends, and the lack of snow --- and after the first winter, they flee back to civilization, to lower elevations. He’s seen it time and again, Tom says. This is the kind of thing that would have gotten me to stay here, even if I did end up hating it. Just to prove him wrong. But I love it. And that, is why I stay. As I shovel, he waves from his snow-blower. He sees → I’m lasting.

Yet, looking at those property records is eerie. All those people. All those changes of hands. All those dreams dashed, marriages ended, bankruptcies filed, and foreclosures finalized....yes, I have heard  some of the stories. It’s as if there is a curse in the foundation of this place....a story that I don’t know...

But my story is this: I made it through the long winter last year, and I’m grateful for another. This chapter, containing much more firewood. And I’m grateful to not see aspen leaves, hummingbirds, and wildflowers when I look out my window. Yes, I’m grateful for that loss, and for the gain of icicles hanging from my gutters, a driveway full of snow, and window frost when I wake.
 
Because I know, canyon summers are divine.