Thursday, January 5, 2012

History of an Education.

By training, I am a classical musician. I know there is a reason musicians play scales. And I’m very familiar with sitting alone in a room, only my instrument and a metronome for company, playing scales for hours -- varying rhythm and dynamic a bit, just to keep things interesting. But still, just scales over and over and over again; the building blocks of the foundation. And as a musician, you can always tell who doesn’t practice their scales. It’s obvious. (Just like you can always tell who doesn’t know their history, by repetition of mistakes). There is a pedagogical logic to the way things have been done; often both for mind and body’s health.

Art is never instantly gratifying -- in fact, it’s a hell of a lot of ungratifying work. Amazing paintings, beautiful symphonies, and great works of literature, were (I assure you) painful to create -- as Shakespeare’s Beatrice says, my mother cried. And even when they are “finished,” after their birth, the artist rarely utters the contented sigh of completion. Work is never done. Children never truly grow-up. Art is never perfect. Most likely, it wasn’t inspired, and it didn’t come easy. It’s always a struggle. And perhaps this is why life has been cheapened to big-boxes, drive-thrus, and movies on-demand. We don’t want to put in the work; we don’t want to feel the pain. Life itself is a work of art, and we are rushing it to its end -- left only with cheap plastic, meaningless drivel, and bitter wine. This, is why life ceases to be gratifying....because we want to experience all in an instant. Like toddlers, we stomp our feet: right now.  

My education first grade through twelfth was homeschooled, and we were always encouraged to delve into interests and become passionate about them. It didn’t matter what it was (and believe me, my sister and I decided on some strange ones) my parents were always supportive; although perhaps they did laugh a bit after we had gone to bed. But more than anything else, I believe, they wanted my sister and I to be curious, and never satisfied with just one answer. We were never “out” of school -- the farm was our classroom; life on it, our education.

Then in college, I attended a conservatory of music. There were required Guitar Literature classes, a semester each -- Renaissance, Baroque, Romantic, and Classical -- wherein the history of the instrument was taught...its beginnings and ends. Its art. During the Renaissance semester, I was even able to borrow a lute from the school and learn the literature of the time in its vernacular. I heard what Luis de Milán and John Dowland sounded like originally, in context, to 16th and 17th century ears. One of the dreams I used to have squirreled away into the back of my head with all of my other nutty ideas, was to be a luthier. How strange, says Benedick, that sheep guts should hail souls out of men’s bodies -- how beautiful. And I wanted to be part of that beauty, to be part of that history. Nylon just doesn’t do the romance justice. For many years now I’ve thought that my classical education, the years spent practicing and perfecting an art, was all for naught -- a waste.  A performance career didn’t pan out, and teaching wasn’t paying the bills. Guitar literature classes, learning the lute, practicing scales, and finally, playing concerts -- none of it mattered.

But recently, I’ve come to realize that it all did matter, it’s part of my own history. It has shaped the way I understand and see the world, and it has taught me the worth of work, time, art, and the hard way of doing something.

And for awhile now, a certain hard way of doing something has been bothering me. A part of my knowledge and history is missing -- as if I didn’t know who George Washington was, or had begun playing Henze before Sor. As a fly fisherman, I have never fished bamboo. I don’t understand it. I am curious. I need to fish it. But first, I need to make it. For awhile now, I’ve known -- I need to build a rod.  

Gierach wrote in Fishing Bamboo that “Somehow we modern, technological humans have gotten two fallacies into our heads. One is that the current generation has to break completely with the old one in order to accomplish something new; the other is that doing something new is necessarily a good thing. In fact, the best work is still usually done in the oldest tradition of craftsmanship: You learn to do the thing the way it is: as the end product of generations of collective genius. That can amount to a life’s work, and if you never get a new idea, fine. If you do get an idea, you’ll probably have to try it. If it works you use it, if it doesn’t you go back to the old ways and continue to do recognizably good work. Those who strike out on their own without first mastering the craft can end up on some pretty thin ice.”

I need to learn to do the thing the way it is....

.....I'm scared of thin ice.

I have read all I can -- books, listervs, forums and blogs-- and tomorrow morning’s dawn will find me driving north towards Longmont, to Frank Drummond’s shop, Brush Creek Cane, to begin learning from his ‘collective genius.’ 
I have been warned about bamboo, and I have also been encouraged towards it. I have been told that it’s impossible to cast (yet I tend towards the thought that the people who can’t cast bamboo, can’t cast graphite or glass either), that it breaks easily (which makes me wonder -- why then is it used for flooring?) and that it’s just a romantic notion of old men, clinging to the past. But as Kathy Scott wrote,“The warnings may just have egged me on a little.”

I’ve also seen the light in an old man’s eyes as he leaned across a table and whispered, cupping his hands as if he were about to caress a lover or sculpt her out of clay, “you can really make bamboo....into anything you want.”   

And I will.
And I will give it my best.

Here’s to romance...

Come tomorrow morning, I’ll be splitting cane. 


  1. Good luck..and I know it will be a great experience for you..and another new adventure...I'm trying to figure out why wouldn't teaching music in a state school wouldn't be a good resource for your future and share all the knowledge you have learned with others..I know you would be awesome...:)

  2. Good luck, a worthy project. I have a 6wt Heddon Black Beauty that was my dad's rod. I like casting with bamboo, the ability to take a sip of coffee betwixt the backcast and letting the rod load. If you like to slow down, it's a great way to fish.

  3. Good luck, I've considered it too...but it sounds like a lot of work. :)

  4. Awesome! One step deeper into the madness :-)

  5. Good luck with the bamboo -- I'm inclined to agree with you, Erin. It may have far more to do with user error than anything inherent in the bamboo. I just think how much humidity impacts the sound of a string instrument, the length of bow hairs, and the overall flexibility. Just because the violin sounds funny does not mean that anything is wrong. It's about recognizing the change and working with it and noticing the other positive effects that may come about as a result. :)

  6. Erin:

    I will be expecting regular updates as to your progress learning to; understand, fabricate and play bamboo... keep us posted!

  7. Worm turns for you, girlfren'.

    Once you have planed-up, wrapped-up and varnished that stick then take to stream and catch your first trout, there be no return to the test tubular rod of baked, toxic chemicals.
    You evolve from Neandertal to Cro Magnon. You have played plastic instruments for too long. Natural fibers, yes.

    Seriously -- bamboo rods are not fragile; carbon graphite is actually brittle stuff and has been known to explode or shatter. With proper care bamboo will last over a century. Really.

    Treat bamboo fly rods like a musical instrument -- keep out of heat and sun and hot vehicle trunks, encase them, don't abuse them, don't sit on them or place near doors -- keep them dry as possible when not in use. Turn the rod if you fight a good fish in heavy water, as bamboo can take a set, or curve. Don't fish a light trout rod on saltwater bruisers, just make sense.

    Fit the rod to the water -- in your case, in your state, you live when many fine rods were designed and developed. CO has many famed names, Granger, Hatton, Jennings, Jenkins, Clark, a host of others. In fact, there is a yearly conclave of the addicted in Lyons, CO. A goodly gathering it is (though this year's is in jeopardy due to circumstances beyond anyone's control, illness).

    Split cane fly rods will long outlast any synthetic fishing gear. Caniacs fish bamboo rods made when the first Roosevelt was in office. Some of mine date to WW I and will outlive me. Some of us fish refurb'd silk lines decades old. Today's pvc lines, ha.

    You split a culm and embark on a journey. Will lead from the Tupperware rod, you shant return.

    The signpost up ahead -- about time.

  8. Good luck, but do't do the modal jazz thing and "just play the white keys." :-)

  9. "Life itself is a work of art, and we are rushing it to its end -- left only with cheap plastic, meaningless drivel, and bitter wine. This, is why life ceases to be gratifying....because we want to experience all in an instant."

    I totally agree. Fly fishing immerses me in the art.

  10. Listen to what the experts say. You will be enchanted standing in the water with bamboo in your hands and feel it come to life.

  11. Cool. I've got two bamboo rods. Casting them is definitely different and takes some getting used to. Making my own is a dream, but I don't suspect it will happen anytime soon. I wish you luck on your journey.
    I assume you've read Casting a Spell.

  12. I never thought the conservatory years a waste and glad you can look back at them now and see their worth. I knew in your own time you would see it.

    I see your old double bass bow from time to time and think a double bass resonating in the canyon would be most fitting. Maybe I will get my hands on one for you and haul one out on one of our trips.

    Oh, yes there was some laughter from time to time but never a doubt that you girls would persevere.


  13. I don't know why this went through my mind reading this post, but here it is:

    Well the first days are the hardest days,
    Don't you worry any more, 'Cause when life looks like easy
    Street, there is danger at your door.
    Think this through with me, let me know your mind.
    Woh - oh, what I want to know, is are you kind?

    It's a buck dancer's choice my friend; better take my advice.
    You know all the rules by now and the fire from ice.
    Will you come with me, won't you come with me?
    Woh - oh, what I want to know, will you come with me?

    I hope you come away infected with bamboo!

  14. Capt. C.M. – Ah, as surprising as it is, there are far more classical guitarists than people who want to learn. I pursued that route for a while…wasn’t going to happen. Thanks for the good words…I’m nervously looking forward to it!

    Mike – I am looking forward to the slower speed of it all…

    Clif G – Yeah…it does…I should be having 2nd thoughts. ;)

    Brian J – There’s an Ed Engle quote, “Yes, it’s a cult. But it’s a wonderful cult.” Sound about right.

    Val – All I can think about are guitars and violins right now. It is so strange. I’m glad you understand. “ Just because the violin sounds funny does not mean that anything is wrong. It's about recognizing the change and working with it and noticing the other positive effects that may come about as a result.” I’m going to use that as a defense should anyone question my endeavor. ;)

    Doug – Thanks, and you can bet I will!

    Alan – Indeed…we shall see…

    Darrell – “You evolve from Neandertal to Cro Magnon. You have played plastic instruments for too long. Natural fibers, yes.” Yes! And you are awesome. Simply awesome. And the Lyons gathering….do you go? I assume the yearly gathering’s fate may be tied to Hanno’s illness, no?

    Anthony – I was never a fan of modal music. Nor fusion. God help my ears! :P

    ccorbridge – It does me as well. Kind of almost a magical time warp.

    Howard – I think perhaps I am already under its spell…

    Jay – No, I haven’t read it….but it’s now on my list! Casting definitely does take some getting used to, I’ve played around with a few. But anything when it’s not “yours” takes some time. Thanks for stopping by and the good wishes….I’ll need them!

    sgb – I knew you two were laughing. Remember, I have “big ears.” I found some of my double bass sheet music the other day….I do miss it and its growls. Thank you for your confidence in me, always…it keeps me keeping on.

    Finsandfeathers – Uncle John’s Band. :)And I’m pretty sure it’ll catch…I’ve been told there is no cure.

  15. split away, erin, and continue your education. good luck!

  16. You obviously struck a chord here, and no pun intended. Nothing good ever comes easy so keep on learning. Learning new things keeps you out of a rut, which is the same as a grave, just longer. Hope you're going to do some step by step posts on rod building, ;¬).

  17. Instant gratification is a virus that cheapens everything it comes in contact with. If you don't have to earn it, what could it possibly be worth?

    It sounds like your musical education is an integral part of what brought you where you are today. I hope you embrace that just like you have with your writing! These parts are really not separable from the whole - most of us folks come as package deals.

    Do you spend more time jamming with Andres Segovia or Jerry Garcia these days?

    I don't doubt you've read all you can, but I thought of this chap's overview of bamboo rod making, which I found very enlightening:

  18. Making your own cane rod really is jumping in with both feet Erin, I wish you every luck but many find it a skill that takes years to perfect. I'd hate you to create an average stick and not get the true feel of quality bamboo in your hand.

    But hey, you're Erin and you will probably do a grand job - it seems to be the way you are ;-)

    Cane rods are definitely strong, a friend who made a beautiful wand for my son, demonstrated the fact when he showed me one of his - by laying it on the pavement and standing on it! Try that with carbon.

    I look forward to hearing progress reports, it will be quite a project. By the way, have you read Gurn's latest post about breathing life into an old stick?

  19. About 6 years ago now I bought a CD of Bach's violin concertos on a holiday to the English Lake District. For some reason I decided there and then to learn them all on electric guitar. I began practising at night without amplification, just the sound of the strings in the quiet time past midnight, and now six years on I can play the first movement of the concerto in a minor right through, the third movement almost but there's a fiddly bit that I just can't master no matter how I try - if the fingering was somewhere else then it would be easy, but I can't find one!

    The rest I have learned in part, or all the way through but have yet to tie up all the loose ends. I don't play them to anyone, never intend to and have got so used to learning the damn things in solitude and peace that I really don't want to.

    But the best thing is -- through the process I have learned to hum all the notes to perfection (with octave shifting to accommodate my limited vocal range!) so when I fish I have Bach for company without the need for Ipod's and the like. What could be better than that?

    Good luck with the rod building. It's a steep learning curve but worth all the effort. I wouldn't recommend going the whole hog and building the cane blank though! That really is an art form...

  20. "Like toddlers, we stomp our feet: right now."

    Careful. You're dangerously close to getting to the bottom of our national malaise. The cell phone commercial says it all - "That's so 27 seconds ago."

    Enjoy the rod making. Old world material with old world methods at an old world pace. Charming. And satisfying. Can't wait to hear more.

    But take your time in the telling.

  21. Sounds like a new rabbit hole; I look forward to reading of your progress in Bambooland.

  22. d.nash – Thanks…and I will!

    Phillip – Posts, yes; but instructions, oh no! And you’re very right…nothing good or worthwhile or lasting ever does come easy. Usually, I say thank goodness to that. ;)

    Daniel – Thanks for that link…I quick read it this morning before I’m out the door! “If you don't have to earn it, what could it possibly be worth?” In high school many of my friends were bought cars by their parents. I wasn’t. And my dad always told me that I wouldn’t appreciate a car (wasn’t ready for one) until I bought and worked for it myself. So it goes for just about everything else in life too, I’ve found. I prefer Segovia, but a good friend of mine Garcia….so these days, I’d say they get equal play.

    Dave – Gurn’s post…no! I’m desperately behind on reading posts right now. I’ll go look it up, presently. Both feet, yes….but I suppose my philosophy is likened to the language immersion techniques. Jump in with both feet or you’ll stand half in, half out…lukewarm.

    Jeff – A Bach singing fisherman. ;) That is awesome! One of my favorite playing of Bach’s cello suites is by Edgar Meyer on double bass. It’s amazing. Sounds like you learned much in your violin concerto learning…I’d love to hear you play them! (Oh, and the hog has already gone…all set for building the blank; and yeah, I’m crazy)!

    Mike – Oh, I’m sure I’m on a government watch list by now. ;) “But take your time in the telling.” Just like in a backcast…

    Steve – And down I go. Maybe I’ll have tea with a rabbit this afternoon. Never know. ;)

  23. Go and make your rod but don't fall into the trap of trying to make something to suit an angler who has learned their casting with super light graphite rods. Too many cane rods are built of short length and to throw very light lines. This creates toys that only work in very specific circumstances. You will get more use out of your built cane rod if you make it between 8ft and 9ft long and to cast a #5 or #6 line as it will work almost anywhere so giving you more opportunities to use it. It will weigh more than a graphite rod of the same length. It will feel different to cast with but if you want to really get to know it and know whether cane is for you you should put all others aside and simply fish with your cane rod for a full season.

    I don't think I will ever go back to graphite rods for my river dry fly fishing. You could end up feeling the same way.

    Good Luck with the build. Oh and keep it matte, dark and drab. Forget blonde, shiny rods unless you intend only to fish in the dark or in very dull weather!


    Regular Rod

  24. Then I'll give you some hard earned advice. Sharp tools are the least dangerous....

  25. Erin, this is a decision you will never regret..The pleasure I get whilst fishing with cane (as we brits tend to call it)is almost spiritual. It is a cleaner, more natural experience. Just recently I was fortunate to stumble across a 60 year old classic English rod which I painstakingly restored to a fishable condition. I have not even used it yet, but have already achieved a rapport with it like no other rod I own. I know I will use and cherish it for the rest of my life......Here's to the romance, enjoy.

  26. Yes, have been to the CO Cane Conclave in 2009, had a really nice time. K told me the CCC may not happen this year, sorry and sad to say. Mr. Hanno is ill, K must be under terrible stress, can feel it out to W. Coast. Hope our cane book profits help. Such a nice man, such a nice woman, breaks the heart.

    Back to rods -- I'd go shorter than 8 1/2' in cane; pref 7' -- 7 1/2', in a four line taper. I usually top out at 8' for a DT5. Beyond that weight of rod (and heavier reel to balance) can be unpleasant, wear on the forearm. I've fished 7' -- 7 1/2' all over, small to medium waters. 7 1/2' for a five was nearly perfect on Big T, 7' for DT4 for Roaring R. at 9k' and short casts.

    Your mileage may vary, but shorter and lighter is good for cane beginners. We'll talk casting later. Another world.

  27. This is a very good thing.

    and here's to romance.


    ...the only thing I will be constructing this winter is the "ferret fly" :-)

  28. From what I have come to know about you through your writing, this seems like a natural step for you. Even inevitable.

    Does that make sense?

  29. Regular Rod – While I’ve fallen into no trap, I am building a small stream 4 weight…because that’s what I fish most. And I plan on fishing this rod….a lot! I fired it dark today….couldn’t agree with you more on the color!

    Jeff – I’ve survived the splitting and firing thus far ;) We’ll see if I get through the process all fingers intact though, eh?

    Jim – Yes yes yes!!!!!

    Gurn – Oh! I just saw your post! Splendid! I’m treasuring mine already, I assure you…I glanced at it before I left the workroom, with a smile, like it was already a good friend. :-) I know what you mean about the spiritual part of it all – there was something very meditative about the splitting and sanding and firing.

    Darrell – The cane book…I need to order it. Have been meaning to, and will go do it right now. Do you have a piece included? My rod will be a 7 foot 4 weight. Small streams (S. Boulder Creek, Big T, etc.) are what I fish most. I have messed around with casting on few bamboo rods of friends…it’s different, and I like it!

    Sanders – I’ve been wondering how The Ferret has been coming along. ;) Thanks as always…and cheers!

  30. Ty - Yes, it does. And I think it was inevitable too. ;)

  31. Blasted wonderful I say. I've been having romantic dreams of building a cane rod myself lately, but haven't the time today. Someday it will be. Till then I'll live vicariously through your work. Can't wait to hear about it.

  32. RR - Someday you will..."inevitable" for you too, I think. I'll get a "first day" post up in the next few days.

  33. A cane rod casts more slowly than a modern, fast action graphite rod. It almost helps slow your breathing down. Enjoy the journey Erin.

  34. Cane is like Marmite, you either love it or hate it lol

    Good luck with the building process I believe it could well be a major piece towards completing the fishing jigsaw, using a catching with your rod.

  35. Like all boys with Aussie mothers...I was weaned on the stuff. Still crave it. On toast.

  36. Mr. P - I am enjoying the journey very much indeed.

    Tom - I do believe you're right...a piece was missing. And it shall be remedied!

    Jay - With a pickle...?

  37. Am in book, honored to be in that number.

    Ah, fine choice. Please also use a DT line, WFs seem out of place on cane, tho Young and Garrison rods, generally stiffer tapers than gentler Leonards, may need a WF to activate. (Just a note, I don't own a single WF. My rods tend to the medium, far softer than many prefer. Ohm.)

    Since you've felt them, operative word, you may already know. Good journey.

  38. DarrellKuni - Am very much looking forward to reading your piece. And thanks for the word on line...I'll mull and ohm. :) Good journey indeed. I'm learning a lot.