Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sanding.

Friday, January 27, 2012 -- 7:55 a.m.

Driving down the canyon after a bit of snow the night before, it’s easy to place where people cased in the cars around me live -- by altitude. I carry only a dusting from around 7,800 ft., but the car in front of me has two inches or so....down from at least 8,500 ft. I’d say.

Down in Boulder they’ve gotten nothing, and I am marked -- standing out -- obviously, from somewhere else. I think back to one evening after work when I stopped for some groceries at Alfalfa’s Market, where all the cheese is dairy free, or so they say. Except, I had extra sharp raw-milk goat cheddar in my cart. The slogan lies. It hadn’t been too cold in Boulder that day, but I was bundled up -- hat, gloves in my coat pocket, heavy leather boots. I knew that when I got home and had to unpack and carry in all the groceries from car to cabin, it would be cold. Possibly falling 20 degrees or so. The woman at the register looked at me, “You’re from up in the mountains, aren’t you.” It wasn’t even a question, really -- but rather as if she was simply telling me she noticed -- you’re not of this place.

Sun spots glaze the foothills in the distance -- rending clouds -- opening, and closing again within seconds. There’s a break ahead, an end to the gray, but I just don’t know how long it will take to get there. Turns out in this case, it’s about 45 minutes away yet, at the intersection of Highway 66 and Main.


8:54 a.m.

“How was your week?” Frank greets, laying out my bound strips on the workbench.

“Long...very long.” I say, thinking about my dad’s theory --> that my work week wouldn’t seem so long if I didn’t do exciting things on my days off. He’s got a point. I anticipate working on my rod each day I’m not, and in the summers dream through to Friday when I can find myself in the highcountry -- like a child counting down to birthdays or summer holiday.

The strips are just as I’d left. I sigh with relief. I’d had nightmares, nerves, and good natured ribbing, about the glue not setting right and everything going to hell in a handbag. Which, I’ve always thought, is an appropriate place for handbags to go, however odd the saying. I guess I was still having trouble believing that all of those splits would really stay together as a whole. But facts are facts, however believable -- and the fact is, the glue worked.

Frank takes a razor blade and shows me how to cut the string ends on the bound cane, pulling them off in one direction and then the other. Deceptively, the string remains -- haunting in glue lines. I unbind the remaining pieces. And then suddenly, it’s an actual a rod -- well at least a blank -- standing on its own.

Frank hands me two blocks of wood covered in P220 sandpaper. “Each block is good for about three sides...then we need to change the paper out...ok?”

Push forward, not down...just like in planing, I repeat to myself.

Starting with the butt section, my block slips off the end a few times before my muscles learn the motion -- and the cane sings -- vibrations of a distinct note which I’m sure could be identified by one of my perfect-pitched friends from conservatory who figured out that the ambient hum of the school’s air conditioner was a B. After air conditioners, I’d think bamboo would be easy -- it’s used to make instruments after all, and I like that -- feeling nearer to an art I once had mastered. George Black wrote in his book “Casting a Spell,” that H.L. Leonard used to say, no man who does not love music and who can not play at least one musical instrument can make a good fishing rod. It’s not so much that I agree, but it does give me a bit of confidence in the promise of the instrument here before me.

The glue and cane sands off, mixing together, looking like I’ve spilled a jar of ground ginger. Smelling just as good.  Out the window, lost snowflakes amble by, looking in. Or perhaps they’re not lost after all but just wandering, as Tolkein would say. Those two are very hard to tell apart sometimes -- but you aren’t lost unless you know exactly where you should be. And what with that being very rare, I think most of us are simply wandering. It's comforting to have others in the same boat with you; especially if you've lost the anchor.

I finish the butt section with P400 sandpaper and move on to the tips. “Sand up just as far as you feel comfortable...on all sides....then move up, inch-by-inch to the tips. You don’t want a 5-sided -- or, even worse, round, tip -- take your time," Frank says, "We want it done, but we want it done right.” The string’s glue lines angle, disorienting my eyes. Like one of those optical illusions which asks whether you see a duck or a rabbit, infectiously passed around on the Internet, the great magician of our age. Nearing the tip-top, the apex disappears mottled between sides. I bend in closer, squinting my eyes like adjusting binoculars, right above the cane. But all is well -- still six sides. And while I’m sure “sanding” isn’t  usually associated with adrenaline rushes, I’m here to tell you it should be.   
Clouds move in, covering the east. 

Music plays. 

And now, for the first time I can actually feel the taper. I knew it was there. Heck, I trained it in. But running my hands up and down the split, I couldn’t feel it -- that is until now, sanding -- feeling each dimensional change, diminishing towards the tip, swelling towards the butt. I ponder the physics of this all, why each measurement is where it is, and why this makes for a beautiful and powerful casting tool. I don’t understand all the mechanics, but I love the precision, and even the mathematics that turns split cane into grace. And as Maclean wrote of these things which elude us: one can love completely without complete understanding -- working hard on the latter in the meantime.

“Nice grooves!” Dick echoes back from the front desk of the shop, thankfully breaking the silently loud dialog in my head.   

“What would you call this type of music, anyway?” Frank wonders aloud, planing behind me.

“I don’t know...beach music...? Definitely should be listened to in bare-feet I think.” It reminds me of the music a surfer friend of mine in San Francisco used to listen to. He rode his bike all the way out from a small town in Missouri in the 70’s -- and never rode it back. “Optimistic music, for sure...”

“Yeah...like, if-you-didn’t-get-everything-done-today, there’s-always-tomorrow kind of music.” Frank adds. And it’s true, because you never will, and there always is. And that, is why we listen -- for these reminders that we’re not alone in our shortcomings, achievements, and our idealism that there always will be another tomorrow.

We need that.

Darkness falls upon me still sanding, and Frank still planing. James Taylor goes to Carolina, and takes some of my thoughts with him -- but most, remain here in concentration upon keeping six sides. And I do, somehow. As I finish up the last tip, Frank, sensing that I'm almost done, comes over to check my work -- looking at each piece through magnifying lenses, running his bare fingers up and down the sides which for at one time, we had to wear gloves. “Nice...very nice.”

I smile, content at a good day, and proud of its work.

A cloud bank lingers over the mountains, following the shape of the peaks, raising each one at least a few thousand feet; and as I cross underneath the railroad bridge at the mouth of the canyon, snow begins to dusts the ground like powdered sugar on Saturday morning pancakes my grandmother makes (always, with a squeeze of lemon juice on top). And here, I enter back into my range -- knowing where I am, and more importantly, where I should be. Found again -- at the end of the day.

62 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Andy! I see that you're pondering guides for your Sage...that comes next week for me! Decisions, decisions. :)

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    2. It's a biggy Erin...
      Lots of folk go for the darker or blued effect guides, I think that elevates the aesthetic but hey, what do I know? The Struble agate guides have impressed me and the snakes are Snake Brand Universal in dark nickel.
      If either of my "also ran" options appeal, I can ping them out in the post but I suspect your build deserves something special...
      Another small detail is the nude wrappings on a matt blank - the Prayer Stick will not look like any other 363-3 TXL f'sure.

      Seriously, I can't wait to see what you go for!

      Best,
      Andy

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    3. Andy...oh goodness...I know! And I'm terrible with decisions! Best of luck with yours!

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  2. Many tasty thought nuggets in this post. Keep wandering.

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    1. Rhythm Rider - I have been told that I cannot help but do so...that may be right. Thanks for reading, as always!

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  3. Not to slight anything you have done in the past, but...this may be your best piece of writing I have ever read. And is sure to be trumped soon... You are good. I loved it.

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    1. Thanks, Jay...and I'm going to keep on shooting those arrows straight up into the air...one is sure to hit something. Right?

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  4. I so agree with the above comment! The sqeeze of lemon juice!!!!I had completely forgotten.For YEARS! That is exactly the way my mother always made them!

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    1. Hart - Many thanks! And glad to have reminded you of the best topping for pancakes. Well other than your blueberry reduction syrup. That, I am told, is divine.

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  5. Decided on a color for your wraps? I like the way the Granger rods often had a color that blended with the color of the bamboo.

    Still a mild winter here, and much less snow than last year. Hope we get a bit more, otherwise it'll be low water in Aug.

    Cheers,
    Mike

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    1. Mike - Thinking about a brown...I like the look of blending too. We're due for snow at the end of the week here. But we'll see...the last prediction was kind of a dud. Here's to snow!

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    2. If you are to fish with it seriously maybe you could consider making it as conspicuous as a stick! Matte finish not gloss, dull coloured ferrules, matte black fittings not silver, especially the hayfork tip ring and you will avoid making heliographic signals to the trout and all the other wildlife warning them that a human being is about to be among them!

      Regular Rod

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  6. Banjo is just waiting for his opportunity to chew your new stick : )

    Excellent piece - but then they all are.

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    1. Dave - Thankfully, Banjo doesn't chew things...well, he did once, and it was a Bible. I thought lightning was going to come down. ;) Thanks as always, Dave!

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  7. If you could find how to start with seven sides, losing one wouldn't be such a bad thing.

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    1. Clif - You might have something there...

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  8. Erin,
    I have to agree with Jay, this may be your best writing yet. You should really think about publishing this as a book when you get done, there are a lot of cane folks who would love to have it.

    Don't know what you've and Frank have in mind for guides and thread but I have a suggestion. If you don't have an agate stripping guide yet, contact Joe Arguello and see if you can get one of his hand made ones. Also, Rick at Rick's Rods in Denver has lots of Phillipson guides, tip tops, ferrules and classic threads. You might give him a call, mention my name and see what he has. It would be cool to have some history on your rod.

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    Replies
    1. Grizzly Wulff - Thank you! And I am mulling an idea such as the one you bring up. As for guides...oh my, so many decisions! I've looked over some, and will decide on something this Friday I think. One step at a time. :)

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  9. Agate on cane is classic, get one, avoid shiny snake guides; shiny ferrules can be blued -- brown thread sounds good, highlights w/contrasting color is good. For dark cane transluscent silks can be striking. Old Leonards and Varneys with see-thru silks of Chinese red, lime green and other colors are nice. Lots of the mod makers have great looks, Reams' rods look real good to my eye.

    And you can always test-wrap, varnish, wait and see what color develops -- or shop may have sample sticks already. We wait with baited breath, bated.

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  10. Dearest Erin,
    Beautiful. Worth being woken at midnight just to read your words and be lead by your hand on another enchanting journey. Thank you.
    Alan

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    1. Alan - I should be more careful to post at international time zone friendly times. :) Thank you for your kind words as always, BB.

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  11. I gather you have read (or are reading) George Black's book now. I thought you would enjoy it. It reconnected me to my bamboo rod... and I didn't even make mine.
    I'm really enjoying your rod making journey. Keep up the good work.

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    1. Jay - Yes! It was fantastic. Just finished it last week. Thanks for the recommendation...and, the encouragement!

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  12. It just rolled. The intro. Got me psyched, I could feel it and hear Seger,"You pretend it doesn't bother you..." Then Frank channeled it. Get in the zone. Focus. Don't push it.The coach has been quietly watching. "Nice job out there." Head home where they love you regardless, rejuvenate for another time, to get your game on.

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  13. I am thoroughly enjoying this journey as much as you. If we're voting, I vote for Chinese Red wraps and definitely an agate. Like Kuni said, that's classic.

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    1. Howard - Thanks for journeying along with...you know, the waters never used to be this crowded. ;-)

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  14. I used an orange agate stripper guide, bright orange silk wraps, and burrled walnut reel seat with nickel silver sliding band harware. Turned out really cool, silk wraps are translucent once varnished. Don't be afraid to experiment and see what you like best!

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    1. wayneb - Yep! I think I'm waiting to see what the rod tells me it wants...one color, guide, etc. will "speak."

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    2. 'twill say, tighter, tighter on the silks.

      once varnished all comes clear in sun, your mtn sun. w/any fine product, final details are

      final in the sun.

      ...had Japanese eggplant miso dish last night.

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  15. Lovely read, in every sense. I think your writing style is being shaped and smoothed and tapered by writing about the rod, as much as the rod itself is being shaped and smoothed and tapered. There's a natural power in your words that mirrors the rod. And I'm amused by the recommendations you're getting about hardware, etc. I think I knew what you would say. Yes, listen to the rod. Can't wait to see what the rod tells you!

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    1. Jim - Thanks for your words...encouraging and observant. And I'm highly amused too. ;) However, you understand me, perfectly.

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  16. "There’s a break ahead, an end to the gray, but I just don’t know how long it will take to get there." That covers a lot of things in life... rod building, too!
    Lot's of suggestions from all your fans. I say, simple is elegant. A subtle 2 spiral accent wrap, only above the grip, is like putting a thin necklace on a beautiful neck.

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    1. Make that "3" spiral accent wrap... always use an odd number. 2 was a mistype.

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    2. FlyFishingCrazy - Simple is elegant. I can't agree more. Or at least, that's what I tell myself to feel better about my fashion sense and wardrobe. ;)

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  17. I have no opinion on wraps or guides but am anxious to see what this all looks like when the first coat of finish goes on. That's always my favorite part of working with wood, the point at which it seems to breathe again. It's so tempting to rush through the sanding and hardware to get there but lapses in either really stand out when the finish goes on, and then you have a lot of work to get it right again.

    Keep enjoying the here and now like you've been doing and you'll end up with a beautiful piece of work.

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    1. Mark - Strangely, I have not been anxious at all about the "next steps." The here and now (just as you say) are too interesting and enjoyable. Thanks much for stopping by!

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  18. Amazing stuff as always...I love this little trip you're taking us on.

    Cheers!

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    1. Sanders -- thanks much for willfully coming along. ;)

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  19. Soon the rod will be talking to you, out in the middle of the river just you and the rod............... bliss

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    1. Tom - Indeed! I'll be talking to Banjo and my Bamboo...and seem all the crazier for it!

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  20. Dearest Erin,
    I remember (still) a Truffaut film depicting a day in the life of two boys taking a leave of absence from their normal school day. They take a leave of absence from what was expected of them and what they expected from, and for, themselves.
    The scenes showing a view from above provide the sense of distortion, and of course enhance the liberty. (It's a French theme so I choose the hackneyed phrase).
    The film generates a sense of joy from their liberty. It shows them racing around their city as they revel in the sights as the scales, and blinkers, fall from their eyes. The immediacy of LIFE is what matters, as they leave everything behind.
    The film was a work of fiction but, do I see a parallel in Mysteries Internal - or have I enjoyed too much Merlot.
    BB

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    1. Alan - "The immediacy of LIFE is what matters"...live in the here and now...as Mark aptly stated above. The film sounds lovely...and I'm delighted to be compared. Cheers, BB. Keep enjoying that Merlot...

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  21. He he I remember once whey you and I came down from our snowshoeing in the high country,bundled with coats, hats, heat blasting and we stopped to pick up a few things in Boulder. We knew we were out of place when we noticed everyone walking around in shorts, no coats, and windows down :-)

    Oh and I think GF pancakes lightly sprinkled with snow-like powdered sugar and a squeeze of fresh lemon is in order for our Saturday breakfast. Yup I can taste the lemony goodness already.

    Oh and nice progress on the "Boo".

    sgb

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    1. sgb - I remember that too. Down from Isabelle Glacier, wasn't it? Pancakes with powdered sugar and lemon shall go on the menu for Birthday Weekend. 15 sleeps!

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  22. I have really enjoyed watching this rod being built!

    I can't wait to see her when she is all finished.


    The posts have been fantastic.

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    1. G lech - Thanks! Thanks so much for reading along the journey. :)

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  23. Agree with others- PLEASE publish this journey! even if the glossy nationals decide not to take it, I'm sure there's a few digital fly fishing reads that will want to publish the journey. Are you going to give your new fly rod a name?

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    1. finsandfeathers - I always thought that if I were to have children, I'd have to wait until they were born to truly name them. I think the same for this rod. Although yes, I'm sure it will be christened. And thanks for the encouragement to publish...I'm mulling how and when and if. :)

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  24. Erin, I have not commented lately, but I have been enjoying the building of your bamboo fly rod. Like most I'm quite curious as to what the finished product will look like, but more importantly where it will take you.

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    1. Tonto - Thanks for the words! Glad you're still enjoying the journeying with...

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  25. Can't wait to see the finished product e.m.b.! Bring it on!!

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    1. Penbayman - Thanks! I'm certainly enjoying the process and all it brings. Cheers!

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  26. Must agree with Jay Z again, this is a piece that clearly raises the bar. Love the part about not being lost unless you know where you should be. I've been there a few times.

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    1. Steve - Many thanks...and glad I'm not the only directionally challenged one... ;)

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  27. I have no idea what guides you will use but I do know that they will be the right ones. Erin, as enjoyable as these posts are, I so look forward to your first post after your first fish on your first bamboo rod. THAT will be one to remember !

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  28. Marv - Thanks so much for reading along...and that will be a memorable and important day, for sure...although then again, they all have been. :-)

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