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.
“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.
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.