Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Aesthetic Arrangments.

Friday, February 10, 2012 - 5:12 a.m. 
 
Light of February’s waning Snow Moon streams through icicles hanging off the gutter, barring my bedroom window -- under house arrest. The moon is enough that I don’t turn on any lights. Not yet. Walking around the house, window to window, I peer out. Looking for breathing shadows. Nothing. Banjo cracks one eye from the couch, sighing, knowing that me being up this early means I’m leaving. Out you go, boy, I whisper. Opening the back door, icicles break like wine glasses. A man once told me he buys all of his wine glasses at the Dollar Store - their sundae cups, he said, they never break -- swearing even his heavy-handed sister couldn’t do them in. Perhaps it was really just a hint that I should buy some Dollar Store wine glasses -- a warning, or else he might break mine too. If, that is, I was ever to ask him over for dinner.

As I close the door, I hear a few more glasses break. Aftershocks. So much for trying to be quiet.

Coffee percolates light inside and out by not so much its caffeine, but rather its warmth. Pouring my first cup, I’m reminded, I need to find socks, by the kitchen’s cold wood floor. Dark eyed juncos are out early this morning, getting their fair share of breakfast before the jays wake. Landing on snowbanks, they make angels like children, imprinting their faith in flight.  

Driving north, Longs Peak hangs up clouds from last night’s snow. You can tell they want to leave, but can’t -- for her words, kind or un, make them linger. Using them as pawns, she blocks our view in, and hers out. Tired of being looked at all day -- of being climbed and photographed and placed on cheap postcards. Fame can take its toll, even on a mountain. This morning, she pulls the curtain and only shows her buttresses of mottled tundra grey. The scene is static, with movement implied -- as if in a painting by Monet or Degas or Niemeyer. Swirls of white, grey into curls as the gusts age. They’ve a short lifespan, wind-gusts, but also one curiously long. For who knows where they go, after they blow. On. Somewhere. Taking and holding the answers, The Poet sings, to all of the questions we ask generation after generation...they’re there, but they’re blowing in the wind. So good luck. And despite my distance of warm car comfortable silence, I know that on that mountain right now, it’s a blizzard of a shouting match.

But so it goes that things often aren’t how they appear from a distance. And it’s not until you step close enough to the museum wall, making the guard sufficiently nervous, that you can see the details...and the meanings hidden therein. For a short while, at least, until the guard sternly bellows “ma’am, please step away from the painting.” But for a bit of time -- for one of those wrinkles -- you can see the swirls.  


8:52 a.m.

Today is going to be a day of decision making. I was warned, prepared for it to be so. Wood and thread and guides. I loved the splitting and sanding, and the planing. But now comes the “interior decorating” aspect of rod making, Frank describes, “Most people’s favorite part...”

“All these little decisions?”

“Yep.”

“Huh. I think my favorite part is the planing.”

“Yeah, mine too....”

The excitement of moving in has come and gone. The satisfaction of nesting is complete. The U-Haul truck has been driven back cleaned out and emptied of its life, delivered. And now, busted tile work before the fireplace needs replaced, bathroom cabinets need handles, and paint chips off the spare bedroom’s walls need to be taken to the hardware store to see if they can mix a match.

Yes, of course you bought a fixer-uper.  

Frank brings out a cardboard box full of reel seat wood -- some factory ready, some needing turned. “This one here, Mike Clark gave me.....and here’s some walnut...that might be good. Pistachio. Madrone. Oh, and here’s crabapple. Spaulted crabapple. I’ve really been liking that lately. Looks like those old world maps....you know?”

“Yeah, I love those kind...”

“Ah and here’s some olive tree...from Israel! I even have the papers to prove it.” Frank laughs with the strange satisfaction of being able to prove something you probably never will have to.....yet still, it’s nice to have the backing should you need it.

I stare at the pieces of wood, and remember my grandmother’s yard in front of the big white house on Charles St., homing a small crabapple tree. Every year it blossomed white just in time for Easter, and before it, generations through photos passed. There, I am documented from infant in dress and bonnet, to teenager in flannel and boots (there came a time when I refused to wear dresses...even, to grandma’s Easter dinner. My mother calls me difficult). A few years ago, it had to be cut down, the crabapple. Due to disease, I think. But that tree in my grandmother’s front yard on Charles St., grew alongside a family...and as it died, its other branches fell away too.

I take the smaller piece of crabapple to start. Frank assures that I can turn more than one -- because sometimes, he says, when they’re turned, the wood ends up looking drastically different -- sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. You just never know how it will go...especially in worse. And so you turn and keep on...chipping down to its core, to see what’s inside.

In a way, this all reminds me of my childhood fascination with rocks. I was sure that inside, they all held something interesting, something special. Hollowed cores of color like the gems at Natural History Museums. They weren’t pretty on the outside either, and so it seemed to me a pretty logical possibility that there might be such beauty in my own backyard, too; thus, I took it upon myself (enlisting the help of my sister, of course), to sort through and hammer open all the rocks I could from our backyard -- and a few others pilfered from the neighbors as well. They were childless and enjoyed these shenanigans. Or at least, that’s how I justified it. We only got scolded once for leaving the hammers in the driveway -- not for splitting open the rocks as you might think. And so, we kept on searching for the special ones. There were a few, and I kept the unique ones on shelves in my room, covering up mason jars of water beetles I didn’t want my mother to find. Although eventually, she did -- and made me promptly march them all back to the Hanscom Park pond.

Frank shows me how to work the lathe, and how and when to adjust the blade. “And go slowly” he warns, “too fast leaves lines.” So I sing a song in my head. A slow ballad hymn to keep time -- to keep me even.

The lathe is hypnotic -- its blade creeping with a line like stain...eating down the wood to something different than we saw, but what was still there all along -- whether we saw it or not. Everything blurs, and I concentrate on moving slowly and evenly. 

I keep singing to myself.

Stopping the lathe to check on progress and measure diameters, Frank points to the dark lines “That’s the spalting....the disease. Ironic, huh...that’s what makes it interesting.”

“And what makes it beautiful...” my voice trails off, the lathe starting again.

I turn another piece, this time walnut. And when I’ve finished, holding them both up next to my rod, there’s just something about the diseased one...it fits. “Hey! Look, it’s a mountain range!” I notice excitedly, holding the crabapple up for Frank to see.

“Yeah! Yeah, you’re right...it is....and those smaller spault lines coming down...those could be streams, you know?”

They could be. “This is the one!”

Perhaps sensing the emanating relief of a decision made, Dick steps back into the shop.

“The mountains!” I say, perhaps a little too enthusiastically, “they’re in my reel seat!”

Dick puts on his glasses “well..sure enough...they are!” The glasses ride up his nose as he grins, “that’s cool.”

Next, I sand down the cork grip, watching Frank do one for another rod first -- paying attention  to how he moves his hands, where he places the sandpaper, and for how long. Soon, I begin on mine. The cork molds down, looking malleable, like clay on a wheel. After awhile, the sandpaper gets hot from friction, and I stop to check the shape and diameter. “Go ahead and put your hand on it....see how it fits.” Frank urges.

Almost perfect. Just a little more off the middle. And...there...

Now Frank pulls out cigar boxes of thread. “These change color quite a bit under a coat of varnish...” he notes, placing a goldenrod yellow spool on the table, then a brown “that’ll turn ox-blood,” a tan, and another golden. Under where the cork grip will later be glued, Frank wraps samples of each thread, and then applies some varnish. Like looking at paint sample strips, I bend down and squint. Eye level. Then lengthwise. Standing up again, Frank suggests “let’s go outside...natural light helps a bit.”

I grab the reel seat.

Gutters drip melting snow. Spring will come.    

Holding the rod and reel seat together, two colors immediately get crossed off. Judiciously letting my eyes make the final vote, I let them wander on the rod. Side to side. Up and down. And back. Where do they want to go? To the darker brown...yeah, that’s it. Frank nods in agreement. Then after another round of wrapping and varnishing I decide on black trim wraps, picking up the spaulting.

That done, we glue on the cork and tip tops, and fit the ferrules together. “Ferrules are worth taking your time on,” Frank says. So I file slowly, with a cautiously scared hand. Finally with some effort, they push together and pull back out with a delightful and ready pop.

And finally, we blue them. “The females are always the most difficult...” Frank comments off hand.  

“They always are...right?” I laugh.

“Well, I didn’t want to say that...”

“I know...but I did.”

Darkness presses against the glass window, sneaking through cracks from an old bullet hole, reminding us of Time. Frank slides the three parts of my rod into a sleeve and then a tube. “Take this home with you tonight...but make sure to bring it back with you to Estes in the morning so you can start wrapping.”

“I’ll be sure...”

There is silence. And shadows. I glance up at the culms of cane stored above, overhead the workbench, which gives the shop a feel as if you’re in a south pacific hut with Iowa barn doors - those doors, a two part invention of gate and friendly window -- the kind Mr. Ed’s head used to talk from on Sunday nights...but only those Sunday nights I spent at my grandparent’s house with cable. I remember Frank telling me how someone once told him that he should cover those doors up. “But they’re the best part of this place!” he replied. And so he didn’t. And I’m glad.

As I glance up, I think about those culms, and how they’ve been split and sanded, and planed and glued, and sanded again; and how now, they’re fitted with ferrules, tip tops, and a cork grip. And standing here with view of beginning and nearly end, it really shouldn't be possible. But then again, many things in life are that way, unbelievable when you look back and see how far you’ve come.     

“This is my rod...in this tube....” I say, looking back down...

“Yeah it is...and it feels alright, doesn’t it....” Frank smiles.

“Yep...pretty alright.”



Listen to the story:
 

68 comments:

  1. Landing on snowbanks, they make angels like children, imprinting their faith in flight.

    A perfectly glorious characterization of juncos. They are one of winter's many simple joys.

    As always, a beautiful piece. I envy you this experience and the years of joy the result will give you.

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    1. Mike - As ever, thanks so much for the comment and good words. Juncos are like daisies...friendly, and always a joy.

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  2. I think it's cool that Frank had you take the pieces home with you. I wouldn't have been able to put it down once I got home and would have spent the night thinking about thread colors and imagining the way it would feel the first time it bends to a fish.

    Nice reel seat.

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    1. Quill - You know, I drove much more carefully on the drive home. ;) And once there, promptly took it out to ogle!

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  3. Funny how 'Niemeyer' and 'swirls' ended up next to each other. No small coincidence, me thinks.
    pa

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    1. Pa - Nothing's a coincidence. ;-) Those words were chosen very very carefully!

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  4. Very nice, Erin -- both the post and your choices of spacer and wraps.

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    1. theliteraryflyfisher - Many thanks on both accounts!

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  5. A wonderful read and very beautifully narrated Erin, the rod looks to be turning out magnificently too.

    Kind regards
    Mark

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  6. Great post. It's all coming together now. Excellent choice on the reel seat. It has great character.
    Your words now have a voice. Nice touch.

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    1. Jay - Thanks! Yep...everything seems to be falling into place. Thanks so much for reading/listening. Much appreciated!

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  7. A I read this progression, I feel as if I never even need to step behind a lather or a planer myself as you describe it so fascinatingly well that I can virtually experience it. It's as if I am next you watching the wood chips fall to the floor. Its like I can feel the wood dust covering the hairs on my hand. It's as if I can feel the way the chisel handle is cool to the touch at first contact but gradually warms up to the exact temperature as my hand.

    Bravo

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    1. Brookfield Angler - I feel as though I should bow. ;) Your words mean a lot...many many thanks!

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    1. Alan - As ever, many thanks my friend!

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  9. That's one beautiful rod...and reading about it in your words seems to make it even more so! Great stuff....

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    1. HighPlains - Thanks! I'm really glad you're following along...it's turning out quite well, despite my initial misgivings about my abilities. :)

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  10. I have never had the urge to build a fly rod, but you make it such a beautiful adventure in the same way that an artist can make one see so much that goes unappreciated.

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    1. Hart - Word placement and brush strokes...more similar than I once thought. (By the way, those illustrations are amazing! We can't stop looking at them!!!)

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  11. Crabapple, the very word conjures images of my own youth Erin, an excellent choice and the mountains within will stand firm for the life of the rod.

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    1. Dave - Perfect climbing trees for growing legs, are they not?! Cheers, my friend!

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  12. If you ever feel the need or desire to write a book, I'll buy a copy.

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    1. Kirk - I do...and am working on it! :)

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  13. Wow, now I know why making your own rod is so special. If you have parts of it that remind you of your life it makes the rod priceless. Nice post. I look forward to seeing the finsihed rod.

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    1. Kevin - Exactly. And I had no idea about that part of the process either! Many thanks, as always!

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  14. Erin, thanks for leaving me room to throw my 2 cents in. Your progress is just amazing. It almost makes me think that given another lifetime to play around in, I might also accomplish building a rod. Surely you are from another planet. (one of the good named ones!)

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    1. Howard - There's always room for you! You know, when we were kids I always used to tease my sister that she wasn't really my sister...but was adopted from outer space (I have no idea where I got that from!). But maybe....it was ME! ;)

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  15. Hear old Will Geer in Jeremiah Johnson, Pilgrim, ya come far.

    Perfect wood insert for seat. You seem to get more 'n' more Japanese as days go by, rod progresses. In spring, before first cast, thou must sit on rock as water swirls. Let mind go. Zen Master wades up from behind with his own hand-planed rod.

    Whack! Not like that!

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    1. Darrell - Ah, I hear him loud and clear...one of my favorite movies! And I promise, Zen master, I will sit and listen to the water. First thing. And I will hope to not get hit on the head!

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  16. Another installment in a wonderful story told by a gifted storyteller. The transition from the cabin to the car to the shop..awesome. I love the interaction between you and Frank. The crabapple selection. Something so perfect about imperfection. The understating, "Yep,pretty alright" Sweet. The quality of wisdom and wonder is energizing. Really enjoyed this leg of the journey. The impact and echoes of creativity ceases to amaze me. Nice, Erin.

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    1. Herringbone - As ever, thank you so much! I really appreciate and look forward to the things you point out! Cheers, my friend!

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  17. Will it depend upon the hatch or have you already contemplated and pictured the fly your new rod will lay out?

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    1. Turnip Truck Chronicles - Ah, it has been chosen since before I began! ;-)

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  18. I love the reel seat you chose. Just as the mosaic virus infects tulips and results in stunning new colors and petal shapes, disease has caused that piece of wood to become even more beautiful.

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    1. Angela - I hadn't thought of tulips! Awesome! Thanks so much for pointing that out....fascinating stuff, disease. And thanks as always for reading.

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  19. Beautiful reel seat, can't wait to see the finished rod. Might have to commission you to build me a rod, with the prose to go with it. Now that would be something different.

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  20. Very nice work, thanks for sharing. Commenters above me hit the nail on the head, I wish I could tell a story with half the grace as you. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Daniel - Thanks so much for the good words...and stopping by to read. Cheers!

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  21. At the risk of sounding cliche, I quote Demi Moore from the movie ghost in response to Patrick Swaze..."Ditto"! I can say no more than the previous posts. Wonderfully done. I especially love the time taken and detail given to even the smallest of ideas...the clouds, the birds. Well done.

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    1. Seth - I like details...they're beautiful. And also, where old wives say the devil is. ;) Anyhow....thanks so much for reading along and the good words!

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  22. I love your words and the life you live. Thank you for the bedtime story...for drawing me into a world that seems so far from my own six-night-a-week-night-shift-gig.

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    1. Dawn - Thank you so much...that means a heck of a lot to me. And I'm glad I can bring some light into your night shifts. Keep on keeping' on...

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  23. I can only imagine how very satisfying it must be to finally hold something that looks and feels like a fly rod -- from all those pieces and parts comes this thing.

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    1. Steve - Working in bits, week after week, I was blown away when I looked back at photos from the first week. It shouldn't all be possible!

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  24. So much great stuff in here....bullet holes, barn doors, diseased wood. I live with songs in my head, and this is no exception. Something about that diseased wood put it there.

    If you don't know the hardest working man in showbiz, let me introduce you to Warren Haynes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tOP1SVRbPM

    That rod's gonna be imperfectly incredible.

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    1. Rhythm Rider - Thanks for that introduction....until today, we were strangers. And haunted by waters, words and songs...a good life. :)

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  25. I think I like what I heard and read. How angelic you sound, it matches what you say and how you say it. The rod: no kit rod people so proudly display, yours especially built of time and love and devotion. Your cabin description reminds me of the one in "Two Against the Wilderness," by Eric Collier, that and "Cache Lake Country" by (I think) John J. Rowlands, began my love of the North Land, which you find in altitude. Very nice!

    Gregg

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  26. Wow, ever more evocative, the anticipation builds!! Thank you.

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    1. Witham - Thanks so much for reading!

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  27. Erin
    Haven't checked blogs in a bit, the rod is going to be great. I was reminded that my dad, a grown man during the depression, was eager for any new technology, and paired a beautiful Montague with the first automatic reel he ever saw, a 'Oren-o-matic', I think it was called. He would have been all over smart phones, I'm sure.
    Mike

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    1. Mike - Thanks for checking back in. And your dad sounds like my Grandpa...he was more up on computers than was I! And my mother has a Kindle and Nook...I'm totally lagging! Hope things are well and good in Montana.

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  28. of course it is a great piece, but what I liked most, what I truly enjoyed even more than this great chapter was the end of the recording. The words you didn't write. The microphone, left recording a few more seconds. the words spoken with sincere excitement and nerves as you asked, (Jay I assume?), "What'd you think? do you like it?" "I loved it. I absolutely loved it" he says. and then, uncertainly, you ask, "Do you think I should do it again?" And he, without hesitation says, "no." That's my favorite part. A part of me feels like I heard something I shouldn't have, like I stole glimpse behind the scenes from a director's cut. Still, it was awesome. You guys rock.

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    1. d.nash - I was so ready to delete that bit out...and Jay (you are right) said exactly what you did. I'm glad you liked the 'behind the scenes'. ;-)

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  29. Lovely. The rod is materializing into a real beauty. Some lovely turns of phrase; I've been thinking about those Juncos on the snowbanks "imprinting their faith in flight." A wonderful image of the creative process.

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    1. Jim - Thank you so much for reading and noticing the little things...

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  30. Erin, the rod is interesting; the writing is wonderful. I smiled when the mountain pulled the curtain. I'm still smiling.

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    1. Mr. P. - Thank you so much. I'm still smiling too. :)

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  31. There is a real sense of pride and achievement in your voice and just a little hint of childish enthusiasm :):)

    I am eagerly awaiting the first cast.

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    1. Tom - You are right, on both accounts. ;-) And I am too....especially now that I'm set with a reel!

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  32. I read this the other night and thought of your blog:

    "When you live and fish in the mountains, you naturally become a student and devotee of canyons, learning about their unique ecology and working out how best to catch some of their trout. You also develop a sense of privacy about them. When your down in a canyon you can be left alone in a profound way."

    From, "Still Life With Brook Trout" By John Gierach

    I appreciate you sharing all the, "profound ways," you are discovering.

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    1. finsandfeathers - That is one of my favorite parts of that book. I have it written on a notepad, somewhere. :) Thank you so much for reading, and taking the time to share that bit from Gierach. Great stuff.

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  33. well...better late than never that I join this fun little party :-)

    "...Fame can take its toll, even on a mountain." You said something here that i have been trying to express to Bridget every time we go into the park...thanks!

    Pretty alright indeed!

    Cheers

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    1. Sanders - Hey man...thanks for stopping by! Always some fun to be had. :-) I'm glad that fame part rang true with someone else too...cheers, my friend.

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