Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Rod Wrapping.

Saturday, February 11, 2012 – 5:12 a.m.

Plows scrape time off my night’s sleep before the alarm can get to it. Slow going up the grade, mounds of snow against gravity take their toll on the mailbox -- hundreds of pounds storm after storm, bending its sides in with a microcosmic example of glacial power. The mailbox door no longer closes, but it can’t be replaced, not yet -- until spring thaw which will come around late May if we’re lucky. But then again, it snowed the evening of Memorial Day last year, so you just never know.

Looking out a torn screen window, fog veils the moon waiting for another night to shine -- patience in these things, patience (the virtue you are told to have, often by a person in the midst of losing theirs) -- and I turn on the deck light to see what I’ll be dealing with. Only a small bit…four inches, maybe. No big deal. Funny, how living up here has changed my perspective of what is and what is not “a snow.” Less than five inches barely warrants shoveling the driveway. And with no laws enforcing snow removal deadlines – there are no sidewalks up here -- I can do as I please as long as I can get out. And that, is why I have an all wheel drive. With enough speed, it’s all downhill from here.

The snow has fallen evenly in no wind, as if a dump truck cloud has parked over the opening of pines above the cabin and evenly distributed its contents. A blanket on a bed with no lumps. No forgotten books, socks, or stocking hats. Smoothly pressed, tucked and trimmed as a bed always should be and mine never is.

Standing sentinel in my fortress, eyeing for marks of night visitors -- this morning, I see evidence. Snow, as the CSI blue light of the natural world, makes prints visible. Revealing who went where, and when, and sometimes why -- to eat, court, to fight, mate, and die in the end as we all do. Things become clear upon this background of white. Snow on snow falls, holding and compressing evidence until spring -- when all will be forgiven and melt away. But right now I see them, the paw prints of a fox. Coming down the game trail leading through the draw, straight to the front door, down the stairs, and off and back up behind the woodpile -- bypassing the neighbor’s house entirely. I wonder if these tracks are the vixen’s I hear from time to time, calling for her mate in hoarse desperateness that makes my heart ache.

As I leave for the day, I notice a yellow spot in the snow at the foundation of the cabin. I’ve been marked. Set apart. Viewed and sniffed out. Accepted into the forest, marked as its own -- having at last passed a test I knew all the while I was taking, while remaining unsure of whether it was multiple choice or essay. I guess, maybe, it was the latter. Perhaps some people wouldn’t view fox urine on their home as a good thing, but I do -- feeling that now, my house is not a home, but rather a den. 

Snow packed roads lead north to Estes Park, where I’ll begin wrapping my rod at Frank’s condo – warmer and lighter than the back of the fly shop. I get studs put on my tires every winter for precisely this reason – assurance. Yet still I go slowly, following behind a sand truck until the climbs after Lyons, when I’m more confident than the plow driver to go over 15 mph, and so I pass.



8:57 a.m.

Holding my rod (still, feeling pretty alright) while mentally checking that I have remembered the guides and thread (although at this point, it’s too late to do anything have I not), I stand outside ringing the doorbell – looking at the Twin Sisters ridgeline.

Soon I hear footsteps. And a familiar voice, “Come on in…”

At the kitchen table, wooden wrapping frames are set; but first, we go out to the garage to mark spacing of the guides. This, of course, involves math, and so I check and double check my work. Numbers and their derivatives have never come easily for me, and even when they do come, they leave me confused. I am not, nor ever have been, left-brained. During my schooling, math textbooks ended the year salty and tear stained; and I deemed memorizing multiplication tables to be one of the hardest things I had yet done in life. At the time, I prayed for an act of nature, even should it cause me harm -- to be kicked by a horse, knocked into a coma, and then miraculously woken up years later having learned the sums by osmosis. This, was my daily plea; not one of bread, debts, trespasses and redemption; no, rather, mine was of being put out of my mathematical misery by a hind hoof. Although nowhere could I find it in books of prayers --common or un, and so remained skeptical of its power to work; yet kept on praying, even so.  Eventually, my father found my weakness: green olives. There was no punishment worse. It was a genius fix, really. For every wrong answer…pop! In went a green olive. “And you have to chew!” That was the rule -- swallowing whole was cheating, and my dad would have none of that. Thus I learned my multiplication tables, and only in the last few years have been able to stomach green olives again.

Garrison, however, was numerically sound and extremely precise (I do wonder now, had he taste for green olives?); and despite my math skills, I am trying to be precise too.

“Done?” Frank asks.

I lay down a white grease pencil, “Yes.”

Now, it is a truth widely acknowledged and universally demonstrated, that hype builds up around firsts -- rides without training wheels, kisses, weddings, casts. You will be scared, you will be scarred, and it will be difficult, you’re told. And at some point, all of that anticipatory tension, all of that adrenaline that’s been sustaining you, will crash -- and then yes – yes, you will fail. Failing though, while proving in the end that you were giving your all for whatever you’ve gotten back – scraped knees, forty dollars at a pawn shop, or a five inch rainbow. But still, there are treasures to be found (remember, they are always buried under dirt in children’s tales); there are things to learn. And so if you aren’t digging through dirt, if you aren’t failing, if you don’t need to practice…you aren’t pushing yourself hard enough. For that, is how we grow -- in matters physical, and of the heart.

If there was anything I’d heard about rod making, it was that wrapping is dreadful. A horrible, tedious, monotonous business. But so are most things which are beautiful in the end. As I’ve come to see it, life is made up of singular, spaced moments of beauty, strung together by continuance of cooking, working, and dirty dishes. We live – I live – for those moments out of line.

And so as I stand at the table, looking over Frank’s shoulder as he wraps the first guide foot on, listening -- cross the thread over on the apex, keep it taught, watch the end, make both sides even…and use this ruler – I’m nervous. Nervous to begin. Nervous to fail. All the while knowing I’m in one of those moments out of line.  

Frank turns around in his chair, “Ready?”

“Yeah…”

I take the thread out from the holding coil and immediately it springs back, out of my pinch. “No big deal…” Frank says, showing me how to re-thread the series of eyelets maintaining tension on the thread – he has a way of making you feel that even had you’d just broken off the tip, it’s okit’s fixable. And why’s that, you may ask? Well, because it’s handmade…and thus can be made again.
 
“There you go, now…all set.”

I begin again, this time with a firmer grip on the small things.

Firm, perhaps, but not fast. Yet even so, after a few wraps I feel more confident, and the thread begins lying down line after line until there is no separation, looking almost as though I’ve painted it on, making me feel like an artist. I smile, having always wanted to be one -- one whose medium is pencil, paints, pastels, or ink. My mother is an artist, my uncle is an artist, my sister is an artist. I, however, am not. I realized this one sunny afternoon in early high school. The basswoods, cottonwoods and willows were just beginning to bud with early spring green you could almost see growing, and clouds piled up into what was sure to be the evening’s thunderstorm. In the back of our ’74 Ford, we had art class. It was goldenrod yellow, that truck, the color my mother always called goat kid poop – pure, healthy, beautiful milk fed, she’d say -- also taking the time to remark that breast fed babies are the same way, and that my sister and I once had beautiful poop too. I always sensed she took pride in that.  But there, sitting in the back of that goat-kid-poop pick-up truck, sketching the Nishnabotna River flood plain which had been turned into soybean and cornfields, alternated year-by-year by by Farmer Hopp, I realized: I am not an artist...and there is no hope that I ever will be. My proportions are all off, my colors clumpy like they've been mixed in a dying blender, and my detail leaves much to the imagination. And that, is only a good thing when intentional. My art is of the kind people look at and think "At least she isn't just sitting around watching TV." or, "Well bless her heart at least she's trying." It’s the kind of art that my grandmother hangs in the bathroom; not, the living room.

When I was living in San Francisco, there were artists and easels tucked into every eucalyptus grove nook in City Park, right along with the homeless, the picnickers, the dead, and the couples doing what God knows and unfortunately, what you see. Lots of things are partaken of, made, and created in parks.

My roommate Val and I would, on occasion, lug our instruments down 19th St. by bus (the 28 or 28L if we were lucky), or if we had the time, would walk the less busy 18th Street to find a grove of our own – to study, to practice, and to lay beached in the sun layered up, pretending we were warm. However, when you're playing guitar or violin, everyone knows where you are and what you're doing. And that kind of takes away the fun of being in a grove, now doesn’t it. Sounds wafted out above the foliage partitioned rooms....Bartok's Romanian folk dances, Leisner's Dances in the Madhouse, Christmas carols, hymns, and bluegrass. As a musician, one can never truly be alone. I envied the artists their silence.

And so now, illogically, I write every thought I have out loud. But somehow that's different in my mind, because I don't see the heads turn or the eyes reading. I don't see gaits slow down and linger until the last measure is played, or the last sentence typed. I don't always make sense but I know why I don't, and that, is a large part of the battle.

And so I write in my own little chair in my own little room of the eucalyptus grove.

It smells divine.

Sitting opposite me, Frank watches, and waits – coming in and out of the garage where he’s working on sanding a blank. “You know…I’ve never wrapped a rod on this table before...” he interjects between munching on almonds. “No...no wait, I have. My first.”

Fitting.

While I am not a superstitious person, for some reason, that makes me feel good. “You’ll see people stand the tips up side-by-side on their ends....like this,” Frank demonstrates, warning, “they’re looking for the wraps to be even with one another.” I look down to the pile of tools I’ve amassed for the ruler. “But there’s only one person I know who can really get it perfect…Kathy at Mike Clark’s shop…..everyone else’s are only just about.”


I stop for a blink – exaggerated, like theatre makeup – lingering in their close.  Finally wetted and ready for the next act, I look up, and out to Twin Sisters. “Sometimes,” Frank says, watching my eye’s-path, pointing to the long windows above -- “I close the patio door curtains…so you only see that panorama up there.” It’s perfect, I think. As if he has measured, matted, and framed the ridge. I climbed it a few years ago, while in a much different state of mind and body than my current contented 120 lbs. wrapping a rod. And I look at them, those places I’ve been -- now as if they’re a dream, dimly remembered in the minutes before I woke.

We talk of maple syrup, craiglist, and foam bugs; and futons, parking tickets, and tapers. “What’s your favorite,” I ask. 

Frank pauses and looks down, placing his hand on the finished butt section of my rod – “One just like this…..for small streams.”

I smile and blink my dry eyes again, long enough I can almost see those streams, “My favorite kind of fishing…”

“Mine too.”

It’s late when I finish wrapping for the day – the butt and one tip section completed -- and as I walk to the door, I smile to myself – a smile that might actually be visible through the back of my head…I don’t know. But I do know that my eyes are bloodshot, and that I’ve pushed myself hard; I know that today was one of those moments of beauty, and that there will once again be dishes to do in the morning; and I know that I’m tired. So even though it’s well below freezing I keep the heater turned down, and Dylan turned up. And when I pull up the driveway pushing midnight, the porch light is on and there is popcorn warm and waiting in the den.



Listen to the story: 
 

70 comments:

  1. A lovely read and this reader is happy to take the time with your rod building journey. Good things are generally worth the wait...

    Regular Rod

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    1. Regular - Thanks so much for taking the time along with me!

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  2. Great post, "I smile and blink my dry eyes again, long enough I can almost see those streams" That does happen when a memory sparks after a comment. Btw you're the only person I know that would happily write about an animal using your house to mark their territory. =)

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    1. Kevin - regarding the "marking"...I thought so. ;) And thanks as always for reading!

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  3. Is that green olive story ever gonna die? Child abuse revisited.
    Pa

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    1. Pa - nope. Scarred me for life. I may never recover!

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  4. I love how much I am learning about you as I read your thoughts.I so agree with your mother about breastfed poop! And it doesn't stink like bottle fed. I hasten to add that I didn't really need to know how your.......anyway, you ARE an artist.

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    1. Hart - I thought you might agree with my mother. ;) Just had a hunch. An artist of a different kind, perhaps....but I still envy you your pen and ink.

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  5. Thanks for the updates. It is going to be a magnificent rod.

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    1. Master of Kung Fu - Thanks! And I hope so!

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  6. Have you noticed that Jay has LOTS of child abuse stories? They not only never die but become more so with each telling. The wierd thing is, he is so proud of them!

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    1. Hart - Oh yes...they're a badge of honor. ;)

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  7. Looks nice. The dark bamboo with the Hawkeye wraps. Now since I have to run I didn't read it yet, but I assume you were listening to Run DMC while doing this right? Then you could say you were Wrapping to Run DMC :-)

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    1. Rhythm Rider - Well darn! No, I didn't wrap to Run DMC. I've got the last tip to do this Friday though...so I'll get my chance ;)

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    2. Don't forget to do a little beat boxing. Just read it, and another gem. The Nish brings back memories. Iowa rivers have great names.....the Maquoketa is up there. I also connected with the "patience....in the midst of losing theirs"....that's a tough spot to be. Have fun wrapping grandmaster flash. Stream's a coming soon.

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    3. Rhythm Rider - "Stream's a coming soon"...words sounding of an old gospel hymn my mother used to sing. And yeah, Iowa rivers definitely rank high in the name department. :) I'd like to go back one day and fish them...

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    4. I can hear the piano, clapping, and music of that gospel tune.

      Also, I digested your artistic woes above, and I have to call BS. One that plays music, writes eloquently, ties originally, and builds as you do IS an artist.....now a painter may be a different story.

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  8. A simply wonderful job of weaving experience, images, and observation Erin.

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    1. Thanks much, Mr. P! Stay hunkered down from that wind...

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  9. I think you are creating your own work of art Erin.

    Art comes in many mediums, building a rod is on of them in my mind :)

    Soon, you will be on the river :)

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    1. Tom - Soon indeed...and as ever, many thanks!

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  10. If you add up all your posts, this may well be your best... I hope there wasn't the threat of green olives that made you write with such feeling. Beautiful!

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    1. FlyFishingCrazy - No green olives were involved in the writing of this post. ;) Thank you, Larry, as always!

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  11. Yep... good call, Erin. Dark and subdued as I was hoping :)

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  12. Your painted colours may look like they've been mixed in a dying blender, but if you manage to blend yellow snow, goat kid poop, green olives and gold wrapping into such a colourful story, you've more than proven your true artistry.

    Great read to end my day, thanks!

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    1. PdeW - Well wow. When you put it that way, I sound downright crazy! I'm very, very glad you enjoyed it!

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    2. To be honest I thought some of your previous rod building stories -although still good and offering great insights in the building process- were sometimes a bit forcefed into a richer tale by elaborating on the creaking of the cane and the smell of the glue. ;) But this, this is sheer brilliance. I'm seriously impressed.

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  13. ah, this is good.

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    1. Darrell - Deep, pleased sigh...thank you...

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  14. You continue to astound me. And I can see a little An American Childhood peeking through - in all the right places. Artist indeed.

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    1. Mike - What good words...humbling words. Thank you, sir.

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  15. Beautiful.
    When it's finished I hope the first fish is a brook trout.

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  16. You had me from that first sentence. What an image. Every time you post about snow, I want to use your words as pillows and fall into a sleep filled with white. Or wake up to it, either one. Great writing, Erin.

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    1. Emily - Thank you so much...I woke up to more, again, this morning!

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  17. RE: your guides and wraps: You chose well grasshopper.
    BTW, just what taper ARE you making? Would it be a 3 wt.?

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    1. Marv - Good on the wraps...quite the decision! The taper is a Garrison 202-E, 7' 4wt.

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  18. Fantastic...both the writing and the rod. Getting close , I can't wait to see the finished product.

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    1. HighPlainsFlyFisher - Just a few more day's work, now! Thanks!

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  19. I have a new (used) rod to try out this season as well. Though it doesn't in any way compare to the rod you're building, I'm very much looking forward to "bonding" with it and casting it to the first riser I see. I'm sure you're dreaming of risers as well and envisioning the first strike at the end of your new rod's line! I look forward to reading about this particular “first.”

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    1. Angela - And I'm looking forward to reading of yours! Thanks for reading!

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  20. mmmm..... green olives.... popcorn... now I want something salty before bed. I can always brush my teeth again. keep it up :)

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    1. d.nash -- ah, I had popcorn last night! For dinner! That's ok...right? ;-) Thanks as always for stopping by, and giving me a chuckle.

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  21. Living life at the pace of the weather, huddled in the warmth bent over the birth of a rod whilst the fox claims your home, all seasoned with a huge slice of back story - its such wonderful imagery, I can't wait for the next instalment.

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    1. Dave - Thanks for reading them all, these installments. And for taking the time to leave prints of your own...it means a lot!

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  22. I mean this to be a compliment of the highest accord, I can't read your work when I am suffering from writer's block, and this last bought took over a month and a half to fully emerge from.

    I read through these posts almost in a panic that I was missing out on something breathtaking. If it is possible for your writing to get better, it has. Thanks for making my morning!

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    1. OneBug - As a compliment it's taken. :) Thanks, my friend.

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  23. This "radio broadcast" produced a hypnotic "fix", while I wait to get to the river. Thank you, Erin.
    Alan

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    1. Alan - I hope it holds you over alright, until you get to water. Thanks as always, BB, for listening...

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  24. Weird about silk, you find quickly the shape your fingertips are in, or ruins thereof.

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    1. Darrell - For sure! And mine are always in ruins -- chapped and cracked -- Colorado air is so dry!

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    1. Steve - yeah! :-) Glad you like them too!

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  26. Of the 3 dogs in this house, one is the dominant. It follows the others around peeing on top of pee. Yes, you have been marked. If you're neighbor doesn't have a dog, then for sure.

    Will be interesting to see a cast and a fish on your project some day.

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    1. Ken G. - The neighbor does have a dog, but these were definitely not "Abby's." And casts are coming soon...only a few weeks away.

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  27. This a wonderful story. I like the way you wrap so much into its telling. Loved the thought that now, thanks to the fox, "my house is not a home but rather a den." Also liked the smile "that actually might be visible through the back of my head." This ongoing story has had many of those smiles in it for me. Thanks.

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    1. Jim - Thanks so much...I really appreciate the time you take in reading and commenting. Thanks for sharing in the story.

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  28. Nice Erin- I'm finding for me to truly enjoy the feel, I need to revisit passages. Now that I've heard your voice, I kind of imagine it as I go back through the post. Jerilyn used to judge the health of her babies the same way as your Mom. I've found art finds itself and us in various forms and places. Teaching is an art. I'll never meet the man but I sense it. " chill, it's ok, you can do it. yeah, all the worlds a stage but i'll take small streams" Maybe someday, as Bobby said ,on another day, on the avenue..

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    1. Herringbone - My sister and I always teased my mom for her means of health-judging...but it is totally true. Moms know. Teaching certainly is an art...and you're right, Frank has it. "all the worlds a stage but i'll take small streams" I love that! Thanks!

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  29. I love your new blog header. Banjo looks majestic.

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    1. Clif G. - He thinks he's king of the mountain. ;-)

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  30. Very glad to have discovered your blog. I love your observations. I'll be back.

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    1. Kathy - Thanks so much for stopping by...and in advance for your return!

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  31. Your medium is words and you paint them beautifully.

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    1. Daniel - Thank you so much for stopping by, and the encouraging words.

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  32. Virginia Woolf called them 'moments of being' and noted "I .. suppose the shock-receiving capacity is what makes me a writer". You probably already knew this, in which case apologies for being redundant.

    I wrapped my first fly rod in 1979, which rod was broken in 1981 by the airlines: it didn't have much of a run: but the next one is still in use, mostly for bass though, since it's a 7-wt. I use single-foot guides so I don't have to worry about getting the wraps even ;-) still you can't use single-foot on cane, it would be a great disturbance in the force..
    Nothing like catching fish with hand-made flies on hand-made rods.. it will be good.

    Must say it's a bold move to start with cane - bravo, in fact.

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    1. Doug K. - Although I have read some Virginia Woolf, I was not familiar with that quote. Profound. And I'm printing it out! Also, making a 'note to self' -- do not fly with rod. :) It will be good indeed...thank you so much for reading and taking the time to leave your thoughts.

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