Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The First Dip: or, Journeying in Small Steps.

Friday March 16th, 2012 - 6:45 a.m.

I live in two worlds this, and every spring.  Three-thousand feet make more of a difference than you’d think...than I thought when I moved up them. A hardy three months of difference on both sides of summer. Wildflowers won’t begin until June, and aspen change in September with harbinger cold nights of snow. Where banks have melted, where the avalanche victim Earth can at last breathe again, she gasps in grasses pressed down in wet soggy shades of brown -- like the bottom of a pond that’s been drained. Alpine meadow grass is covered still, in static swirled lines from almost eight months of winter, gestating spring; which, as any other birth, is highly anticipated.
 
And so I go down three-thousand feet every weekday morning, to work to live on my side of the mountain; down, to where daffodils are blooming, and leaves are budding in perfect mantis-green rolls; more every day as if someone is slowly turning up the color saturation knob, located in the city & county building, I’d guess.

But up in my canyon, at over 8,600 ft., there is still snow, still ice, still wood fires burning into the night. We’re still in black and white. We still wave at each other as we pass on the roads. And yet -- yet, there are signs of spring -- dripping, shedding, and bird songs before dawn; and the sound of water again, running down the canyon neatly tucked between the pavement’s end and the other side of the canyon’s beginning. It’s the first thing you hear when you get here, although you might not realize it at first (that sort of constancy you don’t truly appreciate until it’s gone), but it never leaves, you do; it’s always there, still mumbling during the winter months under its breath, out of earshot behind closed windows and doors. Old Neighbor Tom told me there are trout in that small stream, when he walked across the road the day I moved in to warn me against cooking bacon with my windows open “bears’ll smell it and come a runnin’,” he’d said. Now for the record, I have cooked bacon countless times with the windows open, and have yet to even see a bear, let alone have one coming running and tearing into the house.

I haven’t found any trout in that small stream yet, but just because you don’t see something, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Jay says that if an old timer - one of those salty, grumpy, wise old ones -- says there’s trout....you believe them. That’s what Jay says. And so I still believe something’s there. Maybe one day I’ll see the flash of a rainbow’s belly.

Or maybe not.

As I drive down the canyon, I think -- there’s no off-switch for that (cell phones, I believe, are truly not as distracting as my thoughts). Months ago now, before I began work on my rod, I talked with Kathy Scott. About writing books, about rod making; about being librarians and fly fishermen. I read all of her work. And through the static phone I heard a smile grow on her face as I talked of the beginnings of my own bamboo rod. She said, “It’s all about the journey...”

It’s all about the journey.  

Having read all of the books about bamboo I could get my hands on, I expected that phrase. From what I could tell, there was something nebulous about bamboo, something no one really could quite put their finger on, and yet once and if you try (once you pop the top), you can’t stop. An addiction. Like meth. Or Pringles.

Never for once did I doubt she was right, but you can’t even begin to imagine the journey before you start, and if you do, if you try, you melt underneath the heat of details. I know, because I tried. And I learned that life is not, in fact, about the destination; because for all of us, that’s death; it really is about the journey…and about the trails that will be washed out, the wrong turns, and the times when you’ll be saved from yourself and reaching your destination. Like a cat’s lives. Over and over and over again.

What I had doubted was whether or not I was ready for the journey. I felt ill-prepared and under-packed. And so I didn’t focus on the destination at all (or as I said, I would have melted); instead, I took one step at a time, concentrating hard on that and only that -- like I used to do as a kid, walking through forests and pastures at night, heeding my mother’s instructions of heel-toe...heel toe. Quiet. Careful. And you will see.

When people have asked me what comes next?, I haven’t been able to answer – I didn’t want to be able to answer. Every day when I came into the shop, I waited for Frank’s instruction and explanation…for my charge. And then, I stepped into that comfortable small space in which I could move and think and feel my way through. It was my way of controlling myself, of managing my thoughts and anxiety. I couldn’t worry about what I would be doing tomorrow, or next week -- because I didn’t know….and so I focused on what was before me. These past months are the first time I can honestly say I’ve lived my life in the present -- in the moment. I felt like a toddler most days, seeing something for the first time, and thinking it was absolutely the coolest thing in the world. Amazement and true thanks that such things exist as puppies, ice cream cones, and bamboo rods. This wonderment of an empty young mind fills rapidly, and as we grow our vocabularies and index away word meanings, we lose that wonderment fast, because we know what’s coming. We know that the exuberant mass of fur waiting for us at the door every night is our dog (somehow though, our dogs manage to keep the wonderment of us). I don’t actually remember it, that wonderment. I don’t remember being amazed (in a good way) by the world.

Until now.


8:59 a.m.

I turn into Frank’s driveway, and ring the doorbell, looking at the elk rubs on the bush next to the walkway.

“Hey! Come on in…”

Moving boxes are stacked like wooden building blocks, toppled over. “I’ve got to re-arrange things….so I can re-arrange them again.” Frank chuckles at himself.

“I know how that goes...trying to get the feel of a room right.” And most often, I don’t. I don’t accessorize myself or my home for this reason. Keeping it simple, everything feels right in my bones.  

I glance down, and there is a black marker lying on the kitchen counter. My rod is nearby. Today, I’m going to sign it. Claim it as my own. Tell everyone that I, Erin Block, am its maker. It’s somewhat like the point of surnames, really – declaring who belongs to whom. Today is something of a christening.

“Here’s the marker…and a practice piece of cane….” Frank says, “it can be weird writing on the flats…”

So I write carefully, practicing, making lines and archs into letters, into words, as you do so mindfully in preschool -- penmanship only degrades from there.


And then I switch out for my rod, and write my name very slowly, and thoughtfully on the flat below I pen the length and weight and taper. My hand begins to shake a little bit. Then the month and year -- I’m nervous -- whereupon I have the secret hope that several hundred years from now someone will find this rod in an attic, or woodshed, or closet with a secret door, and will wonder who Erin Block was -- maybe they’ll Google me once or twice, if people are still Googling in 2413  -- and then they’ll marvel at how long ago 2012 was. That is what I hope – that this rod, that these words, will someday prove that I existed. That I lived and loved and lost. And died. And that I was glad to go, but sad to leave.

Out in the garage, Frank shows me how to sand the wraps. Very carefully (remembering Hal’s warning), until they’re frosted like root beer float glasses A&W puts in the deep-freezer. Then I steel wool the blanks, and rub them down with mineral spirits to clear the dust and fingerpritns.

“We’ll do these one at a time” Frank says, grabbing one of the tips. There’s a method to this madness of dunking a rod in a PVC tube-bath of varnish. Timed. With a stopwatch, stopping two minutes at each guide to blow the varnish off and out.

“And make sure you don’t touch the rod...” Frank says.

I nod, although his back is turned towards me….as I always wave goodbye to the person on the phone.

Frank brings up photos of bugs and big browns on his computer at a desk next to the far wall. “Look at this one…this was the day when…wait...don’t….I’m distracting you.” And so from that point at each two minute break, Frank shows me photos. We’re both excited to start fishing again, I can tell….to start fishing the high country again.


Time’s up. Two minutes.


I start the pulley motor back up and re-set my stopwatch. At the next guide, the rod has spun around so that the guide is on the back side. Reaching around to blow the varnish off the guide, intently concentrating on that and only that, the nail of my pinkie finger touches the blank.

Gasp.

Frank turns around. “It’s ok….we’ve got to dip it again anyway…..but don’t do it again.”  

And I remember back to what Jay told me this fall when we were cutting and stacking fire wood – keep your eye on the chopping block, don’t focus on the piece of wood….if you do, you’ll miss completely. You’ll chip it. Keep your eye in the moment -- in all of the moment -- not on the destination; on the means, not the end. Keep your eye on the journey.


A few hours of timing and waiting and looking at browns later, all three pieces of my rod are out of the varnish, hanging by string and masking tape to dry. And as I get ready to leave for the day, I glance back up and look at my name, printed by my hand, and smile...yeah, I’ll claim that as my own.




Listen to the story:
 

70 comments:

  1. Cell phones you can switch off. My thoughts go where even fools fear to tread.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Phillip - I'm glad I'm in good company with that...

      Delete
  2. It's all about the WONDERMENT.... Thanks again for sharing yours.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jim - I'm often in wonderment that people are still reading along. :) Thank you!

      Delete
  3. ".as I always wave goodbye to the person on the phone." Priceless! Another glimpse into the world of the Canyon Lady.

    I've enjoyed every step of your journey Erin and I am certain that you will leave a legacy way beyond your years in one form or another, although some may say the rod is enough.

    And forgive me if I'm teaching you to suck eggs but, to find 'invisible' trout, stop looking for the fish and concentrate on finding their shadows ;-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dave - My best friend and roommate in college got be started doing the wave...as well as the "fist of anger" but that's for another post. Thank you so very much as ever for reading along with me on this journey...it's a comforting thing indeed. And yes...shadows are where the answers and the fish are. :)

      Delete
  4. Thank you Erin for the open armed way you have brought us into these experiences of yours. We are privileged to have you share them this way. You make us feel we are right there.

    Regular Rod

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Regular Rod - I am privileged you are still reading! Thank you so very much!

      Delete
  5. "... true thanks that such things exist as puppies, ice cream cones, and bamboo rods..."

    ... and folks with the insight and skill to remind us in such delightful ways. Thanks Erin.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mike - Honestly, I think the thanks should go to my mother, toddler storytime Miss Sue. She makes sure I still see the world (sometimes) as a child. :)

      Delete
    2. Mike, that line struck me too. Perfect

      Delete
  6. If you do life right, there will be plenty proof you existed...even way back in twenty twelve.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Clif G. - I think you're right...and thanks much for stopping by!

      Delete
  7. Hi- To echo the voice in the background at the end of the story,"Nice". So thoughtful. Kind of in a respectful way. Not definitive. Leaving room for wonder. A most remarkable trait and you express it so well. Your writing is always great. Your voice has become a great addition to your stories.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Herringbone - Many, many thanks. For all of those words...

      Delete
  8. I prefer Pringles over Meth... at least I think. Never tried the latter and never will. Pringles, though, can be addictive.
    Beautiful post as usual. WHEN AM I GOING TO GET TO SEE THE ROD?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. FlyFishingCrazy - Thanks! And you'll see the rod when it's done! You can't rush these things.

      Delete
  9. "Now for the record, I have cooked bacon countless times with the windows open, and have yet to even see a bear, let alone have one coming running and tearing into the house."

    Tell me that you have seen the movie, "A Christmas Story"?!

    This reminds me of the scene where the pack of dogs tears into the house and steals the Thanksgiving turkey.......Sons of bitches! Bumpuses!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Brookfield Angler - I have seen it...but have the same sentiment towards it as Napoleon Dynamite...and the name Stephanie. Bad associations. ;) Hey...thanks for stopping by! *(and that is a funny scene...I'll admit it!)

      Delete
    2. Bacon only doesn't work. Add trout, then ol' Ephraim will do 100m. Jamaican sprint.

      Rod on, rod off. Rod on water. Come a long way, pilgrim.

      Delete
  10. Building a bamboo rod is something very special.

    They are magical trout tools!

    You can tell a lot about the builder and the rod by the way they write their name on the rod.

    I can see yours was done with great care.

    I can't wait to see a trout laying next to the rod.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. G Lech - I've always wanted to have my handwriting analyzed by those guys who can tell everything about you by the way you dot your i's...or something like that. Fascinating stuff. Thanks so much for stopping by to read!

      Delete
  11. Your blog says way more about you than any graphologist could ; )

    Anyway, despite having read a book on the subject it would seem that latterly the art of graphology has been discounted as bunkum along with head bump and buttock reading. Pity, I was going to step up to the study of buttocks - specialising in the fairer sex of course : )

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dave - Ah, I bet you were. ;) Unfortunately there is a plethora of such, "study material" here on a warm spring day on a University Campus...

      Delete
  12. So what do you think of the rods action? Is it flimsy?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kevin - Haven't cast it yet, but it will not be.

      Delete
    2. Garrison's ideas on rod action were diff than many of era. One he was an engineer, tho he fished he was the sort who thought in numbers. And he liked little embelishment on his rods. Actually he was quite the nut. Like most of them.

      His rods are usually not described as whippy or noodly -- something you could accuse others of, Leonard, early Grangers, some Hardys (designed and built by guys who hold fork in wrong hand and drive on other side of road, so that's why) and horrible production rods. Pal hung a 9'-er at his cabin, called it the Horrible Horrocks (Horrocks and Ibbottson, may have made worst rods in history of planet earth)that could almost be bent tip-to-butt. Flexed it and I didn't stop occillating for week.

      E may find her stick casts well with a DT5 on a small stream. 7' of bamboo on a small stream usually means short shots, casts of 10' -- 25'. and tho rated for a four and with bamboo being a variable material, a heavier line may be the ticket. And the line may be the old peach-colored Cortland many caniacs find most comfy.

      We -- she -- won't know till varnish is done, and she swings rod into action. Waiting with unbaited breath.

      Delete
    3. Darrell - I picked a Garrison for precisely that reason...I figured engineers would know their physics and nuttiness (in my book) is always a plus. "Eccentricity" shall we say? ;) I've heard good things about those Cortlands...I've got a Hardy Bougle reel to put it on...

      Waiting with unabated breath...because it's not really an introduction, or anything new. I feel that I already know how it's going to feel...

      Delete
  13. "Erin Block, maker" looks so cool!

    ReplyDelete
  14. I stumbled on your rod building journal a few weeks ago and have been blessed ever since by your talented writing and your journey through this building. I find myself seemingly more impatient to see the end result than you appear to be, though I can't imagine that this is not an illusion. Thank you for sharing this with the world.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. PA Dave - I'm very glad you happened up my stories over here...and very glad you've come back to read again and again. I am getting excited to fish it...but not impatient. I'll miss the making. Thanks so much, again, for reading and taking the extra time to comment....both much appreciated!

      Delete
  15. Living in the moment and not...waiting. Damnit, I'm trying. Maybe I need to build a grass rod to take my mind off what might (or might not) be. Thanks for the (as always) exceptional read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kirk - Well...you see...for some reason I don't feel like I'm waiting for my rod. It's about the only thing in my life right now. It's kind of the calming force or I really might go mad. Thanks for stopping by!

      Delete
  16. Thank you! :-) Worth the wait for sure. Living in the Sierra's, I relate to the different times of the seasons too. Please tell us about the picture. Who's the artist?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. finsandfeathers - Glad it was. ;-) The artist is Kendall Zimmerman. She's wonderful.

      Delete
  17. Erin
    Magical, old sausage. The rod and the words will travel beyond you.
    Alan

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Alan - Many thanks, B.B. Thus I hope...

      Delete
  18. What a wonderful journey you've taken us all on...almost hate to see the process coming to an end (for us readers anyway , you've still got the fun part coming up...fishing with your new creation).
    Maybe the first fish will come from that little creek you speak of.....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. HighPlainsFlyFisher - I've been thinking and writing about that since this post...that I'm sad the making is ending. I might have to make another. And that first-fish scenario...ah, that it could be. :) Thanks so much for reading!

      Delete
  19. You know Erin when the gift of writing was given out I think you got in line four or five extra times


    Mike

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mike ( Laughing Grizzly) - That's quite the compliment, sir...many thanks!

      Delete
  20. This is beautiful, Erin. A fittingly stunning piece for the piece of stunning wood you have worked yourself into. Congrats, and I can't wait to see where they both take you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Emily - Thank you for reading along on the journey, inside and out...

      Delete
  21. Wow, I'm surprised at how envious I was when I saw your name on the rod. Way up there on the awesomeness scale.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ty - It did enlist some pride...I'll admit. Thanks for stopping by to read!

      Delete
  22. Wonderment, what I call bliss. They say (always wonder who "they" are), they say that children express bliss countless times each day. And adult expresses bliss 2-3 times a year....so you are on the right track with the wonderment. That is something that I must keep as my constant companion each day or I am not sure that life would be as full. Great post. Loved the line about Pringles....my husband is right there with you. And here I thought he was the only one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. FisherGirl - Yeah, I wonder who "they" are...and they tell us a lot, for good or bad, truth or lie. My mother always told me to "keep your inner child." I'm trying. :) Thanks so much for stopping by to read!

      Delete
  23. " I have cooked bacon countless times with the windows open, and have yet to even see a bear"

    Bacon tends not to hang about too long to be smelled by anything other than the person eating it :)

    Nearly there Erin, nearly out there on the river with your rod................... have you chosen the spot yet?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tom - That's a very true assessment of bacon-eating. Very true indeed. ;) "The spot" has yet to be determined....although, I have a general idea. Homewaters.

      Delete
  24. Erin Block, maker
    Erin Block, fisherman
    Erin Block, writer

    ReplyDelete
  25. Keep you eye on the journey.

    Good words whether choppin' wood or wanderin' through life.

    I'm looking forward to Jay snapping a shot of that rod with a deep bend in it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Steve - Eyes ahead. Sometimes blinders needed. ;) I'm looking forward to that too...and, to watching Jay cast my rod...that for some reason, is going to be even better for me.

      Delete
    2. I think it was in Gumball Rally, a cheesy film from the 70s, probably before your time, and the Italian driver hops in his car, yanks off the rear view mirror and tosses it out the window proclaiming "What's behind me is not important".

      Delete
    3. Steve - Yes, before my time...but now I'm intrigued. The library has it! Cheese is very good sometimes. :)

      Delete
  26. Frantically catching up on some reading, glad I got around to this one. Loved seeing your stamp on the work...really cool stuff.

    Great seeing you yesterday...hopefully the next time finds us on some water.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sanders - Yeah yeah! We definitely need to get out sometime...and get Nerd in on it too...would be a hoot and a half. ;-)

      Delete
  27. Wonderful. But the best is truly yet to come, both for the artist and the art.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Brk Trt - May I borrow an ounce of your faith? Your encouragement is truly appreciated.

      Delete
  28. Some fishers fish and some fishers fish for why! We can't help it, we're drawn to the question like bears running to bacon!
    It's all about the Journey!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. FlyWatersEdge - Kevin - And you and I are the latter...not a bad group, not a bad group at all. Thanks for stopping by!

      Delete
  29. Nice Erin!

    Our daffodils are peak, rather, I've said that for a week. "Heel toe..." reminds of a passage in "Cache Lake Country" that described how to tell an Indian track from a White Mans. Great youth book, first inspired my longing to be in the North Country. I would absolutely freak on the task of signing my rod. I even am bummed when my signature is not correct on a check I just signed, my wife thinks me daft, not her word. I'm pleased for you, the ROD almost ready, spring coming, reading.

    Best, Gregg

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gregg - On my checks and such, my name is fairly illegible. I was worried about my rod...paid very close attention. Keep on enjoying your daffodils...and thanks for reading!

      Delete
  30. The best thing about raising kids is seeing the world through their eyes. Especially babies. It's so true that that kind of amazement fades but I'm glad that I still feel wonder every day.....and your writing is part of that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hart - I can imagine that...about child rearing. Dogs and puppies will do for me. The wonderment is so easy to lose...a daily struggle to keep it, and most days it's lost. But I'm glad you do indeed see evidence of it here...still.

      Delete
  31. Hello Erin, it’s been a while since I visited your blog, since I still want to stay away from my computer as much as possible. It distracts me from things I really want to do. But after reading and listening to your story at the same time, my mouth just fell open and all I could say was… wow! This was no distraction at all, in fact all I really want to do now, is read and listen again. After which I’ll move to the previous, and the previous… and hope many more will follow. Congratulations!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LonesomePiker - Ah I don't blame you one bit. I disappear now and again too. :) "unplugging" is healthy I think. But, I'm very glad you stopped by, and honored that you were pleased with what you found. Cheers, my friend!

      Delete
  32. I love your thought: "trails that will be washed out, the wrong turns, and the times when you’ll be saved from yourself and reaching your destination." A wonderful way of describing the unexpected journey. And the journey at this time of the year from 5400 feet to 8500 feet is a strange one, from spring to still winter in an hour. How lucky we are to experience this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kathy - I think you might be one of the only ones who can truly appreciate that journey of feet up in altitude. Different worlds and seasons...times, even. We are indeed the lucky ones.

      Delete