Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bones and Boards.

A sneaker-print in the adhesive, with a hand-print nearby. Evidence. That he was kneeling, putting down the brick laminate floor. For himself? Or on hire? Just who was this man, exactly? All I’ve been given is a sneaker print. Yet, from what I’ve observed here in the canyon, he was the owner. And I know it’s a “he” from the shoe size and shape, unless Amazon women roamed these parts in the ‘70s.

One of the things I’ve noticed about canyon people -- along with a good heart, solitary nature, and gun ownership -- is that they do the work themselves. Very rarely do you see professional roofers, or painters, or handyman trucks. But you do see your neighbor down at the lumberyard. That’s just how it is up here. If you hire someone for home improvements, you’re obviously a newbie -- someone who very likely won’t make it through the next winter. Which is why I haven’t hired jobs out -- aside from not having the money to do so, I’ve wanted to fit in, to blend into a community of old timers who told me I wouldn’t make it.

Like archeologists, we read the truth from what is left, which is sometimes not enough. Houses, toys, writings, cooking pots -- artifacts -- tell us about a person. Their stamp that they were this very place...centuries before you. When I was a kid, I buried things -- yes, as the funeral director for birds, cats, cattle and goats. But I also buried bits of myself there in the dark Iowa soil, dug deep; kept safe in a mason jar. A small pewter horse, a favorite paperback book, a plastic cowboy and indian. And a heart shaped rock I’d found in the creek. They’re there, somewhere still -- in our old south pasture, along with a note about my name, age, date. In some way, I wanted my personality to be remembered -- my soul, my character, to live on. I wanted people to know me outside my physical bones.

Yet, there is a lot that could be determined from my bones -- my left knee has a knot from beginning to run too much too fast; my jaw is compacted from a horse riding injury in high school (it always hitches when it opens); my left hand fingers are bent from practicing the guitar five hours a day at conservatory; and, my bones would show periods of malnourishment from celiac disease and a struggle with anorexia. Times of plenty, times of drought; like age rings on a tree, my bones can be read.      

And when you strip a home down to its bare boards, it can be read too. If, that is, you care to take the time -- to tear up, scrape down, lay flat, clamp straight, and hand nail -- one by one. Inch by inch.  

And when you do, the floors talk -- when you’ve stopped trodding over them for a precious few days, and bust up their hiding places to let their stories out instead -- it’s kind of like you’re reading a mystery novel back to front. And you take your time with it. The front door used to be the back, the driveway used to be on the west side of the pine row where my sister ran over the gutter the day I moved in, and the spare bedroom’s floor was cut into and patched because of water damage from the bathroom tub. There are dates written on the plywood of the basement steps and on the bottom of closet doors.

There’s something very meaningful about old homes or “fixer-upers” as the colloquialism goes, and about the first big home project -- as if we’re animals peeing out our territory. This is ours, here, within these boundaries. We did this.  And this, is our mark. Over top the last alpha’s.   

And this past week at the end of a fifth fourteen-hour day, sitting on the couch, sipping wine that will no longer stain the carpets (thank god), two of us become silent -- staring into the wood stove that’s burning the carpet stripping we’ve torn off. These walls have heard a lot, we think at the same time. They have heard the arguments and screams, divorces and bankruptcies; and all the tears afterwards. Yet they’ve heard the laughter, too -- and the lovemaking. They have been full....and empty...on and off again for years, like a bad relationship.

Love and hate, and so it goes.

People have seemingly wanted this cabin, but have been unable to handle it for one reason or another -- or a few. And to be honest, when I bought it a few years ago, I wasn’t sure I could handle it either -- I had more than a few things going against me. But I had to try because I was in love with it, and with the idea of home, stead, and sanctuary (which, as Lemony Snicket defines, is “a small, safe place in a troubling world.”). And so I made my mind up to romance this small place...and figure out what I am made of in the best chance. I would dance all alone on the kitchen floor partner in life or no -- which worked out well because I had always learned the man’s part anyways. So I’d dance both parts, until somebody else had the guts to give a tap on my shoulder and cut in.

And eventually, somebody did.

This cabin was safe, I knew, but not entirely -- which is what made it good. It couldn’t hurt me as another human could -- but still, it could break my heart. I was aware of that. And I was ready for it, but I was ready for somewhere I could live and breathe and sprawl out and let myself out safely, even more. I was willing to take the gamble of loving this place, and seeing if it perchance would love me back.

And it has -- it has loved me back...through elbow grease and sweat, and paint and nails, and a dug out well of tears -- it has come to form a sanctuary for me, a man, and a dog.

Which is what I’ve always wanted.

And someday when we are many years gone, when someone decides to pull up the boards covering our nailed down secrets, they’ll find that we loved this life and that we wanted to stay...scribbled on plywood subfloor.   

Monday, April 9, 2012

Pulp Fly.

Fly fishing is about characters. The ones we play, the ones we meet, the ones we want to be. It makes stories somehow, because it (unlike any other thing I’ve experienced), weaves itself into the fabric of self…into our friendships, marriages, homes, and mental stability. Thus our struggles, hopes, dreams -- and yes, our dramatic failures -- can all be told through its guise.

Pulp Fly, a new Kindle e-book (and if you don’t have a Kindle, you can download a free application to read it on your PC or Mac here), is a collection of just such characters and stories by the contributing writers of Ralph Bartholdt, Alex Cerveniak, Matt Dun, Davin Ebanks, Michael GracieAlex Landeen, Pete McDonald, Matt Smythe, Bruce Smithhammer, Bjorn Stromsness, Bob White, and with an introduction by Kirk Deeter.

This is a collection of characters in the true sense of the word – the features and traits, aggregate in one physical body. The sum of parts. And in Pulp Fly, you’ll meet such characters as self medicated Frank and a storied presidential library dedication; and you'll meet Jakob and his long sought brown trout; and also, his regret. You’ll be introduced to a new definition of grand slam and to yourself as a bug through a series of stages in life, slowly metamorphosizing into something beautiful (yet left with some ugly parts from where it’s been), there at the end. Right before you die (and there’s the rub if it, eh?). 

There is a young woman named Leah who finds healing through an old fly box and old man. And there’s the barracuda harbinger for a marriage. 

You’ll be told the story of old friends and Clyde, Ohio -- and about growing up and out of them both. And if you’re like me, you’re imagination will illustrate the man scrimping for change (like we all do, there among the lint and lists and pencils in our pockets), and the one who has a beard “advertising” him as a radical. 

I can picture it. I can picture them. These characters (that beard) – living and breathing in this compilation. I can picture the animal heart in me as I read on -- the one who pushes on, hunting…long after I’ve lost the smell. I can feel the ancient lust for the domination of that which holds our respect.  

In reading, you will be haunted by an Iraq War vet and the power of one cast back, and out of sight; even, if never out of mind. 

And will be left speechless by the end, at two men…outliving life.  

These characters, they are all mirrors. Reflections. And the stories in Pulp Fly do as all good ones should, they tell us a little something about ourselves. 

So go

Read on.  

Meet yourself.  

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Second Dip: or, Beauty and The Beast.

Sunday, March 18th, 2012 - 7:15 a.m. 

Elk come to the mouth of the canyon about this time every year, outside the railroad bridge gateway. You never know when exactly they’ll show up, or when exactly they’ll leave; where they’ve come from, or are going to. And as I drive by this morning, they’re gathered around the ponds that water the cattle grazing Rocky Flats – the now open grassland which once housed a nuclear weapons production facility. Closed in 1992, it’s slated to become a national wildlife refuge; however radiation levels are still too high to allow “grade school visitors” on the premises…and it makes me wonder just who exactly it is who thinks allowing cattle (food sources) to graze on that land now is okay. I could hazard a guess.

Along the drive north to Estes, pastures are just beginning to green, cattle are just beginning to graze, and calves are just beginning to use their legs -- which they seem to find use of before their tails, flagging awkwardly behind them as they run. I’m very distracted by all of this. By the piebald masks, by the unmatched socks, by the mousey grays I know to be Charolais crosses. I’m distracted by the little red angus wearing his heart on his forehead, nursing, butting the udder, begging for more; and I laugh when with one too many pleads, his mother decides that’s enough -- that one hurt -- and trucks it across the pasture, trying to lose him as he drags along by her teat.

Straight roads through farmland are much more dangerous to me than curvy canyons. The former lead to my memories...the latter, my dreams -- which are still unfamiliar -- I don't quite know my way around in them yet.  

Elk, shedding their blonde winter coat for a brunette summer-do, look polka-dotted, like appaloosa camels. They’re grazing along highway 36 that comes into Estes from the south, as they always do (I was told once that animals do this because the roughage near roads is salty from winter plows and sanding). In the summer months they cause traffic jams as tourists slow to take photos. This enrages my sister…. “pests” she calls them (and mule deer, coyotes, and raccoons), saving choice unrepeatable words for the tourists too. But now, early on an off-season Sunday morning, it’s just me.

And the elk.

I smile at them as I pass.

8:55 a.m.

“Let’s go upstairs…” Frank greets at the door.

My rod is laid out on a long folding table. Small squares of 1000-grit sandpaper are piled up, waiting. Two lamps are turned on, cranking their necks over the table, pointing out there will be serious stuff going on. Frank shows me again how to sand the wraps, and I’m extra careful, slower probably than I need to be. But at this point, I don’t want to go back -- to be sent back spaces on the board without collecting my hundred dollars...or even worse, being sent to jail. And so I take my time, feeling each wrap before starting, as Frank advised, noticing any ridges where I’d be in danger of nicking a thread.

Looking at each wrap, clear and glossy after one dip, I pause before sanding -- it’s difficult ruining something you worked so hard to make perfect -- just-so. It's difficult going back.

“Hard….isn’t it?” Frank says, noticing my pause, “making it ugly…to make it beautiful again.”  

Yeah...yeah it is...” 

I sigh deeply.

And yet again and again, it's required. After each step after step completed to perfection, it then has to be sanded, dipped, or glued -- and sanded again. But I understand this very well, this circle…I understand ugliness turned into beauty…which I think may in fact be the only kind. For true beauty -- true beauty has depth – a well which you never truly see the bottom of, but know has to have been reached before…shorn, skinny, sunk full of self-doubt. And you know that, because you can still see ripples on the surface of the water. A storm that will never really move on. But in collision of fronts, the wind the thunder the rain, there is light...even, when it strikes you out. Yet still it's there. And for a flash of an instant, you can see. 

I continue on sanding. And thinking. Of ugliness and beauty…of how we must see and kiss and accept our own beasts – which sometimes turn into handsome men, and sometimes turn into toads. You just never know though, until your lips touch...until you try.

“I call that The Altar,” Frank says, standing in the middle of the room looking over his shoulder my way, pointing to a photo flashed up on the computer screen.


“Yeah,…it’s okay to tell people the names of things when you’ve made them up…when they aren’t printed on the map.”

I smile. “I have places like that too…”

“The Altar, you know…because you have to kneel to get at the good spot,” he says, bending down eye level with the monitor, “…the water, she makes you kneel.”

The water, she makes us kneel.

One dip more now, Frank says, maybe two. Almost there…and yet I’m sad. The journey hasn’t ended, it won't end, I know -- but this part will. And soon. I’m sad, and I tell Frank so.

“You know, the people who ask how long it will take,” he says, “who talk about catching their first fish before the cane is even split…”

“They miss the point…don’t they…”

“Yeah, they do…” Frank says.

Because really, it’s not about making a rod -- it’s about seeing your life through the process. It's about the journey, like Kathy Scott said. About every leg of it -- about mapping, thinking, and writing it out, so that you don’t make the same mistakes again. It’s about points of reference, and it’s about history. It’s about learning to live in the moment, and to take your time. It’s about tradition and friendship and alchemy, and about not completely understanding why six strips of bamboo glued together mean so much to you. But they do. And you know that because you’ve written it can look back at your map.

And at long last, it’s about the rough, ugly, and uncut, refined into something beautiful…through a hell of a lot of hard work.

And that -- that is life...your well.   


Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Humor Has Worn Off.

Words mean things.  Agreed?  Punctuation means things.  Agreed?  Perhaps my need to write, the primal urge I feel to put my thoughts on paper, has its beginnings at the beginning.  A mother that reads to her womb-encased child is proven to have an impact on that child’s language skills.   So the long hours of listening to someone read to me aloud likely had an impact of which I may only now be realizing.  Even though what I likely heard were gurgles through amniotic fluid, something must have taken – by osmosis.  But then again, I was a captive audience.  Where the heck else was I going to go?  By the way, I intentionally use the word ‘impact’ because I fear misusing ‘affect’ or ‘effect’ and appearing to be the ignorant writer of which I have become so intolerant.  I just can’t seem to get the rule in my head for which word is most appropriate at any given time. 

Continued frustration.

Oh, there have been some grand examples of words misused, and mixed metaphors that have left me laughing on the floor.  Only recently, the 14th of March to be exact (yes sometimes I chronicle these happenings), a co-worker spoke of the ‘pot-o-pourey’ that his wife had purchased.  I tried not to laugh and cut him some slack since it was close to St. Patrick’s Day and I thought perhaps he was just trying to get into the spirit of things.  Other co-workers over the years have provided an abundance of words and sayings that challenge one to keep a straight face.  For instance, did you realize there IS a difference between emaciated and emancipated?  Do you know if you are a guy going to an appointment with the obstetrician you might raise eyebrows?  Perhaps you meant optometrist, yes?  I was also listening to a country bumpkin recount watching a Seinfeld episode long in syndication and refer to the ‘armoire-trois’ when in fact he was referring to George’s idea for Jerry to dump his girlfriend for her room-mate by suggesting a ménage-et-trois.  How do you keep from laughing when presented with something like that?  The visual image alone brings a smile to your face … it has to.  What is an Armoire-trois?  Three people making whoopee in a clothes closet? 

My goodness.  Do people not think before opening their mouths? 

How about the mixed metaphors?  One of the many old sayings I repeatedly heard a gentleman mangle is now always at the forefront of my mind, and which I have repeated among family as they know the inside story.  This from a man talking of how fast his friend’s kids were growing up.  You’ve been there.  We all have.  Water cooler talk and some employee stops in with their children while everyone performs the obligatory ritual of pretending to care what grade they are now in or what their sports interests are.  Really?  When they leave we can’t even remember their names.  But I digress.  At this point in the conversation what is heard simply astounds: “I remember when you were knee-high to a fencepost”.  Huh?  While it brings to mind the old branches that farmers sometimes use for fence posts, and I suppose the imagination could make the bends play the part of ‘knees’ if you were in fact living in the Ent forest, I still have a hard time understanding how a reasonable person could combine phrases and arrive at ‘Knee-high to a fence-post’.  


My goodness.  Do people not think before opening their mouths?

Do we really want to get started on punctuation?  Can a simple comma make a difference?  Can a simple comma, make a difference.  I guess it can.  Add a comma and the question mark disappears.  But just why would we want to can a simple comma?  There’s that question mark again!  That warrants an exclamation point.  Does the overuse of the exclamation point drive you nuts too?  I’m writing a blog!  I’m going to the store!  That latte was delicious!  LOL!!  OMG!!!  Somehow the exclamation mark is synonymous with the overuse of the word ‘awesome’ and strangely tied into the whole social networking ‘let everyone know my life is meaningful by adding a punctuation mark’ syndrome.  And how did we get to the point where the same adjective is used to describe things like a television show, a bathroom, a shooting star, new shoes, a leaf?  Does everything we do each day really warrant the descriptor ‘awesome’?  Our God is an Awesome God – nearly everything else falls short of ‘awesome’.   

My goodness.  Do people not think before opening their mouths?

Are we that shallow?  Are we that naïve?  Are we that uneducated.   Are we just plain stupid as a people or do we simply don’t care?  I have been told over and over ‘It’s all in the presentation’ and when someone presents themselves in the spoken or written word as an idiot, there are certain assumptions I feel justified in making.  While I understand simple mistakes on Facebook that are made while trying to quickly post a status update, all too frequently it becomes apparent that a writer simply does not understand the proper usage of such simple words as there/their/they’re, or to/too/two, or plane/plain.  More aggravating is the very Midwestern bad habit of using the wrong tense in word combinations.  For instance:  We was going to read this tomorrow, but then I seen it on the screen and decided to read it now.  

I simply must pause and scream. 

Perhaps too make a point it wood bee best two clothes out this blog entry buy selecting at random whichever spelling of a word eye feel like using.  Aye could throw in, a couple of unnecessary commas or punctuation mark’s just too make it interesting.  Eye wonder if their will really bee anyone that has any difficulty, reeding a few sentences of pour grammar.  Does it make a difference?  Does any won care?  Will any body notice?  Perhaps on this April Fool’s Day the reel joke is on ewe, four the author of this blog is knot Erin.

                                                                                                                                     - Bryan Block, aka Papa