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…?”

“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 out...you 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.   




Listen:

35 comments:

  1. I understand ugliness turned into beauty…which I think may in fact be the only kind.

    Talk about depth...

    Another lovely and thoughtful piece, Erin.

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    1. Thanks, Mike...many thanks as always for taking the time to read.

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  2. Ugly before beauty...... I think that phrase has been muttered in many plastic surgeons offices. The sanding of wraps is a preferred use.

    This has been a great winter journey you've taken us on.

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    1. Rhythm Rider - Ha! Yeah, I'm sure that's uttered quite frequently. I'm glad you've enjoyed the journey thus far. The winter has gone so fast...I'm not quite ready for it to end. Thankful for this morning's snow. :)

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  3. When you started this project my first thought was how much I'd love to have a Bamboo flyrod of my own to fish with. At this point , after having seen the entire process through your eyes and words , I really want to build my own someday. After reading your thoughts on each step along the way I can say that now I "get the point" as well.

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    1. HighPlainsFlyFisher - I hope you get the chance to make your own someday...I know you'd appreciate your own journey. Thanks so much for the kind words, too!

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  4. "Mapping", "Thinking...writing it down" remind me that before there were maps, before Mercater, the Flemish mapmaker came along, the ships used rutters, a log of ships that had made the journey before: "Shoals here, dragons be here". Your blog can be seen in that light, shining a light on places we might want to go. Nice writing.
    Mike

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    1. ShouldFishMore Mike - Wow...that's quite the compliment, and word picture. I'm honored and humbled. Many many thanks.

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  5. "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."

    Eloquent and moving Erin. So well done.

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    1. Mr. P. - Thank you so very much...

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  6. Beautifully written Erin.

    Making anything, especially using natural materials, is always a process of refinement.

    What you're making there has the extra magic ingredient of love. It'll be some rod.

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    1. Chris - Many thanks...and it always is those extra little secret ingredients that make all the difference, eh? :)

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  7. I, for one, am still trying to learn to enjoy the process, trying to learn to not fight the sanding, trying to trust that, in the end, it will come out more beautiful. Wonderful, as always, Erin.

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    1. Tim - I have a much better time accepting "the process" in things like rod making...my everyday life I'm much more anxious about. I'm very much still a student. Thanks so much for reading!

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  8. Great, becoming closer. Homely newborns, some are let's be frank, grow into swans and princes. Nicely done Erin.

    Gregg

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    1. Gregg - I had friends in high school who always ogled newborns. Babies, I think, are really quite ugly. But eventually they do grow into beautiful, interesting people. Sometimes. :)

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  9. I just discovered your blog. Delightful. Beautiful. Provoking. Beautiful. I'm subscribed or, as you might say, hooked. Thanks for writing. I live in Seattle but teach in Estes most years.

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    1. Richard - Thanks for stopping by...and I'm glad you found me! Many thanks for the kind words, and hope you come by to read again!

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  10. It's always nice to have the extra insight to your life and know where some of those thoughts are birthed. Very nice as usual. Much better than that goofy guest blogger over the weekend! pa

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    1. pa - The goofy guest blogger was GREAT, wasn't he? I thought so. ;) Yes, I know that you can read into my words the double meanings...the truth. It means a lot to me that someone else knows. I love you so...

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  11. "and about not completely understanding why six strips of bamboo glued together mean so much to you. But they do."
    I wish I could write like you so that I could have mapped my journey, but you do it so much better than I ever could.
    Thanks Erin

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    1. Marv - Ah, maps are always used by others to find their way too...in fact, that is their purpose in life. Perhaps that is mine...a mapmaker. Many thanks for your kind words.

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  12. Ahhhh, yes. This part is familiar. With respect to rod building, guitar building, and relationship building, you often have to break throught the smooth surface to prepare for that which is to be properly received next. It is a risk we all take to properly build. Well done.

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    1. Steve - Exactly! All of these things...somehow one organic whole, feeding to and off of each other....and as you so well put, it's always a risk to endeavor the task. Thanks so much for leaving your thoughts and for the encouragement!

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  13. Always a good read, can't wait to see the first fish you catch with this rod.

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    1. Phillip - Thanks for always reading. :)

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  14. What I don't quite get is - how someone so young writes with such wisdom? This is so beautiful.

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    1. Hart - It comes from having 'mental baggage,' I think...

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  15. I think I'm just too impatient for your retrospective Erin, I see the building as a birthing process. The 'ugly' baby will soon grow into a beautiful family member, you will spend time getting to know one another and, should the bond be strong, have a lifetime together. Yes, to me its all about the future and the memories to be lived through.

    Whatever the perspective, its been a beautiful start to the journey.

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    1. Dave - A beautiful start indeed... :)

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  16. You're the driver of the bus, Erin, and we are all your passengers.
    Though you take us far from home, none of us wants to leave. We're happy enough to be here for the ride as we pipe up and chitter-chatter along the way. But what of you, dearest Erin. What, or who, lights your way.
    Where is your destination as we travel deeper, on this fantastic voyage.

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    1. Alan - Well my dear chap, those are interesting questions. My light? Of that I'm not certain...and perhaps that's why I keep on writing. So for the sake of the bus passengers, let's hope I never find the answer. I tip my cider to you tonight...cheers.

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  17. I, too, am saddened to think this part of the journey will soon be over. This story of you and the rod, you putting your self into it, and it becoming part of you, has been wonderful. Draw out the ending... And then I'm eager to see what the next part of the journey will be. How 'bout fishing it. NOW you can talk about catching your first fish with it....

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    1. Jim - How 'bout fishing it? Will do! :) Thus ensuing more stories...

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