Sunday, March 18th, 2012 - 7:15 a.m.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Let’s go upstairs…” Frank greets at the door.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
“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…”
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
The water, she makes us kneel.
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.
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.