Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Mountains in May; or, On Homewaters

Sunday, May 6th, 2012 -- 6:30 a.m.

The hummingbirds have arrived. Something of a to-do in the canyon. They're harbingers of spring, coming
earlier than the wildflowers, living on pine sap drippings from woodpecker and sapsucker holes until they bloom. Later, come June. The broad-tailed scouts flew in yesterday afternoon, buzzing past my ear like miniature fighter jets on a mission, and so they are. In the basement I dug out the nectar feeders, filling them with the usual sugar water at a ratio of 1 to 4. The chains from last year have disappeared (basements and dryers both have a way with that) and so white parachute cord will have to work for now.

Only minutes back inside, the scout is back. I’ve always wondered how they locate the feeders so quickly. Their smell is next to nil, I’m told, but their sight is focused and farther than ours. I imagine their vision as a spotting scope, honing in on the plastic red bottomed white tipped flowers which never empty. They must think it’s magic.


The mountainsides of the canyon are like an unfinished puzzle right now, late spring. Groves of aspen are beginning to green outside the cabin windows -- but farther up, the nights are too cold yet, and the colors change piece by piece. Frame by frame looking like a paint card sample -- dark greens at the bottom, light greens and nude towards the top. My great grandmother always had card tables in her living room, set with puzzles in varying degree of completion. She was always working on them, always trying to find the right pieces. On visits south to Kansas City, we would all try to help and find the right pieces too. I hated it. I hated that even when you did find the right fit, you could still see the lines. The finished picture wasn’t smooth -- edges were bent and peeled over from trying again and again, left hand corner pieces were tea stained (from where she kept her cup), and awkward predetermined lines made things fit into the bigger picture. A piece in the puzzle, a cog in the wheel. I didn’t like those lines.


I guess I still don’t.


But I do always keep in mind that the finished picture is seldom ever smooth.  


I’m a homebody, and I hope (as I’ve been told is true) that a bit of the nature of the rod maker goes into the rod, and that it will love its homewaters as much as I do.  “I don’t travel or fish to ‘get away,’” John Gierach once wrote, “because my life at home isn’t something I need to escape from.” I always want to raise a glass of hard cider -- hear, hear! -- after reading that... I know exactly what he means, for I escape to home...not away. Perhaps my small homewater trout aren’t as flashy as big browns on the Blue, or impressive as over caught rainbows on the South Platte. But they are home. And that counts for something...or at least it does for me. Homewater counts -- for the secrets told, and the familiar skin. The places you know to go. They they hold the stories -- and the histories of season upon season, piled up like autumn leaves over the winter, keeping you warm and the fire going.


And anyway, I’m not lacking in good homewaters. In fact, I’m rich -- although I didn’t know it at first. When I bought this cabin, I wasn’t a fisherman. I had no idea that a south branch of a favored trout stream ran just to my north. But now, I know -- and that, is where I wanted to go with my rod -- a small stream of home.


Yet in the past few weeks, the record low snowfall in the mountains has begun to melt, running off and into our streams. Record high last year and lasting well into July, this year’s will be done well before that. But a few days before the planned first day out, it decided to begin in earnest, and the Denver Water Board let out overflow from Gross Dam. South Boulder Creek’s CFS shot up, as if a dying person had come alive on a heart monitor. Beep beep beep. A low snow-pack still creates high waters, and my little dream fell, shot down. And I was tired of waiting.


“Well, hey...why don’t we go to Brown’s...” Jay suggested the evening before, “...it would be a noble place to break in your rod.”


Noble
. I thought. hmmm...maybe...

Brown’s Cabin
-- a place existent in as much our fantasies as reality. Dating from the 1870s, it’s a largely forgotten piece of what remains of a Swedish immigrant’s private life, now on public land.

This cabin, a reminder that I am new. Others have called these hills home long, long before. Yet we all chose these high valleys and harsh canyons for perhaps the same reason: evidence that we were here. And that we lived. We fought. We lost. And sometimes won. We chopped wood and made supper. We were hardy, and pound for pound strong. We sipped coffee on a wood planked porch. We loved it here. And we made love here -- on and to this land -- we who survive its winters. And whoever lived in that cabin did too. In midsummer, with faces sweat streaked in dust -- like glue lines and glitter -- after digging potatoes.


Here is their tombstone, and I visit often. Re-imagining a different epithet every time, like the choose your own adventure books I read in grade school.  


We call it Brown’s Cabin, named for all that it holds -- wild brown trout. Wild brown trout who have developed an affinity for small bugs, shirking the stereotype of aggressively large eaters in their odd little world. No one knows how or when they got there, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that they are there and that they are just down the road.


I look at the stream flows again.


“Maybe Brown’s is trying to tell us something,” Jay says looking over my shoulder, as if she has the power to start the snow melting.  


But you see, perhaps she does. For Brown’s Cabin has developed a personality. She has, if you will, been given a soul. She was built from living fibers by a pair of living hands, and somehow, that breath remains. And yes, I know I hold unrealistic views on inanimate objects, and I impose my feelings upon them. But I was that little girl whose childhood was filled with talking animals and trees, dryads and naiads, and the knowledge fairy tales give us that things (and people) are rarely as they seem. I read of possibilities, and believed that what you don’t see can, in fact, happen. Perhaps it was because my sister often talked of wormholes and string theory, and I wanted to find one and crawl through to another world, preferably with talking animals. But I was no scientist. Rather, I had been given an imagination, and I used it.  


I still do.


And here now, if we use soul as description of one’s qualities innate to them, one’s character, traits, identity -- Brown’s has one, no doubt.


And I think my rod has one too. It was built from living fibers by a pair of living hands...and my breath remains.


For we all want waking, don’t we.


“Yes...”I look back to Jay, “I think we should go to Brown’s.”



10:00 a.m.

We pack our gear and throw on a few extra layers. The sun is bright, but not warming -- still shining a flat sort of winter light. Pasqueflowers are beginning to bloom and Banjo runs ahead on the trail down; he always stops before he loses sight of us though, waiting for us to catch up. We’re quiet for the most part, Jay and I, yet when I look over -- he’s smiling, every time.


Once we reach the pond I rig slowly, with a fly I’d tied over the winter. That was the pinnacle before, catching a fish on a fly I’d tied myself. However, I aim to raise the bar today.


“We’ll see how it is on still water...” Jay says, still smiling.


Yes, we’ll see...(although I have no doubts).

I take a deep breath, and cast...


And cast.

And it feels familiar, like home.


And I look up to the cabin, out west where clouds have moved in, crowding the valley like the subdivisions cities try to squeeze in wherever they can, equally as cold. The sky has run out its space, and so the heavens have come down dropping the temperature, and I shiver, giving my feet a stomp. I can’t feel them. I can’t feel my stripping hand either, but it remembers -- thank god, it remembers where to go and what to do.


And soon, I hear a splash and see Jay’s rod bend...he kneels and Banjo runs over as he always does, asking for a sniff, nuzzling you’ve done well.


At least one of us won’t go home skunked
.

“You know, I don’t think this is going to happen today...” I sulk.


“Keep on” Jay says. Keep on...


And I do, thinking back to the stonefly -- to that good sign.


The sky continues to darken with the coming storm, and the wind stops. So do the trout. Brown’s calms and hunkers down. Yet there is still a crack in the door, I find -- just in time -- suddenly there is weight, and the rod bends, giving through and through with life, with the beating heart at the end of the line.   


As we walk out, up from Brown’s, through sparse snowflakes beginning to fall, Jay looks over, his hands stuffed into his pockets until he’s hunchbacked, and I shrug. What can you do...the mountains in May. ..

What can you do indeed.


But then again, the mountains in May is where my rod has just caught its first trout. And so I smile, letting snowflakes fall on the tip of my tongue.



6:54 p.m.


I look out the cabin’s window as the snow starts falling harder. Big, ploofy flakes, looking like a flock of pelicans are overhead and have just eaten marshmallow fiber for dinner. The aspen grove’s greenhorn hearts bleed for summer, for days when the snow will stop falling and they won’t shiver anymore. And come those days will, if ever so slowly.


“I’m thirty-six and I’m still amazed by spring.” Jay says, looking out the window too.


I nod. Still amazed, that from under four feet of winter’s base snow, raspberries, peonies, wildflowers, and hummingbirds will and do return. Still amazed how life can turn on you (for good and ill) when you least expect it, and that come tomorrow morning, the clouds will have lifted and the snow will have stopped. Darkness will have passed into light with no eulogy.  


And yes, in the end still amazed that there will be brown trout rising, just down the road.

59 comments:

  1. What's the fancy-schmancy reel you got there? I like it!

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    1. T.J. - Indeed! A Hardy Bouglé. I like it too.

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. The brown looks so good next to your art.
    Well done.

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    1. Brk Trt - Many thanks. Two works of art in a way, eh?

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  4. I read, and in every paragraph there's a flash bulb set off - an "Oh yeah! I need to comment, to agree, to celebrate that observation, that analogy". But, in the end, it's too much for this little comments box.

    So I'll simply say, wonderful. As always, wonderful.

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    1. Mike - Ah...your little "comment box" said everything. Many thanks, my friend. Many thanks.

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  5. Erin - you brought the rod to life.... and the rod brought life to you... very nice, well done.

    What goes around comes around. I enjoyed the entire trip...

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    1. Doug - I do feel the relationship has been a very mutually beneficial one, already. :) Thanks for coming along on the journey.

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  6. I think the rod was properly initiated on a small home pond holding majestic browns that are local residents as well. The fish and I applaud you.

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    1. Howard - It all worked to a very fitting end/beginning. However you want to look at it. Many thanks for the "applause"....shall I curtsey!? ;-)

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  7. Yes. We all want to wake. "For just one more day."

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    1. River Mud - Just one more day...always, just one more is our hope. Many thanks for taking the time to read...

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  8. "The sky continues to darken with the coming storm, and the wind stops. So do the trout. Brown’s calms and hunkers down"..........

    "...suddenly there is weight, and the rod bends, giving through and through with life, with the beating heart at the end of the line."

    God, I can breath again! Tho I am sorry to see this leg of the bamboo journey finished, I look forward to the rest. Well done, well done.

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    1. Marv - I'm so glad this was a big breath of fresh air! Gulp! Thank you so much for all your kind words and comments...truly appreciated.

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  9. Good read here. Enjoyed it. Thanks.

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    1. howsmallatrout5 - Thanks for stopping by!

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  10. Now I like your style Erin but... with that reel and that rather lovely rod you might just give the impression of being what we in England call "a tackle tart"!

    It's good that you lasted long enough to catch that brown trout. Well done.

    Regular Rod

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    1. Regular Rod - Ha! :P That's for a good chuckle. And I'm glad I lasted long enough, too....thanks for reading as always!

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  11. I've often thought about living in your part of the country but snow in May just seems to be too much of a burden. And Jay is right, Spring is a miracle.

    Glad to see a fish brought to hand by your hand. Very cool.

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    1. Steve - Yeah...the snow in May thing...it keeps these parts sparsely populated. ;)

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  12. Superb. Just as TJ wondered above, I think that little Hardy reel is a great mate. So many good reflections from Brown's Cabin.

    Now.....FWIW....I just may have, okay, no may about it....I alerted a certain silver haired public radio "Story" teller about your journey. Not sure what the chances are, but don't be too shocked if Dick Gordon gets in touch with you.

    As always great read, and nice persistence bringing the first fish to hand.

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    1. Rhythm Rider - Oh good gosh, I'll flip. ;) But thanks for the heads up, and good word put in. And thanks for always reading...

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  13. I've found that the finished picture is rarely smooth, but also it's not often what we thought it would be when we laid the first strokes on the canvas. Life throws us some curves, and perhaps it's how handle and adjust to it.

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    1. Should Fish More - I think you're right on that...

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  14. "What matters is that they are there and that they are just down the road. " What it's all about.

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    1. Pete - Indeed it is...beautiful simplicity.

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  15. This beats "I caught a fish on my rod!" hands down!!! Thankyou for taking us on yet another rich journey. One of my favorite things about this country is spring. Growing up with winter - rainy - might need a sweater and/or an umbrella and summer - bloody hot - live in ocean. No spring or fall. Love the happiness glimpses.

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    1. Hart - After living in San Francisco, I realized I could never really live in a place without seasons. They're one of my favorite things too.

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  16. I'm one of those fly fishers that prefer to fish "home waters". To be able to read the water and getting to know it is essential to be able to fish it without spooking the fish. Knowing the waters makes it more fun also. I used to fish a small stream with nice trout a while ago where I started to give names to the trout that held the best parts of the stream. So it became a sort of checking out the the actions of the day of those trout. Would they take a dry fly today, and so forth. That gave me the habit of naming trout that I could recognize in other waters to and checking out the mood of the day. That in itself gave the trips to those waters another meaning. It was almost like checking up on old friends (until they were taken by somebody and disappeared which gave place for a sad feeling). I'm glad that your new rod got some action the first trip. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
    Have fun fishing with your self made rod,
    M.O.

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    1. M.O., The Jassid Man - I like that you name the trout...that is knowing waters! There are a few, too, in Brown's who I have not seen in awhile...and I always wonder, with a sad feeling. Thank you for reading and taking the time to leave your thoughts!

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  17. "Homewaters" and "Darkness will have passed into light with no eulogy." Great stuff. Small stones I will turn over in my hands.

    Happy spring, Erin!

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    1. Emily - "Small stones I will turn over in my hands." I love that image you turn...for there is something in a stone that has been tumbled in a river, or off a mountainside, or dug down deep in a prairie...wherever it's found....stones are like letters. Thank you for reading...and Happy Spring to you as well!

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  18. Wish I could say your writing makes me laff. It quiets.

    When I read your blog I believed you were of the 60 degree angle. Congruent. On the plane.

    Start the second. Send to me.

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    1. Darrell - Sometimes I wish my writing made people (and myself) laugh too. But it quiets me as well. The second, eh? We shall see...

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  19. Beautiful fish! Nice way to break in your new rod...

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  20. Only the beginning of a phantasmagoric journey. Can't wait...
    Alan

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  21. The lark's on the wing, the snail's on the thorn; God's in his heaven, your beautiful rod has connected with a beautiful trout--all's right with the world!

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    1. Jim - Lovely verse....I like it!

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  22. The end of an exciting journey or the first step on a new one?

    A worthy fish to count as the first and your rod has surpassed all expectation Erin, it is beautiful. I feel like I have been with you every step of the way and thank you for sharing it with us.

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    1. Dave - I think perhaps a little of both. :) So very many thanks to you for reading along.

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  23. The circle has been completed, now you have to fill the centre with lots of fishy tales!

    Lovely as ever Erin.

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    1. Tom - I like that image...that the outline is done, now, for the coloring. Thanks as always!

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  24. ps
    Missed the "sound and vision". Yours, not Mr Bowie's.
    Alan

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    1. Alan - Ah, I may get back to them...I may...

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  25. Hi Erin- Great story. all the way through. I think the hummingbirds are glad for you too. Maybe a handmade rod belongs on a home water. Keep it real. Peace be with you.

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    1. Scott - It's been a long story...and thanks for all the kind words throughout. Your observation is keen. Peace to you as well.

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  26. "And that we lived. We fought. We lost. And sometimes won."...it's not always easy, but it all somehow fits perfectly as it should.

    no better place to break in that rod than on familiar waters.

    Cheers

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    1. Sanders - You're right...these "hard things" always somehow find a way to fit. Yet time and time again, I, at least, lose faith that they will. Cheers, my friend....and I hope this week is a little quieter on the power tool scale...for both of us!

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  27. Erin, thanks for the mention on Midcurrent! I'd be lying to say I didn't get a little excited and scared at the same time to think someone was being sent to my blog on purpose. It was a pleasant surprise and appreciated.

    Stay tuned because I finished my rod. It's a friggin hammer that casts an 8wt well, and may truly be a 9wt. Film at 11.

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    1. Rhythm Rider - Yeah! I was happy to! And it is scary, eh? When people start actually paying attention. ;) Keep up the great writing, I always look forward to your posts, and thanks so much for reading along here. And I'm certainly excited to see this hammer of a 9 wt! =)

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  28. Smooth and elegant--the rod, the prose, and the person.

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    1. Mr. P. - A big smile, and thanks.

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  29. Erin,

    I must be ready to read 18th. century literature to begin your prose. I developed an affinity for that when I HAD to take the course as an undergrad humanities credit and to my surprise enjoyed it, though I've never finished "Boswell's Life of Johnson," despite enjoying it. You go way beyond the hook and bullet I can read quickly. So very pleased you fished your new rod and experienced another's life through it, and such a beautiful result! "Overcaught trout...," I loved that. And yes, the hummers have been here quite some time, though we only seem to get quarrelsome black chins. Nice Erin.


    Gregg

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    1. Gregg - Thank you, thank you for stepping into that mindset (what a compliment!) and for taking your time in reading. I know I'm going to be wanting a bamboo carping rod soon....I know I am. :) And the other night I watched two male broad-tails going at it...over a female, I assume. Feisty little things, and so amusing to watch.

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  30. That little fish up there is the second most anticipated fish of my season! First fish on the new rod; hurrah! The rest of this post was, as always, a gem.

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    1. Thanks, Quill! There was quite a lot of hope riding on "a fish"...and this one came through.

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