Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Songs in the Dark and a Stonefly.

Sunday, April 22, 2012 - 5:00 a.m.

Faith, Tagore states in a letter my grandmother sent me a few years ago, is the bird that sings when the dawn is still dark. The note is penned in her usual felt-tip. Bold. Sure. Straight lined printing that gives away her days before marriage and five kids, her days as a school teacher. The cross of my grandmother’s Ts always trestle up to the H, yet her Ys and Gs are straight tailed. A graphologist could tell you more, I’m sure. All I can tell you is that they’re the lines which make the letters that form the thoughts a matriarch whose line is of faith, and of the confidence that light will come, day by day (even when you don’t believe it will). And even when you can’t believe, you still, somehow, can have faith, because it’s our tradition, my grandmother says, it’s how we’ve found our way. Those are words from a mind unfoundered, from a steadying hand. And in those, if nothing else, I can believe.

I have that note from my grandmother still, and every year come spring, with the American Robin’s frilly clucks and the Mountain Chickadee’s minimalist quarter tones, I awake to that quote, real-time. I awake to that steadying hand as I put my bare feet on the wood floor, and walk on...holding tight.

There’s a glaze of ice covering my windshield -- like the flaky frosting on donuts I remember eating at Gerda’s Bakery, sneaking a first bite before we’d completely left the awning with the old German woman herself painted on, before we were back out on 52 Street walking home. Canyon nights are still cold, still wood stove worthy. The windshield, a reminder that while I might be done with spring, she, is not done with me. She’s only just starting. Light evening rain turned morning ice -- she winks over her cold shoulder as she walks in the door.
 
But the light does come, eventually -- and when it does, it warms and melts and grows.



 
8:59 a.m.

The morning is still and silent. Lake Estes, glass -- until a black lab jumps in, doing what he was bred to do, not knowing why. A few men cast spinning rods from shore, and there are rises.

Frank smiles, making coffee and rubbing his mustache, “You brought the reel seat...right...?”

“Right,” I say, “I did...” digging around in the pack I had checked and double checked, even stopping the car a few miles from home just to double check for it again.

Frank slips the hardware on the spalted crabapple for size....cool...  

It fits, and I look down, remembering steel wooling and applying Formby's to it nightly, back when snow blanketed the ground in feet, and the woodpile was still well stocked. Already, I think, already we’ve a history. Already, I have memories attached, indexed, filed away -- for the next cold winter when I need to pull them out and be warmed.

“I’m drinking too much coffee,” Frank says, stirring in some sweetener.

“I already have...” as my stomach feels it. The lightness of butterflies and something about to happen.

Soon.

Out in the garage we begin fitting the reel seat. Measuring. Lining up. Does that look straight to you?  -- like a spotting scope, I look through the guides -- because you’re going to be the one fishing it, you know. Oh that’s right....I am. And riddled in, we talk -- about craigslist and no-shows, about the great feeling of getting rid of stuff (that curious chameleon of a word).

“The ping-pong table is going today...” Frank says, “Brian and Hal are coming to pick it up.”

“Hal the dipping cabinet maker?”

“Yep...and his son.”

“Nice.”

And soon, there’s the stop of an engine, slams of truck doors, and a knock. The ping-pong table’s ride is here.

Frank is busy muddling with 5-minute epoxy. “Hold this” he says, handing over my rod, straight up and down. “Sorry....you know...my wife always got onto me for not saying please...but sometimes there just isn’t time...you know?”

I laugh. “Exactly. And anyways, it’s implied.”

“Important stuff goin’ on over here, guys,” Frank says to Hal and Brian and his son, having just walked in, “hang on a sec...”


I stay holding my rod, the glue drying, as they load up the table -- laughing and tying it down -- and after a few minutes they come back in -- Brian, carrying a rod tube. A Granger, whose wraps he wants to match on the rod he’s making with Frank. “Those used to be white...” Brian says, pointing at the wraps, colored with age to yellow instead of gray. Hal leans over and laughs, “I can’t tell the difference, anyhow...I’m color blind! Had to completely trust Frank’s judgment when I was making mine!” I chuckle too, not only because it’s truly funny, but also because Hal has one of the best laughs in the world -- genuine, full, infectious. 

Rod tube made by Hal Powell.
Generous...

As they pull away, Frank admires his newfound space, noting: “I can’t let myself fill that back up with stuff.” We finish fitting the reel seat, and Frank fits the hardware for the reel. We weigh it, 3.25 ounces, and I make a tag for the tube sock.

“Now...” Frank says, “let’s go cast it.”

I secure the reel -- which had been curiously waiting to be found in the glove box of a white Ford Ranger on Valentine’s Day, “Yes, Erin...that’s for you.” -- I smile back, and pull line forward and through the guides. Then I take it in my hand for the first time -- for the first time, complete, with no more steps to be done. And like so many other things in life (so many important things), when it comes to the moment, it’s a blur. Time doesn’t stop, music doesn’t play, motion doesn’t slow, and legs don’t curl up cutely like Meg Ryan’s during first kisses. Life goes on, with or without you, at its own pace and with its own timing -- often, in spite of you; and often, with you trailing awkwardly behind -- and so you must always, at all times, keep a watchful eye on it as you would an opponent, Annie Dillard says.

Stripping line out in a double haul, taking my time, waiting on the backstroke -- there -- I let it go, into the wind. And the rod responds, shooting out line with an accurateness and ease I wasn’t fully expecting. It feels effortless. Natural. Sure of itself and its limits.

I aim for a small stone in the driveway. Yes. I am very, deeply, in love with this thing.

“Your turn,” I nod towards Frank.

“Kind of loads itself, doesn’t it.” he smiles, laying a cast. “People argue you need a fast action rod for wind, but I think it’s just the opposite...”

I nod...I know what he means now. I had just felt it too.

And as I watch Frank cast, I think back on these past few months. I think on how they’ve in many ways been like that bird before dawn. Waiting, watching, harmonizing in the dark. Having faith in Frank and sandpaper and glue; and confidence in my hands. Knowing that the sun will rise, and line will be strung through the guides I’ve wrapped on, but all the while not being able to see the horizon. Yet then, suddenly, there’s light enough to see what’s been in front of me all along.  

“Now, don’t be afraid to fish it....and fish it hard.” Frank says, “remember, we’re rodmakers, we can fix it if it breaks!”

I grin. “Oh, I’m planning on fishing this very hard.” And driving back south -- more quickly than perhaps I should -- I’m still grinning. I have a cane rod in the backseat, and I’m taking it home. 






4:00 p.m.

I honk. Banjo barks. Jay whistles off the back mountain where he’s clearing spring fed pools which run through the draw. After he washes his hands, we walk out to the south meadow -- and standing side by side, Jay gently takes the rod from my hands. His eyes glisten, beginning slowly with one false cast -- looking back at me. Oh Erin...he says...wow. And picking the line back up, he double hauls line almost the length of the meadow -- asking everything, it gives.

“That’s a fine casting rod....a fine casting rod. I’ve held no better.”

Now, I’d thought about what it would feel like to cast my rod. I’d a notion of how it would be. But I’ve discovered today that I could never have imagined what it would feel like watching Frank and Jay cast it. I’ve learned everything about making it from Frank, and everything about casting it from Jay. And to watch these two men take my rod in their hands -- the cane I’d split and flamed, the taper I planed and sanded, the cork I glued and shaped -- and to watch them smile and nod in approval....there are no words for that.

Or at least, I can’t find them past the lump in my throat...   


Yet as I watch Jay continue to cast, aiming at small pines that will surely be Christmas trees 
for someone in a few years, I realize that this rod already feels like an old friend. Like one I’ve come to know over years and years. Inside and out. And so this day doesn’t feel as much of a beginning as I thought it would -- because really, it isn’t -- I’ve been started now for awhile. And this rod, it’s something I’d count myself lucky to have been a part of -- even, should I die tomorrow and never feel it give with the weight of a fish. Each step has been enough in and of itself. Each step has been one of faith, one of confidence, one of patience, and sometimes frustration. Yet I'm left with the feeling that I’m the lucky one.  

Which is how it should be.

Then, after Jay picks all the pine needles out of the meadow’s pockets, up and down, down and up, we stand still -- in its middle. Silent. Both looking down. And a brown stonefly lands on the collar of my flannel, hatched from the small stream across the road. Jay smiles, “that’s a good sign...”

And I smile back.
 
Still, with a lump in my throat. 

96 comments:

  1. Erin, I also had a lump in my throat. I'm as happy as if that beautiful rod was mine. Fish it in good health and much happiness.

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    1. Howard - I am always happy to know you will read, for you always do. Thank you, my friend.

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  2. Awesome. Just awesome. Your writing is honestly inspiring. That rod is beautiful as is the tube.

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    1. Pile Cast - Thank you so very much for the kind words. And the tube was made by Hal...a true craftsman.

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  3. I can't tell you how excited I am!

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    1. Marv - I think you just did. :-) Thank you!

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  4. I've never actually met you, Erin, so I have no idea if you're the hugging kind, but I'm sending you one regardless over these internet wires. Congratulations. :)

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    1. Emily - In these situations...a hug is greatly appreciated. :) Thank you!

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  5. After a long and enjoyable journey, your rod is looking simply amazing Erin and I'm sure will have many more tales to tell over the coming years. Simply beautiful.

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    1. Mark - It is ongoing, that is for sure. And thankfully so. Many thanks for coming along on each chapter.

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  6. I know you said during the "moment" that music wasn't playing, but let me tell you in my mind, the Hallelujah Chorus was playing. You make the page sing...

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    1. Tim - Ha! That fills me with much happiness indeed.

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  7. Beautiful rod! Legendary OR rod maker Dr. Cane helped me build a 4 wt a few years ago and the entire time he echoed Frank..."don't worry about breaking it, we can fix it." That is the beauty of something made by hand. Great stuff!

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    1. John - It's very reassuring to know if I do something silly, it can be put to rights again. Thanks for reading...and I do hope you enjoy your 'boo every now and again.

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  8. Thanks for sharing this wonderful moment with us, Erin. You must be very proud.

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    1. Steve - I am indeed, and thank you so much for the kind words and encouragement.

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  9. Erin,
    A beautiful piece of a fly fishers art. I know the first fish to be caught on it will never be forgotten.
    Take a bow, bravo.

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    1. Brk Trt - You are very right, I am sure it will not. And I will take a bow...now.. :)

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  10. I'm feeling envy, the rare and good kind of envy that does not begrudge the envied, but rejoices with them with all the intensity it contains. Congratulations on a beautiful accomplishment!

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    1. PA Dave - Thank you! And your words truly mean a lot!

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  11. Replies
    1. AZ Wanderings - Many thanks, Ben.

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  12. Replies
    1. T.J.Brayshaw - For sure it is! Thanks!

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  13. Replies
    1. Pa - Thanks! I always know you will be, but I never tire of hearing it...

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  14. Excellent piece- rod and written word both

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    1. Royal Wulff - Thanks, of both accounts! And thanks much for taking the time to read.

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  15. Congratulations! A beautiful rod and a wonderful testimony...

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    1. Bob - Thank you for reading and the kind comment!

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  16. Replies
    1. I just showed Carol your rod and she could only say "how beautiful" in a tone spoken like we use referring to our children. It has been such a pleasure to see this unfolding journey you've taken us all on. Should anyone ever ask me "why bamboo"? I'll simply refer them here.

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    2. Rhythm Rider - It's funny...my mother said she felt as if she should throw some "shower" for the rod. As if I'd had a child. Carols reaction made me smile...thanks for sharing it. :)

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  17. Wonderful, Erin... Just wonderful. And congrats on the new rod.

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    1. upacreek333 - Thanks so much for the good words, and for stopping by!

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  18. Beautiful, may it bring you lots pleasure & fish for many years to come.

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    1. Phillip - A very fitting blessing. Many thanks.

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  19. “When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”
    ― G.K. Chesterton

    Erin,

    Always in awe of the words you weave, the stories you tell, and the growth I see in you! Proud to be your friend, and grateful that you share your heart with so many of us!

    Jim

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    1. Jim - I'm very grateful for the encouragement you always give. Many thanks, my friend. And another good one from Chesterton...always!

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  20. Neat-o ..priceless..Er...it's pretty..:)

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    1. Capt. Rich - Many thanks. The experience has been priceless indeed.

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  21. Fish it and fish it hard! You earned it for sure.

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    1. Trevor - I definitely will! I can't wait....totally getting antsy now.

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  22. Erin,

    Thank you for putting into wonderful and magical words your experience building your cane rod. Writer, fly fisher, fly tyer and now....bamboo rod maker. Quite the adventure. It was truly my pleasure guiding you through the process. The rod looks and casts great. Your the best.

    Frank

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    1. Frank - All I can say is thank you, for everything.

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  23. Erin - this is so great - well done!

    Can't wait to see this rod someday.

    kp

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  24. There is something about making something with your own two hands, and using it, that goes beyond words. The awe, the beauty, the concept that yes, this came from my own hands, I did this. It is emotional.
    Damn fine piece of writing.

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    1. Kirk - I suppose people have been trying to put that concept into words, past lumps in throats, since...we started putting things into words. And there never seems to be the right one, but yet...everyone knows exactly what it means. Many thanks for reading, and the thoughts.

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  25. That rod is beautiful. I takes a kind soul to translate itself into such a equally kind and beautiful rod.

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    1. Freestone_bound - Many thanks for the kindness of those words.

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  26. Hooray! The rod looks fantastic and worthy of not only the time you have put into it, but also the time you have put into the story for all of us to read.

    Is there a first fishing trip post coming soon?!

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    1. Brookfield Angler - Thanks for stopping by...and very soon, yes, there will be a first fish post...at least, I hope! ;)

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  27. Beautiful rod, absolutely gorgeous. If a geezer grandfather may be allowed to say it to someone he's not met; I'm proud of you.
    Mike

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    1. Mike (Should Fish More) - You are more than allowed to...and it means a heck of a lot to me!

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  28. Fan-friggin-tastic! Quick, find some water!

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    1. Steve - This Sunday...I hope to! Or rather I'd better, or I'll go crazy.

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  29. Awesome write up. Following you almost gives me the motivation to make my won rod. Almost... I'll happily live vicariously through your rod building adventures for now. I can't wait to hear about your fishing experiences with your new friend.

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    1. Kevin - I'm happy to give you the opportunity to live vicariously. :) And first fish will hopefully come soon...

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  30. That rod looks ridiculous. I have never even handled a fly rod that looked that good. Great story as always.

    I only get to stop by here about once a week but I am always rewarded.

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    1. River Mud - I've never handled one like this either...but I'm not scared in the least to fish it hard. Thank you so much for making the time to stop by, your thoughts and kind words are much appreciated!

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  31. Dearest Erin,
    I hope your beautiful rod brings you happiness and a lifetime of joy. I have my ticket in my hand as I wait to embark on many more of your journeys of the mind and soul.
    Alan

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    1. Alan - I'm heartened to know you'll be along for the journey on...

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  32. Beautiful! And congratulations! Jay probably wants to b-e-- with you!

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    1. Hart - Thank you! And yes, I think he does...

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  33. Erin, I'm intrigued.
    No sadness that its over? Or is this but the first step of a longer journey? Should I place my order now? :O)
    I hope your fishing will bring you half as much joy as you have given to us, with or without a rise. Try to watch the fly and not the rod!
    Wishing you the very best as always- Richard

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    1. Richard - Sad and excited both...just as on a journey. Thanks for reading and for the encouragement...I'm going to try to get out and give it a first go on the water this weekend!

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  34. "loads itself' -- nice

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    1. Tom - It is....feels so good! Thanks for stopping to read.

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  35. "Still, with a lump in my throat"

    Thanks for the smile.

    Cheers

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    1. Sanders - Any time, my friend. :)

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  36. For the (personal) rodmaker, completing the stick is a beginning.

    Split cane rods have proven they may last a century, in some cases, more than a century. With care no one knows how long. My eldest dates from WW I. It has spring and delicacy; it will outlast me. It carries more color than yours, and tho it wasn't created by a name it looks like Manifest Destiny. Not a rod for Gatsby, but his neighbor.

    Pal has an 1890s Leonard, finest rod several have called 'best ever seen and cast.' Will it cast and fish at 200? No doubt it will. OTOH, fiberglass and graphite from 1970s may already be ready to prop the pole beans.

    You live forever.

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    1. DarrellKuni - Quite the feeling to know it will last much much longer than me. Like no other progeny, really. I will live, I will die....it, will carry me on.

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  37. I have been waiting for that! Nothing ant-climax, simply perfection as I see it in your prose amd pictures. Use it hard indeed, even a carp can't intimidate a back both flexible and supple, and strong. This is nice Erin, very deserved, the result. I knew robins by the way. In fire camps in Alaska they'd wake us up way before sunrise. (Which proves earth worms are not needed for survival.)

    Gregg

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    1. Gregg - I have used my graphite 4wt on carp before. hmm ;) Robins are really quite remarkable...I'm always in awe at their range. They're always up at the high lakes in the backcountry, and I remember them in Iowa pastures gorging on worms. But like you said, they aren't finding nightcrawlers up at 10,000 ft! Thanks so much for reading!

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  38. Wow, incredible expression of emotions with words. Thanks for taking us along with you. GREAT read!

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    1. Kyle - Thank you so much for stopping by to read, and for the kind words. Much appreciated on both accounts!

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  39. Erin, the rod and your words are equally matched in beauty. I am truly envious of both. Someday I hope to have a cane rod of my own crafting. Thanks again for the story. Great job!

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    1. Seth - With all my heart, I wish for you this experience too. Nothing like it, and it's beyond what you'll think it will be...in a good way. Thanks for reading, and the comment!

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  40. If it fishes as well as it looks then......................

    Well done Erin, just one more step, go and catch a fish with it and the cycle will be complete.

    What's next?

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    1. Tom - That is the question, eh? And it will hopefully be soon...God willing and the creek don't rise. Quite literal for that last statement...runoff has begun! As for what's next...I think I need to sleep.

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  41. Awesome and congrats on finishing! I must say I wish you had more to do because I've enjoyed reading about the experience. I'll watch for stories of using the new rod instead. Will you be building another next winter?

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    1. David - Indeed..many more stories to come. And perhaps there will be another rod...someday. Thanks so much for reading.

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  42. Erin,

    I read this and see that you are writing about a rod you built, a wonderful journey to be sure. I read that your rod is finished and that you are proud of it as well you should be. Frank likes it and Jay likes it; that's a good thing.

    Fish the rod and have a wonderful time. I hope you do for many years to come. Never fish it; keep the rod stored away and "use" it by taking it out to quietly savor it and to selectively show a few other people. (It would please me to see it some day.)

    The light of faith overcomes darkness. This time of year I find myself waking up earlier so that I can hear the returning songbirds. I just wake up because I savor the sound so much.

    Congratulations on finishing your rod; it is an impressive accomplishment. Congratulations on both having and feeling faith in the light; it is a more impressive accomplishment.

    P

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    1. Mr. P. - One day, see it you shall. And thank you especially for that last sentence...it went to my heart.

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  43. Oh my. I was waiting to get to this when I wasn't so busy, when I could savor it. But I didn't expect it to be over. The rod is beautiful, but I'll miss the rich, metaphorical journey of its creation. Now, I guess, on to the richness of the stories it will unlock for you. And now, seriously, I hope you are shopping these pieces as a book. Seriously. Please.

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    1. Jim - There is one more...the first fish. It will never be over now. :) And thank you so very much for savoring all of them. (And thanks for the encouragement to "shop them about," too.)

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  44. p.s. Who did that evocative pencil drawing at the top?
    Mark

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    1. Mark - Kendall Zimmerman is the artist. Her name is just in very tiny small print at top. :) She's amazing.

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  45. Good on you Girl. A wonderful story and a pretty handy piece of cane for your efforts

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    1. Daragh - I'm liking it very well indeed! Many thanks for stopping by!

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  46. Erin, I thought you would enjoy hearing that we had an intense rod-shop discussion on the picture of your rod and the silk thread you used for wrapping guides... glad you posted that!
    Bob

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    1. Bob - Much enjoyed....and I'm glad the info was helpful!

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