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.
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.
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.”
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.|
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.
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.