Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Derivations of Insanity: or, On Carping, Casting, and Chocolate Cake

“Isn’t insanity...doing the same thing, over and over again,” yelled Jay between cursing buffalo bur and groundsel, and trying to manage a 70 ft double haul...
“...but expecting different results?”

“Why yes...yes it is.” I grinned...“Einstein, I believe...” (These sorts of things can be amusing when you're not the one trying to catch the carp.)

More cursing got him more distance on the next cast, but the line went too far to the right -- three times in a row. And the same thing again and again can make a person start to feel insane, you know. Strangely, even good things. Yes, your mother was right about the German Chocolate Cake. After a while, you’ll start to craving lemon meringue. Even holidays and leftovers; plunge pools and puppies. You are glad when things change -- when the stream settles out, when things grow up and you aren’t cleaning pee-paper off the floor anymore.

For while humans may indeed be creatures of habit -- habit is not always repetition, and repetition is not always the same thing. There are fine lines hiding in all of that, and you find them through practicing scales for hours upon hours, or casting into a lake again and again.

Yet while we can in fact learn from our mistakes -- from our crumpled hearts, plans, and casts -- that doesn’t always mean we can fix them, or change what we’ll do the next time around. Like that woman who always ends up with the jerk -- who has the bad-boy attraction, again and again. You can come to know why you do what you do (admittance is the first step, after all), but for whatever reason, sometimes you just can’t not do it again.

Which...strikes me as a lot like carping.

And casting for that matter.

Both derivations of insanity.

And then when the line goes to the left a few times, snagging on some reeds, he spits -- get your head in the game -- over the highway noise, over the kind of drone that’s suddenly realized because you can’t hear something else (one of those things that isn’t a problem until it’s paired up. Like some people with people, or like bacon with chocolate.)

Yet the carp stayed put, humping in the mud like a dog with its stuffed animal -- but not looking nearly as guilty when caught in the act.  

With its back out of the water, biding more time.

Just enough...until the head got in the game.

Until something different happened. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Pushing Ahead and Saying Goodbye

“I said 4 a.m. as a joke…and he didn't”  


…we decide on 5:00 a.m., and Sanders beats me out as hard-core early riser.

I’m impressed.

The monsoon season has finally come around this year. Better late than never, as it goes with few exceptions. But there are a few, as with anything – like I’s before E’s. The world is full of exceptions -- the tax code, the online legal documents we all click yes to “agree,” and the friend I have who likes black olives except when they’re cooked into food. The wildfires have been put out, and new ones discouraged by the afternoon thunderstorms. Although, they were a Catch-22 for a while, for the first few weeks when the moisture came with fire of its own – lightning -- which ignited a few local cabins and a patch of pines just down the hill from million dollar homes at the base of my canyon. Sitting on the last ridge (or first, dependent upon your direction), they overlook the front range. At night they see pollution; during the day, too. I can only assume the reason people buy a house on that ridge is to be seen. For it certainly isn’t what I would consider a view.

David had come up with the plan a few weeks ago: a high lake, sitting at over 10,000 ft. and over 6 miles in. What do you think? he’d asked. 

That I was game, and wondered if Sanders would be too. “Ready and willing” was the reply. And that’s how we came to find ourselves in a dark trailhead parking lot on a Saturday morning -- sipping coffee, looking for headlamps, cutting up strawberries...all good to go.

I’d fished with Dave once before. Last fall. And while we had both thrown out names of long trails leading to high lakes -- in the end, we opted for something shorter (still, leading to a lake of course). Because there was that unspoken I-don’t-want-to-spend-the-entire-day-with-you-until-I-know-you’re-not-a-weirdo thing going on. Kind of like suggesting coffee on a first-date – so you can get there early, sit at a back table, and peek over a Denver Post until you determine if you want to actually meet the man or leave. (I’ve only done that once. And for the record, I didn’t leave.)

Short hikes and morning coffee. No commitment. Beautiful things for those uncertain.  

Thirteen miles is a lot of walking and talking. It’s a lot of hours and a full day. But by now, it had been determined that we were indeed all weirdoes, but of the same sort. So it was all okay.

And then also, there’s that remote possibility of getting lost – which would mean more hours. Many more. Days, perhaps. So my general rule stands that I don’t go into the backcountry with people I don’t like, or with people I don’t trust. You have to, because it really could be a matter of life or death – perhaps yours. It’s a dangerous business, stepping out there, one that tourists coming up the trail with no water or rain jacket or food don’t acknowledge.

But our small fishing party certainly did: Dave comes with a knife strapped to the outside of his pack (big enough that those not from farm country would call a machete) “for mountain lions” he said, and for cream cheese on breakfast sushi rolls, too; me with a map and compass, finding a shortcut for us on a pack trail; and Sanders with a “jet-pack” (or maybe just two rod tubes) and enough Gatorade for the entire men’s Olympic gymnastics team. And on a side note, why do men do floor routines, anyway? They shouldn’t, we determined somewhere in the 13 miles. Only rings. Only and always rings.

Now, if you haven’t hiked or run hours upon hours (or something of the like before), I can tell you that you get into a rhythm -- into a Zen I’d say, if I were hipper. You meditate on breath and footfall, wondering how muscles work. And it’s one of the rare times in life you have to truly think for yourself. Sometimes about how hungry and tired you are, or how you wish there was someone who could tell you how much longer there was to go yet; about the world’s problems, pet peeves, and silly things -- like men’s gymnastics that make you chuckle when you’re a little bit dehydrated and a little bit tired and you’re always and ever still walking a little bit uphill.

But as Dave said, holding a can of Red Bull, “I’d rather be pushing ahead than saying goodbye…do ya know what I mean?”

And we did, Sanders and I both nodding. Catching our breath.

Which is why sometimes it’s hard to actually reach the lake, to actually see the thing that you’ve been imagining for the past six miles and three hours. Because then, then you know what you’ll be missing in the end. And you know you’ll be lonesome when you go. With the flowers on the hillside blooming crazy, crickets talking back and forth in rhyme, blue river running slow and lazy…you could stay here forever. And never realize the time.

But we do eventually, we have to (despite the perpetual six miles), and we do see the lake – the end -- windy and cold against the dramatic back of Longs Peak. The Keyhole, where a few hikers and climbers die every year. And I can’t help but think about that, and pay my respects in a way, as I look down to the water.   

Sanders leads to the west end, to the inlet (best fished at ice off the guidebook says, but isn’t it all? he grins, while making a good point.), and we work around south to a talus field that drops off deep. Where the water is eerie green with the opaqueness that strangely often comes from clarity and depth, and where there are teasing flashes of following shadows, on occasion.

Yet persistently the three of us work down the side, and repeatedly the three of us miss fish. After fish. Until finally we all finally hook up and their nonchalance is obvious – they may not be big cutthroats, but they are of full and filled out frames. The food is plentiful up here...and they are not concerned. You know, if you aren’t worried about money, you don’t pick up pennies out of sidewalk cracks. 

These trout can afford to let some go and so they do, rising nonchalantly to our flies – black soft-hackles, bead-head nymphs, hideously large dries. All different just to make a point posited on the hike up: that it doesn’t matter what you use, it’s all in how you use it. Like Gierach says, “The real truth is, convincing a fish to strike is like playing string with a cat: the exact size and color of the string is probably less important than how you wiggle it.” 

And so the day passes, us wiggling strings and catching a trout here and there. And eating and talking and laughing good laughs that come out among friends.

Pushing ahead until it comes time to say goodbye. Which really, it turns out, is one and the same.

Because I know.....there will be a next time.