Monday, April 1, 2013

Spring & Speeches; or, On the Gestation of a Black Bear

Living in two worlds makes you anxious, like multiple personalities will put you on meds (or wine, I suppose, lots of wine).  And when the daffodils have started blooming in the plains off the Front Range, there is still a thick covering of snow in my canyon, just below 8,000 ft. I see them as I walk to work through Boulder’s University Hill, peeps of yellow and small purple crocus, bulbs of memory, year after year.

The trout fishing I love won’t open for a few months yet, I don’t go to tailwaters or large rivers that keep moving through the year, with unrelenting currents of people and bugs. No, my trout are small. And still under snow; just like the cabin. So come spring, I start itching for warmwater – for carp and bass and the odd crappie or two.


On a day when Jay and I both had nasty headcolds but the sun was shining and snow was melting in clods off the roof, puddling loudly in the stainless steel dog food dish out the back door, we couldn’t stay in. Call it cabin fever or shack nasties, or poor judgment from sinus pressure.

We head to lower ground. To spring, and warm(er) temps.

And halfway down the canyon the speech begins, like clockwork – the alarm set only on fishing days -- when we cross under the railroad bridge and there is still snow. Jay pounds the steering wheel, “We’re jumping the gun a bit….what the hell was I thinking?” he chides. We’re going to have to work hard for these fish. That’s always in The Speech somewhere, working hard – and that the conditions won’t be optimal. They never are. Like they never are for hanging out a load to dry in the mountains. It always rains. I’ve come to expect it.

And I know it’s never easy, it can’t be, but I wonder if we don’t like making it more so --- like young women and boyfriends….they like the drama. And just like fishermen, they hash and re-hash it – waffle maker for Valentines Day 1998, or the Blue Winged Olives on the Arkansas, Mothers Day, 2004. They boil down to the same thing at a simmer.

I smile at the familiarity of it all, looking out my window at the elk, muzzling away snow from the new green shoots of fieldgrass, leaving the flats pocked like the moon.  The Speech means the season has started, and it’s been a long winter. Not in measurable snow so much as measurable time, and words piled up like cordwood: reversal of the decreasing pile out by the shed, with files and folders growing and being named. Mine, with increasingly incoherent silliness. Imagine the delusions of nearing the end of a long race.  

It has been a long winter in a chore done. And chores feel especially satisfying when you’ve had to get a little dirty in the process.

“The water’ll be cold,” Jay breaks in, predicting, “but we’ll have a decent chance for crappie and yellow perch….they’re active early.”

The warnings continue down highway 93 -- the game plan – for you see, we’re always on a mission. And there are always old army hand signals involved, too. I’m getting better at understanding them – and if not what they mean, then what I should do as a result.  

“There might be some bass in close, too…they move in before staging to spawn.”

I nod. Prepared.

Perhaps I should be taking notes.

A calm surface often belies interior movement – but just like a human, it’s findable when you know where to look, when you know the ticks and troughs. That’s one of the addictions to stillwater, you just never know; and that’s the fly fisher’s eternal cry, isn’t it, one last cast, because you have to see how it all turns out – a hard thing, usually, to know the last page without The Brothers Grimm’s convenient The Ends. We depend upon stories, long after they don’t get read to us at bedtime anymore.

But that’s why we keep going. To get to the page where it’s a surprise.

She looks much the same after seven months, the gestation of a black bear. Although it feels like I’m visiting a sick friend, and am unsure whether she’ll remember me or not. Whether she’ll babble on about Phillip (who I apparently know) or peas in tea. Or how cilantro tastes like soap and that there’s an alien in the knotty pine.

Jay sticks a fist in the water as soon as we reach the bank, cool, but not too cold. Code for possibilities. And so we split up, scouting the perimeter, making long casts out deep with heavy flies. Banjo runs back and forth between us, like a calf released from Malachi’s proverbial stall. Pure joy.

And sometimes, even when conditions aren’t optimal: even when you’ve jumped the gun a bit, or even when the wind is hauling ass like it’s nine and a t-ball coach is yelling “hustle,” (and you do, because you want to round the bases to get to that generic-Coke filled cooler). Things still work out okay. Better than, really, because you weren’t expecting it.


Just as I wasn’t expecting the largemouths that latched on and fought hard, even still pale from lack of sun. Just like me. But that will change; I’ll redden and peel and they’ll darken and stripe.

And so it turns out, the pond, she’s very healthy indeed. Sane -- and remembers us well.

On the walk out, a lone meadowlark sits on a barbed wire fence; separated from its flock of winter, calling for the season to begin.

And he’s beautiful, even if a little late.

For it already has.

I don’t think he was expecting that… 

50 comments:

  1. Gotta love spring pond fishing. Ours are still frozen, but even though we have plenty of fishable trout streams right now, I'll jump all over the chance to fish for pond fish-- even though I know they aren't ready yet and the trout fishing is excellent. And you just have to ignore the trout and keep going, cause when they finally turn on, its awesome.

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    1. Alex - There's just something about a pond, a good pond. There often overlooked and are simply gems. Here's to the thaw!

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  2. A beautiful read Erin, spring is yet to really sing its tune here in England, but there is the odd suggestion, a murmur here or there. I must say Banjo looks so very beautiful and reminds me of our old border collie called Timmy.

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    1. Mark - That is indeed how she arrives, in whispers here and there. Banjo reminds me of my childhood dog, Sally, also a border collie. He's a mutt of the best kind, whatever he is! Thanks as always!

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  3. I like your taste (no pun intended) in trout and trout waters.

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    1. Kenov - Right on. And always, they're worth waiting for...

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  4. Hi, Erin, enjoyed reading your post as usual. Just have to jump in here and say that I must have caught the Cold from you and Jay after reading your respective posts about your warm water early season adventures. I shouldn't complain cause I know I will heal up and those pond fish will be waiting for me.

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    1. Rainbow Chaser - Aw man, spring colds are exceptionally bad...getting you down just as you're starting to think about getting out. Hope you're feeling better soon!

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  5. Lovely fish, just love Banjo.

    Here in South Africa the popular belief is that you can't catch bass unless the water temp is at least 16 degrees centigrade. No one believes me when I say I fish for them in the winter.

    Caught a beauty of a small mouth bass yesterday, but lost five.

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    1. Phillip - Ha! Well, let them think what they will...we know what's up! ;) Thanks as always for stopping by.

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  6. So glad that you are back after the hiatus. I really enjoyed this I guess because you're talking about somewhere close by.

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    1. Howard - Homewaters are gems. Can't be beat.

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  7. Ah, a spring gift, your bright, clear prose. Loved everything about "the speech" and your gentle humoring of it. And I'm so glad you got to feel the pull of those bass. That can finally pull us all the way into spring. Thanks, Erin.

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    1. Jim - Those bass definitely put me in the mindset of spring, for sure. And then this morning, what do you suppose I woke to? Snow! Winter says, not just yet, little girl. Thanks as always for reading.

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  8. Great read...I think we're all anxiously awaiting winter to loosen it's stranglehold on us. It's that time of year when I feel inclined to take advantage of every warm , sunny day I can grab a hold of...I'm sure you know just the feeling!

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    1. HighPlainsFlyFisher - I absolutely do, indeed! Thanks for the good words.

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  9. Inspirational Erin. Time for us all to shake off the long winter and hope that if enough of us carry on as usual the weather may take the hint.

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    1. Dave - Trick fickle spring, eh? I think that might work...let's give it a go! Thanks for reading as always, Dave.

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  10. what a great post! i always enjoy what you write...i think i may have to check out your book!

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    1. Tom - Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you enjoy the book...should you choose to delve in!

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    2. Ordered! Just based on the description it seems fascinating, just that you write, you chose a subject you were interested in and want to learn about, and wrote about the journey...sounds a little like Steven Rinella- the Scavengers Guide to Haute Cuisine. Something closely resembling my own ambition to research and write....I cannot wait to read on. ;)

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    3. Thanks, Tom! And I hope you enjoy the journey-read.

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  11. There is nothing like fishing familiar waters- thank you for the read Erin.

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    1. Peter - Homewaters are far too often looked over...I'm thankful that I love mine. Thanks for stopping by to read!

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  12. This has been the strangest spring I have ever experienced. Abnormally cold. The largemouth fishing so far has been great. All of the other species we normally catch seem to be missing. I have a feeling we're going to go from winter into summer just like last year. We maybe had 2 weeks last year in the 70's. The days went form 50-60 to 80 and above. I can see the same thing happening. Yesterday was the first day we had above 70degrees and it seemed like all of the animals were scrambling to make this one day spring. The first part of this post makes me think of one I had about expectations. It's funny how we have so many before a fishing trip. The whole thing with fishing is a hope you'll catch something you can't really have expectations but we all do.

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    1. Kevin - Expectations are inevitable, no doubt. And good things, too, they have a way of keeping us in check. It's been a fairly normal spring here -- 60s one day, snow the next!

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  13. Great stuff as always! Sometimes it's those days with minimal expectations that turn out the best. Glad you had a good time out on the water and found some willing fish!

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    1. David - Indeed, it's those days! Thanks for reading!

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  14. Love ponds! Glad someone else does, intimate items to get to know and know better every visit. Anticipation guides my heart as I pull in and judge from a distance. Ours have been giving me some carp since Feb, bass and others are a nice surprise, (not stocked trout mind you.) Good Erin, been anxious for a write!

    Gregg

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    1. Gregg - I adore them. Two in particular hold strings of my heart: one filled with carp and bass, one with wild browns. Ponds are just great places. Thanks for stopping by to read!

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  15. See, I really need a regular dose of Erin Block "brain food". This is great. In particular I liked "shack nasties" and "They boil down to the same thing at a simmer.".

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    1. Hart - Ah, I am glad you could get your fix! ;) Thank you, as always.

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  16. Beautiful! I know it's spring when I start reading bass posts. An important milestone of the year for me.
    Ty

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    1. Ty - Right? A true indicator that we're nearer than far. Cheers...and thanks as always!

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  17. "Perhaps I should be taking notes."

    That would be like trying to write down the lyrics of a song off a skipping record.

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  18. Erin
    My 'homewater' jumped from 500 cfs to 4,000 in two days as the upper river ice let loose it's grip. Before that, there was some good fishing to be had with the usual sub-surface stuff.
    Weird, warm winter here, the snow is pretty much gone except for the mountains, and my front yard which is shaded.
    My blog seems to have drifted far from fishing, who knows just how far I've strayed from the pack....perhaps it'll return. I've not stopped fishing, just writing about it.
    Cheers,
    Mike

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    1. Mike - Drifting is a good, refreshing thing. Like spring. I've been doing a bit of it myself. We have a few inches of snow overnight, but back into the 50s today! Not unusual, at least not for this time of year. Thanks for stopping by to read, as always.

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  19. Great stuff as always Erin.

    Been enjoying some spring pond and lake fishing out here as well.

    Keep up the good work.

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    1. Brent - Stillwaters do the soul well, especially for some reason in spring. Glad you're enjoying them too. And thanks for the good words!

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  20. Flatlanders tend to forget the seasonal schizophrenia of the Rockies: spring in the foothills followed by an echo of the season in the mountains.

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    1. tenkara ambassador - "seasonal schizophrenia," right on, you nailed it. Thanks for stopping by!

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  21. Lately, I have been intermittently attending to blogging. It made me smile to see your post, Erin.

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    1. Mr. P - I feel you on that, I've been too. Thanks for stopping by, and I'm glad for the smile.

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  22. Due to lack of available trout streams in the area I am drawn to ponds and lakes out of necessity, but, I am also drawn to them this time of year due the spawn and the crazy hitting action from 'gills, crappie and large mouth is very exciting!!!

    I love the possibilities of spring! It's all new! Spring is hope, expectation, renewal!

    All hail spring!!

    Great piece!!

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    1. Seth - You have some great warmwater locations there! I regret I wasn't fly fishing yet when I lived around Lincoln. Enjoy spring! And thanks for stopping by to read!

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  23. I'm of the opinion you can't know a cast is last until after it's been thrown. Especially when it's been a slow day.

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    1. Clif G - Seems logical to me...indeed.

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