Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Mighty Mo

After a week of imprudent and uninhibited British Columbian cutthroats, Mark's advice hit me like a punch in the gut. Technical and Presentation. Four letter words, however they're spelled.

Montana's Missouri River rainbows and browns have seen it all. And with the tricos coming off so thick that you kept your lips pinched tight lest you breakfast on bugs, there was no lack of natural fare. Hell, the floating mats of expired spinners could carpet my house. Anything the slightest bit off was ignored.

I throw a lot of off.

So when the frustration of refusal-upon-refusal by actively feeding fish got to be too much, it was good to fall back on the scenery. One of the meccas of our sport, and deservedly so. The Mighty Mo.

Enjoy the view.

Monday, September 8, 2014

We Went Awalkin'... Again

Prelude: I turned sixty last week and, quite honestly, I've spent the past several days trying to come to terms with it. I've started a handful of posts - some humorous, some more introspective - but I simply have not yet wrapped my head around this milestone. My mind keeps returning to something I'd written nearly three years ago, so, with apologies to you who have been around that long, I think that I'll fall back on it now. It's as true today as it was when I wrote it, and just a little bit closer to real.

We went awalkin’, Sammy and I, up the ridge, along the narrow gravel road that passes our woods, over the ridgeline, and through the tunnel of redbuds, so robust and full in the spring yet now so gaunt and so naked in winter's approach. We went awalkin', Sammy and I.

His vet would be pissed.

We’d taken Sammy to the local country doctor, fearing that age, arthritis, and the effects of a life-long liver condition have finally begun to squeeze the joy from the feisty little terrier. She made the expected pharmacological recommendations to ease his aching joints and suggested that, with limited activity, he should be comfortable for the foreseeable future. But she knew.

We know.

He sleeps a lot. And we carry him down the steps to the back yard so that he might sniff the 'coon tracks, stare into the woods, and unsteadily mark his now meager boundaries. It’s still his turf, after all, though he squats like a girlie dog, his leg-lifting balance gone the way of eyesight and stamina. And, at the end of each constitutional, he stands and looks up the drive, towards the road, up the ridge, to the redbuds, where we’ve walked together a thousand times - but walk no more.

Today, instead of just looking, he began to climb the hill, like before.

I called to him, to steer him back to comfort and ease, but he did not hear. Maybe he can't. More likely, he pretended not to. I called again, more urgently, and he stopped, but did not turn. Instead, he paused, then looked back over his shoulder as if to say, “Are you coming?

I sighed. And I came.

For a half-mile he was Wilderness Dog Sammy again - scourge of squirrels, chaser of deer, defiler of tall weeds. There was spring in his step and sparkle in his eyes, his ears and tail pointed to the brilliant blue sky. He led and I followed, noticing that his haunches, once as sturdy and full as the redbuds in spring, were as thin and bony as the stark, bare canopy above. But, for a half-mile, he was the alpha dog once more. For a wonderful half-mile...

… until he slowed. I called his name, like before, and he stopped, waited, and allowed me to pick him up – a concession unimaginable in times gone by. His walk was complete, miles short of his good days, but he accepted my bearing without shame. His ears remained perked, his nose thrust forward as if to lead us along the path, his spirit taking us where his legs could no longer. We walked our old haunts together, one more time. Even in my arms, he was still the Wilderness Dog.

And, on occasion, he looked up and licked my face, his eyes still sparkling despite clouding lenses, and he seemed to say “Isn’t this glorious?

It was.

This evening I expect that Sammy will pay for the excursion, the drugs unable to blunt the ache as it does most nights. He’ll lie in his bed, at out feet, and hurt a little more than usual, but I’m certain that the discomfort will be more than compensated by his restored canine dignity, by the walk through his old woods. I regret his pain, but I’m glad that we went for we both were able to remember the Wilderness Dog, if but just for a little while.

And, if you please, do the same for me. When my vitality wanes, when my life is diminished by whatever prostration chips it away, I hope that on that day when the woods call to me once again, you allow me to answer. Allow me to follow that ridgeline as far as I am able - wisdom and doctor be damned. I will accept assistance, if offered, on return, but first let me go. I will accept the inevitable pain, the price, but first let me go. Let me relive the fullness of my spring, the redbuds in bloom, for just that little while, and then I will again accept my limitations, accept the arrival of my winter. But first, let me go.

We went awalkin’, Sammy and I, up the ridge, through the tunnel of redbuds.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Photo Bin - August 2014

It's fun, once again, to have content for the Photo Bin. The recent run of blog posts here has been picture heavy, but that's what you get when a new camera arrives and an expedition is undertaken. There's been lots to look at, but still a few odds-and-ends have managed to fall to the Bin.

Craig, Montana exists for but a single purpose; to sustain those who fish the Missouri. The main drag is just a of couple blocks long and has three fly shops, a breakfast/sandwich take-out joint, a nice, rustic restaurant, and a lodge house. It would all dry up and blow away but for the river. Behind the lodge house there's a bar and I never caught its name. It's a locals' watering hole, as far as I can tell, for that's all we encountered during our late night incursions. Admitted, we were there well after the out-of-towners, the sports, had retired to their beds.

The tricos come off early, you know.

In the heart of the place, there's Headhunters. It's the smallest of Craig's three fly shops, but it projects a funky vibe and an energy that's infectious. Good people. It also served as my communications central. My friend Jess McGlothlin had clued me in. "Cell service is sketchy but you can get it in spots... sit on the white bench on the porch and you're good to go." Thanks, Jess!

Further north (way further north - British Columbia north), Elk River Guiding Company owner Paul Samycia keeps a healthy fly supply in the truck as we head out to chase some cutthroat and bulls.

And why wouldn't you keep a truck full of flies with waters like these around? My buddy Mac tests Wigwam's shoreline structure amid the splendor of freestone and fir.

The week-and-a-little kicking around British Columbia, Alberta, and Montana was a blast, due in large part to the company of good folk. Left to right: Jay, Chad, Todd, Mac, and Chris. Thanks, boys, for a fine adventure.

Closer to home, the hummingbirds swarmed everywhere. I had a ball trying to capture their kamikaze antics and twittering attacks. I nicked a number of shots that were technically better, but this image speaks to me best of the attitude of these pugnacious little buzzbombs. Aerial warfare.

Finally, on a sad note, we judged our neighborhood's annual sunflower contest on Sunday. The finale (a day in which we, as a group, wander from house to house where we measure every entry and, more importantly, take pause for a bit of "refreshment" at each stop) is normally held in July, when the sunflowers are at their peak. But schedules and weather pushed it late into August and the contestants were worse for the late summer wear. Drooping and pitiful. The flowers were bad too.

Our sunflowers never really got started as I was in charge of the garden during Mary's June/July recuperation from hip surgery (and you know who wears the green thumb around here). Between the bugs, the birds, and the benign neglect, they hadn't a chance.

Rich and Sheila's were also a no-show, but they were more creative in their non-entry.

What is a Photo Bin?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Glacier National Park

If Nikon or Canon (or anyone else, for that matter) could effectively replicate the transformative filter that exists between our eyes and our brains, they’d sweep the photography market.

Glacier National Park was stunning, but the lingering haze from summer fires on Montana's western slopes, as well as in nearby British Columbia, proved too much for the cameras. My mind’s eye was able to discount the obscurity, assimilate and enhance the distant saw-toothed shadows, and knit together an image that told the story of grand expanses, jagged mountains, and the untold millennia of slow glacial craftsmanship. The SLR, however, got lost in the smoke.

So while what came home on the SD cards was terribly disappointing, I'll still offer a handful of shots in the hopes that your eye/brain interface, and your imagination, can cobble together a suitable impression for yourself. Some day I'll return to bluebird skies and unlimited visibility, peel away the filters, and be truly engulfed by Glacier's spectacle.

And on that day, once again, I suspect that the cameras will struggle to keep up.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Directions For Use

Don’t aim directly at him at first. Point the spray about fifteen feet out and three off the ground, between you and the bear, so if he comes he has to come through the cloud.

Having the bear spray on my belt makes me feel badass, but the bravado melts away quickly as Todd gives me tips on how to use it. I know that the chances of pulling the trigger are slim, but the fact that I’m carrying it at all is sobering.

You’ve got seven seconds worth of spray, but don’t blow it all in one blast. Shoot two or three seconds, then pause.

That’s assuming, of course, that I can get the canister off my hip and flip free the safety while ol’e griz is sizing me up. Assuming I can move at all. I idly wonder how bears might react to the smell of freshly soiled shorts, but decide not to ask.

After that first blast, watch the bear, then the cloud. Be ready to adjust for wind or any other atmospheric conditions before spraying again.

So let me get this straight. Strategically position the first blast. Precisely time the duration of each dispersal. Monitor and assess the large, threatening carnivore’s reactions and the meteorological movements of the gaseous deployed deterrent and adjust application in equally measured portions according to these varying factors.

Forget it. I’m just gonna spray Todd and run like hell.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Road to Craig

Friday, August 22, 2014

North Fork of the Blackfoot, MT

Note: Look for more upcoming content related to our ten days of wandering around British Columbia, Alberta, and Montana at Hatch Magazine.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Communications Breakdown

“Let’s meet back here at 9:00, just before dark,” Todd shouted over his shoulder as he dropped onto the path at the end of the backcountry bridge and disappeared down Wigwam. Mac and I followed, but turned upstream instead. The sun still sat high overhead so we had plenty of time before rendezvous.

But after a mile or so of fast, skinny riffles with scant holding water, we threw in the towel, found an old wildlife trail perched above the river, and bushwhacked our way back to the bridge. A hot day, by Canadian standards, we dropped the waders and penguined our way around the truck for a while; had a bite, a beer, and a quick nap, then tried to decide what to do next. There were still a few hours before Todd was expected.

“Let’s take Todd's truck and drive down that old service road to the turnout just above the canyon floor,” Mac suggested. “Shouldn’t take more than a half-hour to get there. We can fish that switchback for an hour or so and get back here by 9:00”

Seemed a good idea, but...

“What if Todd comes back early?” I wasn’t quite sure how he’d react to find that we’d left him stranded in the British Columbian outback.

Mac thought a minute, and then smiled. “I know. We can leave a note on the windshield.”

Now I’d heard, and gone along with, some pretty hairbrained ideas over the previous several days, but this took the cake. Really? Leave a note on the windshield?

“That’s the dumbest thing I've ever heard, Mac, and you know it.”

“It’s just gonna blow off when we turn on the wipers to clear the dust as we drive.”

--- o ---

Note: Look for more upcoming content related to our ten days of wandering around British Columbia, Alberta, and Montana at Hatch Magazine. Special thanks to the fine folks of Fernie, BC for their terrific hospitality. We sure had a blast.