Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Place


This past week, I attended Christmas Eve service in one of the grandest cathedrals in the country, Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian, on Michigan Avenue, downtown. I sat in the rear balcony and stared across the expanse as thirteen-hundred worshipers celebrated the birth of a child and must admit to being brought to tears at the opening strains of Silent Night in that magnificent space, lit only and entirely by small candles held by each member of the congregation. I am not a religious man, but consider myself a spiritual one, and I was moved by the wonder of the place.

On a similar night, thirteen years before, I sat in a small brick Episcopal church in old Raleigh. No pomp or grandeur, the aging congregation outnumbered by the modest choir. The pain of great loss still weighed heavy on my heart. From the humble pulpit a simple holiday message, the birth of new hope, was offered into the tiny, solemn space and I was deeply soothed by the quiet peace I felt there.

To close each year, I step gently into the waters of a particular gorge as the fog lifts and the sun begins to creep over the edge of the wide ravine behind me, illuminating the far rock wall in golden splendor. My heart, already enlivened by the solitary hike in, leaps from my body and soars into the pine rafters of that Nature’s sanctuary. Eyes closed, my face to the heavens, I soak in the majesty of our Mother’s temple and send skyward heartfelt prayers of thanks for the year past and hopes for the coming to whoever might be listening. The place, in return, fills me with joy.

Here’s hoping that you find your place - of wonder, of peace, of joy - in the coming new year. May it sooth your pains and give you life and happiness unbounded.

Thank you for reading.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Photo Bin - November 2015


In a forum far, far away, a group of outdoor bloggers are discussing the state of the medium. The spur for this deliberation was the question "Is blogging dead?" and the discourse has been lively. No consensus has been reached, but it's generally agreed that, at the very least, blogging has a pretty bad cold. The issue is not necessarily quality, but quantity. With a few exceptions, the rate at which folks are posting is dropping precipitously. Nowhere is there a better example of that than right here. Lots of excuses could be made, but there is no really good explanation.

And it occurs to me that, this year at least, these Photo Bins have been the barely-trickling life blood of this place. Without it, there'd have been long periods of nothing. The Bin keeps my feet to the fire, if even just monthly. Ironic, considering that this was just a throw-away post when first stared. That, and the obvious fact that I'm no photographer. But then it could be argued that I'm no writer either, so let's just get on with it.

This month marked the first anniversary of the passing of a dear neighbor and friend. At that time, honoring her request, we committed her ashes to the river down the hill, a place that she loved. In commemoration of that day and to keep her memory fresh in our minds, we gathered this month once again at the waters. The image above is of a few of the flowers that were sent to catch up with her, downstream, to where we will all follow, someday.


I chuckled at the unintentional placement of this Halloween image of hell after the previous solemn afterlife reference, but decided to leave it this way as it might very well be my downstream destination.

One of my favorite holiday events is the Bynum Bridge Pumpkin Walk, held each All Saints Day. The old quarter-mile Highway 15 span, now used only for nice afternoon strolls, is lined, end-to-end, with pumpkins carved in every conceivable manner. From simple kids' punch-outs to intricate works of art, the creations are great fun and it's a wonderful night out under the trick-or-treat stars.


You already know that I have a new toy. Been wanting another electric for many years now, but knew myself well enough to want a good one. Seemed a frivolous idea, given that I haven't played with any real seriousness for forty years.

But Fender pushed me over the cliff with the release of this quirky new limited edition double-cut Telecaster. I've thought for some time now that the Tele was what I needed, but couldn't get around its blocky look. (Yes, I'm that shallow.) The double cutaway swayed me and the absolute clincher was the ash blonde finish. I'm a sucker for blondes and have been ever since Lindsay Rosebrock's sweet wheat-colored Mustang, way back in my junior high days. That and Honey West.


There's no having a November picture post without at least one Autumn image. We had a run of spectacular sunsets, here on the ridge, and watching the evening sun spotlight a single, stubborn oak was magical. Shot off our back deck, this just illustrates how nice it is living out here.


Finally, an image not from this month, but one from November a-year-past that I stumbled upon the other day when looking for something else. I really miss this little guy so broke the rules to include it here.

I hope that the imminent holidays are wonderful for you and yours and that the coming year arrives with promise and hope. And with any luck, these blogging sniffles will clear up and maybe things will liven up around here. Who knows, there might even be some fishing.

If not, I guess that there's always the Photo Bins.


What is a Photo Bin?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

There's Always Rock 'n' Roll


Hate to tell you, but there's more to life than just fishin’. There's also rock 'n' roll.

It’s a familiar story. I was going to be a star. Got my start in a local band during the late sixties and early seventies. Rock covers, mostly, with a few heavy jams just for fun. I wasn’t the most competent of musicians, but volume and fuzz (with a modicum of wah-wah) can cover a host of technical inadequacies. Talent aside, I had the look. Long hair, hip-hugging jeans, a carefully cultivated aura of indifference. Most of all, I had the burning desire to stand up on stage and bathe the masses in power chords. Good times.

Too good. My pipe dreams, and the lifestyle that came with them, drowned out my first attempt at higher education like bad feedback. A degree in mathematics couldn’t hold an incense stick to Guitar Godliness so in three quick semesters I was out the university's back door, a coiled cord trailing behind me. No big loss. The only calculus I needed was the derivation of twelve bar progressions and integrations on the five positions of the minor pentatonic. Newton dug the blues.

But the band flamed out in a blaze of personality and the girlfriend became the wife, then the expectant mother of my child, at a pace that was truly terrifying. Adulthood reared its perverse, ugly head. The Strat and the stack were sacrificed on the alter of domesticity, pawned to pay tithe to the working stiff’s holy trinity; Carolina Power and Light, Southern Bell, and the blessed Piggly Wiggly.

Decades passed.

I must admit that I’ve not been completely fretless. Over the years I’ve been bestowed a pair of acoustics, a gift born of love and a bequeathment steeped in sorrow, and I cherish them each dearly for their origins. But I've played them sparingly, all this time, as I have always been more moved by their emotional resonance than their tonal. They've been strung with my heartstrings.

But for all of their unplugged joy, I’ve missed the hot smell of over-driven tubes and the crunch of Jensen paper. I’ve missed low action necks and sustain lasting for days. I’ve missed being coaxially tethered to enough raw power to rattle your bones and pop out your fillings and make your ears bleed. I’ve missed the noise.

So, last week, I wrote off getting that next couple of fly rods and new pair of waders to realize, instead, my neglected Fender fantasies. Beautiful things. Just the boogie-woogie kick in the pants I’ve been craving. Sure, my having this rig is like giving the keys to the Ferrari to Grandma, but goddamn it feels good. It's time to shake the house once again.

Have no fears, fly fishing is still my passion and I'll continue to write of it here for it holds a part of my soul and always will. But something older has retaken my gut and it won’t be set aside, ever again.

‘Cause, Son, even when the fish won't bite, there’s always rock ‘n' roll.

1972-ish

Monday, November 23, 2015

Protocol


We twisted the skiff into the cool morning mists and put it on plane towards Junkman’s Turn and the bridges. Charlie spun his Ranger the other way and headed up Beaver to see what he could find. Birds first, then, hopefully, bait underneath them. And stripers. They were out there somewhere.

Not knowing the protocol, I asked Troy when we should call Charlie in case we found fish. If we catch one?

No. Might be a stray. A single cruising. No need to call till we know more.

Two?

Probably not. Could just be a small fast moving pod. We don't want to bring him all the way here for nothing.

Three, then. Should we call if we catch three?

Hell no! If they’re bustin’, we ain’t wastin’ no time on the damn cell phone. We're fishin'!

Just so we're clear.


Friday, October 30, 2015

The Photo Bin - October 2015


The camera didn't get much use this month. Life gets in the way, sometimes. But over the last couple of days I've wandered out of the house and snapped a handful of images of the surrounding woods as Autumn begins to creep in. It'll change fast, to be sure, but I always like that early-season moment when sourwood oranges, dogwood reds, and hickory golds begin to emerge against the steadfast and stubborn oak green, lighting up the woods and dappling the forest floor in riotous color.

My favorite time of the year.





Note: Be sure to click on each image, hopefully giving you a larger and better resolved look at the details within.

What is a Photo Bin?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Just Two Casts Away


Excerpts from an Alaskan journal:

TSA Agent, with a straight face, as I entered the security queue with my travel rod case: "You don't have any guns in there, do you?" Really?

The biggest problem with carrying fly fishing gear on a plane is that you have to listen to everyone else's fish stories.

I'm toast, though the sun has not yet set. I've gained four hours, traveling west, and I feel the weight of them. Too long spent in seat 38B.

Far-flung trips seem unreal until I'm in the middle of them. Before departure there's always the questions. Will it really come off? What will it be like? Will I return from it? (Yes, I ask myself that sometimes.) Trips are a slice out of time, completely disconnected from the natural flow of my life, but they always teach me something new about it. Each trip has a lesson, though it often takes a while for it to be recognized.

First fish in Alaska, a robust rainbow, every bit of four inches long. Glad I came all this way. But hey, he jumped!

Black spruce, cottonwood, juniper, birch, scrub willow, alder. Fireweed, caribou moss, crowberries, salmonberries, wild blueberries. The colors of the tundra are scrumptious.

"They taste so good, it's like an angel pissed on your tongue." - Pete, on Tia's peanut butter concoctions

"Too early old, too late wise." - Grandpa Tex, via Pete, on nothing in particular

It's amazing to fish a stream full of brilliant red spawning sockeye, drifting beads through the schools, searching for the big rainbows and char that linger among them and gobble the roe. But the occasional salmon will go cannibal, take the egg, and they're a load to bring home; a guilty pleasure.

Thank God for Gore-Tex.

"You're just two casts away from the biggest trout of your life." - Bradley's mantra

Bent the 8wt all day long with silvers fresh from the salt, still fully loaded for their hundred-mile trek up the river, still bejeweled with sea lice along their broad chrome flanks. Charles said I caught fifty. He might have been right. I stopped counting at three.

Flannel sheets on an Alaskan morning. It's hard to get out of bed.

7wts with sinks, 6wts with floats. Streamers from all angles. My kind of fishing.

Our last day of fishing, done. The rain picked up as we arrived back at the lodge, washing the week clean. I'm ready to head home tomorrow. Hope the weather lets us out.

It did, with some reluctance.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Photo Bin - September 2015


You should have seen it coming. This month's photo bin could only be outtakes from Alaska for what else am I to do with the hundreds of images that came home with me? I'll go easy on you, though. Just a handful here. Odds and ends. The usual bin fare.

Scott will probably kill me for this, but the first image here from the Royal Coachman Lodge comes from the backyard. Not a glam shot of the lodge or slick advertising piece of scenery, but a view from the guts of the operation. Truth be told, when you're an hour away by float plane from the anything approaching civilization, there's nothing more reassuring than finding a well stocked and thoroughly outfitted workroom, capable of dealing with whatever the wilderness might throw at you.

Polished and comfortable rooms are nice (and the Coachman has that covered, have no worries), but having the right tools is priceless.


A quite different view of the place, nestled comfortably along the Nuyakuk River, taken as we circled before landing on our final day of fishing. I never tired of this vantage point.


An impressive moose skull and rack that adorns the front yard of the lodge, perfectly accentuated by thick morning mists on the Nuyakuk. These particular mists never gave way and kept us grounded the entirety of the day.


But the grounding had a silver lining, relegating us to the boats alone and to traveling a few miles downstream to visit some of the wildest and most beautiful rapids I've experienced. They were accessible this season only because of unusual and extreme low water conditions, providing a special opportunity to fish fast waters and eddies that had been untouched for years.


Fall arrived on the Tikchik during our week's stay, the colors of the tundra changing each and every day. I'm used to my autumnal brilliance arriving in the trees, so it's emergence from the ground was fascinating to see.


How's this for confidence? A sixty-inch tape in Cory's wader pocket. We never stretched it out, but not for lack of trying, and it was a constant reminder of the possibilities.


So, what do the guides do in the evenings? They retire to the barn to compare notes and shake off the day with a wicked game of darts. It's lively competition until the generator shuts down and sends everyone to bed. Some days that happens later than others.


In the absence of high speed internet, you must rely on lower tech for your immediate weather forecasts. A strategically placed stencil on the lodge's glass front door works just fine.


Another shot, here, of one of the out-of-the-way places that makes the lodge tick. The fare that comes out of this kitchen is mighty hard to beat.


And speaking of mighty hard to beat, so is this view off the front deck. Cory and Charles take a few minutes after diner and before the sun slips away for some late evening spey casting tips. Picking up a few grayling and rainbows in the process didn't hurt and the setting was spectacular.


One of the most important lessons I've learned from wife, Mary, is that while the panorama might be inspiring, so too are the little things. Take a moment to look at what's close at hand, to look down, and find the joy and beauty that's within your reach. You don't have to be in Alaska to be exhilarated.

But I must admit, it doesn't hurt.

What is a Photo Bin?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Bob's World


We spoke of many things.

We spoke of aging with vigor and with dignified acceptance of limitations. We spoke of how shadows on the stream are darker than their hosts. We spoke of brown water, both waded in and sipped on. We spoke of creativity and inspiration and the special disposition it takes to be a painter and a writer and a fly fishing guide.

We threw some mean darts.



There were many things that made my Alaskan adventure special, but foremost among them was time spent with my host, the unsinkable Bob White. Mary often wonders at my practice of charging off on far-flung fly fishing jaunts with folks that I’ve never met and I suppose that I understand her concern. But this was a no-brainer. Before I’d ever shaken his hand I felt a connection to the man. I’ve long admired his artwork, been inspired and entertained by his off-season social media quotes of the day, and appreciated a stimulating written correspondence over the past couple of years. I felt that I pretty well knew what I was getting into.

I was not disappointed.



So here’s to my Alaskan friend, guide, roommate, and fellow young pup. It was a pleasure to spend time on the water, in the lodge, and behind your amazing easel. Thanks for the invitation and the time shared in your special corner of the world. In Bob's world.

And I hope that we’ll get to speak of many more things as we travel down the road.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Framed by Wing and Float


We put down on Lake Aleknagik, glided into the beach, and unloaded our gear into the shuttles that would carry us back to Dillingham. The week at the Coachman was done. Our pilot, Steve, became our driver and offhandedly observed...

Now comes the dangerous part of our trip.

Yeah, I replied, statistically speaking we were safer in the air than we are on the road.

Not just that. Look at this van!

Funny that he felt less comfortable in a ten-year-old Dodge than he did in the sixty-year-old de Havilland. Funnier still, I did too.

When I told folks that I was going to Alaska they were understandably envious, but most hesitated when I described our daily routine, predicated on venturing out into the wilderness in small floatplanes. More than a few inquired of my life insurance.

But in his book, Top of the Flood: Halfway Through a Fly Fishing Life, my friend Tosh Brown sums it up nicely:

“I’ve never quite understood why some will readily strap themselves into a 300-ton aluminum firecracker and then balk when offered a ride in a small plane that actually makes aerodynamic sense.”

The argument didn’t sway many.

But it’s their loss for while the fishing was fantastic, the flying was better. We soared over forest and water and tundra and rock. We glided high in bluebird skies and crawled a scant three-hundred feet off the deck under impenetrable white ceilings. We watched from an unparalleled viewpoint as Fall found the Tikchik and painted the Togiak in autumnal brilliance. It was simply breathtaking and I’d have happily lain down my fly rods to ride the winds all day.

I took hundreds of pictures from the air but none do justice to the spectacle. Not a one. But I’ll try to show you, as best as I can, Fall’s arrival in Alaska, framed quite nicely by wing and float.







Thanks, Steve and Tor, for sharing your wings. It was a joy.

If this handful of images isn't enough, feel free to check out another dozen here, including some shots of the horse itself, the lovely de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver.

Note: Click on the images to see them in larger format. It's a step closer to the real thing, I suppose, but still pales...

Friday, September 18, 2015

Nobility


Are you taking pictures of dead fish?

Yes. Yes I am.

I am fascinated by the carnage that litters the Alaskan streamsides and can only imagine what it will look like in a month. The imperative that exists within these fish, to swim hundreds of miles to their birthplaces, to do their thing and then call it a life, amazes me. To see the swimming zombies, spent and deteriorating, flesh falling from their bones, but still fighting the currents to perpetuate their species, humbles me.

Do I have such courage, such commitment, such ragged nobility within me?

Do you?






Mike, you're weird.

Yes. Perhaps I am. But then you probably don't see them as I do.

Or do you?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Goin' Nowhere