Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Photo Bin - December 2012

Another year ends. But don’t be lookin’ here for a “year in review” or a list of goals for the new one. I’ve come to the point in my life that I don’t spend too much time dwelling on what’s past or pondering what’s ahead. Now I simply strive to breath deeply of each day, knowing that what’s here and now is all that’s really promised. So looking back just a month is far enough, especially when I get to do it by flipping through my “pile” of pictures for these Photo Bin posts.

One of the joys of December, around here, is that the low hanging sun traces a daily arc, visible, sunrise to sunset, from our perch on the ridge through our large south-facing windows. We wake with it peeking through our toes and, if we wished to, could languish in bed and watch the distant ball of fire sweep the sky until it disappears in a blaze of color. The photo above gives you an idea of what we see.

Yeah, I know. More bare trees. What can I say?

A whimsical window of another sort. Snow on Christmas; not something this southern boy has seen often. We traveled Chicago-way to spend the holiday with the grandkids (and their parents, of course) and I caught the fine flurries through a front port window. I thought the nested frames needed a little twist and an odd crop. No, I had not been in the eggnog before I composed it. But shortly thereafter...

And speaking of windows, this little guy gave me his best pissed-off, WTF glare after beak-planting into ours. He was stunned enough to let me pick him up, smooth his ruffled feathers, and place him at the edge of the deck, but coherent enough to give me a nasty look after I did it. Serves him right for fighting with himself in my truck's side-view mirrors and pooping on the doors.

More bare trees. This lovely thing sits next to my sister-in-law's recently completed quarter-acre Indiana farm pond. We visited for an early Christmas gathering of Mary's family and, while there was no snow, it was foggy as the dickens. I caught the first fish taken from that pond, earlier this year. Though none were stocked, the pond suddenly came alive with bream; how they got there, a complete mystery. But no one's complaining and I'll now be spending some of my future warm-weather Hoosier visits with a 2wt in hand.

A little more of that light Chicago snowfall. I like this picture of the kids' neighborhood back courtyard for the way the angles of building, tree, and railing pull the eye around image. I am told real photographers consider such things in their work. Who knew?

Oh look. More bare trees.

Finally, inside, away from The Hawk, there's a mean game of pong-pong going on. (And yes, I do mean pong-pong.) Here's the grandson about to unleash his devastating no-look CB smash.

Take that, Grandma.

Well, that's it, 2012. Here's hopin' for a safe and Happy New Years to all, no matter how far ahead you wish to look.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Christmas Fire: The Gift

Finally, the end of this Christmas tale. All four parts may be seen at once, in order, here, for those who want to start from the beginning.

No one found Timmy that Christmas Eve. None of the searching men, worried women, or barking dogs. Even Dad’s ceaseless scour of the surrounding countryside went fruitless. Instead, the desperate search for Nate’s younger brother ended as many such searches do; with a soft bump on the back step and a child’s surprise at the fuss that ensues when he walks in the door. The boy’s return felt no less miraculous for of its simplicity.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Christmas Fire: The Search

Warning: This is the third post of a four part holiday tale. If you're just arriving, part one is here and part two is here. But if that's too much work, just wait. It will all be over soon.

“I don’t know what to do. There’s no time and there’s no money.”
“He asks for so little.”
“He’s growing up. It’s time he understood.”
“But he’s still just a boy.”
“I know, but he needs to learn that life’s hard here.”

The kitchen clock’s monotonous movement ticked through the house.

“Maybe I’ll make him a special batch of snickerdoodles. He loves them so.”

The wind rattled the bedroom pane.

“Yes. Yes, he does.”

Nate, upstairs, buried his head under the pillow, unable to eavesdrop any longer, and, after a long, long time, fell asleep.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Brief Intermission

Intermission, here, for A Christmas Fire. Since I've been overwhelming you with words, here's a visual break; shots taken from yesterday's cold and rainy day on Been-Sworn-To-Secrecy Creek with my buddies Ken, Bill, and, despite their absence in these pics, a shit-load of brook trout.

The lobby lights are flashing. Kindly return to your seats. Our holiday tale will resume shortly.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Christmas Fire: The Queen

Heads Up: This is the second piece of a four part holiday tale. If you haven't already, I'd recommend that you read Part One here. But then, don't let me tell you what to do.

Nate had been a fisherman since before he could remember. Dad had a small cane pole ready for him the day he could sit upright and for his fifth birthday he'd received a shiny new Shakespeare Wonderod. The fiberglass beauty became Nate’s constant companion and together they’d fished every trickle in the county. The Wonderod was shortened a few inches, courtesy of a tumble in Archers Pass when he was seven, but Dad had replaced the tip guide, making it as good as new. Nate reckoned he’d use it forever. That changed the day he found himself in Widow Harper’s tool shed.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Christmas Fire: The Burning

It looks odd hanging there above the graceful works of fly rod royalty. Above the rich caramel-hued Granger Register. Above the stunning blonde HL Leonard Catskill. Above works of bamboo art, though their soiled cork grips suggest they are more than just pretty things. Whatever their utility, they are lovely to look at. Yet there it sits, elevated to the place of honor. The place of significance. It can only be that it has a story.

It was two days 'till Christmas and colder than a teacher’s tit. At least that’s what Johnny Culver said in the coatroom, making Nate and all of the other 5th graders giggle hysterically and check over their shoulders to be sure Miss Anderson wasn’t within earshot. Nate’s little brother, Timmy, heard it too and laughed the loudest, though it was certain that he didn’t get the joke. But that lack of understanding didn't stop him from repeating it later in the lunchroom and earning Johnny another trip to Principle Dan’s office. Third time this week and it was only Tuesday. Nate wondered if such things were tracked. If so, Johnny was surely on school record pace. As Miss Anderson dragged him down the hallway, Johnny glared back and pointed his stubby finger at Timmy. Everyone knew what that meant. And while Nate felt powerless to stop it, he was inclined to look the other way when it happened.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Strip Trees

I'm tantalized by trees
This time of year
Disrobing to appreciative eyes
Standing stark against Carolina skies
The patterns of branches
Against breathtaking expanses
Light or dark
Inspire me to stretch the limits
In their depiction

I sincerely hope that they don't mind
A digital peek
And a Photoshop tweak
Or two

Monday, December 3, 2012

Fish Fry

So I’m wanderin’ through the local big box toy store (no, it's not one of my usual haunts, but with Christmas approaching grandfathers 'R' asked to do such things) and my trout senses start tingling. When you spend enough time straining to spot the shadowy shapes of submerged salmonids it becomes instinctive and subconscious, even when you're off the stream. Once a fly fisherman…

Anyway, my radar says there’s fish close by. I freeze in my tracks, get low, and silently survey the rows of colorful shelves while nearby shoppers move nervously towards the exits. I can't pick out the target and kick myself for not having my polarized glasses. But wait. Yes. There. Between the remote control monster trucks and the Wreck-it Ralph action figures. I see it. The Fish Fry.

I'm stunned. Random reactions run rampant through my cerebral cortex.

That’s SO wrong! Or is it?
It does introduce kids to fishing… maybe… but not catch and release.
A cut brown, brown ‘bo, rain brown, cutty rain brown? Hank would know.
Kid. That trout's only 7 inches! Did you check your local wildlife regs before you fried it?
Let me get this straight. A kit to play outdoors, indoors?
You can “Camp out in your room” when you turn fourteen, Junior. And then stay there 'till college.
Cookin' at the campsite” Hey! That’s MY shtick!

And then there’s…

No fire. I'm bummed. Doubly so when I realize that the pass-around flask of Jack isn't included either.

We'll fix that at the next stop.

Done 'R' I shopping.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Photo Bin - November 2012

I've gotten away, recently, from what I had envisioned my photo bins to be - a handful of images that find their way out of the camera during the month that have no particular post or story to associate with, but that somehow whisper "share me." They need not be technically strong (and given my photography skills, they usually aren't) but they do provide a little glimpse into what's going on around my world. Random remembrances, if you will.

So this month I get back to that concept with a half-dozen shots, starting with the colorful autumn image above from a day on the Elk River. Scenes like this are why I love fishing small trout streams in the fall. I've missed more than one gentle take while gazing at the breathtaking surroundings.

I've recently discussed my love of obscure images. It's true that many are intentional efforts to capture something unique, but quite often they begin as happy accidents - shots taken with incorrect settings or inadvertent trips of the shutter. The image above is the latter. I like the circular motion of this Smith River scene, light and leaves and water in a twirl, and it brings to mind that slow motion moment when the footing goes south and a thorough dunking is eminent.

All too familiar with that one.

Not much explanation needed here. It's the grandson's first sparkler experience and he's not looking quite sure about these things. But, as it should be with little boys (and, by extension, their grandpas as well), it doesn't take long before...

... the sparks fly.

Sometimes, though, a quiet play in the sand is just fine.

Finally, a nod to my favorite fishing buddy, though I have to admit he's a fair-weather angler. On the dark, cloudy days he fails to show and leaves me on my own. The wuss.

But I like having him around because he never outfishes me, he doesn't talk a blue streak, and he shrugs off my regular misteps. He'll occasionally spook a fish, but that's more my fault than his. He stays close but we've never crossed lines. He understands me.

Few do.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Fishin' Light

I regularly see guys on the trout stream who look like they’re moving in, who appear to have been tossed out of the house for going fishing one time too many, kicked to the curb with their worldly belongings, luggage and all, and they've toted everything to the water.

Backpacks that could attack Everest. Chest packs they can barely reach around, much less fish around. Fanny packs that would take a whole lot more fanny than mine to keep suspended. I shake my head.

But then, I’m a minimalist. I travel light, think light, fish light. I want less to carry, less to lose, less to hang fly line on. I don’t need four boxes with every trout pattern in six sizes and three colors. I don’t want five kinds of indicators, a ten-tall tippet stack, or gadgets and widgets and zingers out the whazoo. All that stuff just confuses me. Not that it takes too much to confuse me, mind you.

I just try to keep it stupid simple. I have enough complexity in my life without dragging it out to the stream with me. I fish because it gives me uncomplicated, quality time, so I do it with uncomplicated, quality stuff.

I load up my SmithFly 2X pouch with a 4x6 C&F box of flies, 5X and 6X tippet, a few spare leaders, some Gink and some Frog Fanny, a bit of wool, and a little shot. Maybe a Clif bar or two. Hang the hemos and the nippers and I’m good to go.

Fishin' light, unencumbered, leaving the luggage at home...

...and trying not to go fishing one time too many.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Price

Folks fish for lots of reasons. For escape. For sustenance. For sport. For companionship. For communion. We fished because the transition from 65 to 55 on NC421, approaching Boone from the east, is easily missed and enthusiastically enforced.

Troy had a ticket to fix.

My phone rang on Friday. “Hi. Whatcha doin’?” When Troy calls and asks this question, I generally skip the formalities and jump right to “Where, when, and what weight rod?

Watauga County. Monday. Chase some small stream trout. But we have to make a stop.” And the sad story from his last fishing trip west tumbled out. So, since he had to go pay the radar-wielding piper anyway, why not make something good come of it? Sandwich the unpleasantness between a morning on the Elk and an afternoon on the Watauga. Ease the pain.

Now, I make it a habit of avoiding courthouses (and we’ll just leave it at that for the time being) but I figured a close encounter with the seat of authority was a fair price to pay for a day on trout water.

I’m in…” I responded, as I usually do.

… but, while you pay the fine, I’m stayin’ in the truck.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Out of Focus

All Hallows' Eve on the Bridge

If you’ve been hanging around here for a while, you have come to realize that I have a penchant for obscure, out-of-focus images. They fascinate me.

Now, it could very well be that it’s a self-delusion mechanism, a way to rationalize the fact that I suck as a photographer, a way to excuse my shaky work, but I find a certain dreamy reality-warp in handheld shots taken in impossibly dim conditions. In their soft indistinction, they come closer to my perception of the shadowy scenes in front of my lens than any crystal-clear photo could ever hope to.

Moonrise Downriver

So these three shots are exactly how I remember this past Halloween on the old Bynum Bridge; an eight-hundred-foot, county bridge spanning my home Haw River, built in 1922 and closed to vehicular traffic since the turn of the century, replaced by the big, sterile four-lane 15-501 just a quarter-mile upstream. Each All Hallows' Eve, the Bynum span, now just a footpath, is decorated, end-to-end, along both railings, with jack-o-lanterns carved by the residents of the county; carvings of all kinds, created with every level of skill, and depicting an amazing variety of expression and perspective. Hundreds of orange globes enjoyed by hordes of folks, many in ghoulish garb, strolling the dark remote bridge, cooing over the creepy creations, and breathing deeply the aroma of lit candles, roasting pumpkin flesh, and rich river mist.

Upstream to the New Highway Bridge

It's a time and a place delightfully out of focus. And here, my friends, are the images to prove it.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Dry/Dropper Double

A brace of browns on a single cast.
The dry/dropper double.
More fish in one drift than this river has been known to surrender in an entire day.
At least to me.

Orange-bodied Madam X attractor on top.
Bead-head pheasant tail on bottom.
Both, apparently, looked good enough to eat.

Negotiating two trout at a time is “interesting”
and the first few moments, when you don’t know exactly what you’re dealing with,
downright weird.

Glad that one didn’t zig when the other zagged.
I’m not sure that the 6X between them
(or, more to the point, my scrungy knots)
could have taken it.

Not particularly big guys,
but do a ten-incher and an eight-incher, taken together, equal an eighteen?

Let’s pretend that they do.

Friday, November 2, 2012


You can have your blazing reds
Your canary yellows
Your tangerine oranges

Keep your hillsides of gaudy riot
Those brilliant shows of doomed defiance to the coming chill

Give me autumn's subtle shades
Its lingering green nod to summer past
Laced with mottled acquiescence to dreary days ahead

Give me peaceful transition
Substance, not flash
With just a hint of color
To keep it fun

That's all I need of Fall
And, in truth, of 'most everything else

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


He slips quietly into the water and gazes upstream. None of the nervous energy that permeates the opening moments of a typical outing is visible in his carriage. Quite the contrary, his shoulders slump with a grave weariness that resonates in the wispy mists that cling to the surrounding liquid surface, the numbing hush of distant whitewater, the dark edges of this secluded sanctuary.

It’s been difficult times.

He stands motionless, his soft stare remaining upward. He looks not for the dimples of rising trout or for the emergence of this morning’s hatch or for the locations of prime feeding lies. His focus, if there is focus at all, is much farther away. Beyond the cascade. Beyond the distant bend. Beyond his understanding, though he tries his hardest. He looks for an answer.

He looks for why.

After what seems an eternity he lowers his eyes and surveys the water close at hand. This trip was to be an escape from that which cannot be escaped, from the weight of it; an unconvincing capitulation to the harsh truth that the stream continues to flow despite his heart’s deepest certainty that all things should have stopped. He did.

But ingrained muscle memory eventually overcomes bone-deep inertia and he gently strips line onto the moving waters, a mossy green strand that drifts away behind him like sweet memories departing on the currents of time. With a quiet ease he retrieves these memories and sends them airborne, his subdued cadence imparting a graceful fluidity to his cast, a quality seldom experienced, before.

Remembrance swirls hypnotically around him in long, lazy loops. He surrenders to the rhythm, puts the weight aside, and lets his mind ride the soaring silk. He thinks of nothing more than the movement of arm and rod and line, the tumble of water, and the silent drift of a dainty wad of deer hair. He loses himself in the minutia. He forgets everything else…

…but for only a moment.

It’s a start.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Photo Bin - October 2012

The fall change is just getting started here in the North Carolina Piedmont so I loaded the long rods into my four-wheel-drive time machine and leapt a week into the future, seasonally speaking, by driving northward into southern Virginia for a day on the Smith River. The colors, and the day, were spectacular.

The Smith regularly kicks my ass but I keep going back, this time to explore a promising stretch of the tailwater that I'd seen but not fished. I'd tried to hit it this past summer, but a double-nymph-rig tangle of diabolic complexity on my opening cast and a surprise early dam release thwarted me before I could get a fly properly soaked.

This day, however, was more than I could have hoped for and I can't wait till the cascade of color finds its way to my neck of the woods.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Grow Gather Hunt Cook

I don't get excited, these days, about trips for the mail. Sure, it's a nice walk down the ridge, along the winding gravel road, but what typically awaits in our rural box is disappointing. Junk. Bills. Solicitations. If it wasn't for the exercise and the chance to listen to the birds, it wouldn't be worth it.

But not this week. This week I was looking for something. Something good.

I have had the great pleasure, these past couple years, to follow a captivating blog out of Australia - Rohan Anderson's wonderful Whole Larder Love. Now, to my great delight, he's published a book to accompany his online work that advocates and celebrates "the innate need for a relationship with nature through the soil, plants, water, and wildlife." It was delivered today.

There is a sense of satisfaction from getting your hands dirty, nurturing your food from seed, and enjoying something that nature has provided, while inevitably spending time outside in the elements to make it all happen. Our basic primeval needs can be satisfied with some time spent out in the fields, foraging in the forests, and hunting and fishing as our ancestors did. Our affluent, post-industrial-revolution society looks down its nose at this rugged lifestyle, preferring the conveniences the civilized world provides. I know which I prefer. - Rohan Anderson

Whole Larder Love, the book, is many things: cookbook, gardening primer, gear advisor, hunting and fishing journal, survival manual, education tool, father's gift to cherubic children. It's a dirt-to-table roadmap and a peek into the fascinating lifestyle of a gifted individual who's investing his soul into the pursuit of a simpler, healthier, more natural way to live.

And it's unbelievably beautiful. Roh's camerawork is as earthy and appealing as the natural lifestyle itself. It was this imagery that captured my attention two years ago and it continues to delight me today. If you're into that kind of thing, Whole Larder Love is a lovely addition to your coffee table, though that alone seems a terrible waste. It needs to be used.

So my mailbox trips have been rewarded and I'll dig deeply into this wonderful work in the coming days and weeks and years.

I just wonder what will motivate me to go down the hill tomorrow.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Salt Substitute

I leaned back for a moment, closed my eyes, and breathed deeply the
spicy bouquet of salt, sweat, and scorched cork.

That was going to be such a good opening line. It rolled around in my head the entire three hours that I followed Bill’s boat trailer taillights down Highway 70, east towards Cape Lookout. A good line, yes, but now I can’t use it. For while there was plenty of salt and a fair share of sweat, no reels were harmed in the making of this post. No drags were toasted. The albies were nowhere to be found.

I have to admit that my saltwater fishing experience is thin, but one thing that I’ve come to learn is that while you might hit our North Carolinian blue waters with a target species in mind, you often end up fishing for something else - fishing for whatever’s decided to show up. A salt substitute.

The redfish are not being cooperative? There are probably speckled trout running along those same grass lines. No cobia hanging around the buoys? You can bet there's bluefish chasing mullet in the surf just to the west. And if the autumn bait ball blitzes aren’t being driven by false albacore, then catching the Spanish mackerel that are creating the chaos is a mighty fine fallback.

We listened to the crackle of the radio, eavesdropping on the guides as they, too, searched for pods of the armor-plated torpedoes. And, in between the static they're-not-here-eithers, we crashed one feeding frenzy after another, putting deep bends in the 9wts, catching substitute mackerel and blues - that is, when we weren’t hastily tying on new clousers after our previous offerings had been shredded to the hook or sawed off at the 40lb mono. They're toothy buggers, you see.

So while we failed to truly test our Abels and Lamsons or to get reacquainted with our bright fluorescent backing, we did just fine with the stand-ins. We may have missed the albies, but, when you come right down to it, it’s the place and the company that typically makes the trip worthwhile anyway.

And for that there’s simply no substitute.

Note: That was Friday. Sunday, I hear, the albies were all over the place. What can you do?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Buck Sunday

Looked up from my desk a few moments ago to see five whitetail bucks wander across the ridge above the house, thirty or so yards from my window; a couple of nice eight-pointers in the entourage.

Look out ladies.

Fine way to start the morning.