Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Photo Bin - July 2012

Time again for another set of the odds-and-ends that populate my monthly Photo Bins. They may not be particularly artistic or captivating (or in focus) and they don't fit any particular post or story. They are simply disparate shots taken during the past month that speak to me in some way - often I can't say exactly why - and I feel like sharing them.

The image above, for example: the oddities that stand in the front window of a neighbor's small home, photographed last weekend during the annual neighborhood sunflower contest. (Robin's won at a mere ten-foot-eight-inches. A tough year for good sunflowers.)

Why does this picture captivate me? I haven't a clue. But it does.

This one, of course, makes a little more sense. My buddy Bill finishing off a nice double-haul. It would have been even better finished had a puppy drum eaten it, but if you fly fish only to catch something, you're misguided. Sometimes the rhythm of a nice cast is as good as it gets.

From the same day. What you don't see in this shot are the bazillion-dollar beach homes that flank this lovely old vestige of the intercoastal past. Back when the salty edges didn't mean polish and flash. I miss those days and this place reminds me that I do.

Tomatoes. Lots of tomatoes. The new garden is overwhelming us with its abundance. Especially of tomatoes. Tomatoes everywhere. Tomatoes.

This odd shot is here because it's the first interesting image (to me, at least) that I have captured with my cell phone. I'm not into the the whole Instagram scene - not that my not-so-smart phone could manage it if I were. I tend to use my phone as, well, a phone. Okay, I text a bit. But I liked this picture, taken at the local watering hole one late evening. I suspect that a few pints of Red Oak probably helped in its composition.

No explanation needed here. The clothesline off the back deck supports a lot more than laundry. Such things are a large part of why we love it here.

And finally. It's been a difficult year, 2012, as we struggle with loss. But occasionally we are reminded that life has two realities - one as joyful as the other is devastating. Obviously, I didn't press the shutter on this one. Mary did. I had my hands full.

Thanks for your indulgence. These Bins are fun for me, if for nothing more than the review of what I've been up to the past few weeks.  And I appreciate those of you who don't mind coming along.

Note: Yes, for those who noticed, the Photo Bin is usually just a trio of pictures that speak to me. But, this month, my quirky photo catalog was especially chatty. Hope you don't mind.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Running Dark

Where's 004? Where’s the goddamn waypoint?

Bill hunkered down behind the console windscreen, out of the stinging rain, and stabbed desperately at the Lowrance buttons, franticly popping up glowing GPS coordinates and relief maps and menus and who knows what in rapid succession, searching urgently for the tiny boat ramp icon as we skipped across the surface of the lake like a thrown stone. Into darkness.

Where's 004? Where's 004!?

I was of little help as I was forward, trying to reseat the flickering running light, holding tight to the rails and keeping a wary eye on the sporadically and spectacularly illuminated sky closing quickly behind us, chasing us off the water like some freakish Fourth-of-July display gone out of control. Someone had dropped a match in the skyrocket box and we were getting our asses out of there before it blew.

We’ve pushed a lot of limits, Bill and I, but we draw the line at lightning. This time, though, we'd drawn it a bit thin.

Notions of landlocked summer stripers busting bait balls at dusk had taken us to Kerr Lake, a couple hours north, braving the 50/50 chance of afternoon and evening thunderstorms that are a constant fact of life here in the South. We launched the boat into a spectacular 180-degree double rainbow, hoping it meant good luck for the evening, but several miles down the lake the sky went squirrely, sending us back from whence we came, in a hurry and in absolute darkness. A few technical challenges on our hasty retreat raised the adrenaline level just enough to make us feel truly alive.

And wishing to stay that way.

Bill ultimately sorted out the GPS and we found the unlit twenty-four-hour launch, though we did pass it by twice before my Petzel picked it out in the gloom. As is often the case, our return to safety coincided precisely with the clearing of the skies – a frustration, for sure, but we didn’t second-guess our decision to turn tail and run. That crackly stuff isn’t something to be trifled with.

Our gas level precluded a second trip down the lake so we trolled the creeks around the launch, pitching poppers at the banks and clousers at shadows on the fish-finder without much success. But midnight on the lake came still and cool, well worth the earlier trauma and lack of fish. The soft swish of fly rods in the dark, the gurgle of poppers in unseen waters, and the twinkle and smell of distant campfires soothed our jangled nerves and closed the evening quite nicely.

And we got to see one heck of a fireworks display, if just a little too close for comfort.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Day in the Life

"Honestly, at this point I think your blog exists largely to taunt those who still work for a living."

A comment prompted by my last post. Harsh. What the commenter doesn’t realize is that being retired is no day in the park.

Unless, of course, you want it to be.

I am often asked how I fill my day. My friends ask because they feel that I’ve abandoned them and desperately need to know that I'm bored shitless. Strangers are just curious how such a dashingly good-looking young man could deal with not having important and productive things to do.

How do I fill my day? It’s a good question and one that I often have a hard time answering. Mary simply says “He fishes,” but there’s more to it than that. At least I think there is.

So, today, I’ve decided to keep track. I’ve purposely picked today because there’s nothing special going on to falsely impress you; no place that I need to be. It’s just another everyday Monday.

At least I think it’s Monday. I have problems with the whole day-of-the-week thing because, typically, it doesn’t matter a whole hell of a lot.

Anyway, here goes.

5:25a – Wake (five minutes before the alarm goes off) and roll out of bed. I don’t get up this early every day, but it seems a good one to wander down to the river before the summer sun gets above the treeline. A quick bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios, a Mt. Dew, a half-hour on the computer, feed the dog, and out the door. No gathering of gear necessary. My homewater stuff stays out and ready.

Three hours wading the Haw, pitching assorted bugs under the overhanging trees, unproductively. Summer’s finally baked the river into submission and perhaps it’s time to look elsewhere until September when the bass begin to reanimate. But it’s a nice way to start the day, fish or no.

Return home and spend a couple of hours moving mulch to the north slope – whittling down the twelve-yard pile (the second one) that sits at the end of the gravel parking pad.

Crank the chainsaw and section a fifteen-foot white oak trunk to be split later. Four others remain, all harvested during the clearing of a neighbor’s paddock, but it’s gotten too hot to mess with them. They’ll still be there tomorrow.

Retire to the side porch, strip to the skin, and sit and watch the hummingbirds dive-bomb one another around the nectar feeder. Text some friends about fishing tomorrow, giving them the bad news about the absent Haw bass, while Carolina wrens, goldfinches, nuthatches, phoebes, and titmice struggle to supplant the family of piggish mourning doves on the safflower tray. An incoming red-bellied woodpecker scatters them all, like bowling pins - the thunder of the departing doves’ wings, deafening.

Hang my fishing gear to dry. Toss my soaked and dirty clothes into the wash. Shower.

Eat some lunch - a BBQ chicken leg from the night before, some strawberries, and three scoops of vanilla ice cream.

Clean my mess on the deck. Gear, tools. Notice some tarnish on my Orvis Power Jaws forceps and polish them with a little Bar Keeper’s Friend. Thought I’d paid too much for these things several years ago but they’ve been everywhere, fresh and salt, hung around my neck for countless hours, and have become a fishing touchstone for me.

Make some sweet ice tea.

Sit on the porch and read, William Gibson, ice tea by my side, until Mary returns home from a celebratory lunch with a friend. (Happy Birthday Joanne!) She’s followed shortly by our neighbor Robin, necessitating that I scramble and put on more than my boxer shorts and Sanuks. Damn.

The girls make fresh basil pesto. I pour more ice tea and let the ice melt while I take a nap. Mid-day naps are the single most wonderful thing that retirement allows. I snooze, interrupted occasionally by the whirr of the Cuisinart and warm-hearted laughter that drifts from the kitchen.

Mary and I wander down to the pond and float for an hour or so, socializing with what neighbors show up. The usual suspects generally arrive around 5:00 to wash away their workday in the cool, deep waters. Your neighborhood probably has a pool. This community has the pond.

Home again for another quick shower and to start some rice for dinner. The next hour is spent checking the local weather, coming and going between the laundry, stove, and computer, penning a post for the blog, playing with some pictures.

Dinner (black beans and rice, homegrown diced tomatoes with CSA onions, and a shot of Texas Pete) in front of the TV - which we watch entirely too much of. At least we avoid the commercials. DVRs are heaven-sent. The Newsroom (HBO’s fantastic new series, the first ten minutes of the pilot are not to be missed), The Finder (the final episode, cancelled, dammit), and White Collar. Mary thinks Neal’s scruffy beard is cute. The jury is still out on mine. Been out for years.

Load the dishes into the dishwasher, take the dog out one last time, a final cursory look at my email, and head for bed. The Tempur-Pedic feels perfect after such a long, rigorous day.

That, then, is how I spend a typical day. Not terribly exciting, eh? So, in response to the cruel accusation that I use this forum to taunt those who continue to work, who continue to keep our economy alive, who continue to lead active and productive lives, I have but one word.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Not something you see every day on a southeastern screen porch, Montana-brewed Moose Drool. But for some reason I don't feel much like writing about it this morning.

Go figure.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Building a Home

When, exactly, does a structure become a home?

When the COO is signed? No, that's just man's inane bureaucracy. When the furniture gets moved in? That's only ocupancy. When the first mortgage bill arrives? Please.

A structure becomes a home when it's opened to friends, when it's shared with those who will find their way back with regularity, when it's infused with light and life and laughter. It doesn't need walls or a roof or running water, though these will come in time. To be a home it just needs our spirit.

We helped build a home Saturday night.

Many years of happiness, Robin and Sam. That's what we wish for you. In this home, many years.

Friday, July 13, 2012

I Love the Smell of Naptha in the Morning

Pow! Pow!

He hit me, twice, in quick succession - once just under my left armpit and a second time, lower, on that little ridge of disappointing softness that rides just above the waistline – before falling out of my shirt to the ground where I unceremoniously dispatched him under the toe of my Keen.

It’s not the first time I’ve been hit this summer, nor will it be the last. It’s but a small part of the price one pays for spending life outside. And wasps are just the beginning. Caustic plant life, sun, and bugs bearing all manner of insidious irritation keep an outdoorsman harboring a constant itch of one sort or another. At least, out here, no one sees you scratch.

So you do what you can to prepare, prevent, and, if avoidance doesn’t work (and it seldom does), prescribe for the nagging little nasties that lie in the weeds. Even a diehard naturalist needs a little chemical weaponry now and again.

Because it’s a war out there. War.

Note: Too weird. As I am preparing to post this I receive my daily Fly Talk email from Field and Stream and, to my amazement, it's Kirk Deeter talkin' about Fels Naptha soap. Great minds...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Do a Little Homework

I like fishing with Bill. Damned if I know why. Together we can't catch shit.

Okay. That’s not entirely true. We’ve had our good days. But not recently. Not this year. This year, after every outing, we’ve come off the water exuding the unmistakable aura of polecat. Three trips. Three doses of putrid aroma therapy.

But the skunks don't tell the whole story.

Our first outing was an early spring foray up the local reservoir feeder to assess how the recent spring flooding had altered the waterway and if, perchance, the white bass had started their run. They hadn't.

Our next expedition was to some new waters, to further explore what appeared to be some fine carp flats, to see if 'dem golden bones liked the area as much as we did. They did, but we couldn't figure out, at the time, what they were eating.

Yesterday, we pointed the truck down east, towing the skiff south of Wilmington to check out and chart the spartina grassed edges of the intercoastal waterway. Redfish country.

Our timing was crap. The tides were falling as we arrived, sending the reds from the shallows, driving them into the channel so as not to be stranded in the lush, soft flats as they were sucked dry. We did get a couple of late shots at some tailing procrastinators, but, for the most part, we missed it.

Bad timing, yes, but, as the saying goes, the best time to fish is when you can, so we made the most of the day by motoring up the small creeks, pitching at the grass points and edges, and watching mothership-proportioned yachts cruise up and down the intercoastal. More importantly, we parked the skiff and walked the now dry flats, learning the bottoms and the patches and the edges of the soft, salty floodplains - looking at brown waterlines on spiky green stuff, nodding our heads and muttering to ourselves.

There's immense value to checking out the lay of the land when the water is low, whether it's the salt marshes, local river, or neighborhood pond. The fishing may be temporarily poor, but the knowledge you accumulate while exploring the exposed streambeds is golden when conditions recover.

Where are the dropoffs, undercuts and deep channels? What's the bottom composition? Is there hidden cover? You can scope out the best wading approaches and confirm where you'll float your hat if not careful. You can see what the fish see for a while and become a more effective angler in the process.

So be willing to hit the water when the conditions suck. Be willing to leave the prime lies and check out the gnarly channels for a while. Be willing to throw the weird stuff from the back of the fly box, just to see what happens. But mostly, be willing to sacrifice a day's catching for a day's learning.

Do a little homework. It'll pay off, big time, further down stream.

That's why I like fishing with Bill.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

In Phase

I wait for the full moon to get high overhead and light up the pond like a Wal-Mart parking lot.

It doesn’t cooperate.

Midnight. One-o’clock. Two. I wait. But it plays it cagey, hugs the tree line, spotlighting occasionally through gaps between the massive oaks, poplars, and hickories that ring this watery basin. Mostly, it lies low, completely hidden behind the dense summer canopy, poorly lighting my way only obliquely, reflecting off the thin clouds that drift dreamily across this deep hole in the forest. I might have known that it wouldn’t rise to a zenith, but, in my defense, it’s not every night I’m up at three to see, let alone observe it from a wet float tube seat, mid-pond.

John Gierach recently wrote, “The line between having a little adventure and making a mistake can be a thin one." But heat often makes fishermen do odd things and a string of triple-digit days can blur that adventure/mistake distinction like the shimmer of summer heat obscures the horizon of oncoming asphalt. Floating my local bass pond is nothing new. Doing it on the skinny side of midnight, perhaps a little adventurous. Doing it alone…

The quote teases from the back of my brain for a bit but then recedes, taking with it all thoughts of things existing beyond the meager reach of my aging night vision. I methodically kick my way around the dark edge of the eight-acre pond. Casting visibility approaches nil, so I strip thirty feet of fly line and attempt to maintain a similar buffer from the shore. I don’t always see where it lands, but if I keep my distances right, it’s in the zone. I’m moderately successful, having only to retrieve my popper from shoreline entanglements a handful of times. A few bass notice.

The silence is deafening - silence, that is, when silence is defined as the absence of the ragged din of man. Peepers of every pitch voice their joy, bullfrogs glug happily, and barred owls query insistently, demanding to know who has trespassed into their dark realm. No light is visible beyond that provided by the finicky moon, except for the occasional flash of fireflies at water’s edge – fanciful lighting that does little for the eyes but illuminates the soul magnificently.

The human world huddles inside, sleeps, awaiting the daylight to emerge again. My fellow man lies deep in the trough of his daily cycle. I am disconnected, alone, out of phase. Out of phase, that is, with man, but in perfect harmony with this place, in locked-step-synch with this lunar cycle, riding the peaked sine wave of this time.

It’s three in the morning and I am alive.

I am in phase.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Neighbors in the Pool

Higher on the ridge, maybe thirty yards above the house, we have a small man-made pond, put in place as an incubator for the local spotted salamander and peepers of all sorts. But when the heat rolls in, some of the larger neighbors take advantage. This morning, Mom and fawn took a dip while I got this fuzzy shot from the front porch.

Obviously, they were as interested in me as I was in them.