Once In A Lifetime Is Enough

I don’t know what it is about showers but I get inspired when I’m naked.

Transitions are never easy. Some people adapt to change with difficulty. Others relish it and adapt like a duck to water. I like change only because I get bored. But when I find something I like, I completely geek out with it. Doesn’t matter if it is guns (I own only one currently but my list is growing everyday of Guns I Will Own), fly fishing (four fly rods, one that is bamboo three graphite: a two-piece Orvis which is a 5-weight and two Reddington–4-piece 4 weight and a 4-piece 8-weight that I bought specifically for fishing in Lake Michigan to chase after Salmon, in addition to my own fly-tying kit with all the various accouterments, fly-fishing vest, Gink, nippers, and zingers that would fill a Rubbermaid tub), I have built my own desktop PC, painted and sketched (thus a gazillion brushes, paints, easels, pencils of various hardness and softness, paper out the yin-yang)…**breathe in, breathe out**…so when I find something (or someone) I feel deeply about, I am all in-no holds barred passionate, and it takes a helluva lot of violence to get me to let go of my grip and just free-fall.

As I was saying, shower–inspired–naked….

Kenosha, Wisconsin is a city that has seen better days, I think. But it’s around 100k or so in population and is considered the northernmost suburb of Chicago even though Milwaukee is closer–55 miles versus 35, respectively). And if you do a little research you will find that Orson Welles, Don Ameche, Mark Ruffalo, and Al Molinaro (big Al from Happy Days in case you were wondering) were natives of the city. It is mostly a bedroom community now. American Motors used to have a plant there as well as Chrysler. You can read an interesting article about it here in Reuters in case you are interested. But they’re gone now and so Kenosha has become a distribution center for the likes of Amazon and Rustoleum. But there are some great pubs too like Captian Mike’s on the harbor and Uncle Mike’s by the I. Yep, they’re related. Kenosha’s one saving grace are its pubs.

But if you go back a couple of centuries, it was the trading center of the area and its product of exchange was the mighty beaver. And if I remember my facts correctly it all happened around the area known as the Pike River.

I knew nothing of this when I moved there in 2008. But I found out quickly when I heard that Salmon–both Chinook and Cohos–were roaming the deep expanse of Lake Michigan and would migrate into this little choke point of the Pike each Spring and Fall. Hell yeah! I’m am now a salmon fisherman! At least that is what I wanted to be. And why, you ask? Because that’s what I do; not at all unlike Tyrion Lannister, you know, drinking wine and knowing things? In addition to the other stuff I stick my hands in, I am also an armchair historian. My ex often quipped that I had a lot of useless information at my disposal (the obvious inference being…). So I needed to know. Now I am not pretentious, just insatiably curious–about everything. (I have also been accused of being reckless–wrecking ball was the exact term–but that is for another time). And nothing gets me more excited than chasing fish and finding out how they got there.

The King (Chinook) and Silver (Coho) are not native–obviously–but were introduced to counteract another invasive species and one thing lead to another and pow! you have a world-class fishery smack-dab in the Midwest. And as I mentioned earlier these gallant slabs of muscle made their pilgrimage into the tiny tributaries feeding this great lake every Spring and Fall.

It was one Fall in particular in which I noticed that my need to get a fly wet was not being met. And so, longingly, tenderly, I rigged up my rod with some flies I had been tying and threw it into the back of my venerable Isuzu Trooper. Fisherman are the most hopeful people in the entire world. Honestly I had been gazing at a certain stretch of the Pike on my way to a home I was remodeling when I noticed that there were several cars parked in a well-worn area. They were from Illinois but I could forgive them that. What interested me was that the Pike was a dirty river. And I was pretty sure that salmonids needed brisk oxygen-rich, relatively clean water to thrive. Then I also remembered, “Oh yeah, they’re salmon and it’s about sex right now. They are literally dying to get it on. So it doesn’t matter much where it happens as long as it happens.” Oh crap. I think that sounds like me. Projection….

I had to get to my job but made a silent oath to return. I did during my lunch break.

Up until that point, the only fish I had really chased after were trout and bass in my home waters of Missouri. The trout were hatchery raised and the bass were all brutish and really did nothing for me. I had never tussled with the likes of anything over a couple of pounds. Besides, I was salmon-dumb anyway. So, curiosity got the best of me and I stopped to throw a line in not really expecting anything. I walked down to a promising hole and prayed silently to the fishing gods, which in this case I think were probably Scandanavian…have you ever had a Kringle before? There’s a great place in Racine if you are in the neighborhood and want a yummy pastry. Good idea in case you get skunked–which is likely. Pastry and coffee are always a winning backup plan in these fickle waters.

I can remember casting my line a couple of times–roll cast was all I had room for–with a Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear tied on. Drifted fine, no drag–if anything the practice was good. But something peculiar happened. The fourth time through my line suddenly stopped.

Swearing under my breath at getting caught in a snag I lifted the rod up just to make sure. But it didn’t budge. Tried again but this time my line began to move and move and move. So I pulled, then lowered my rod tip and pulled some more now noting that my heart began to race a little when I realized that it kept moving in spite of my efforts. Then I felt it.

One of the main reasons I have fished so long was the connection I have felt at hook-up. It is that living, pulsing slab of pure energy fighting against my pull. It is that giddy smile, that quick look up from the fight wondering if anyone else felt what you did. And it is that adrenaline and endorphin rush which keeps asking for more. If anything, fishing is an insatiable soft-addiction of the most glorious kind. And here was my addiction buried in murky water moving quickly to a snag about 10 yards away from me and it appeared that it was gaining speed and indeed showed no signs of letting up anytime soon. And so our tug-of-war began.

I quickly began to recite in my head all of the articles I had read on landing big fish. Sadly nothing came at recall. My mind was blank. All I could feel was this behemoth on the end of my 6x tippet. (The struggle was real, dear reader. The struggle was real.) The beast could turn on a whim and move to another location in the pool. By this time–which felt like almost an hour but was in reality about two minutes–I had planned a way to beach the quarry if it…would…just…come…my…way.

I had held on thus far without any fatality and decided that I would gingerly try to exert a little pressure in the opposite direction of the fish’s travel. And so rather than fight against the fish I decided to vary my retrieve and move from my right side to my left side and quickly react whenever the fish would feel my plan and then react. I had to be at my peak, all my senses on alert and thereby gain control and conquer….!

Actually, that’s not what happened at all. I had had so much adrenaline rushing through me that the only thing I could think of was to hold on with one hand and grab my cell phone with the other and call my brother who lived in Montana and rub it in; That here I was, the Elder Brother, catching a fish of a lifetime, whilst he sputtered away on those puerile flows emanating from the Rocky Mountains.

Honest to God. It is exactly what I did–well not the last part. Just the first. I called him in mid-catch because I couldn’t just keep it to myself. The conversation lasted about 5 minutes because I didn’t know what else to do.

What kind of awkward conversation is that going to be and how do you end it?

“Hey. It’s me. Guess what? I have a fish on and it’s big.”

Silence. “Oh really?” More silence.

“Yeah. A salmon, I think.” And it is growing larger in poundage as we speak!

More silence….

“Well, gotta go now. I think I need to try to land this fish.”

“Okay. Talk to you later. Have fun.”

“Yeah, tell the kids I said hi. And we’ll see you soon, okay?”

“Okay.” Click

It is like getting caught with your pants down. What are you gonna do, really? So I was caught holding a twenty pound fish and a cell phone which weighed a couple of ounces. Such irony isn’t it when you stop for a moment.

Sadly, the closest I could come to landing the fish (which I later decided it was a Chinook because the Silvers don’t get that big and its coloring has been indelibly etched into my psyche as golden brown), which I later “estimated” it was around twenty pounds, was to drag it somewhat up to the small shoal where I was standing in the hopes of grabbing it. But at that last moment the knot gave way and it was lost all within about 18 inches of the soles of my feet. And there I stood in the absolute quiet of the moment, heart racing, head pounding, cursing and yet beaming because I had just touched something at the apex of its existence at the threshold of death. And in that moment, which would never come again, I touched something in myself which was enough to get me through the next several years that I lived there.

It is remarkable to me that we can be so close to things that are living and both dying at the same time.

I fished that run several times after but never caught anything else. I even fished the Lake itself and was into several fish there. Brought one home and smoked it, thankful for the gift of its life and providing for my family. But never like that first one I encountered. And yet I think it was good that I never did.

I am in Montana now. And I dream of the Bitterroots off to the west and Sapphires out east.Tonight they are shrouded in clouds and I sit here in this Valley dreaming again and I remembered that Fall where I felt out of place in a new city trying to scratch out something which resembled a life and ultimately feeling like a failure after the marriage ended. I remembered the pain today again but I was thankful for that moment on the Pike where I felt alive–even if it was so, so brief. I was thankful for the life that my ex and I had built and the children which came through our union. I remember some happy times.

And here I am, this transient being, caught between two worlds. Once in a lifetime is enough.

The First Time

**Author’s note:  A republish. Busy updating this blog site. Enjoy!

I started this endeavor–you know fly fishing–almost 20 years ago. My dad got it all started when I was little. My brother and I went a lot–we cut out of work several times to hit a small, beautiful stream in Missouri where we grew up. I also married a beautiful woman from Montana. I also watched A River Runs Through It too many times to count. But I guess the clincher was the fish itself.

Like Norman MacLean, the Montana of my youth was a mystical place. As a family we would travel to Glacier Park and camp and picnic. The clear streams flowing from the mountainsides were teeming with life. My first rig was a stick, some line, and a gold hook. One of my cousins said to me, “Just throw your line in the water. You’ll catch something.” I’m not sure if he realized what he was saying to me.

After a couple of minutes I did indeed have something. I caught a glorious little Cutthroat and I was caught myself with the magic and beauty of that fish. My mom took a Polaroid of my smiling, toothless, six-year-old face. From that point on I have loved fishing–especially for trout.

Thoreau wrote, “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” I partly agree, but I’m not a Transcendentalist. I do go fishing to catch fish, and more importantly big fish, but I also enjoy the beauty of the surroundings: the quiet of a pool, the chatter and singing of birds, the take of a trout on a dry. There’s something immersive about the experience. In that way it does transcend reality and I’m thankful for it.

For the last few years I’ve been learning and practicing my dead-drifting technique. Never was I aware of the vast amounts of information regarding the various disciplines. I don’t think I could go out on the water and point to a fisherman and say, “Oh, that’s theLeisenring Lift.” Rather, “Hey, that’s a cool technique. I wonder if I could catch more fish that way.” And that leads to questions and sometimes conversations and pretty soon it leads to shared stories and experiences. That’s the good of the sport. Most fisherman love to talk about their passion. I do. That’s why I’m writing of course. But I’ve also done it for a long time. Hopefully, some of my knowledge can be useful to others. I even have techniques that I like to use that others can benefit from as well. And I’m still learning. Especially in this area of the country, living on the shores of Lake Michigan. I’ve never gone after big fish before this. And I’ve had two encounters with Chromers. But I’ll write about that later.

Playing Hookey

*Author’s Note: This is a republish, well…because I enjoyed writing this. 


So, I don’t know if that term is even used anymore, but one day, when I was very young, my dad drug my brother and I out of school to take us fishing. It had never happened before, but I can say I was quite excited about the prospect of throwing caution to the wind. Although in hind sight, it wasn’t really a big deal to not go to school for one day. It seemed kind of clandestine, though. Who was I to say no to my own delinquency?

Neosho is home to a national fish hatchery. Trout snobs, counting myself among those elites, hate hatchery fish. They have been a boon to the Department of Interior’s plans to raise a lot of money. And Missouri has one of the best conservation departments as well. However, that is not what I am writing about. Anyway, that hatchery was where I saw trout for the first time outside of western Montana. They were rainbows and they were beautiful, even though they were not wild. For a quarter you could grab some Purina Trout Chow and create a feeding frenzy. Now what boy has never dreamed of throwing a line with a worm on it into so many fish? I did. Although, knowing my luck, if I had acted on that I would have been busted, thrown into juvenile detention, lived a life of crime, started a world war, or something. So, I was acquainted with trout at a very early age. And ever since, that majestic salmonid has maintained its mystery to me.

Trout live in beautiful places. We lived in a beautiful place. It was western Montana. Woods Bay, to be exact. Along with all my dad’s family. And there were mountains and trout. Lots and lots of trout and adventure. And it was one of the happiest times of my life.But when we moved from there back to the Midwest, I have to admit, that I didn’t necessarily feel that I fit in. So I kept looking for beautiful places to fish. In a way, I am glad I grew up in a small town. In spite of it’s stodgy and slow-moving change, you can’t really ask for a better place to live. Neosho has some beautiful springs and parks, It is a fertile place for wild hearts that refuse to be domesticated to suburban life You can still sit out on you front porch in your undies.

Southwest Missouri is also known for its state parks which cater to trout fisherman who don’t live in the West or even the East. There is Bennett, Montauk, and Roaring River. We live near Roaring River. It’s kinda roaring. It’s not really a river. But it’s fun. It’s history is really interesting. It’s nestled in a valley about 5 miles away from Cassville, MO, and there are lots and lots and lots of rainbow trout. RR was our destination. But I could have gone to a murky pond for all that. I was with my dad. And he had thought about me enough that he would drag me away from something necessary to answer this need for adventure which resides so deeply in little boys. But that’s because my dad had it too.

We rode in his ’72 Chevy. Don’t remember that we talked about much other than fish. I do remember glowing and feeling pretty amazed and excited all at the same time.The world was wider then. The sun seemed to burn more brightly. A sense of danger and risk. Boys crave that. Our world has changed. We have traded risk for domestication, the wild for the tame, dirty fingernails and torn blue jeans for smart devices, never realizing that we are dying on the inside. To borrow Thoreau, “lives of quiet desperation.” But not this day. My dad felt it important enough to put away his responsibility and answer his own deep need for the outdoors and to invite his sons into that journey. And I remember he looked for it a lot. Heaven help the man who forgets who he is on the inside and stops looking.

We fished all day. I think I caught one fish, quite by accident. I got more sun than fish. And it hurt. I was sore from the sunburn. But I remember the joy coming back home. Real, deep happiness. And I slept well that day. My dad smiled too.

A Long Time Coming

A couple of months ago, another life-changing event occurred in my life. I would like to say that it was the end of a series of really trying and difficult events that had wrapped up the last several years. It wasn’t. It was just one more. And in all likelihood it won’t be the last. But this one seems a little different.

If you’ve have followed my blog, or have taken the time to read some from my other site, Of Rain Falling From The Sky, you would be aware that a singular event occurred which has become the defining moment of my life currently–that is the end of a marriage of almost twenty years. For the last couple of years after, I have been retooling my life. Make no mistake it has been very hard. You get stripped bare. You lose almost everything–friends, identity, income, relationships. In my case I made debt and could put all of my belongings into an SUV.

For the longest time–in fact as far back as I can remember–I’ve wanted to live in Montana. My family lived there when I was but a wee lad of 6. It was Western Montana. Flathead Lake. Woods Bay, to be precise. I could drive you there today and show you the exact house that my father built and we lived in. In therapy (during my separation) I realized that that was the last truly and deeply happy memory I remember. Please don’t get me wrong on this, because I can see some eyes rolling and saying, “c’mon, the last happy memory?

A little clarification. Happy in a way I as a child could feel secure and safe. I was with all of my family; all of my dad’s brothers lived in Wood’s Bay as well as his father, and I had cousins as far as the eye could see. We fished. He hunted and fished. He had work. He felt alive–I know this through conversations my mother and I had after the divorce (there was also a twinge of regret in her for ever leaving that place). And as any adult will later realize, happy parents create the framework for a child to feel safe, and loved, and secure (and again, I know that it is far more nuanced than that. I’m not so naive as to believe that is all there is to a happy childhood. Good grief I know there is so much more! But that’s not the point of this  anyway–I’m not interested in developmental theory. Rather how I got to where I am at right now and why I am writing about it and subsequently sharing it with you, dear reader.) Montana was that place for me. And ever since we left, with me clutching an 8-track tape player my aunt Imogene gave to us, deep down in my toes I wanted to be back in the mountains.

I have often wondered why. I have often tried to get back. But the doors just seemed locked no matter how hard I knocked and tried to jimmy them open–figuratively speaking. I remember visiting one summer several years ago and sending out resumes. Nothing. No bites. It just wasn’t the right moment I guess. No matter. Fast forward forty years and I’m here now.

I landed in the Bitterroot Valley. It is far more beautiful than I ever realized. I had lived in the shadows of the Missions before. But this Valley. Something feels different this time. It feels like I have at long last come home. What I need hasn’t changed. It always seems like it is about money. But maybe that comes with some time. Remember reading a statistic somewhere that it takes, on average, about 5 years for a soul to become integrated in a locale and put down roots.

I have always been restless, looking for a place, I think. I have many who would say to me that’s just a desire for heaven. I am not so sure. When I look out across this Valley, or hike a local trail, or take a drive, I find myself smiling uncontrollably, or even laughing out loud. It’s like I am giddy somewhere. Maybe down into the depths of my soul or something. I can’t really put my finger on it. I just know it happens spontaneously. It feels like my restlessness has stopped. Or maybe it’s just my age catching up with my drive. It isn’t so ambiguous, really. It feels more like a terminus. This is it. This is the Place. I will die here and have my ashes spread out over these mountains. At least that is what I have told myself and a few others.

The men who helped to found this country were looking for something like that, the absolute liberty to be themselves, to create their own destiny, to keep some aloof potentate out of their pocket books. And Montana, as it has been written elsewhere, is the last best place. Taxes are pretty low. No sales tax. Property taxes are comparable to where I am from. Maybe a couple of tenths higher, not much though. Housing is expensive because, well, these wise Montanans realized when all the wingnuts from the West Coast and all the Beautiful People could make this into their back yard, it was a golden opportunity–not unlike the gold rush of the late 19th century. I know there are many Montana natives who ruefully look at these implants with a deep skepticism but more often than not, these wealthy individuals kinda help maintain a pretty poor economy. My brother mentioned to me in passing that the median income for the Valley was around $95K/year. So if that is opportunity, the Montanans seized upon it. Realtors are legion.

The gun laws here are very relaxed. And it isn’t because of a militia mentality. Rather, it’s because so few people live here and they would all rather be left alone to live their lives and there are still bears and mountain lions roaming around here. So respect that and I think you’ll do nicely. And for that reason alone, especially after the last several years of my life—hoo-ee, I am ready for that!

I am looking outside my window right now, drinking a lovely cup of locally roasted coffee. In the background I can see Kootenai Creek canyon. It is about 5 minutes away at the most. I have been planning a day trip up there for weeks. I’ll have my Tenkara rod and overnight pack along with my buddy River, the Golden Retriever. We’ll make a killing. And this is what I do in these long winter months. I dream.

I have been on the other side. I have been on the side of death when my rest wasn’t welcome, when I knew that in the morning Depression would be right beside my bed with it’s gangly fingers probing me, looking for the breaking point. Oh, how many days there were when I said death would be welcome! But the thing about this disease is that there is so much fear within it. Even though I wanted to die, the courage was not within me to pull the trigger and finish this. And I thank God for that. It has now given me perspective. I still have moments that are triggers for me. But I have learned to manage this far better than I can ever remember. And I have brought that perspective with me to this place. And This Is A Big Place. Those mountains out there are far, far older than my brief span of eighty years (if I am lucky–most Coleman men haven’t been past their sixtieth birthday). And they are beautiful and that beauty fills me, does something to mend the bones of my soul, and helps me to realized that God knew I needed this far more than I could’ve realized. I never want to lose sight of that. I never want to wake up and not smile when I see the sheer canyon walls of Blodgett and Mill Creek. Those peaks are rugged and wild and free and sentinels, their silent gaze stretching out over this valley floor with a strength and solidity that I need. Death will come for me someday but I am at peace with it finally. And coming to terms with that means I can live now. And that is certainly what I plan on doing no matter how difficult it may become.

It is still a transitional period for me, obviously. Some things aren’t exactly clear. You know housing and such things like that. It hasn’t gotten easier. My children are still 1500 miles away but there is joy here for me now and I welcome it. I often pray, “Lord, please. I would like to win just one today.” I can’t say that the tide has turned, as such. I haven’t won the lottery. My debt is still there, but I am chipping away at it. I still sleep fitfully, sometimes with a lot of anxiety about tomorrow, but I am beginning to believe that it will be okay, that the struggle will be worth it–and whatever other tripe I can conjure up at the moment.

I love this place. And if I listen softly and calm the noise of my own head for a moment, I can hear the rush and wild tumult of Kootenai calling to me. And I know that in a couple of months my line will be wet and I’ll be holding something truly wild in my hands caught on a fly of my own making in a state that is as rugged as I want to be.

[And here is the shameless plug]

Come follow what I am doing. I am going to write way more. I am going to think and share. And I want you with me. I want you to share, even though it may be vicarious at the moment, what I see and feel. Some of it will be like this. Some of it will be fishing stuff. Most of it just my musings. That’s my agenda.

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Piscatorial Pursuits, Brad Pitt, and the Meaning of Life

I haven’t been able to go fishing as often as I have liked to recently. My life is still in a transition of sorts.

It has been two years of transition for me, actually. I think I have been wary of thinking about any kind of permanency anywhere. My brother lives in Montana and I thought about moving there because the mountains still call to me. But I decided against that. I don’t really know why. Don’t think I had a set of criteria. I definitely had a lack of money. And I was stranded in Missouri. My car broke down too. Being strapped for cash effects your ability to do much.

So circumstances kept me in the Show-Me-State. And I kept fumbling around so it took me about a year to become a resident here. Still not sure how I feel about that….

So, back to fishing.

Early Spring seems a little schizophrenic. We have days in the 70s. We have days where it barely rises above 40. Sometimes we get a freak storm that dumps a lot a wet heavy snow in a short amount of time. I can remember right around my ex’s birthday–early March–when we had a foot of snow. I remember it because I took our daughter, who was almost two at the time, and poked her into a drift and took a picture. Her bright, happy personality lit up the picture like a daylily.

I took my retriever for a walk down by Hickory Creek and the morning air was chill but the sun was out and warming and the warmth gave me a little boldness and desire to get my fly rod out and head over to Roaring River State Park to get my line wet. The drive lasts about an hour and it was 8:30 a.m. on a lazy Saturday and I had an itch so I scratched it.

The sun continued to rise and warm the landscape and all around Spring was gallantly marching onward in spite of the chilly beginning to the day. I had a full cup of hot coffee and enjoyed the ride.

The Park is located in a valley and there is this thrill every time I begin the descent. I have so much memory tied to this place. It’s like seeing a friend you love. Heart skips a beat. It’s a unique place. It has been around for a long time. Lots of families visit. Camp sites are okay as that goes, but it isn’t Montana. And that’s because nobody lives in Montana. And at certain times of the year there are too many people here. Today was one of those days.

I arrived at about 10:30–because I also needed to get a cinnamon roll fix from my favorite coffee bar–and my heart literally sunk when I saw how many pickup trucks and SUV’s were huddled around like people around a fire at the cleaning station. Apparently the entire state had the same idea that I had. But nothing was really going to deter me from this expedition. I had been around crowds fishing before. But I also had memories of opening-day horror stories of grown men fighting one another, fisherman casting their lines across thirty other guys and then snipping the lines then angrily walking off, children wailing, and all-around general mayhem. It wasn’t uncommon for fisherman to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder down here. Cabin fever and the beauty of trout do strange things to the psyche of the male species.

Fisherman of every stripe seem to find their way down here to chase after Oncorhynchus mykiss (any outdoor writer worth his salt needs to throw in a Latin phrase or two once in awhile). As I drove around looking for a parking spot I took note of the vehicles. Most were from out of state today, notably from Arkansas and Oklahoma. Maybe one or two I saw were from Illinois, but they are a different class of people altogether. Ran into their types in southern Wisconsin while chasing after spawning salmon. Saw a lot of really nice pickups. Saw a lot of crossover SUV’s. Saw a lot of guys decked out in full fishing regalia prancing around like peacocks in a mating ritual.

You have to understand something about men who chase trout. The general populace became aware of the glory of this piscatorial pursuit in the mid-90’s when Robert Redford produced the now iconic A River Runs Through It starring the young Brad Pitt–who grew up in Springfield, Missouri by the way. This movie, while tragically and deeply sad, was about fly fishing. And fly fishing, unless you had grown up watching The American Sportsman, listening to Bing Crosby, reading Zane Gray, or Gary LaFontaine’s treatise on caddis flies, or lived on the East Coast the sport itself was rather esoteric. And it’s practitioners liked it that way. Hell, fisherman don’t like giving away the location of their honey hole  and fly fishing back in the day, before the mid-90’s (I’m laughing as I write that), was like the last bastion of an elitist ivy-league fraternity, or some hush-hush secret society which had plans on taking over the world. I have to admit that I became quite snobbish about the whole affair myself.

I grew up fishing. My dad took us often. I had even done homage on some famous western Montana trout streams and lakes. I had paid my dues. But I also bought into the culture and donned my uniform and drank the Kool-Aide too. I geeked out so much that my ex thought I had married someone else and this woman had crazy exotic feathers from a ringneck pheasant…so many nights hunched over my tying vise snip-snipping thread and hackle, crafting my latest Trout-fooling-Frankenstein-ish creation. I ordered so many catalogs with all the paraphernalia, and drooled when the good people at Orvis released their latest stick of aerospace graphite. I remember the very day I bought my first pair of waders. I remember the day I bought my first fishing vest. And then I remembered the feeling that I had when after a couple of hours of practice I could cast my first-tightly-looped double-haul. It felt like graduation into the fraternity of fly-fisherman and my chest swelled with pride.

Twenty-something years later I reflect on those days when I return to the Park. I see men decked out, fly-fishing gadgets adorning their vests like Christmas tree ornaments, obviously neophyte as they flail away with their rods barely making any pause in their backcast. Or trying futilely to present to a rising trout with a roll cast. Then there are the posers–who I really love to ridicule–who drive up in their $40,000 vehicles, pull out their G. Loomis rods infused with titanium and crafted with 24k gold, and $500 dollar Sage waders.

I laugh now–when I was just such a fool back then–because I have had to streamline so much of how I live. I also know I am not planning a weeks-long excursion into the hinterland of the Alaskan wilderness where grizzly toss around errant fly-fisherman like a beach volleyball. No, my pursuits are much more minimalist. I have one pack. One fly-box, usually one rod, rigged and ready to go at a moments notice–it’s a nine-foot-long, four-weight. I nymph now, seldom fish a dry and think a lot. I practice the Leisenring-lift and high-stick. My approach to fishing is the same as my approach to life: I fish deep, where the fish live. I have a beater of a car–in fact, the last three cars I have owned have been under two-thousand dollars. (Holy hell!  Do you realize how much money that is?) So, I’m not that impressed that much by what people own or put on or prance around in. Mostly I just shake my head and turn the other way, especially when I see one of my redneck brethren wrack up twenty fish in one outing consistently using a rig they picked up from Wal-Mart.

Now, I am not a good fisherman. I don’t even think I qualify as average. My fish-count usually numbers in the two’s. And on an absolutely glorious day I’ll usually bring 6 to net. So, I’m not that good. But I think, I watch, I observe. And that’s what I’m good at. I notice a lot. I’m happiest when I can fool a particularly snobbish fish that teases me as my beaded prince gingerly floats by on a perfect dead-drift and that small-brained, lightning-fast, steamlined raparian beauty Oncorhynchus mykiss reaches for the morsel and the fight is on. The flash of pink and silver and green in the clear, bubbling current lightens my heart, causing endorphins to surge through my bloodstream and my heart races and feels this vibrantly alive animal. And as I touch its life through this gossamer tippet the transference of energy is complete.

The fight is always brief–maybe lasts a minute–but it is intense and satisfying. Slowly and tenderly the beauty is brought to net and released, returning to its position but I stay kneeling at stream-side. I’ve touched something alive and all muscled and lean. Not flabby and broken and searching like me. And I get back up searching all over again.




There is something strangely reassuring when I watch the sunrise.

This morning the air is chilly. Winter’s cold is still holding on. Frost is on the ground. The trees, while beginning to bud, still are barren and their naked fingers still remind me of a sleep not yet completed.

I’ve been standing outside for quite some time. Around me the birds are all in chorus bidding the sun to crest over the horizon. Even an owl has gotten into the act as his great bellowing “hoot” rings through the woods nearby. But the day is still quiet, still new, still full of promise, yet with a nagging doubt.  Although my coffee is getting cooler each second, I habitually take a sip and it’s the sunrise that grips me.

The sky’s infinite gradation, moving from vermilion to pale yellow, warms me, somehow. It’s sweet kiss upon me makes me smile. And no one is watching me smile. I’m standing outside alone, utterly alone. I could wish that I had ponderous and deep thoughts. I wish that Inspiration was standing right next to me with an envelope containing a theme that would forever alter the consciousness of humanity. Alas. I only have coffee and a few words and the lazy smell of a wood fire drifting into our valley.

The moment is fleeting. As quickly as the sky bloomed with color it has gone. A pale yellow crests and the sky becomes homogeneous. Yet there is still quiet. The distant trees are still a blur and shaded in pale blues and violets and a mist still hangs in the air and I can see the hoary glaze on last season’s grass. There is green. But it is in patches. It is vibrant and young and awakening. But it is patchy and sparse and its quest seems impossible.

Thus I am confronted with my “impossibility.” I am confronted with struggle and this crazy, tumultuous mini-season in the Ozarks between Winter and Spring. I am confronted with my own crazy, tumultuous mini-season of emotional dormancy and awakening health and vibrancy; a seeming dance between the halting steps of insanity and peace. Perhaps these are deep thoughts. Perhaps this is just trying to squeeze too much emotion and meaning out of a so tightly conceived space that there is nothing left in the sponge–not even a dampness. But I trundle on. This time I turn my back on the sunrise and return to my cabin.

I’ve tried to ponder deep subjects. I’ve tried to plumb the depths of my own emotional state, to understand my truth. I’ve driven on the road to discovering my deep and abiding passion, to find my one true purpose and had to often pull to the side to question the trip itself. I’ve often wondered–existentially speaking–whether we even are able to fully discern what that purpose is. I’ve often thought that really all we can do is just look for it. And I’ve often concluded, How can we even know? It seems that the conclusion that I keep arriving at is that the quest is in itself what is important. Really all we are making and carving and hammering out is our own space of self-expression and identity and in fact that the possibilities are as wide open as the vistas of the Plains of South Dakota. And that merely to strive is the fullest expression of our own humanity. That to not strive is to placate to the unseen forces of apathy, depression, and despair.

Those forces I will resist.

It is Spring.

What’s Trending In My Brain, Lately


via: http://www.streetartnews.net/2014/02/i-nobody-likes-me-new-mural-vancouver.html

Back after a hiatus. Feeling the need to write something down. Here are some things I am concerned about, with a little ranting thrown in for good measure…

–What in the world is wrong with the America of today? Why are there only bombastic narcissists and democratic socialists to choose from in this current cycle, and why has the crop been so horrible for so long? And why is this just like a soap opera?

–Why are relationships so damn hard? Why do I feel so unequipped to even have a good one? Why?

–Individual liberty is real. Enlightened reasoning is pretty cool. I need to read way more Locke and Hume and James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. To hell with Abe Lincoln! He ruined individual liberty.

–Look at the fruit and find the root. People always follow their “logic.” Authoritarian dogmas and schemas always produce authoritarian results and dupe the unwary into thinking that being part of a team is the best, best, best ever. Collecitivism works the same way.

–Emotion always seems to trump reason. People….

–Marty Robbins is pretty cool.

–Our brains are pliable. Your memories aren’t always that accurate. Therefore you can never really be sure that your assumptions always represent the “truth.” But you can most definitely be sure that they represent your own, personaized “truth” subject to whatever emotion or trauma you are currently experiencing.

–We like to think we are the masters of our own destinies but the truth is to really be free you have to a lot of hard work mentally and emotionally to escape the influences of your culture, in which case you can never really be free of them, in which case liberty isn’t really liberty. (I remember reading that somewhere…) To resist cultural trends and be independent is tantamount to resisting the force of a glacier.

–Starting over is very hard.

Well, that seems to be most of it.