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.

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