2009 December

THE DAHLONEGA PROJECTS

Posted by | Fatherhood and venison jerkey | One Comment

My wife and I lived in Virginia from ’00 to ’04 while I was in grad school for poetry. By ’03 we were already two kids heavier and I had started my second summer as a one-man freelance construction business to help make ends meet. I built decks, patios, pergolas and sheds – none of which I had experience doing before I landed my first job. Well, OK, I did have some experience. I helped my dad carry lumber for the deck he built on our house when I was in 7th grade. And I did have a decent collection of his power tools that I had borrowed and not returned. Like they say, you’re an expert till someone proves you otherwise. Yep.

I never planned on starting this business. One of my professors asked if I could help do some repairs on their deck. I said yes, and one total rebuild, one pergola, two field-stone patios, a retaining wall, a summer and half a fall later – I was a bona fide craftsman, or a certified nut…you make the call. All I know is that as a grad student and dad with a young family, I was grateful for the chance to make a good buck. But I was also grateful for fertile ground to dig into for my writing. Later that fall semester (just weeks after September 11th) I had an assignment come up in one of my classes that required writing in a formal structure. What follows is a collection of poems, specifically cinquains, that I titled “The Dahlonega Projects” after the name of the street my professor lived on. There’s a bunch, but they’re a fast read.

THE ESTIMATE

Paper-
work that explains
the cost of the mess that
I’ll make in back of their house this
summer.

BUYING MATERIALS

Only
dead-straight lumber,
galvanized nails and screws,
eighty pound bags of concrete and
patience.

BLUEPRINT

Each line
must be as clean
and straight as the finished
product, and the numbers had best
add up.

A CLEAN WORKSPACE

Scrap wood,
sawdust, tools, screws,
extension cords—all have
minds of their own by the end of
the day.

COFFEE

Nothing
begins before
I’ve made a pot and drank
my mind and muscles full-up like
Popeye.

SUN-UP

Before
the world wakes from
dream-silence into day,
from coffee to a hammer, stars
hang on.

LEAVING FOR WORK

My wife
blows a silent
kiss from the back door, while
the baby is still an hour from
waking.

LUNCH BREAK

Brown bag
lunches can’t be
beat, especially when
she’s packed a love note with the ham
and cheese.

AN ASIDE ON CONSTRUCTION WORK

The act
of creating
a structure from nothing
but imagination and will:
power.

WORKING IN THE HEAT

Let sweat
drip from my nose,
run stinging into my
eyes, make my hands slick and my throat
dry out.

MEASURING TO 1/16th OF AN INCH

The gap
left from being
off by 1/16th is
the drip from the pricey faucet,
at night.

RIGHT TOOLS

Without
power tools I
might as well be at a
buffet with no plate, silverware,
or cash.

WOOD GRAIN

The wood
will tell you what
side of the board should be
facing up. Read the directions:
cup down.

HALF UP-FRONT

The thing
about making
a deposit that size
is that the first withdrawal is much
bigger.

VIBRATION

My hands
feel like they’re in
gloves made out of millions
of ants more hell bent to finish
than me.

LOCATION

If dogs
live where you work,
expect the back yard to
be a war zone, fully armed with
landmines.

WINDS OF CHANGE

Owners
will think of more
and more things that they wish
done, usually at breakfast or
sun-down.

NAILS vs. SCREWS

Construct
a line with just
any words and you get
a line. Build with guts you’ll be a
poet.

THE COLOR OF LEAVES

They would
generally
go unnoticed if not
for the persistence of the birds
singing.

SEPTEMBER 10th 2001

Planes from
Baltimore and
National mixed engine song
with classic rock. I’d look up for
‘copters.

SEPTEMBER 18th 2001

My saw
ripped into live
coverage, broadcasting that
we should go on living. The sky
was dead.

EXPECT LITTLE COOPERATION

Making
a living by
the hour can be done
if the Sun God decides he likes
your work.

POST HOLES

Six holes
one foot, two feet,
three feet, four feet deep through
roots as thick as my forearm, all
by hand.

LAYING OUT THE PATTERN

Field stone
resists being
fit together like tight
puzzle pieces, likes to have room
to breathe.

80 POUND BAGS

With no
place to put them
close to where I needed
them, I climbed roughly two hundred-
ten flights.

CLEAR VERTICAL GRAIN

Cut from
the heart of old
growth cedar, the wood begs
meditation, vision and a
sharp blade.

WISTERIA

Thirty
years of growth that
was cut away in a
few hours was just a trim for the
old boy.

HARRY MOTIVATES THE HELP

I would
work in any
heat from dawn till dusk just
to hear him ask you want a beer,
brother?

THERE WILL ALWAYS BE PROJECTS

As long
as there is light
in the mind of a home-
owner who believes revising
is fun.

SNOOZING GOOSE

Posted by | Fatherhood and venison jerkey, In the woods | 3 Comments

I should start out by saying that my dad and I have not had good luck when it comes to hunting geese together. We’ve largely been relegated to the January bonus season since most good hunting fields aren’t cut by the early (September) season and we’re usually in our treestands after whitetail during the regular (November) season. Needless to say, by the time we’re clear of our other outdoor past-times to get out in January, the birds have been shot at in enough through the fall that the only way they’re going to come into our field is if we we’re in town having breakfast. But I suppose that luck doesn’t have to be defined by whether you actually knock down birds, as as much as it does having an entire morning to talk, enjoy coffee from a thermos and some nice pipe tobacco and discuss the estimated time of departure for the flock of over 200 geese that overnight on a lake not a quarter-mile to the west. As I get older, I’ve come to value the latter definition of luck as much, if not more than the first. Well, this season my dad and I were determined to get out when the birds were still dumb and plentiful. I had an additional good-luck charm that I was bringing out too: one of my boys.

My middle child, Cam (I call him Hammy) turned 6 this past summer. He’d been talking about goose and deer hunting for the last two years and at 6 was already a more accomplished fisherman than I was at 13. One example: Father’s Day 2008, not yet 5 years old, he sat for 4 hours in a canoe casting for bass. That little sucker caught 5. I mean legitimately…casting a crankbait on his own, hooking up on his own, lifting the fish into the boat on his own. These weren’t dinks either. 12″ – 15″ the lot. I unhooked them, but hell, at that point he’d done all the work and I was ready to buy him his own Ranger boat. So, having turned 6 and having concluded that I could probably learn a thing or two by including him in the field this season, I suited him up for a morning amongst decoys.

I woke him up at 4:30 a.m Thanksgiving morning. His first comment: I didn’t know there was a time on the clock this early. Brilliant. He was into his long-johns and camo faster than scat. While he enjoyed a breakfast bar and some juice, I checked weather.com for the morning’s forecast. Cold. Clear. Wind barely above 5mph out of the SW. Not good for getting the birds off the water, but good for a comfortable first-time-out for Hammy. Dad arrived, all smiles for our new pint-size bird-dog. We loaded our gear in the truck and hit the road.

I’m always surprised and proud at how well Cam operates in situations where I think he might struggle a bit. Last winter he wanted to join the pee-wee wrestling program (another thing dad did that he wanted to do). I thought he’d have a tough time actually mixing it up with the other boys, but I planned on helping coach, so we gave it a try. He’s back at it again this year and loves it. This morning was another one of those times. Goose hunting requires that you set up your spread at least an hour before daylight. There’s no light an hour before daylight. None (read my post – ELEMENTS – to see how well I’ve handled the dark during hunting season growing up). So we gave Hammy a head-lamp. He started carrying decoys into the field like he’d done it his entire life. Game on.

By 6:30 we were set up. Dad and I had our layout blinds concealed as well as we could in a cut soy field. Hammy’s cover was a magnum goose shell- which fit him much better than it fit me when I used it the year prior. At sun-up, we were a few whispy clouds shy of a blue-bird sky. By 7:30 we had a couple sets of birds check us out and keep flapping. Cam did well. He sat as still as he could and enjoyed his breakfast bars and juice boxes. At 9:30, the faint sound of snoring drifted out from under the plastic shell of the giant goose.

The snoozing goose

Sensing no impending rush of birds anxious to light in our field, dad and I decided to start packing up. No wind. Blue sky and bright sun. A snoozing goose. No sense pushing our luck.

HOOKY

Posted by | On the water | 4 Comments

I love to fish. Early mornings. Late afternoon to dusk. Lake, stream, pond, puddle…I fish for whatever’s swimming. And there are days when I’m just as excited to catch sunfish on a micro-popper with my 3-weight fly rod as I am to set the hook on a smallmouth with a 6″ Texas-rigged rubber worm. Summer is my primary season to fish, since hunting for deer and geese has my Falls spoken for. But the truth is, if I can get out and fish, even once during the “off” season (using that term very loosely), it’s a great bonus.

There were times in my life that I’d have the luxury of spending entire days on the water. But, just like the shape of some streams change under the influence of current and time, my fishing opportunities too have changed. Kids, work, coaching, volunteer boards…no one season is long enough anymore, let alone a weekend or even a day. I am fortunate that my kids are getting to the age though where we can go fishing together rather than me taking them fishing – parents with kids that fish understand the huge distinction in that. But as for “me time” on the water – where I’m able to be as aggressive or slow as I’d like without having to maintain that extra level of kid-vigilance – my love for fishing, a certain personality trait I like to call “ingenuity” and a bit of good-luck has helped maintain a fruitful compromise.

The last two days I’ve been able to close my laptop at noon, announce that I’m heading out for a bit and then sneak off and play hooky from work for about an hour. I now have a co-worker-turned-fishing-partner as an accomplice who joins me too. It’s nice to have the comaraderie. We fore-go lunch. Eating is over-rated when you have a tremendous trout and fall salmon fishery not five minutes (or two miles as the crow flies) from work.

I say tremendous, not because it’s a blue-ribbon stream or because it winds it’s way through wild sweeping vistas – but rather, in spite of the sprawl of suburbia not fifty yards away, it might as well be fifty miles. I’m able to lose myself in the sound of the water, the reflection of the mid-day light on it’s roiling and determined surface. The gentle flight of my fly line finding it’s way silently above the flow. Heron, muskrat, squirrels, blue jays and cardinals busy with their day-to-day. Trees standing stark above the tangle of underbrush along the bank, waiting for winter. Waiting for the possibility of that electric shock when a trout picks my fly unceremoniously from some downward current off the near side of a boulder across and slightly downstream from where I’m standing.

For that brief time, that short respite from my desk and every other thing pulling me in every other direction, I get to breathe deep. I get to be a kid fishing away my summers. I get to recapture perspective and appreciation for what I’ve got. I get to be gone, gone, gone – even if it’s only two miles as the crow flies.