2011 March

MAKING SOMETHING OUT OF SOMETHING

Posted by | On the water | 12 Comments
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In this story, I catch no fish. Let’s just get that out of the way.

It’s not like I’m giving away the ending or anything. Actually, sitting in front on my laptop with a Genny Cream Ale tall boy trying to find my way into this story, hands still swollen from freezing in the river this morning, I’m realizing that there’s really nothing to give away. I know that good stories are rarely easy to write. They don’t always play fair. Sometimes I have to write myself into a point, if there is one at all. Knuckle up and fight for pennies, hoping they add up to a buck when the dust settles. But I also know, while 9 out of 10 experiences may be unremarkable, there’s always something there to write about. That’s what storytelling is about…making something out of that something.

So, back to the story.

The drive up to Lake Placid took almost an hour and a half longer than I anticipated. It might have been the trooper following me for almost 15 miles after I cruised through Harrisville a bit to speedily. It might have been the long, winding stretches of Route 3 double yellow-lined Adirondack scenery, and me three cars behind a sub-compact driving sub speed limit. No matter. By the time I pulled into the Lake Placid Price Chopper parking lot at 6 p.m. to pick up some groceries, I had one hour before Chris Williamson and the guys from the Tri-Lakes chapter of TU would be rolling film for the Fly Fishing Film Tour. With three sticks of beef jerky, three Cream Ale tall boys, one Gatorade and some Chips-Ahoy cookies, I headed for the Woodlake Motor Lodge to check in before the show.

The film tour, dubbed F3T, was my primary reason for making the trek north. But it doubled nicely as an excuse to explore some of the Ausable River’s West Branch the following morning. One detail that failed to cross my mind during pre-trip planning however, was that the land of The Miracle on Ice would still be as cold as it was. I finished a beer and a stick of jerky in the rustic comfort of my room, pushed the thoughts of a frigid morning in my waders to the back of my mind, turned up the thermostat and left to go watch some fish porn.

I knew that I’d be running into Alex Cerveniak (of 40 Rivers to Freedom fame) and his son at the event. We’d corresponded via chats and email a handful of times, but had never met “live.” I’ve enjoyed his blog for a while, so it was good to be able to actually shake hands with the guy–a greeting sadly lost in our culture of electronic communication. After donating my fair share of money to the TU guys in exchange for a pocket-full of raffle tickets, we settled into our seats to watch some ridiculously fortunate (and in a couple cases, slightly nuts) guys head to ridiculously prime locales and catch ridiculously large fish. And lots of them.

When the lights came up at the end of an evening of permit, redfish, bones, sailfish, snook, smallmouth bass, musky and mako sharks, three films stuck with me:
MOTIV Fishing’s ambitious 8,000 mile South American roadtrip documentary, GEOFISH
The Stand By Me-esque NZ back-country travels of The Waters of Greenstone from Gambit Stone
And the bloody-knuckle, salt-of-the-earth truth of Musky Country – Zero 2 Hero from Third Year Fly Fisher.
Don’t get me wrong, all of the films on tour were well produced, with stunning footage, action and product placement. But these three in particular told a story, and told it well. The pisser: tomorrow morning was still going to be cold.

At 6 a.m. the alarm went off. I reset it for 6:30. I figured I’d give the morning another half hour to warm up a little. About the time I was dressed, the miniature coffee pot finished brewing. Next to the miniature coffee pot were two neatly wrapped, plastic water cups. Not Styrofoam. Not even heavy paper cups with the little fold-out handles. Plastic. Undaunted, I decided I’d stop and get some gas station coffee on the way out to the river.

The village was asleep in the quiet gray of dawn. Mountains to the southeast were just putting on their yellow-orange. The temperature gauge on my rear-view mirror reported 9-degrees. About five miles out Route 86 I realized I still had no coffee. I should’ve taken it as a sign, but I’m not one to concede victory before I’ve suffered good and plenty, or my gear fails. And even then I still may not get the hint.

My time on the water lasted barely an hour. I waded step after deliberate step out to mid river, the bottom draped with 6″ – 8″ of slush. My wooly bugger froze before I finished my second false cast, whistling through the air and landing like a reasonably sized stone in the slack water I was after. By my second cast the diameter of my fly line had increased to roughly that of a boat rope. I waded back to the bank, spent ten minutes de-icing my rod and line, and another ten trying to get some sort of feeling back in my fingers. As my dad used to say when he’d put me in one of his Chinese toe holds during a living room wrestling match – if you’re done, say uncle. Uncle.

Needless to say, I discovered that the Downtown Diner in Lake Placid serves a mean two eggs over easy, patty sausage, homefries, white toast and pancakes on the side with coffee and OJ  for less than ten bucks. Add some good fish films, a couple new friends and jerky with Genny Cream Ale…I’d say there’s a little something there after all.

WE’RE VIKINGS, SUCKA

Posted by | Fatherhood and venison jerkey, In the woods, On the water | 10 Comments
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We dig Spring.

As a matter of fact this year we did a whole bunch of celebrating and out-of-door reveling the day before Spring arrived just so we’d be out of its way when it crawled out from the barn, the bushes, the flattened flowerbeds and walnut trees in the back yard in the cold light of dawn to stretch and yawn and give the kids a high-five when they get on the bus.

Our celebrating started with the annual phone call from my dad, the kids’ papa, informing them that the suckers are running…we’d better get to the creek. Into their boots faster than superheroes into tights, each kid ran to the barn to claim their weapon of choice: a salmon net, a smaller bass net, and a smaller still trout net. My youngest put to words what they all are thinking – let’s go get ’em.

They traipsed and tromped and terrorized as many slack pools and eddies they could reach from 3/4 boot-deep water, chasing those lake-run redhorse, managing to corner a small dumb male or egg-loaded and slow hen every now and again. The ruckus was just shy of enough to wake the dead. Which is a good thing since the 1/2 mile-or-so section of Sucker Brook they were pillaging, the same 1/2 mile-or-so section that I grew up pillaging and my dad the same, runs smack through the heart of Woodlawn Cemetery’s 77 acres. To this day, no residents have lodged any noise complaints.

Having had their fill of plundering, we headed to my wife’s parents, the kids’ Grammy and Grampy, to throw some fly line at the spring-fed pumphouse pond next to the first tee on the family’s golf course. The pond once held rainbows and browns, stocked years earlier, that ran opposite ends of this aquatic block like Crips and Bloods. Big gangsta trouts. 6 pounds easy. Some guy would be trying to tee-off and I’d hook up and the fish would leap and buck and run, my reel screaming, and the guy’s three buddies hollering holy shit! right in the middle of his back swing. Shank-ity shank shank. Enjoy your round, I’d holler and wave as they’d head the search party toward the rough.

The kids have no idea the pond holds no fish anymore, which is awesome because:
1) they stood like defiant little Vikings on the shore doing their damndest to get the line through a stiff headwind out onto the water where they were certain a fish the size of a Russian sub was going to inhale their fly and run for the 18th green, and
2) if one of those old gangsta trouts was to actually take their fly, I’d probably be swimming for the rod anyhow.
So, I had them practice first with no flies to get the feel of things and to keep them from impaling themselves, each other or me with #8 wooly buggers. It didn’t take long for their casts to find some semblance of a rhythm and the line started cooperating. They laughed at the headwinds, as Vikings are want to do. I tied on their flies and they went on their futile way, jaws set in a grimace-grin, to hunt for Red October.

But the wild rumpus was not complete without meeting their cousins for a trip to the sand pit out back of the golf course. A half-dozen kids leaping, over and over and over again from high crumbling ledges onto loose sand slopes, riding a minor avalanche 40 or so feet to the bottom, stopping only to empty their boots or shake handfuls of sand from their underwear.

Then we were on the hunt for sheds in the Locust groves that grow between the sand pit and the woods of Boughton Park. Following well run deer trails, they found old buck rubs and scrapes and droppings, any sheds by this time most-likely carried off by coyotes or rendered down by mice. Just before we left, tired and sandy and red-cheeked, ready to answer the call of hot-dogs and curly fries, we found a bleach-white fox skull, still holding its teeth. On the ride home, Cam asked first: dad, can I take it to school tomorrow?
Is a frog’s butt water-tight? I replied.
Nothing but laughs from the back seat. Spring is here.

FRONTIER

Posted by | In the woods, On the water | 2 Comments
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I’m tired of small spaces.

I’m not talking about my space at work…although I am definitely tired of that too. I’m talking about our woods and water. Our wild places. We’re losing them.

There’s no such thing as a little patch of heaven. Little patches of heaven suck. They are what’s left when sprawl corners us. They are the fall-back position when the value of natural resources on the open market outweigh the value of what our wild places stand for – our foundation, our history, our soul, our frontier gutsy-ness and awareness and appreciation that has been slowly, politically, culturally drained, educated and socialized out of us.

Here, in Upstate NY, the Finger Lakes specifically, our wild is being whittled into manageable tracts where people complain about deer emptying flowerbeds, or beaver dropping trees in parks, or bear moving into the region, and demand local and state government to do something, manage something, just as long as it doesn’t hurt the animals or stop the sale of custom homes on lots with breathtaking lake-views.

Our wilderness is shrinking. It always has been in some way shape or form. Lewis and Clark delivered Jefferson’s Indian Peace Medals up the Missouri. The railroads connected the coasts. The bayou’d south was drained and farmed. Every port deep enough to dock ships exhaled more of this country than they returned. But it’s shrinking faster now.

Here in New York, a practically bankrupt state government legislates its way into the pockets of hunters and fishermen only to spend the revenue on things other than conservation. The Shenandoah watershed struggles with commercial polluters. Montana, Idaho and Utah face less public access and the High and Wide industrial corridor. Bristol Bay sits in the shadow of the Pebble Mine. The list goes on.

How can business intelligence possibly be stronger than the intelligence of living by one’s hands and the land? How can suits beat boots?
How can our dollar suck, but still trump the value of keeping our wild places wild– trading away the purest, most character-defining piece of our American-ness becasue of corporate/economic/political desperation?

How?
Because we let it.

We don’t need patches of heaven. We need to fight for heaven in it’s entirety.