2012 May

LET IT LANGUISH. I DON’T MUCH CARE.

Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments
No Gravatar

It was a typical Memorial Day weekend. Painting, yard work, porch-step repair, cleaning out the barn, some father-son-son fishing and, of course, walking with the kids and their youth lacrosse buds in the parade from the American Legion to the ceremony at Veterans Hill in Woodlawn Cemetery. The bells for our fallen, 21 gun salute and Taps bringing me to silent tears as they always do.

It was a hot weekend. Slow. Heavy. Thick. Hot.
Thankfully, we had the antidote.

BALANCE

Posted by | Fatherhood and venison jerkey, On the water | 12 Comments
No Gravatar

Cam Smythe was many years and many miles from his small-town childhood in the woods and water of Upstate NY. The quick smile, quiet confidence and thoughtful, inquisitive nature he had as a kid translated into a personality that put everyone around him at ease as an adult. Cam’s earliest memories were of fishing with his dad for early-summer bass from a canoe, calling geese from ground blinds tucked in late-season corn-stubble and toting a backpack full of Bowhunter, Field & Stream, Trout and Fly Rod & Reel to school for grade-school show-and-tell. They had stayed as sharp in his head as the first girl he kissed and the smell of the lilacs in her parent’s backyard. He had a mind that valued those details. They all mattered, even the fleeting ones.

His dad, a freelance writer and life-long outdoorsman, had always stressed the importance of good stewardship when it came to the land they hunted and the water they fished. Nature knows how to take care of itself, son. It has a way of finding its own balance. But when humans push the resource too hard – when they don’t respect the value of what they have – then nature needs good people to stand up for it.

Eventually, Cam’s fly fishing interests expanded to pretty much any species that swam in any of the lakes, ponds, rivers and streams that were within biking-distance of his parent’s house. With this new territory also came the realization of just how poorly people treated the water he was fishing. Trash. Worn, muddy trails and trampled brush. Fuel rainbows on the water’s surface. With each passing season, Cam internalized the value of his dad’s words more and more.

**

Four or five generations back, Cam had a great-grandmother who was full-blood Blackfoot Indian. His dad had told him how she lived up near Winnipeg after marrying a French Canadian, but that the Blackfoot Confederacy spanned from Alberta all the way south to the Yellowstone River. It was this land that the Blackfoot, Shoshone and other Native tribes ceded to the U.S. government with the understanding that they would retain hunting rights, which were eventually stripped away as well. In a way, this was Cam’s first introduction to the meaning of invasive species.

His dad’s gaze once fell on the Tetons, the Park’s southern sentinels, while on a trip west, driving north from Idaho Falls to fly fish the Henry’s Fork. He could feel Yellowstone’s pull in his soul, but never made it into the Park, even after being that close. Never got to see the immense expanses of open valleys and timbered slopes. Herds of elk, pronghorn and bison in their purposeful roaming. Never got to hold a native westslope cutthroat, perfect bronze-orange and flexing in his hand after falling for a hopper pattern. And with rainbows and lake trout steadily decimating cutthroat populations in the Yellowstone watershed since their introduction, it was likely that his father’s missed opportunity would be the fate of all anglers in due time. This weighed heavily on Cam.

Yellowstone was a place of myth and giant-ness to him. Even after 12 years of calling Ashton, Idaho home as a backcountry fishing and hunting guide, the Park was still almost unfathomable. It represented the original perfection of his country, its open spaces and wildlife, and the value of conserving those resources. It was where his quiet heroes, Native Americans and men like Jim Bridger, lived their simple, rugged and deliberate lives. Where the world existed in its gracious and unforgiving balance, and humankind fit where it was able. And where Trout Unlimited, the Yellowstone Park Foundation, Outdoor Blogger Network and others – his quiet heroes of today – work to raise awareness and restore some of that balance.

Cam had moved west for many reasons. From a very young age, he knew he’d head for big sky and big country to live his life according to his passion for hunting and fishing. Cam also knew that it was his responsibility to be one of the people that stand up for the environment and the wildlife, as his dad had said. He understood better than most the effect of invasive species and how they push native species into smaller and smaller areas until the natives and their resources simply disappear. While the genetics of his Native American roots had thinned through the generations, their spirit and the west were still very much in his blood. He was there to make a difference.

There was one other important reason at play though. Standing on the shore of Yellowstone Lake with his dad, looking out over the expanse of glass reflecting first light, he knew that it was going to be a perfect day for cutthroat on the fly. The first time since Cam had moved west that they were actually getting to fish for them in Yellowstone together. Cam watched his dad adjust his well-worn Simms ball-cap and smile over his last sip of coffee. Actually, it was already a perfect day.

This is my submission for the Trout UnlimitedSimmsYellowstone Park Foundation and Outdoor Blogger Network – Blogger Tour 2012 contest.

THE GIFT OF MEMORY

Posted by | Fatherhood and venison jerkey, On the water | 10 Comments
No Gravatar

My grandma Doris passed away in ’93. I was 19 and stationed in Erlangen Germany, but happened to be on a month-long mission in the UK closing a major ammunition storage facility when I got the Red Cross call.

The mortality of family isn’t something on the minds of most 19 year-olds, especially one that’s single and in Europe with a steady paycheck, three-squares and permission to drink. Our own mortality is a slightly different story though. I spent a lot of time running from myself and my small-town youth during my years in the service. Armed with a brand-new I don’t give a shit because I could die tomorrow and I’m bullet-proof anyhow military mentality, I chose instead to run headlong toward the glorious temptations of underaged freedom. The reality is that if I did die around that time, it would have more likely been from stupidity, than the result of anything war-related. I came close on more than one occasion, believe me.

I didn’t make it back in time for my grandma’s funeral. By the time I had caught a Space-A flight back to Germany, then another one back to the States, I had missed everything by a full day. I don’t have any recollection of the time I spent during that short visit home. Like most other memories from my break-neck young-adult life, they have been squirreled-away in some dusty corner of my mind, where they wait patiently for a sound, smell or other inadvertent prompt to call them forward. What has remained with me is the hollow and angry feeling I had from losing my grandma, and not being able to be there for my dad. He had lost his dad to Cancer when he was 19, and now his mom. It was my responsibility as his son to be there, to stand with him as people expressed their condolences, to have him put his arm around my shoulders and be strong and find a joke the way he and I do in order to laugh through tough times. Even now, typing this, I feel it still.

Shortly after this past Christmas, my dad had stopped by one morning to visit with the kids and catch up for a little while. As we walked out onto the porch when he was leaving, he turned and pulled some paper out of his pocket.

So, for a few years before your grandma died, she had bought you and your sister savings bonds…for birthdays and Christmas and such. I figured that it was a good time to give them to you – they’ve probably matured by now. I also figured I’d give them just to you, because these were from your grandma to you. Of course, she wanted you to use them to become a doctor…

We both smiled at that one.

I decided to have a custom, glass fly rod built. I approached Jordan Ross of JP Ross Rods, and over the course of the next few months we landed on a blank, wraps and host of other beautiful components that would eventually compose a one-of-a-kind 6’11’ small stream rod.

My grandma understood the importance and value of the outdoors to my dad, and by extension, me. My dad was a hell-raiser growing up, but he also grew up hunting, fishing, laying traps, and generally spending as much time out in nature as possible. As a kid, I loved the time he and I spent in the woods and on the water. There was nothing more precious and I learned a lot more about character and what it takes to be successful in life while in tree stands and standing on the shore of Canandaigua Lake than I could’ve possibly appreciated at that age. And now, with kids of my own whose souls are immersed in the outdoors, I’m witnessing first-hand the legacy of those lessons.

Part of the whole running from myself thing in the service was a total departure from my love for the outdoors. Germany, England, Missouri, Alabama, Georgia – not once did I pick up a fishing rod, bow or shotgun. Which makes my decision to have this rod built as a gift from my grandma seem even more fitting. Back in ’93 I was as far from my passions as I could get. But I’d like to think that she knew I’d find my way back — maybe even adding a little divine nudge here and there — and that I would appreciate a glass inheritance that I will share with my young’uns, like my dad did with me.

I took the rod out this past Tuesday for the first time. Effortless comes to mind when describing how it cast, but the word does not truly do it justice. It felt as though I looked at where I wanted to cast and the rod simply exhaled and placed my fly where it needed to be. I landed two browns that morning.

Thanks, gram…