November 24, 2010


Humans live through their myths and only endure their realities.
Robert Anton Wilson

Sometimes you have to look reality in the eye, and deny it.
Garrison Keillor

Reality is a quart of icy water in your waders. Deny that.

It was inevitable. Now, or...

Early one morning in a string of blazing hot days late last summer the decision was finally made. My aging waders, my beloved Simms Guides, were leaking. In both feet. In both legs and both feet (type 'both' often enough and it ceases to look like a word).

Not just leaking. It's more than 'just a leak' when I realize that I'm wet wading, in my waders, after ten minutes in the water. And I'm realizing this over, and over again.

Truth. And, looking back, I have to laugh. It was really becoming an arduous task to make the simplest wades; the extra weight of the river water that seemed to be (very quickly) insinuating itself into my once impervious waders was playing havoc with my already age-challenged balance, and the weight I carried back to the car, or as far as I could go before stopping to pull them off and dump them out, was more and more of a hassle for my increasingly age-challenged legs to haul around. Not to mention the pile of wet socks (that I could not for the life of me remember to grab) accumulating, stinking, in the back seat of my car.

So, after convincing myself that (in the long run) it was okay to miss a couple of days of fishing, I took a deep breath and stayed home, setting about the time consuming task of first drying, then finding, and finally patching (after proper assessment) a few 'minor' leaks I'd been 'enduring' through the previous month (or so) of fishing. Said leaks were not, at that point in time (the weather being what it was) anything I considered serious; yes, but all of a sudden it seemed there were more than a few. The cooler temperatures of autumn were silently stealing closer. A few days prior I'd 'come to' and realized that my policy of 'putting it off' was very soon to be in question. But, being the 'selectively' obsessive compulsive that I am, well, I somehow managed. I fished, and fished, and got wet, but kept fishing.

I'm not sure what the rest of the fly fishing fraternity considers the best and most 'proper' method of fixing leaky waders to be. That more than one of my 'fraternity brothers' would likely volunteer that my beloved, beholed waders should really find their way to the wader graveyard (a hanger in the basement), and I should 'move on' to a new pair is not lost on me, but, sorry guys, I'm not throwing in the towel without first attempting to save them.They mean that much to me. And these are the same guys, by the way, who show up every year with a brand new pair, mostly, I think, because they think it looks really cool (my take on that).

Maybe there's another, more efficient way of locating those pesky pinhole-sized holes, but for now I'm content with my process, thinking that I'm getting pretty damned good using my own time-tested technique. It's based less than loosely on the 'flying by the seat of your pants' theory.

First thing I did, on the morning of Day One was to actually get the waders out of my car and hang them up to dry; to actually get them totally dry. I hung them over a lawn chair on the patio in the shade, wondering how long it had been since they were last (1) out of the car, and (2) when they were last 'totally dry'. That's probably why it took so long for them to get totally dry (on the outside), even with afternoon temperatures reaching well into the nineties. Then, I turned them inside out and was shocked at the quantity of sand and tiny pebbles that had somehow collected in the feet (oh, that can't be good), and repeated the process.

By mid-morning of Day Two, I was busy (even worked up a pretty good sweat) with the whisk broom, making sure that any of the surfaces I might need to address were clean. It took a little longer than I thought it would. Upon turning them inside out I couldn't help but be more than a little surprised by how much sand kept falling out as I whisked. Amazing how far into the fabric those tiny grains of sand can get. When I took into account how long it had been since I'd done this, my initial surprise was replaced by a growing concern that procrastination may have irreparably damaged my beloved waders. The idea that I'd been walking around (for how long?) grinding those tiny pebbles and grains of sand into the bottoms of the feet made me cringe, and that shot adrenalin into my cleaning efforts. I thought of the princess, tossing fitfully, tormented by the peas under her mattress, with some chagrin, wondering why I hadn't been blessed with a comparable sensitivity, or, in this case, some common sense. But, after all, the fact of the matter, the overriding reason I expedited such a procrastinary move, as it always is for all things and not just the repair of waders, was because of the fishing, which very simply had been so good that I wasn't about to take a day or two much less three to fix anything unless the failure to do so had a direct ability to prevent me from being on, or in, the river.

But the piper now demanded compensation.

It is still Day Two. Noonish. High eighties already. My waders hang from a hastily-designed and constructed pair of wooden L-shaped stands, connected and supported by a piece of ash handrail. All the materials were easily available (thanks again, dad). I stand, poised with the garden hose; Sharpie and White Out pens ready in my back pocket. The plan is to gradually fill each leg with water, stopping often to search for any telltale signs of a leak. I italicize gradually for a reason. The first time I attempted a repair job it went badly. Ignorantly, I filled a leg, without stopping, right up to the knee. The droplets of water that did appear ran, acting on the request of gravity, quickly down, blending in with the ooze from other leaks closer to the foot. As a result, albeit getting the upper holes marked, I missed most of the more serious pinholes in the black foam of the bootie that were masked by the tiny rivulets from above, especially in the area of the heel; a sobering discovery made, of course, only after so confidently wading into the river.

It took quite awhile. I don't think I had more than a couple of inches of water in the right bootie when, and not surprisingly, I began to see dark areas appear, and there were several, some bleeding profusely. I marked them with the White Out, and proceeded upward, repeating the process. I worked my way up past the bootie onto the fabric of the leg, switching to the Sharpie, and didn't stop until I'd nearly reached the apex. Then the whole process was repeated on the left leg. It was close to four, and over ninety degrees when I finished this part.

Well, it was no wonder why I got wet so quickly. I couldn't help but wonder how I could have put so many holes in them. It was like I'd been hit by the shrapnel from an explosion. There were more than twenty tiny black and white circles when I finally satisfied myself that I had finished.

How utterly disconcerting!

Good thing I'd used some of my employee discount at the shop (before we shut down) on repair implements like tubes of goop and patch material. I actually do look down the road once in a while; just enough to keep me from wondering too often what it is that does run through my head most of the time.

There were several holes in the fabric just above the bootie that required some special care. They were rather large. I was going to have to actually apply a patch, and that entailed some dexterity as far as making doubly sure that there were no wrinkles or folds left in the patch as it dried.

One of the 'gushers' was the result of a slip during a descent to the river through a dense thicket bordered on the downhill side by an old barbed-wire fence. I'd navigated my way successfully through the thornberry bushes and then stepped clumsily over a decaying cottonwood log right into that fence. I knew it was a good sized puncture as soon as I entered the water. Damn.

Some of the others were wind-related. Casting in a crosswind with a heavily-weighted number two marabou leech can be risky, even when you think you know what you're doing. I was at my favorite spring creek early last spring casting down and across into a strong, freaky cross wind. I'd try to time my casts with the gusts, and of course got a little cocky. Next thing I knew I was staring down at my leech as it dangled in the wind from my left leg. I remember thinking that it would be wise to mark that spot immediately because I'd probably forget about it. That was sage advice. I forgot anyway, until my repair project came up, although my memory was jogged each and every time I went fishing until then.

The others were easily attended to by simply working a copious layer of Seam Grip into the area affected. I worked fast. I had to. The goop was almost drying on contact with the material because of the high afternoon temperatures, which dictated a flawless and rapid application and distribution of product.

By about seven o'clock that evening I was satisfied, and therefore done. The thermometer read eighty-nine. I adjusted the waders on my rack to keep the legs from coming into contact with each other. The patches would need at least twelve hours, preferably a full day, to completely set up and dry. Until then all I had to do was to for my sake be patient, which was going to be tough because I was eager to see how successful my mission was. I was hoping for nothing less than perfection. After all, winter is coming faster than I will still admit, and while I will be on the river then, it will be an even better experience if I'm dry.

I was heroic. The very model of discretion. I did not pull my waders off the rack until the afternoon of Day Three. After gingerly testing the patches with a finger, I turned my 'new' waders right side out and threw them in the now sockless car.

Test time. I remember the anticipation as I turned into the parking lot. For the very first time I can remember, fish were the secondary reason for this trip.
As I suited up, I decided to fish a spot where I had pretty easy access, not wanting to risk doing any further damage, at least not until I knew if I'd been effective in stopping all those leaks. Plus, it was perfectly calm, and I was rigged with a soft hackle. A small, lightly weighted soft hackle. Perfect.

The trail here is wide, pretty flat, and leaves me only a hundred feet or so of obstacle-free descent to the river. I'm careful as I go anyway.

It was a warm, clear evening. I stood on a round granite boulder and sized up the area. Directly in front of me was a fifteen foot wade into waist deep water that would take me out to a set of three rocks. Directly downstream is a shallow where the deflecting currents have deposited a ridge of sand and smaller rocks. This is my testing ground.

The shadows creep down the side of the hill across the river now. My watch tells me it's close to nine. Amazing how time flies right by when you're fishing.

And you're dry.

November 15, 2010


Bad weather always looks worse through a window.
Tom Lehrer

There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.
Aldous Huxley

Fall teeters on the edge...
I walk quickly over the fallen leaves, under and around bare trees and bushes. The river seems loud, whether it is because of the lack of acoustics or the increased flow is a toss-up. It is starkly visible as I go, in places where up until very recently I could barely hear though still not see it.

Dark days.

They string together monotonously, deceiving my sense of time, of perception; passing innocuously into each other without pause, leaving time behind, unrecorded, unremarkable, waiting, each day, for this, the slow, steady descent into winter.

I reach what is left of the rocky promontory where just a few weeks ago I ruled the seam curling away from the now submerged point. The river has tipped the scales again. Evened the playing field. Changed the game. Cooler, higher water. The character, the peculiarities, are now hidden beneath flows that will not reveal their secrets again until well into the summer of the coming year.

I wade in. Look for white rocks. Find viable purchase on the granite that was for months exposed to the sun, that has not yet acquired the slippery patina of microscopic growth. Waist deep is again a bit of a gamble. I took a fall, and then a swim here last December, simultaneously hooking a nice buck, slipping off a precarious perch, jamming my foot into a crack between two rocks and creasing my forehead on another as I fell, nearly losing consciousness for a moment. Figured I was in the water for about two minutes. I've heard stories about 'dry drowning', although I admit to not having faced up to the reality of it happening to me. Sobering thought. I tell myself I'm more cautious now, but I wonder. I know about the risk I take, but, even at this age, well, here I am. And by the same token, nothing ventured, nothing gained, even if it's just a memory. Besides, when the snows blanket the river's edges it will become that much more difficult. But, as I already know, that will quite simply make it more enticing. Something about just my tracks, about a tight line, and weight. Something about a lone figure profiled against the whiteness tight to a trout in the middle of a city living life for real.

The swing will be deep. And slow. The river is colder, and deeper. Its inhabitants move slowly, preserving resources. The take, should it occur, will be at the end of the swing, where my weighted soft hackle will dangle at the end of its arc, moving back and forth in the fluctuating hydraulic for several seconds before I begin a slow, methodical retrieve. I roll a short cast straight out into the flow, and mend, watching the end of my fly line. The arc completed, I wait several seconds before beginning my retrieve. Each cast carves an arc further from me. The rhythm is narcotic. Time passes, carrying my wandering thoughts surreptitiously downstream.

This is not the season for swinging flies. It is not the most efficient method. It would be to my advantage now, should I be so intent on hooking fish, to drift two, or maybe even three small weighted nymphs or chironomids, or a combination of the above, under an indicator. Lob the whole assortment upstream and watch it pass me in its drift, waiting to see my 'bobber' do its thing. I have fished this way, and have had success. I guess it's really a matter of the relativity of that success, though. The desire to go through the expansive task of first finding then affixing a certain set of weighted flies underneath an indicator that will be somehow (given the severe lack of casting room available anywhere on this river right now) be transported, usually by an ingenious cast of a hybrid nature upstream to land safely (without fouling) several times before either hooking a fish or, after a lengthy but frustrating trial being hauled out and completely refurnished... well, let's just say, at this particular point in time I'd rather not put myself through that. Success isn't always measured in statistics, although I know I'm here of the minority opinion.

I continue to cast, and mend as my mind travels itinerantly across the landscape of my life. Over and through the fields of memory, the webs of interaction, the scope of joys and losses. People in my life who have come and gone, those who have left an indelible mark, come into view. In one way or another, they all have left me with something. It should be a requirement that at some point in our lives we acknowledge all of those who have affected the substance of our existence, and, for me, there have been many. And then I think that it probably would have all been infinitely easier to do this had I the quality to know then what I know now. Maybe the fact that even though it's later rather than sooner, I still did have this thought, although unless there's some kind of magical way that this epiphany gets relayed to the subjects in question, how much real good it would do is up for discussion. I quietly vow to give this further thought, even though I cannot imagine now where I would start, or where it would take me could I d efine a way to do that.

I travel on, down the dusty, dimly lit corridors, here and there stopping to open doors and peer inside. The smiling young faces of my sons as they chase the big Malemute around the back yard... their comfortable attentiveness as I read to them... the horribly painful years of conflict they were subjected to...

... and it is again made clear to me that just as there are those who have effected changes in the substance of my life, so too have I been a factor, (no matter how important or insignificant)in the lives of those I have known. I still really have a hard time with this one, not being one to ever put much stock in the importance of my life in general, especially when it relates to interactions with those around me. Talk about feelings of insignificance! But, that's something for me to work on; to continue to work on. The idea that I have ever had anything of real substance to offer is, to me privately, sometimes more than a bit of a stretch. But, also privately, I'm okay with that. All I can do is work with what I've got, which is not really a lot, but it is what it is.

I think forward, as I tie another soft hackle, a smaller one, onto my tippet below the heavier, larger one, into the days and years to come. I think about what it will be like when I am gone. There is a relativity here that I have become aware of in the months following my father's passing. I think of my brother, and my sisters, how they, in my eyes, have changed since dad's death. I wonder if they see a change in me. I wonder if they miss him. I find it odd that he seldom,if ever, comes up in conversations that take place between us. My mother rarely, if ever, speaks of him. I wonder why. And although I have asked her would she care to visit his interment site, while appearing to be eager to go, has yet to do that. Neither have any of the others. I wonder why.

I miss my dad. Still. Odd, too, in that we were, for so many years, not close. But his absence has exposed a huge hole in the fabric of my life. I wonder why that is. I wonder if my siblings feel the same way...

There is presently a strong, jerking pull. My rod bends, and pulsates. The coils of line on the surface of the water at my feet are quickly ripped up through the rod as the fish strikes out across the current. I realize that my hands are cold. They react slowly to what needs to be done. The last coil of fly line snaps upward, loops around my reel, and the line goes taut. Urgently I attempt to unwrap the line, unsuccessfully. I feel one last strong pull before the tippet, stretched beyond its limitations, snaps. The line goes limp.

Across the river a Great Blue Heron jumps into flight, turning away downstream.

I wonder if he's grinning.

November 1, 2010

The wander of it all.

Not all who wander are lost.
J.R. Tolkien


Aware of the silence coming from the fireplace. This room is just a garage without a fire going. Pull back the curtain to peer through the rain dabbing the window. The trees sway, shedding needles which fall randomly around a squirrel who seems very busy either burying future snacks or digging up somebody else's, I'm not sure, until I see something in its paws being delicately adjusted for consumption. To the victor...

Fire duty. Still have some nice coals. Keep the home fire burning. I check my inventory. Only 3 good chunks of red fir and a couple of birch left in the box. The birch burns too fast all by itself. I select one of each and arrange them accordingly on what remains of the grate.

Just then an idea comes to me. I quickly retrace my steps back to the Mac and get it into print. After reading it back out loud, I just as quickly highlight it, hit the delete button, and reach for my hat. Maybe a run out to the woodpile will help. In this case, one of the secret joys of aging is that I know I'm going to forget everything I was thinking about prior to going out to the woodpile so when I return it'll be a whole new ball game.

A classically-tied number twenty-two baetis sits, drying, clamped in the jaws of the Regal. Four more are snagged on the styrofoam angle board awaiting dispensation. Now and then I wonder how many of these I've tied over the years. I'd probably be amazed. But, then again, maybe I wouldn't. I guess I'd be more amazed by the number of flies I've tied at different junctures thinking that they might work better than this particular pattern, or, better still, at the number of times I thought something else would. Impossible to know, right up there with how many more times I'm going to be so inclined as to do it again. And again.

I remove the classically-tied number twenty-two baetis from the vise and snag it next to the others, pausing for a proud second to admire them. Lucky thing I'm not a trout. I wouldn't last very long out there.

I have this rather cumbersome Sterilite box. I chose this model over the next size up which is on wheels. That, for some reason to me, seemed like a bit much, although secretly in the years hence, I wish I'd gotten it. I keep some of my important feathers and fur patches in there, and when I go on the road, I pare it down to only what I deem to be 'the essentials' and pack the rest of my tying stuff in there, too. It still takes up way too much space according to just about everyone I've ever traveled with, but I'll put up with the needling. It goes where I go, and that's that. Besides, the needling invariably ceases when that oversized-box supplies me with the materials that enable said needler to hook a fish or two when his supply of flies runs out. I particularly enjoy that circumstance. Call it a smug smile.

There is more than a bit of my father in me. I can tell there is when I look at my collection of tying materials and tools. I remember at some point deciding to actually sit down and sort through all of it. I would keep what I thought I could use, and find a way to dispose of the rest, either by donating it, or by just plain throwing it in the garbage. That was the plan, anyway.

It went bad, or should I say good, almost from the beginning. I'll save you the details, mentioning only that the stuff in what started out to be the 'discard' pile was examined, then re-examined, and finally then put back before I'd gotten a tenth of the way through. I still shudder when I think that I could've actually thought I was going to somehow 'streamline' my stash of stuff. What a colossal error in judgement. I've used some of the stuff I almost chucked, but the important thing to keep in mind is that yes, I did use it. The same might not be said for the rest, should I have been so remiss as to think hm, I'll never use that... Safe to say I don't ever think that anymore.

Thanks, dad.