Monthly Archives: November 2011

WOODPILE

We’ve had an unseasonably warm November. Which figures, since we just put a woodstove in the basement under our kitchen. No matter though, this is Upstate NY. It will get cold and will make up for the late start on the other end of the season. I’m looking forward to the additional heat and glorious smell of burning wood in the house.

To prepare, I’ve started cutting and splitting fuel for the stove. A few weekends now spent with my dad’s old 16″ STIHL chainsaw and several twisted piles of years-old trees out at my in-law’s house, truck backed down the lane waiting by the hedgerow for the load. The saw’s orange case, red gas can and dirty-white bar-oil jug on the tailgate like a blue-collar still-life. Three muffled coughs from the saw before it finally pulls to life and belts out its two-stroke song. Saw dust covering my jeans and boots as 18″ lengths fall away into the brush. The smell and sound laying-hold of long-neglected memories.

I grew up gathering wood every late-summer/early-fall with my dad. It was the rite of the season. The annual acknowledgment that while we had some time to prepare, we’d never really have as much time as we’d like and we’d better get busy. Our house would be good and damn warm when the snow decided to fly.

We’d spend weekend afternoons cutting up blow-downs on various friends’ property. I remember standing by while dad dispatched the deadfall, watching the saw’s exhaust and dust from fresh cut wood swirling in bright shafts of sun overhead. Once home, we’d split the lengths and stack them along the side of the garage. Until I was 11 or 12 my job was carrying and stacking, while dad wielded the saw and the splitting maul. When I got strong enough to do more than simply beat dents into the lengths of wood, dad gladly let me have the splitting duty. The saw however, was always his.

About the time I was in high school, the blow-downs and gift wood thinned and we turned to having a truckload of split lengths dumped in the driveway each year. A couple full cords of the stuff that I got to hump to the side of the garage. In spite of the sheer size of the wood mountain that took up 2/3 of the driveway behind the house, I enjoyed the work. Unlike school. The goal was simple and I saw my progress each time I returned to the pile. I found my own rhythm and flow and pace. I felt strong. Alive in the fresh air. Hands gathering callouses and splinters, swollen with hard work. To this day I won’t wear gloves, I want to feel what I’m working with. It’s been well over two decades since I stacked my last pile of wood.

This past weekend I spent Saturday afternoon swinging my maul, working off the modest pile of wood I trucked back from my in-laws. Placing each piece on the big splitting round, turning each just-so to give me a clear shot at popping the tight-twisted grain, I separated outside sections from the seasoned, but still stubborn heartwood.

A familiar rhythm returned with each swing. A familiar sound and smell and feeling of being alive. I raised angry blisters on my hands, which have quickly turned callous. My back and forearms and shoulders are good and sore. But the wood is now stacked and waiting for more to join it. And the forecast is calling for cold.

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey

GOING DUTCH – THE BACKCOUNTRY JOURNAL

Ben Smith from Arizona Wanderings recently launched an online literary venture that’s dedicated to the outdoorsman and committed to excellence in writing– The Backcountry Journal. Since it’s inception, the site has already featured stories from Andy Wayment (contributor to Upland Equations), Erin Block (Mysteries Internal) and Ben as well. I’m pleased to say that I’m now included on that list.

When you have a minute, head over to The Backcountry Journal and check out my contribution – GOING DUTCH.

I bought a train ticket and boarded at Den Haag Centrum at 6:21 a.m. for a twenty-two minute ride to Rotterdam, catching a subway at Rotterdam Centrum bound for Spijkenisse. In my journal I scratched notes in hopes of capturing small knots I could untangle in poems at some later point…

Walking out of the train station doors at Spijkenisse, I spotted Harry leaning on his matchbox-sized red Opel in the short-term parking area across the street. Given the fact that I was the only passenger in the tiny, rural terminal, arriving or departing, there was no scanning the crowd to figure out who each other might be. My gear bag and rod tube might have been a giveaway as well. He met me half way with a handshake. The rainbows, they should be hungry today.

Read on…

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, On the water, The road

LONG HAUL

http://www.flickr.com/slideShow/index.gne?group_id=&user_id=68121956@N06&set_id=72157628105238235&tags=EricHornung,AntiHeroElectricTattoo
Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

…and sometimes you throw a punch that starts from your toes and finishes with you standing over him saying get up…I’m not done with you yet.

This here’s the long haul. You’re either all-in or your not.

Big props to Eric Hornung for the design, ink and old-school hip-hop buffet while in the chair. Check him out at erichornung.com.

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Filed under In the woods, On the water, Reviews

FLY RODS FOR A GREAT CAUSE

I wanted so badly to land a great-big beautiful lake-run steelhead, brown or salmon on the rod. It was Day 2 of our weekend on the Salmon River with the veterans from the Ft. Drum Chapter of Project Healing Waters. Rob Burke, the head of the Chapter had fished most of the day before with the rod – but with no luck. So now, after a morning of countless roll-casts, drifts, swings, fly changes, weight changes, heavy hits and no fish to-hand, the clock was winding down on my last 15-minutes or so on the water.

Then the hammer fell. I thought I had tied into the entire Salmon River itself.  Ho-lee crap.

***

Larry Snyder is a Vietnam veteran (’67) and a long-standing member of the Denver Chapter of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing. But, like anyone who volunteers for a cause they’re passionate about, the tough realization that there is only so much time and money he could afford to give just didn’t sit right.

So, with the help of his friend – fellow Army veteran and custom rod builder Terry Johnson – they came up with an idea to build 100% American-made, custom fly rods specifically for Project Healing Waters. The rods would be a matte finish with wraps that signified the distinct colors of each branch of service: black/gold for Army, red/gold for Marines, navy blue/white for Navy, blue/silver for Air Force and blue/red for Coast Guard.

The national PHWFF organization gave Larry permission to offer these exclusive rods on his site – Flyfishing Crazy – and both of the men make a generous donation of 20% plus $20 to the organization with the sale of each rod.

http://www.flickr.com/slideShow/index.gne?group_id=&user_id=68121956@N06&set_id=72157628075274619&tags=ProjectHealingWatersFlyFishing,T.L.Johnsoncustomflyrods
Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Knowing that I’m prior service (Army) and now involved with the Canandaigua Chapter of PHW, Kyle Perkins, of Compleat Thought fame, had connected the dots between Larry and I. Kyle had just tried out Larry’s 4wt. Army rod on Boulder Creek outside of Denver and was duly impressed. I mentioned the Salmon River trip and Larry generously offered to have a prototype rod sent to me to try out– a 9′ 6wt. 4-piece (691-4) all-purpose, wrapped in BDU colors (Olive w/NCP Olive accent) with a black anodized reel seat, fighting butt and full wells grip. I was impressed by it’s look right out of the rod tube. Big fan of the matte finish.

For the Salmon River event, I paired it with my Ross Evolution #2, SA Mastery Textured Series Magnum Taper line and Airflo 5′ Fast Sinking PolyLeader. I was originally going to fish the new Razorstrike line from Flytooth that I’ve been casting all summer, until I realized at the river that it’s a 5wt. line and  just not heavy enough to cheat it on the medium-fast rod.

With my opportunity to fish the rod coming on Day 2, and fresh off a successful Day 1, I was pretty confident that I was going to be reporting Mission Accomplished by morning’s end. Well, I cast black/pink egg-sucking leeches, cone-head streamers in orange/yellow and blue/black, cheese and orange yarn eggs, and goo bugs in powder blue, orange and pink. Essentially, I exhausted the bullpen.

That said, even with the occasional additional weight of split-shot, the rod had the backbone for a solid 30 – 40 foot two-handed roll cast and mend. Plus, when there was room and I could work out a nice lingering, poetic, weight-laden backcast, I did. The rod felt 8wt-esque, with just a bit more attention to my hauls and a bit slower casting stroke. I’d be interested in trying it out with some big hair poppers for bass. Very, very nice.

Another thing that’s very nice is the price-point. These American-made, T.L. Johnson custom built fly rods are only $335 – and $87 of that goes to support Project Healing Waters. Think about it the next time you’re in the local fly shop looking at an $800 rod made overseas.

A great fly rod at a great price for a great cause. Our combat veterans need your support. Check out the full line of PHW rods at Flyfishing Crazy.

As for the fish I hooked up with at the beginning of the post. He was a big steelhead. 18lbs if he wasn’t half that. After three jumps and a 10 minute stand-off, the rod held it’s ground like a champ, but the fish came unbuttoned. There’s always next year…

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HEALING THOSE WHO SERVED

The weekend of November 4th brought a pretty heavy frost to the Salmon River near Altmar, NY. It also brought over a dozen combat veterans from the Ft. Drum Chapter of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, and at least that many local fishermen to serve as guide/mentors.

Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing is a national organization that is dedicated to the physical and emotional rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and veterans through fly fishing, fly tying education and outings.

Friday evening was check-in at the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Officer School barracks just outside of Pulaski. Bob Rock, a long-time supporter of Project Healing Waters and master fly tier/instructor, arrived early, took a seat at the head of the table in the lounge area, set up his vise and tying materials and started warming up on a wooly bugger pattern.

As soldiers and volunteers arrived, they took seats, one-by-one around the table– some behind donated vises, some behind their own– and began working on goo-bug, egg-sucking leech and woolly bugger patterns of their own for tomorrow’s excursion. Many of the men in this group carried the scars and continued pain of physical injuries from the war–gunshot and shrapnel wounds, broken bones, burns, traumatic brain injury (TBI). Some wrestling with PTSD as well. That said, you would be hard-pressed to tell that any of them had any issues at all. The art of camouflage conceals so much more than any of us understands. It’s a matter of self-preservation.

After a while, announcements and house-rules were covered, BBQ was served and everyone started to warm to each other and the prospect of hooking up with the largest (for some the first) fish they’d ever caught.

http://www.flickr.com/slideShow/index.gne?group_id=&user_id=68121956@N06&set_id=72157628128890020&tags=ProjectHealingWaters,SalmonRiver,Ft.DrumChapter
Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

The next morning came quickly and after an even quicker breakfast of coffee and donuts, the group caravanned to an undisclosed rally-point to gear up, pair up with a guide and get in the water. Thanks to the tremendous leadership of the Ft. Drum Chapter of Healing Waters and the good folks at the DEC, these men had an entire section of unpressured and absolutely prime water to themselves. A small gesture of thanks for their service and sacrifice, and a great opportunity to have success on a river that is notorious for tough fish and Black Friday-esque lines on the shore.

But that success is bigger that just catching fish. For some it’s the success of making it through 2 cold days of difficult wading and fishing in spite of the pain and limitations of physical injuries. For some it’s finding a peace and sense of calm that allows them to relax and laugh from the gut and feel like things are OK. Life is OK. Being home is OK. Even if that feeling is only for a short time. While it will definitely take a lot more than just fly fishing, in the end, the hope and mission of PHW is that if enough of these quality days are strung together, it will help these heroes make their way back from those dark haunts that frustrate and scare the shit out of them–to help them finally make their way home for good.

Now, I’ve heard stories and seen pictures of other Healing Waters events in other parts of the country. But I’d be willing to bet that there isn’t another chapter that has experienced the number, species diversity and size of the fish that were caught by these guys–every single one of them–over our two days on the Salmon.

The weekend was a profound and humbling experience for me. It was an honor to be able to spend the time I did with the guys, to hear their stories, shake their hands and stand in the river together just like a bunch of normal fishermen chasing bent rods, lake-run monsters and grip-and-grins.

That is, if there is such a thing as a normal fisherman.

Be sure to “Like” the Ft. Drum Chapter’s facebook page and visit the national Healing Waters site as well. And if you can get involved in a chapter near you, please do. Our soldiers need our support right here at home.

 Photo credits: Grant Taylor

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Filed under On the water, Time in service