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LET IT LANGUISH. I DON’T MUCH CARE.

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.

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COMING BACK FROM ELSEWHERE

The breeze lies on the water. There are two red canoes with four people in blue life-jackets paddling with silver & black paddles. Maples have pushed out their leaves to hang limp, yellow-green & newborn. The reflections of boats docked to the shore waver in the wake of one goose moving toward the island. At one time that goose had been in flight on a southern course. At one time it had been feeding in New York corn stubble.

**

A deer lowers its head to fallen acorns, walks into scented breezes proud & knowing. Empty mouths cry in the valley. Sun falls patched on leaf, moss & maple sprout alike, burning the frosted collar from our shoulders. Wind lies still in the valley. The sun goes cold over the hills, it will warm to greet us soon. Our young will grow with the seasons, nothing is lost. Buckskin blankets in the valley. Our mouths full of song.

**

From Indian Falls, Algonquin’s jagged head is framed by pine, rock, water & sky. Snow is alive on valley currents. Lifting my eyes from winking coals & hiss of unseasoned branches, through smoke I create the peak, frame its jagged head, hear the wind through pine boughs. Snowflakes land white & new on my jacket, pause, then glisten.

**

Lithe long fingers—her gray smolders burgundy, then faint green. Japanese Maple moving, then still—her graceful, tangled sweep of stars bows to the breeze & rippled water.

**

I am up early enough this morning to watch the carpenter bee that nests in the rafter above the doorway where I sit begin her day. Her buzz interrupted my train of thought about three deer I had seen in the field below our house drinking from the stream. Hovering above & behind me, I tip my head back to watch her hover just below the beam of the doorway. Her wings, dark auras that hold fast to her back & forth motion—I can feel their wash on my face. Her day of hunting for pollen grains, or soft wood to masticate, has begun. Legs folded dutifully to abdomen, she re-examines the territory around her nest, finds me incidental & moves on.

**

Canoe in dark water. Silent bow with no wake, no foam, no waves crashing. Turtles sun quietly on their flotilla of logs. Herons slow-step along green curves with careful eyes for minnows. Bushes full of white sound below yellow pine. Bass breathe thick shadows under lilies.

**

Before the fat pre-dawn (a quiet trumpet, a low moan in the pines), before sky becomes a reflection on the lake water bugs touch like tiny drops of rain, before bass are made lazy by water warming in the sun, before dogs stir & stretch their haunches, before gusts of mist rise like spirits with breath heading somewhere & nowhere, as thin light brightens…

**

I was smaller than my sister when my Dad told the story of the stones, Indian heads, hard heads, slick-smooth & half buried in shale, below the High Banks at the south end of the lake. Seneca, Canandaigua, Cayuga, Owasco, Skaneateles, Keuka, Otisco. These waters are the print of the Great Spirit’s hand, the story goes. Hills grew from between the Spirit’s fingers & the valleys beyond them. My people were born of this place, of many places & in death their skulls would turn to stone. Smaller ones were those of children my size. I picked them out of ankle-deep water, asking—this one? & this? Deeper, the lake at my belly, I would find larger stones with bare feet & stand on their easy angles like pale green hill sides.

**

I stand on this hill, above other hills, above valleys. I stand before this land that shouldered the great herds. I stand before the nations I was told French soldiers attacked while the men were away hunting. I was told, if I remain after nightfall, spirits that still defend this place will turn the breath in my chest to ash. For now, while sundown rests on these hills, they whisper to me from the grass. I close my eyes, listen across the distance. It is enough, I hope, that I hear their voices, share their steps under this sky of fire.

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AND SOMETIMES THE POETRY AIN’T ABOUT FISHING.

A few classics from back in the day, inspired by music and road trips. And women.


THE AIR ON BOURBON

Her voice was enough to make me
walk in here & I can’t believe
the rose (thorns & all),
her slow anguish in mid-air & the three guys

sweatin’ through
Sunday suits & that thrumming bass
all in emanation from neon God Damn
what that woman’s doin’ to me.


CURB-SIDE

I stand in the street-brass breeze on the wrong side of town
lifting up-up-up along that shrill trill mid air to drown & man…

that sound squeaks through a mellow lowness—
a low-down that climbs from gutter to kiss soft lips—
a sharp-tongued bird flown
on sweet
sweet slow wings & my pulse keeps what time it can.


IN BED WITH THE DEVIL

The first time I went I brought a guitar
and an I-don’t-give-a-shit state of mind.
The devil was nothing but the lowest
you could sink to ask a favor of.
I still brought a guitar though.
I still went at midnight.
Sat and played a few chords in the stillness.
When she walked up,
crunching gravel under impossible heels,
she took my guitar in both hands,
frowned and threw it into the darkness of a nearby field.


DRINKING WHISKEY & PLAYING CARDS
IN A JUKE SOUTH OF MEMPHIS

The pot was enough to put
gas in my truck and a meal in my belly—
enough to grab a wink from that fine waitress.
My glass was empty & it was my deal—
five card stud,
nothin’s wild.

I only make it look hard.

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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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PISS & MOAN

12 bass. 2 hours.

The wall of brambles guarding the 1/2-acre farm pond ate my lunch. But that’s how it goes when you play the game.

And here I am lamenting that I’m handcuffed during the week.

Whatever.

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