Tag Archives: american landscape

A BOY’S FISHING ROUTE, Installment 5, Thesis

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I.

Not yet sun-up. 10-speed with fishing pole across the handlebars. Tackle box in backpack. Maybe a snack. Maybe some paper route money.

Before Holiday Harbour bush-hogged lots for custom homes, paved cul-de-sacs & dredged weedbeds & structure from the channel, I’d follow a path on my 10-speed through twisted old cottonwood, hip-to-chest-tall broad-grass, cattails, willows & swampy peat moss & an occasional empty twelve pack of Milwaukee’s Best. Through the cottonwood & willows, I’d step onto the pebbled beach across from Squaw Island. Even after folks moved into the custom homes, I was there & gone before most were up to start their days.

At the pier I’d park my bicycle out front of Seager Marina, walk on the heavy & worn wood dock past the open bay of slung boats under repair above oil-soaked floors, engine parts hanging from hooks on the walls, the bait counter & minnow tanks where dad & I always got a couple dozen sawbellies for trout fishing at the south end of the lake. There is no fishing allowed from their docks today. Too many styrofoam cups empty of worms, candy bar wrappers, tangles of fishing line & plastic bags & soda cans & cigarette butts.

II.

Roseland Bowl was straight down Lakeshore Drive then & Roseland was across from that until it closed & left the bowling alley to face a couple handfuls of blacktopped & chain-linked lake view. It didn’t take long for the park to be dismantled after it closed. The horses from the carousel were sold at auction & now run circles to airy organ music in a mall in Syracuse. The Skyliner was one of the oldest wooden roller coasters left in the country before it came down. The haunted house ride scared the hell out of me. My granddad worked on the midway. He died when my dad was young. I once caught a twenty-three inch lake trout with my bare hand in the cove that the gondola ride had spanned. The empty lot was too damn full of ghosts. I didn’t fish there but a couple times.

III.

There was another world behind the bowling alley. The water was guarded by cattails & tall grass, mosquitoes & mucky shores. It twisted around to circle within itself, like the ox-bows of the Mississippi or the meandering Oswegatchie. Bass were hard caught & fewer here, but giants. Thirty & forty pound carp would roll themselves up in the weeds & suck bugs off the surface.

The old wood bridge that linked the back parking lot of the alley to the old water-park site was still in good enough shape to cross or spot fish from. The small beach below the near side of it, where the ticket shack for the old paddle boat rentals stood, was always good for a couple deep-bellied bass & always with a red devil spoon.

I’d fish through the hottest part of the day, when cicadas rattle in the trees & hoppers leap twenty or thirty feet from your steps. I’d cast & wander & cast & cast & would hear nothing from the civilized world. Nothing from the bowling alley, nothing from the Burger King, nothing from Lakeshore Drive or 5 & 20, nothing from swimming kids at Kershaw park.

Eventually, Roseland Bowl moved behind Wal-Mart. Eventually, Lakeshore Drive was moved five hundred yards to the north. Eventually, expensive summer homes were built.

I was the entire civilized world in a pair of Converse All-Stars, cut-offs & tank top.
I was the entire world before civilization.
I was a fishing pole & ten-speed bicycle.
I was old cottonwood & custom homes.
I was early morning & the smell of oil & boat fuel.
I was carp & hard fought bass & I was horses up for auction.
I was the hottest part of the day & I was Burger King.
I was all seasons & all places.
I was all people & all animals.
I was the I of the world.

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Filed under On the water, Poetry

A CHANGE IN THE WEATHER

After the first night in the yurt, I was up at 6:30. I slept well, but Josh had been up around 1 or so trying to pre-empt a migrane. The pressure had changed, as forecast, and I stood under the porch roof looking at a slight drizzle, thinking about a plan of attack for the morning. By the time I made some coffee, finished a bowl of cereal and wrote some notes from yesterday in the notebook, Josh was up and at ’em. Seriously. Good drugs. After he caught up on a cup of coffee, we elected to walk, no waders, down to the day-camping area and see if there was any action.

When we checked in the afternoon before, one of the park rangers told us about a couple likely places down the hill from the back of the parking area across the street. That was his direction.
Down the hill from the back of the parking area across the street.
I’ve never fished it, but I hear people have had some luck down there
, he added.
Taking this bit of stream intel with a grain of salt, we geared up and hustled down to the area he had described. I was immediately struck by the rugged beauty. The river was clear but dark with its copper, brown and gold stone bottom. The shore was crowded with boulders and red-branched bushes and thorns and sage. And as I looked further upstream, I could see that we hadn’t even made it into the canyon yet, the elevation climbing its rocky way to cliffs and cuts above both sides of the river. After a couple sunset-filled, fishless hours, and a realization that the wading prowess I had on the Fall was sorely inadequate on the Deschutes (read: splash & stumble), we decided it best to let the river rest and head back to camp for dinner.

I felt good about the rain. It was a change. A signal. I decided that if our luck was going to change, it was going to happen this morning. I wasn’t the only one who got that signal. Standing on the low grass bank shore about halfway down a forty yard pool, I watched the faster slip of current on the far side. I caught one little splash. Then another, lower in the pool. Another. A nice mayfly hatch was coming off. Little grey-brown shadows as light on the surface as air. Blue Winged Olive is a rain and cool temp hatch. I tied on a #14, pulled some line from my reel, paced a couple false casts for distance and laid the fly neatly at the head of the run. As I was getting ready to lay down my eighth cast, Josh hollered from the next pool down. I pulled my cast, put the rod down and ran down with my camera.

The two handed fish picture

I returned to my pool. The fish were still rising. I cast again to the head of the pool, but while mending my line, the the fly skated about a foot across the surface and bang. I swear it was like that fly had touched the hot post on a truck battery or I had grabbed hold of an electric horse fence. After two full days of fishing without a bite, that 8″ rainbow was the pot of gold itself.

The pot of gold

As my notebook says: score.

I caught 7 or 8 more. Browns and rainbows. All on the same #14 BWO. All by skating it on the surface. Beat to hell and all cock-eyed, I clipped it off and sank its hook into the foam in my chest pack. A well earned retirement.

It was time to put on my waders. That canyon was calling.

We hiked a trail a 1/2 mile upstream before we decided to negotiate the boulders and brush below and try our luck. The water was bigger, faster and deeper here. The river far more narrow. Once in the water we picked our way over and around the back of the huge rocks that shoulder the steep shoreline. Thinking faster, deeper, I tied on an elkhair caddis with a copper john as a dropper fly. No dice. I climbed up on top of one of the rocks, lit my pipe and took a look around. The canyon was full-on here. Maybe 500 feet to the top of the red-stone cliffs, ponderosa pine, sage and giant, handful pine cones below. Perfect for big cats, I thought. Followed immediately by OK let’s think about something else there bossman.

Deschutes

Upstream from my seat

The rain was down to a sprinkle now. A fish started rising in the pool below me. I tied on a new BWO, snuck back down behind the rock to a spot I could cast from and managed to get the timing of my fly’s drift in synch with the pace of his rises. I watched him lift from the shadow of a big rock on the bottom, rise to just under the fly, consider it for a fraction of a second, then grab, splash, fish on.

In the next pool up I saw another rise. Bigger splash in a strong chute at the head of a pool. But there was nothing on the surface. The bugs were in or below the surface now. I brought beat-to-hell and all cock-eyed out of retirement. Unable to stay upright or above water, my third cast dropped the waterlogged soldier at the head of the chute and under he went. Bingo.

Deschutes Brown

Out of retirement. Into the net.

We hiked and fished and caught fish and stopped counting. It felt like I had just translated some lost language. Around 5:45 dusk began its crawl into the canyon. I lit my pipe on the hike out. Tired, heart soaring and satisfied.

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Filed under On the water

MY THESIS WAS ABOUT FISHING

My dad told me a long time ago that one of the things he admires about me is that I always do things 30-degrees left or right of center. I’ve managed to find or create my own path, no matter how arduous or easy it may turn out to be… and more often than not, I come out just peachy in the end. Hell, what fun is life if you don’t get some dirt under your fingernails or find your way into the weeds every now and again along the way?

Choosing my thesis topic when I was getting ready to finish my MA in poetry at George Mason was the same way. I could’ve gone with a highly academic investigation/critique of some literary topic… something like:

Stop. What’s that sound? Everybody look what’s going down.
An exploration of the use of imagery, sound and cultural reference among the New York Avant-garde school of poets.

OK, so maybe I did actually write a paper with that title. But my thesis– the baby I was to birth as the culmination of my academic career, the printed and hard-bound proof of my time there– was a book-length poem about fishing, titled All Water.

52 sections. 60-some-odd pages. Modeled after Whitman’s Song of Myself. I wrote about the change in our American landscape–physical, spiritual, cultural, socioeconomical–through the eyes of a fisherman, father, husband and veteran. My research was stream-side and in books like Sand County Almanac, Founding Fish, Walden and My Secret Fishing Life; stories like Big Two-Hearted River and A River Runs Through It; the humor of Patrick McManus and Gordon MacQuarrie. I wrote while listening to The Dead, Paul Simon, Van Halen, Sonny Boy Williamson, Robert Johnson, Robert Earl Keen, Radiohead, The Stones, Zeppelin.

I wrote in first light and evening’s slow exhale. Before the kids woke up and after they gave in to the sandman. I wrote high on wine. I wrote depressed. I wrote and started to figure out who I am and my place in this shifting landscape that is America…and I’m still writing.

That said, I’ll be posting some excerpts from time to time. Just a heads-up.
Here’s the first:

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Once I saw a gator snatch a deer by the head & drag it flailing into a small lake in Georgia.
We were fishing for bass in a boat along a weed-bed fifty yards from the explosion.
The deer was quietly sipping at the shore.
We left the water ringing with the noise-memory & blackbirds lighting out from the trees.
Ten years later blackbirds still remind me.
Even on this stream, their calls crash through sun-up or mid-day or dusk quiet & my hackles raise & I look to the water at my feet.
All the while, trout snatch mayflies from the surface around me, splashing, leaving ripples & small bubbles, noise-memory & blackbirds lighting out from the trees.

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Filed under On the water, Poetry