Tag Archives: Grant Taylor photography

IN PRAISE OF SMALL WATER

 

There is a constant truth in these waters.
Their direction and existence
an age-old story told
whether one or many or none listens.
It’s a story of quiet witness and powerful protest.
A record of the messy but perfect balance
of sustenance and survival.

In big water we are lost. Humbled
and reminded of our frailties. Our
fleeting existence. Our will
difficult to impose, though we still try.
But in small water we see ourselves.
And therein lies the truth.
We find ourselves where we find these

rivers and streams. Nestled
in the canyon belly or mountainside draw,
spilling from pool to bouldered pool.
Shadowed, cold and framed
by banks of heavy-green rhododendron
or tangled alder. Meandering in wide arcs
through the prairie’s yawning miles. Arteries

running with defiant purpose,
reflecting the noise and hard angles of the city.
We pack light when we go. Leave
contingencies in the garage, barn or basement.
Leave our will and need to impose.
Leave the things we carry
that we hide from others.

Live closer to the bone. Maybe
it’s because we know what works. Maybe
it’s because we understand
just how much will be forgiven
and everything beyond that is
unnecessary weight. Here we know
we’ll be given just enough.

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GROWING UP BRAVE

A shorter version of this story originally appeared in the Summer ’12 issue of Canandaigua Magazine. 

I could have called someplace else home on several occasions.

My time in the Army took me to Germany, England, Missouri, Alabama and Georgia. College started on the hill at CCFL before moving through Texas hill country for a spell and then Brockport, finishing in Virginia as I chased my master’s degree with a new bride and eventually our first two children. But no matter where I stopped, the return address on my mom’s letters always served as a welcome reminder of where my journey started, and an open invitation to return.

My sister and I were born and raised in Canandaigua. The Chosen SpotHome of the Braves. So were my dad and his siblings. My dad’s dad had come south from Winnipeg in the ’30s for work. Fresh off the bus and wanting to remain “below the radar,” he picked the name Smythe out of a Buffalo-area phone book to replace his French-Canadian name, Terchone. After a stint traveling the carnival circuit in the south, he made his way back north to Canandaigua, married and took a job on the Midway at Roseland Park, where he worked his entire adult life. “Smythe” has been through a couple generations, so while we’re no longer under the radar, I think we’re at least legal now.

The lion’s share of my earliest memories are tied to summertime and our house on Buffalo Street, sandwiched quietly between The Daily Messenger and the Quayle’s—right around the corner from where we live now on Main Street. We spent long summer days in the sun with the Smith, Marafioti and Quayle kids, swimming, playing backyard kickball, riding bikes and—once dusk fell—staring into bonfires and chasing lightning bugs.

We’d watch the Memorial Day parade from the stone wall guarding the front of Woodlawn Cemetery and follow the crowds to Veteran’s Hill for the 21-gun salute and Taps. I used to spend entire days in the cemetery up to my shins in Sucker Brook hunting for crayfish and suckers from the 4th bridge all the way back to Pearl Street, and sit somewhat patiently for haircuts at Buddy’s Barber Shop. We’d lay blankets on the hood of the car to watch the 4th of July fireworks from Parkway Plaza’s parking lot or a movie on special occasions at the drive-in on Lakeshore Drive.

The old house is no longer there, but every time I drive by it I catch glimpses of its shape in the trees that still define the lot.

By the time I was old enough to have my own paper route, we were living on Prospect Street. With that responsibility came permission to fly solo on my 10-speed and haunt a newly charted fishing route. Tackle box in my backpack and spinning rod across my handlebars, I’d stop and see Teddy at Canandaigua Fishing Tackle for a couple new lures, spend a couple more dollars at Dee’s Donuts and then head for my spots: Holiday Harbor, the boat slips behind Seager’s and the overgrown outlet behind Roseland Bowl. The sting of Roseland amusement park closing was still fresh, but the fat bass and angry pickerel I caught on Daredevil spoons and Mepps spinners helped.

The powerful pull of my hometown nostalgia has grown stronger as I grow older. I’ve come to realize that there are so many things about being born and raised in The Chosen Spot that helped define who I am, afforded me the freedom to explore and gave me the confidence to try and fail and try again. Growing up here taught me the value of working hard for what I want, but also the importance of community, personal responsibility and giving back.

These are all elements of why I was able to get out in the world and (for better or worse) make my own way. Why I now coach the kids’ sports, served on City Council, started my own business and eat breakfast at Patty’s (when I can). They are why I made my way home after making my own way elsewhere.

Today, my kids’ summers are as full as mine were, with friends, lacrosse, hoops, bike rides and swimming. We watch the Memorial Day parade from camp chairs in front of our house on Main Street, but they have discovered the magic of crayfish and suckers along the same stretches in Woodlawn that my dad and I did as kids. We get to Kershaw Park early to claim a small patch of grass to watch the fireworks over the lake and JC Pennys stands where the drive-in once did.

The Chamber of Commerce now occupies the space that Canandaigua Fishing Tackle did before Wal-Mart’s arrival, but—again like me—the kids have started accumulating their own gear from birthdays and Christmas (and pillaging Dad’s tackle boxes). Dee’s Donuts has been replaced by Tim Horton’s and Dunkin’, but sweets are sweets and a stop there is just as special. Holiday Harbor is full of townhomes. There’s no fishing behind Seager’s, and Roseland Bowl and Lakeshore Drive have moved. But we still chase bass and angry pickerel in Lagoon Park.

The Canandaigua my kids know is different from the one I knew at their age, which is different still from my dad’s. But it is their Canandaigua. And while they may not realize just how valuable their childhood memories and lessons will be as they head out to make their mark on the world—and they may not completely understand just how big and wide-open that future is—they are growing up Brave. And in the end, I believe that will make all the difference.

Photo by Grant Taylor.

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey

THE BOYS OF NOT-YET SUMMER

The morning started at 5:30 with a couple sausage, egg and cheese breakfast wraps, coffee and an apple fritter on the ride to a permit-only lake. Grant had a couple backpacks with his camera gear. I had my 5 wt. and several boxes of warm-water flies…and a spinning rod in case I needed a “rain-maker.” It was early in the season—the bass might need some convincing. We paddled away from the dock by 6:10 with the sun, some noisy geese and a chill on the water.

Growing up in Upstate NY, I learned from a very young age that you stand a far smaller chance of getting skunked on the water if you fish for whatever’s swimming. Of all the fish I’ve chased and caught as a kid with my dad—salmon, browns, rainbows, lakers, pickerel, perch, panfish…even suckers—bass spoke to me in a language I dug. They hung out in places that I could get to as a 10-year-old with a 10-speed instead of a canoe. More often than not, they’d find my artificial offerings worthy of a good thrashing…epic battles between a kid in Chuck Taylors and fish with anger issues. My haul of largemouth on any given summer day was as good a definition of my standing on this planet then as it is now.

For the better part of the first hour, I peppered a couple hundred yards of undercut banks, overhanging bushes and submerged trees with a dark minnow pattern. No dice. I switched to a favorite crayfish pattern I learned how to tie from a friend and fishing guide in Northern Virginia, working shallow shelves, weed-bed edges and drop-offs. Still nothing. The wind had come up and was not in our favor, which made it tough to get the flies back into likely spots, let alone anywhere near a strike-zone. I rigged the spinning rod with a tube jig, apologized to Grant for the switch and made my first cast.

No worries, he said. Cant’ get pictures if we don’t catch any.

He pointed out a spot for me to cast to. His gut (and his camera lens) told him there’s a fish there. I obliged and promptly hooked up with a decent largemouth. Not only was Grant taking shots, he was calling them… nice. I landed a couple more as we made our way past a series of downed trees. The beaver had been busy.

It was around 10 when we paddled into a wide, deep draw at the northeast end of the lake. Protected from the wind, the weed-beds were still about 3” – 4” below the surface and a huge blow-down occupied the shallower water near the cattails. It was murky below 12” and there were small rises everywhere…bluegill after bugs. I picked up my fly rod and tied on a tan #8 soft-foam pencil popper. Big enough to get the bass to pay attention…and keep the panfish off the hook. I laid the first cast out into the middle of a weed bed, stripped it once over an open pocket and set the hook as a nice little largemouth crashed the surface. I spent the next hour sight-fishing for bass suspended in some of the wider, sun-lit pockets and enticing blind ambush-strikes from the thicker weeds and blow-down. The fish weren’t huge, but they were just as angry as always.

On our way back to the dock, we decided to check out the long shoreline on the north end. The wind settled down to a warm breeze, sun about at its height, and we drifted just steady enough to not need the paddles. I cast the popper back up ahead of us toward shore, teasing it around half-submerged branches. I hooked and lost a few, hooked and landed a few more, including a “kicker” from under a big, half-submerged log to end the morning. I felt like I was 10 again.

As the weather and water get warmer, I’ll be back out on the lake with both of my boys. You can bet, they’ll be after whatever’s swimming…looking for some epic battles of their own.

Photography: Grant Taylor
**This originally appeared in Bloodknot Magazine, August 2010.

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, On the water

RIVER-RIGHT

 

I pull up my chair most mornings and find no words. The sun is up. Traffic is purposefully outbound. I watch. Drink coffee. Listen through open windows. Birds. The neighbor’s dog. Other morning sounds. Still no words. Like undisciplined watercolor brushstrokes, the days are running together in odd hues.

I’ve been seeking out far-flung sorties for fish and fellowship with comrades-in-arms, collecting handfuls of crumpled receipts from dinners and beers on the road and placing 8 a.m. calls home to the kids before they climb on the bus. Still no words. I am paying for inspiration in more ways than one.

Of course, when they come I’m rarely ready. I’ll be figuring where I should travel next and what it’s going to cost me. Or standing in the current, river-right, my line and fly slack downstream. Or simply pulling up my chair to start another day — and suddenly they’ll be in the sun, wondering where the hell I’ve been.

Photo by Grant Taylor

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THE IDAHO TRIP: PAYETTE AND SALMON RIVERS

Out front of the hotel and across the highway, the geese were up, flying west/southwest at 7 a.m. just as they had the last two mornings. Sharp and black and noisy against the rising yellow-orange-white blaze, gathering their own color the further they flew. By 8 a.m. Jason Lindstrom of Flytooth, Grant and I started east in Jason’s car on Route 21 to Lucky Peak Dam, where the road took a big sweep north toward Idaho City and the Boise National Forest.

We had decided that we were going to drive “the loop” tomorrow, which would ultimately take us north to Stanley, the Sawtooth Mountain Range and the Salmon River. But today we really had no plan, short of heading out in search of flowing water, fish and some scenics for Grant to add to his steadily growing stable of images.

After passing a number of smallish mountain streams and parting ways with a another that followed the road for over twenty minutes, we had climbed to about 6,100 feet, crested the peak and started headlong into one switchback after another, and another, and another. Grant sat greenly in the back seat, window cracked, while the switchbacks, lacking backseat view and peanut butter toast he had for breakfast all battled for his attention.

Jason decided that we should check out a stretch of the South Fork of the Payette River just outside Lowman that he had fished a couple times before. We pulled over and looked at a couple likely spots before landing on a winner. Below us flowed a wide turquoise chute that spilled into a long, deep pool and then ran downstream psyching itself up into some pretty good rapids. Above the chute was a 100 yard section of slick, hip-deep water with braids boiling up from behind big submerged boulders and upswells from the even deeper holes further upstream. And it was gin clear and fast from soup to nuts.

I’d like to report that we had a stellar fish day, but that would require many more and much bigger fish than we caught. Fittingly, Grant’s camera work capturing our arresting environs and presence was the big fish of the day. We bagged it early in preparation for the god-awful 3 a.m. wake-up call that was on deck for tomorrow’s excursion.

There’s still a lot of dark left ahead of you when you’re on the road at 4 a.m. We struck out on Route 55 north armed with McDonalds breakfast sandwiches, hashbrowns and coffee. Our trip was going to take us through Crouch and Garden Valley back to Route 21 at Lowman, where we’d point the car northeast to Stanley.

Around 6:15 the faintest touch of dawn gave up the backbone of the Sawtooth Range. We entered Challis National Forest, rounded the north end of the mountains, and stopped about 15 minutes shy of Stanley to get some shots as the sun started into the valley. Local temps were high 20’s.

After a second breakfast at Sawtooth Luce’s and a stop at McCoy’s Fly shop for some intel and a couple flies, we just stood around for a while soaking in the simple frontier ease of the town and the sheer giant-ness of the mountain backdrop. Then we drove out Route 75 along the Salmon, past Sunbeam to a stretch below Yankee Fork as instructed.

As I picked my way down through the streamside boulders I could see fish holding in a big deep pool. The water was emerald here, and just as clear as the Payette. Smaller rainbows and cutthroat were rising. The larger ones were holding deeper lanes, swinging a foot in either direction to pick up drifting bugs. Fish were rising constantly along the rock wall on the far side of the river. Unreachable, of course. My second drift produced a small cutthroat. My first. A couple small ‘bows and two decent whitefish later, the hole went quiet. We jumped back in the truck and headed downstream another half mile to some wadeable water.

I spent the remains of the afternoon casting dries to risers, while Jason stayed busy with a rubber-leg bugger upstream. I traded Grant for his camera so he could get in on the action as well.

After sitting streamside with a couple beers, soaking up a little more late afternoon sun, we decided that we’d done enough damage for one day and waded back across the river to the truck and a long ride back to Boise–the sun about ready to set on yet another great day.


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