Tag Archives: Grant Taylor

THE RANGE OF OUR UNIVERSE

Aleida shot her first deer, a healthy 2 year old four-pointer, during archery season last year. It was her first trip into the woods as a hunter. We had made our way to the buddy stand in the dark, following the soft circle of light from my headlamp, and sat next to each other listening to the close sounds of pre-dawn, waiting. At one point she even leaned against me, putting her head on my shoulder for a short snooze. A small thing to her, but a giant gift for the father of this fourteen year-old.

The buck walked in ten minutes after shooting light started to push the shadows out of the mid-October woods. She spotted him at forty yards, browsing his way towards us, and nudged me to point him out. He’s a good one, I said. You ready? She nodded. Up to that point I had already steeled myself for the possibility that she may say that she’s not ready when she finally saw a deer.

There is a huge difference between what a first-time hunter pictures while shooting with field-tips at a target in the backyard, and the reality of being in a stand, coming to full-draw, and releasing a broadhead on an actual whitetail. When you exhale, settle your sight behind that deer’s shoulder, and let your arrow jump from its rest, you immediately gain a whole new understanding of life and death. You become an active participant in an ancient custom and rite of passage which takes one life in order to sustain many others. You become a provider. That’s heavy stuff for any first-timer, let alone a teenager.

Practice Practice
For three months prior to their first season opener, she and her brother had spent an hour every day they were with me (the divorce had our time split 50/50) fifteen paces from the foam block target. Aleida shooting my old Mathews MQ32, which was my dad’s before it was mine. Cam shooting a new Mission Hype DT. They had a routine for each practice session, from set-up to pack-up, and knew the range of their shooting universe. Three arrows apiece getting closer and closer to each other each round they shot. Siblings getting closer, too. As I sat and watched proudly, memories of my own routine and time spent as a teen in my parents’ backyard 10, 15, 25, 30 yards from a hay bale came rushing back. The range of my own universe, and the ethics, commitment, and passion I learned from my dad coming to life in my own kids. They would be ready when they entered the woods. Ready to make their own choices, earn their own success, and own their own mistakes. Life could bring it on.

At forty yards the buck dropped his head to browse and Aleida stood her bow upright on her knee. At thirty yards he passed behind a couple smaller trees and she stood up. As he passed behind a big, old oak she came to full draw, leaned into her harness tether, and followed him out. 20 yards. He’s a little outside your universe, I whispered. Put your pin just an inch or two higher. She nodded. I grunted to stop him. I could hear her count to one in her head and then the arrow was gone. The green and yellow fletching appeared exactly where it needed to behind the buck’s shoulder and he bolted into a thicket, stopping on the far side where he wobbled and went down without another sound or move, 35 yards from our stand.

Aleida and her first deer, fall 2015

Fall 2015

I started bow hunting with my dad when I was 12, and was in the woods with him every season till I graduated high school and left for the Army. It’s been many years since my dad and I have bowhunted in the same woods. Years since we’ve ridden together in his pick-up before dawn with coffee and high hopes that the rut and an overnight snow will have the deer moving. Years since we’ve laced up our boots at the tailgate, shook hands and said Good luck. Shoot straight before heading into the dark. I miss it.

It took 17 years from that first mild pre-dawn October morning when I picked my way to my stand as a 12 year old who was scared of the dark before I killed my first deer with a bow – a sturdy 8-point. I was in a small patch of woods that I scouted myself, in a stand that I had hung myself. Dad was in his own stand of timber about a 15-minute drive away in the hills of South Bristol. I still don’t know how I managed it, but I grunted that buck away from two doe to within three steps of my stand. My shot was true, and I field-dressed him where he dropped 25 yards away. After a great deal of individual effort, once I got him packed into my old Volvo wagon, I drove the 15 minutes south, parked next to my dad’s truck in the gravel lot across from his woods, and waited for him to finish his morning hunt and walk out. I was in tears from the moment he waved as he walked out of the tree-line toward me. I didn’t think I could’ve felt any happier or more proud than in that moment. Of course, sitting next to Aleida after we watched her buck fall – after I had watched her confidently extend the range of her universe – proved that yes, actually, I could.

I bowhunt almost exclusively. Not that I don’t like shotgun or rifle, but more because I don’t have access to property that would make gun hunting worthwhile. I hunt close quarters and I’ve been fortunate to keep meat in the freezer pretty consistently in the years since my first deer. For many of those deer I leave the woods to get my kids because they love being a part of tracking and finding dad’s deer – my latest buck included (and which I’m still in shock from – story to come). My dad comes out for some of those excursions, too, and I catch him smiling at the kids and just how happy they are to be there, hunters themselves in the thick of it all. I still don’t miss a chance to help my dad track a good buck that’s proving hard to find, or is simply to heavy for him to drag solo. It’s an important part of the fabric of our family. And it’s a tight-knit fabric at that.

The gang, fall 2011. Photo: Grant Taylor

Fall 2011 • Photo: Grant Taylor

The gang (minus Aleida), fall 2016. Photo: Grant Taylor

Fall 2016 • Photo: Grant Taylor

Aleida’s first request after we saw the buck fall was to text papa, nana, and the boys. See if they can come out, she said. They’ve got to be here. After asking when we can climb down and find him, she stated that the best part, dad, is that we don’t have to sit in the woods for two more hours and can go get breakfast. After almost two more hours of work, with her brothers, grandparents, and cousin in-tow, we finished dragging her buck up and out of the woods, and did just that.

This story has taken more than a year to find daylight, and I’m not sure why. It’s probably one of the most important and significant experiences I’ve had as a father. And with Cam already settling into a very mature level of comfort in the deer woods, and Jonah on deck for next fall himself, I know there’s more coming. But maybe the venison chili we’re still making with her deer needed to simmer on the stove longer (everyone asks if it’s her deer we’re eating). Or maybe I needed the context of a year’s-worth of life passing to fully appreciate it. Regardless, I’m grateful that my kids are reminding me just how important it is to pay attention the range of my universe, as much as they’re finding the boundlessness of their own.

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Filed under Fatherhood and venison jerkey, In the woods

RISING IN THE DARK

We were only two full days into our 10 day trip, but I felt as though we’d been in camp for weeks. It could be the comfort and confidence of being with friends. Committed friends. Kindred spirits. It could be the familiarity of the river, the muscled spirits that patrol its currents and the rough-hewn stone, sage and willow landscape that cradles them — a memory I carried in my soul, powerful as the birth of a child, since exactly one year ago.

Night was close. The translucent shadow of dusk having already soaked its way up the near canyon wall. A fat, full blue moon was due to rise, but looked as though it would be buried in the first cloud cover of the trip. The fleeting scent of rain tangled with the musty sweetness of sage on the heavy warm breeze. We grabbed our gear and crossed the river for a dusty cattle road on the opposite hillside, leaving the rest of camp to unwind and put their feet up at long day’s-end. Camera, lenses and tripod carried efficiently in his pack, Grant had a spot in mind where the road rose to meet the far ridge and, hopefully, the moon as the clouds cleared. Rods in hand, Rebecca and I eyed the increasing frequency of dimples, swirls and drifting concentric circles on the glass skin below.

As sprawling as the canyon was, the world had shrunk to the immediate universe of our purposeful footfalls and wader-swish. Our talk was soft, muffled by the bigness of the falling night. Here and there the darker shapes of grazing cattle, moving away with nervous, curious awareness of our presence. The night before we had heard coyotes. The shrill and insistent cacophony of barks and yelps sounding closer than they should be. We walked on.

A few hundred yards on Grant found his vantage point and settled into his ritual: backpack down, kneel and breathe and survey, internal inventory of necessary gear translated into deft movement of hands pulling the camera from his pack and intuitively swapping lenses, sit or lie prone, pause to breathe and survey again, viewfinder to eye, aperture, shutter speed, composition, breathe, begin.

By the time Rebecca and I were fifteen paces away he was as much a part of the dark wash of brush as the brush itself. We picked our way down the embankment and across an open area to the riverbank, hoppers still clicking from our path. We waded slowly together out into the glass, catching evidence of rising fish in the splish and frail reflection of what little moonlight the clouds afforded. Riffles a hushed murmur fifty yards downstream.

Wading in a river, casting dry flies to rising fish in the dark is at once a fantastic and terrifying act of faith. As many mornings as I’ve walked blind and by sheer memory into the 5 a.m. woods to find my treestand during archery season, I’ve still never completely lost the cold chill that breathes at my neck and makes me imagine things. Crazy things. Here, I have no memory of this stretch to assuage my lack of sight and as we wade further out and apart the chill is happy to settle back into my mind.

But the chill was short-lived as I settled into my own ritual: stand still and breathe, survey the ringing dark for the slightest sight or sound, unhook the fly from the third snake guide and hold it gently in my loosely closed left fist, strip 30 or so feet of line from my reel and pinch it between my right-hand trigger finger and the cork grip, pull the fly and leader till I hear the slick shoosh of the fly line sliding through the rod tip, lower and turn my head to listen forward, close my eyes, breathe, begin.

Rebecca and I fished our way upstream. We talked, but not much. Our presence there, the faith and confirmation that our casts were finding their mark, Grant coaxing the moon from the road above, stories being passed at camp — and further away, our children, lovers, hard-earned responsibilities and plans for the future — were enough that we both knew what was in each other’s mind anyhow. We closed our eyes and listened and cast in the direction that intuition whispered – there, go there. We let go of the weight of what we didn’t have and embraced the expanse of what we did.

Before we were done our hands held the slight glint of a few heavy fish. The beautiful, cool gravity of life.

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Filed under On the water, The road

FILM PROJECT: A DELIBERATE LIFE

We’re going back to Idaho.

By “we” I mean Grant Taylor and me, plus a few others. To say that last year’s trip was a profound experience for us would be a bit of an understatement. The 10 days we spent fly fishing across the southern half of the state (you can read all about them starting here) marked a significant shift in each of our lives, having both just started out on new career paths.

Idaho, and the people that shared their time, stories and home waters with us, helped us see that our lives and this world are larger and more far-reaching than the routines we had become too comfortable with. In the end, we found that we all share essentially the same story – of taking risk and following our passions. Living life deliberately.

So, with special thanks to our gracious hosts – Rebecca Garlock (Outdooress and Outdoor Blogger Network), Colby Hackbarth (Kast Extreme Fishing Gear) and Ross Slayton – we’re going back the first week in September and we’re shooting a film to capture those stories. And fish, of course.

Special thanks also to Matt White and Dustin Lutt – our other two partners in shooting the film.

I’m proud to present the initial statement of intent for the project – A Deliberate Life:

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Filed under The road

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

THE IDAHO TRIP: THE SOUTH FORK, DAY 2

The next morning our drive to the South Fork felt entirely different. It was the same landscape of sprawling grain fields and foothills, beautifully wide blue sky and brush-stroke clouds. It was roughly the same river waiting on the other end of the drive. But everything was different.

We had been this way already. We’d already learned the roads from the hotel to the church parking lot. We’d already loaded our gear and hauled ass into the unknown of a new river. We’d already taken our lumps, managed to keep our dukes up and had held the reward, all cold color and fantastically alive. We had the thin-thread benefit of familiarity from one run-and-gun afternoon. But on this morning, our pace took a couple steps back, settled into the truck seats and tried to just take everything in. We were there, and that was enough.

We made another stop at the fly shop so I could replace the tan sex dungeons I had lost to the motor and the bottom of a greedy boulder. In the parking lot, I ran into Jeff Currier, a tremendous artist and rep for Ross and Scientific Anglers who I met at IFTD in New Orleans a week and a half earlier. Having met Colby for the first time at the show as well, it was pretty cool to cross paths with Jeff again, especially clear across the country. We put the boat in the water, pulled our collars up and hats down and turned down-river for the canyon.

About halfway there Colby pulled up on the throttle, swung the boat left back against the current below a giant gravel bar under six inches of water and then right easing us up on the bar. Over 100 yards long and 50 yards wide, he told us that this bar didn’t exist before the spring run-off. The extended bolus of snowmelt deposited the entire sweeping mass of rocks over the course of months, leaving a perfect section of riffles that drop into a deep, teal green run. I waded to the head of the riffles while Grant claimed a spot halfway down. Time to nymph.

After a couple casts I noticed a guy and his dog watching from the far bank, smoke rising slowly from a small campfire behind them. I waved. He waved. A couple more casts up and across the current and my indicator went under. I lifted the rod into a nice bend, collected my line on the reel and backed a flashy cutbow out of the heavy current. This is exactly how a day of fishing should start.

I picked my way back up to the head of the riffle and made a couple more casts. When my indicator dropped again, the hook-set stopped me short. I could feel a big body start to work up some heavy back and forth before it gave a couple good head-shakes, a few rolls and then put its nose as deep into the current it could. Fish on the reel, I backed into shallow water again, but this toad wasn’t following. I kept him from heading for bigger water, finally turned him toward shallow water and Colby slid the net under him to seal the deal.

I made a dozen more cast before I carried my big-honkin’ grin back to the boat to swap my rod for Grant’s camera. He had a couple takes that didn’t stick and I wanted to make sure I got some shots of him when one finally did. Within three or four casts his #16 rubber-legged prince nymph dropper found the jaw of a brown the size of a German u-boat, which bent his rod to the cork, turned tail for Canada and busted the line. And as luck would have it, I caught all 10 seconds of the fracas.

Enough drift boats had dropped below us by this point that Colby wanted to jet down into the canyon before the crowds socked it in. As we made out way down-river, we passed sheer rock walls that dropped into white current, stratified cliffs and pine, sage and grass-covered slopes. We pulled up into a small switchback to grab some lunch, relax, and burn a couple hours before the afternoon bite. Not one to sit still long, I ate my sandwich and waded out to a riffle. Colby picked up his rod, walked down the bank about 20 yards and promptly hooked up a nice cutbow.

That afternoon, we dropped down to another money spot Colby called the hog bar. A 100 yard sub-surface gravel peninsula usually stacked up with cutties, ‘bows and browns. Colby navigated through the drift boat fleet and drifted Grant and I down the right edge while we drifted our nymph rigs down the middle. Then he’d jet us back up to the top and drift it again. Grant was getting plenty of hits but no hook-ups. I on the other hand became a whitefish sniper, landing 15 or more in the 6 drifts we made. Having the fight at the end of the line was better than the alternative, but I was tired of getting my heart rate up over pike-bait.

Then it happened. My nymph rig dropped into a depression in the gravel bar and stopped. I lifted the rod and a flash appeared in the heart of the pool, turning into big rainbow as it blew into the far current. It took the loose line I had at my feet and then some from the reel. I could liken the fish to a football, but I’d be doing it a disservice. It was built more like a defensive lineman.

Colby rowed us into slower current near the bank and grabbed the net. Grant had finished his drift, collected his line and grabbed the camera. A few more runs and some dashes for the brush on the bank and I had his head up and pointed toward the boat–a cloud of iridescent silver and pink reflecting a universe around him. A foot off the net he came unbuttoned and I let go of a long, mournful noooooooooooo! that spooked birds from the trees on the hill above us. Non-native species be-damned, he would’ve been the fish of my trip.

As the afternoon wound down, we decided to head back up-river to the gravel bar we started on that morning before the clock struck the witching-hour for pounding streamers. In spite of that ‘bow, I felt about as full and happy as ever as Colby pushed the boat around bends, through rips and riffles and wide flat expanses, the sun moseying westward. We stopped and fished a few likely areas along the way with no takers. Reaching the morning’s gravel bar, I reclaimed my spot back at the head of the riffle for a handful of casts before deciding to pick up Grant’s camera again.

Further up-river I got back to pounding the banks with that tan sex-dungeon and a fast sink leader. Cast, strip, strip, strip, lift and reload, cast, strip, strip, strip, lift and reload. Under brush, against logs, through big pockets behind boulders, against cliff walls. Over and over, drift after drift. All I could draw were slashes, swings and short-strikes. Colby just shook his head in disbelief. If I would’ve converted on half the fish that I raised, we’d have easily had a 20-fish day. 20 big fish at that.

Colby had gifted us a personal tour of his life-long home water. We had caught (and lost) amazing fish in some magnificent country. We were exhausted and happier than hell. With daylight almost completely gone, we finally settled into the water at the bottom of the launch. Grant and I repacked all the gear and rods in silence while Colby went for his truck and trailer. We looked at each other a couple times, smiled and shook our heads, knowing we didn’t have to say a word. Waiting hip deep in the river, holding the boat, we were there, and it was more than enough.

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Filed under On the water, The road