Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Private Literature

Yet another quote crossed my electronic desk this morning, this time by Aldous Huxley: “Every man's memory is his private literature.” If that’s true, and upon reflection I believe it is, then each of us has exclusive access to the greatest treasury of fly fishing literature in the world, right between our own ears.

These stories that make up this literary treasure trove are not written in words, though they may have a caption or two here and there. Rather, they are written in feelings. The adrenaline rush you get as you land a fish you’ve hunted for the past 20 minutes, the shock of wet cold clear water when you dip your hand, the staccato quiver of a rod when a fish takes, the cool wet wiggle of a fish as you release it, the twinge in your gut when your offspring catches their first fish on a fly.

These stories are written in colors. They are the colors you see when you look deep into a pool and see the merest hints of the swaying movement of a fish – or was it a weed, clear blue-brown stream water against a green-green grassy bank, the hurt-your-eyes blue sky with a turkey vulture gliding across 1000 feet up, the gold-red-brown of September leaves rustling in the breeze on the last day of the season.

These stories are written in flavors. The flavors of a warm baloney sandwich from your vest pocket after fishing for three or four hours, the cool freshness of the apple that was tucked alongside, the half warm water or Gatorade or Coke that you carried to wash it down. The gentle burn of whiskey at dusk, of a cigar with a friend in the disappearing last light of evening and the emerging half-truths of fish caught and missed.

These stories are written in sounds. Those half-truths rolling off the tongue of your buddy, those dry September leaves bouncing together before taking that last leap of life from the tree to the forest floor, the white noise of a riffle, shedding its nymphs to the fish just below, the call of a friend 150 yards away, “fish on!,” a fly line sizzling by your ear at 120 miles an hour, that whiskey burbling from the flask to the little tin cup.

The stories that make up this incredible collection belong to no one else... They are yours alone…

Friday, July 20, 2007

One Small Step for a Man...

Thirty-eight years ago this evening a man named Neil stood up on his hind legs and jumped out of his vehicle into a dusty vacuum a quarter of a million miles away and… did his job.

Of course, you know I’m talking about Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. You may or may not know much about him. I only know a few stories.

One of my favorites is of the time he was testing a new flight vehicle, a precursor to the Lunar Module, when things went terribly wrong. The thing went out of control, flying crazier and crazier until, a few feet off the ground, Armstrong had to eject. He was so close to the ground that ejection could have easily killed him, but he survived without injury. After being checked out and released, he went back to his office … to do some paperwork.

Those of us who are mere mortals would perhaps have taken a day or two off – or at least the rest of the afternoon – to contemplate our mortality and relationship with God. Neil? He just did his job.

No wonder they chose him to be the first…


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Thoughts on Equipment

Someone asked me about equipment the other day. Here's what I wrote to him:

I really don’t know what to say about fit & finish and all with trout rods. The Hexagraphs are as good as any, fit and finish-wise. If you’re on a budget I’d look at Elkhorn. $200 or less gets you an awesome fishing tool and as fishing tools go, I don’t really care what they look like. I have a friend who likes his gear looking all used and about worn out. As long as it catches fish, he doesn’t care what it looks like. I kind of agree. I used a four piece 5wt Elkhorn for seven days straight on the Green River a couple of years ago and broke it the last day. I sent it back with $25 and they sent me a new one.

One of my Orvis rods is a cane rod from about 1965, one is a home made graphite from an Orvis blank that I bought from the woman who taught me to tie flies from probably the early ‘80’s or earlier, and one is a sale rod ($200+ rod from the early ’90’s that I got from their sale flier for $100) from the early days of my love affair with 3wt's – that I always forget I have and never fish. These days with Orvis you’re paying more for the name than you are for the rod. Nice stuff, but buy something else if you like value. I doubt I’d ever buy a new one again.

I’ve always heard that Scott rods are great. A buddy of mine has one and likes it, and Telluride, CO is a cool place to have a rod from. Winston rods are legend, current company ownership soap operas notwithstanding. You might have noticed that I haven’t mentioned Sage. I have one or two, and they’re nice rods. If you want one, watch eBay and get an old one. As with Orvis, you now pay more for the name than you do for the rod.

I dunno. If you have cubic money, buy a quiver-full of Hexes or Winstons – a half dozen for various fishing situations will put you back about $5000 – and go fish. If you’re on a budget, buy a quiver-full of Elkhorns for the same half dozen fishing situations – that will put you back about $1000 or $1200 – and go fish. By the way, the last I knew, Elkhorn had some nice reels that went nicely with their rods. Trouble with Elkhorn is they changed hands since I got mine, and I don’t know what they have for reels OR rods any more, or how much they cost. If you’re buying Hex’s, might as well drop another $1500 - $2000 and get a bag of Hardy Lightweights - Featherweights and LRH’s - and associated spare spools.

Regardless of equipment, fish your brains out and make sure your equipment shows it. Get hot and sweaty and tired. Fish in dangerous places, places where you’re not at the top of the food chain. Get hot, cold, bug-bit, wild-parsnip- and sun-burned, and hungry… and happy. Fish in water so cold your feet go numb. Fish until your hat and clothes are permanently sweat-stained, until the insides of your waders stink. "Trout Bum" and "Trout Hunter" are honorable titles. Gierach once said something like, “Fly fishing is the kind of endeavor that, once people know you do it, they think you’re a little imbalanced – enough so they leave you alone, but not so much that they put you away.” That’s a BAD paraphrase, but you get the idea. And remember, catching fish is about the least important part of fishing.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Alas... the Cat's no longer in the Cradle...

… the Champions are finished with breakfast, and Tralfamadore’s closed for business.


“NEW YORK - Kurt Vonnegut, the satirical novelist who captured the absurdity of war and questioned the advances of science in darkly humorous works such as "Slaughterhouse-Five" and "Cat's Cradle," died Wednesday. He was 84.”


I am, perhaps, not Vonnegut’s greatest fan, but I’m a fan. I read Cat’s Cradle in high school in the infant ‘70’s, in an English literature class that shaped my whole future. I thought it tremendously weird, but was fascinated with the concept of “Ice-9,” that version of ice that forms at room temperature, originally created for the Marines to be able to cross swamps in times of war. It was a natural progression of events due to the fallibility of man that the end of the world was not far off from that discovery.

I saw Slaughterhouse Five on the big screen when it came out in 1972. Again, I was an impressionable high school student. What a fantastic movie! ‘Fantastic’ in its truest sense. Billy Pilgrim, bouncing around time and place like channels changing on a TV. And what teenage boy could forget Montana Wildhack? Oh, to be trapped forever in a luxurious glass-domed condo on Tralfamadore with her.

And all his other fantastic works… what can one say about such a sharp, prescient social commentator who could also write good? Other than observing that there is yet another gaping hole in our collective social conscience.

ahhh Kurt… we’ll miss ye… please greet Doug Adams for us as you stick your thumb out on the entrance ramp to that Intergalactic Highway to Heaven…


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Space... the Final Frontier




Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of a fire that killed three men on a dry spot in the Florida swamp. Today is the 21st anniversary of an explosion that killed seven men and women in the skies over the Atlantic ocean. In a few days, it will be the fourth anniversary of an accident that killed seven men and women in the skies over Texas.

I’ve said it before, space travel and more to the point, space exploration is a dangerous business. It is also, and much more importantly, the best, most noble manifestation of what we human animals do. We explore. We become our best – or worst – when we reach for that which is just beyond our grasp.

Our species’ history as explorers is checkered at best, heinous and horrific at worst. Let’s let the seventeen men and women whose names are listed above, and the numerous others who died in less public ways along the path to the stars, be inspirations for us to be that best, most noble version of the human animal.

And let us not stop exploring space. Not for an instant.

“Roger Houston. Go at throttle-up.”


Old Guys

I don’t know if any of you watch CBS Sunday Morning (which by the way, has a tough time holding a candle to the program it was when Kuralt roamed the set). Today was a high water mark of sorts with the profile of two fairly lively old guys… well, old anyway to this 51-year-old.

They profiled two guys by the names of Chouinard and Seger. Depending on your leisure time activities, you may have heard one name or the other. Both, if you’ve lived a particularly interesting life to this point.

Yvon Chouinard is the founder and owner of Patagonia. No, not that Patagonia (though he could probably afford to buy it if he had a mind to), the other Patagonia… the outdoor equipment and clothing company. At 68, he still surfs (which makes him alright in my book right there!) and runs his company with an eye to the future of the planet and using all of its best features – you know, oceans, forests, mountains, snow, things like that – as a great big sandbox. The title of his business biography, I think, says it all: "Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman." He started as a dirtball climber, making his own pitons because he couldn’t afford to buy them, then making pitons and other climbing equipment for friends, and now at this end of history, presiding over a company valued at roughly $500M… and his whole company surfs whenever there’s surf, because “surfing isn’t something you do next Tuesday at 2:00.” You go when there’s surf.

Bob Seger… From Chevy commercials (“Like a ROCK…”) to “Against the Wind,” from Tom Cruise dancing in his underwear in “Risky Business,” to giving it all up at age 51 to go home to Michigan to raise his kids. Along the way, this guy penned the greatest rock ‘n roll song ever recorded, “Turn the Page,” about a tired old rocker hitting the stage one more time – because that’s what he does. Now, ten years later, at age 61, and not from keeping in shape like the Stones, but for the pure love of it, he’s back on the road for a four month tour, promoting a new album that’s already gone platinum.

Here are a few lines from “Turn the Page.” These lines could have been written by Hemmingway - but they weren’t… they were written a long time ago by a tired young rocker from Michigan who’d already been on the road a long time – because that’s what he does.

Well you walk into a restaurant,
strung out from the road
And you feel the eyes upon you
as you're shakin' off the cold
You pretend it doesn't bother you
but you just want to explode
Most times you can't hear 'em talk,
other times you can
All the same old cliches,
"Is that a woman or a man?"
And you always seem outnumbered,
you don't dare make a stand

Here I am
On the road again
There I am
Up on the stage
Here I go
Playin' star again
There I go
Turn the page

Or take a listen here:

When they played that at the end of the Sunday Morning segment this morning, more than one tear came to my eye. Gives an aging fly-fisherman-watch-geek-right-brained-engineer hope ….