Archive for the ‘trout’ Category

Colorado Splendor

August 4, 2018

chipmunk close

A New Little Friend

chipmunk

Follow your genius closely enough and it will not fail to show you a fresh prospect at every hour.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

My friend Dian Darr, who is part of this Colorado excursion, gave me a gift of a plaque with the above quote from Thoreau engraved on it. When I return home, it will be placed in front of me at my desk to view every time I sit down there to work. Thank you, Dian!

The windows of the Brookie Cabin have been left open every night, which has made for some bone-chilling mornings. Today was not an exception, with temperatures dipping to 48 degrees. I rose at 5:55, took a quick shower and donned clean clothes, and intended to sit at the table to read and write for awhile, but I made the mistake of looking out the cabin window:

tree

Tree Filled with Lights!

When my eyes were dazzled by the sight of this tree in the brilliant light of the mountain sunrise, I immediately remembered a line from Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, relating a story of a girl blind from birth that had had a special surgery allowing her to see for the very first time:

“When her doctor took her bandages off and led her into the garden, the girl who was no longer blind saw “the tree with the lights in it.”

I immediately put on a fleece hoodie and went out onto the porch to attempt to paint this tree of lights.

me 3

Taking Advantage of a Bright 50-degree morning

And speaking of painting, allow me to jump back in time. I just have to post this picture of what happened to me last night as I worked to finish my second attempt at a pine tree, this one in the late afternoon light:

evening pine

My Second Attempt at the Pine Tree

As I was finishing this pine tree painting, birds began to crowd each other at the feeder that hangs from the corner of this deck. I decided to put some of the sunflower seeds along the rail of the deck beside me, figuring that after I went inside for the evening, one of them could gather up those seeds.  Well, this one couldn’t wait:

bird

I believe this bird is an Evening Grosbeak, judging by the illustrations in a bird book I’ve consulted. He was only 18″ from my left shoulder as I painted! I looked directly at him and took this picture with my cell phone. He stayed almost thirty minutes, gobbling up every single sunflower seed that I had spread along the railing.

And now, back to this morning . . . After painting about an hour, I accepted the Darr’s generous invitation to have breakfast with them in their cabin nearby. After breakfast, we drove to Beaver Creek Reservoir to see if we could catch some trout for dinner. It was then that I realized that I had mistakenly packed all three of my fly reels to ship back to Texas! So . . . Plan B.  I decided to try the spinning reel with a casting bubble to throw dry and wet flies into the water. It worked!

trout bigger

Trying out a Casting Bubble and Dry Fly

This beautiful rainbow rose to the surface and gobbled up an enormous dry fly of a grasshopper. Ron and I alternated between Parachute Adams dry flies and Copper John nymphs and managed to catch our limit.

ron and I 2

Fishing with my Buddy Ron Darr

ron and I

Proud of our Catch!

trout big

It has been a spectacular day in Colorado. I’m not ready to return to Texas, but will have to leave here eventually.

Thanks for reading.

Advertisements

Two Splendor-Filled Colorado Days

June 29, 2016

Darr 6

Poets talk about “spots in time,” but it is really fishermen who experience eternity compressed into a moment.

Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

A cool, hard-driving mountain rain has driven me back indoors after a day and a half of fly fishing and plein air painting.  So, I’m going to record some of the wonders that have come my way since my last posting.

I rose early yesterday morning to see a group of men standing in the stretch of waters below my cabin, casting spinning reeels in all directions with lures flashing so large I could see them at 100 yards. They talked so loudly I could hear every word from inside my dwelling.   I had planned to enter that space myself, but realized it would be awhile before the area settled down.  So . . . making coffee, I sat at my kitchen table and did some necessary tasks–rebuilding my tapered leader that has taken a beating over recent years. The nine-foot leader had been chewed down to about five feet.  Finding some 3x tippet, I spliced three more feet onto it, then added another two feet of 5x tippet to get the leader back to its desired length.

Hearing the continuing clattering conversation of the three clowns below who were catching nothing, but slashing the hell out of that stretch of water, I decided to make some decisions while sorting through my flybox.  I tied on an elk-hair caddis dry fly, rubbed flotation fluid into its hackles, then added another 18″ of 5x tippet, tying it onto the bend of the hook, and finally tied on a bead-headed Copper John nymph.

Out on the porch, I pulled on my waders and boots, and seeing that the men were still busy thrashing the waters, I decided to hike 200 yards downstream where the river was deeper, darker, and much swifter.  The wading proved treacherous and arduous, and I hadn’t forgotten the soaking I took last Saturday when I tried to navigate these waters.  I did manage to work a couple of decent stretches of stream, managing only a couple of strikes on the dry fly, which I missed, having too much slack in my line.

Finally, the last man left my preferred stretch, so I waded slowly upstream to a marvelously wide, sun-filled flat stretch of shallow riffles.

open waters (2)

The voices of the subterranean river in the shadows were different from the voices of the sunlit river ahead.  In the shadows against the cliff the river was deep and engaged in profundities, circling back on itself now and then to say things over to be sure it had understood itself.  But the river ahead came out into the sunny world like a chatterbox, doing its best to be friendly.  It bowed to one shore and then to the other so nothing would feel neglected.

Norman MacleanA River Runs Through It

Darr 4

It took very little time to land three brown trout, all of them under ten inches, but I was thrilled to see them all take the dry fly.  Though the fish were small, the waters exploded every time they took the surface fly.

small trout

Realizing the sinking nymph was getting no action, I clipped it off, then continued to move upstream, fishing the dry fly only.  For about an hour, I managed to miss about ten strikes, most of them large browns, because I could not strip the slack out of my line quickly enough.  The waters are still very high and fast.  The snow melt is still running its course.  I’ve never before seen so many snow packs in the mountains this time of year in Colorado.  Nevertheless, I found my time on the river very intoxicating, as I listened to the waters flowing swiftly over the smooth rocks.  The wonderful thing about the cabin where I am staying is that it is so close to the river that I hear the sounds of the rushing waters around the clock.  They soothe me to sleep every night, and greet me in my first waking moment of the following morning.

The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time.  On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words and some of the words are theirs.

Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

Today I decided to put off my river excursion until this evening and instead focus on plein air painting throughout the morning and early afternoon.  (Now that the hard rains have arrived, I question whether I’ll get to enter the river today at all.  We’ll see.)  From where I am residing, I look daily across Highway 160 at this line of towering bluffs, and am fascinated with the striations in the rocks as well as the trees that crown them.  The sky constantly shifts back and forth from deep clear blue to cloud-stuffed.  I managed three quick watercolor sketches today on 140# stretched D’Arches cold-pressed paper.  I tried to begin a fourth, because the dark storm clouds framed up a deep colorful composition along the bluffs.  However, I needed to stretch more paper, and after stretching three more surfaces, the first of the hard raindrops fell, and I had to scurry back into the cabin with all my supplies.

bluff in pochade box (2)

number two (2)

number three (2)

three watercolors (2)

The rain has ceased and the Colorado landscape is showing some light once again.  I began a watercolor sketch of the pine tree in front of my porch a few days ago, but never returned to it.  I’m going to resume it now, and see if I can get back into the stream later.

Thanks for reading.  It’s been a magnificent pair of days.

I paint in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

 

Multi-Tasking in Colorado

June 27, 2016

Tucker Pond multi tasking

Geez! Fumbling with my Phone while Plein Air Painting and Trout Fishing!

Even a soul submerged in sleep is hard at work, and helps make something of the world.

Heraclitus

Sleep did not come easy last night as my mind flowed with a myriad of thoughts and would not shut down. Yet I awoke at 5:00 this morning, filled with a spirit of expectancy, believing that today was going to be an excellent day.

Annie

Sitting on the front porch with a cup of coffee and Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, I enjoyed the snap to the air with temperatures hanging around 45 degrees. I read until Ron and Dian picked me up at 6:45 and we embarked on our 45-minute drive up to an altitude of 9600 feet and temperatures registering 38 degrees. Tucker Pond was beautiful with the mist rolling off its surface and trout constantly roiling the waters.

Multi-tasking seems to be my way of life.  I set up the easel as soon as I had my line cast into the waters.  Sure enough, just as I finished blocking in the sky, my rod jerked hard, and I saw a rainbow about 18 inches long fighting for his freedom.  He won, as I was too impatient to play him out, trying to put a net on him when he still had plenty of strength. I knew better.  On a more positive note, I always think trout are easier to cook when smaller anyway.

As I painted the morning away, I would lose several quality trout as they struck and stole my bait before I could lay down the brush and take up the rod.  Nevertheless, we intended to take four for our evening meal, and we each managed to land a pair.

trout

The entire time I gazed into the forest adjoining Tucker Pond, I thought of what I was reading from Annie Dillard about “color patches” and the way it reminded me of Paul Cezanne’s theories of color when painting in plein air.  I was smitten by the sight of the golden greens in the pine trees and how they contrasted with the blue spruce colors. The rose colors of the distant mountain to the left of the forest also held my attention. The morning was everything I had anticipated when I awoke with a sense of gladness before dawn.

Tucker Pond painting (2)

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to learn.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Soothing Moments in the River

May 5, 2016

 

brown trout 1 photoshopped

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.
Norman Maclean

My friend Bill Barksdale arrived at my door at 6 a.m. and we made our second journey to the waters, this time the White River.  The water levels were low and sluggish, and so were the trout, but I did manage to coax this 5-inch brown to take my fly. Fortunately, I was able to lift his sweet face out of the waters for a portrait, and then a quick release.

I was pleased with the kind of photo my Samsung phone was able to make, but Bill went to work with his high-end camera and took several shots to record our morning:  I’m surprised that I’m not scowling more deeply as this river has required tiny flies that my eyes don’t see as well as they did in younger days.

IMG_2098

IMG_2103

I could not have dialed up a more perfect day, spending most of it in the river. Watching trout rise to sip flies from the surface (except for mine), thrills me to the core.  For much of the morning, I gazed at row after row of trout, lined up to feed on whatever drifted past them (except for my own flies), their tails and fins undulating softly in the current.  All of it produced such hypnotic sensations, and I felt that I could have watched these sights for days.  And wade fishing in trout streams has always settled my pulse rate.  The past week has been fast-paced for me, with much travel, many daily appointments and responsibilities, and plenty of second-guessing.  I now face two consecutive days of judging art competitions, but tomorrow’s will be held late in the day, and then Saturday’s will happen in the morning. Fortunately for me, the activities are spread out, allowing me quality time to unwind between my responsibilities.  And so far, I’ve managed the perfect blend of making watercolors outside and fly fishing.  The week has flown by at warp speed and I’m astonished tonight to realize I have only two full days remaining at this event, before journeying back home to return to my full-time job.  I’m confident that once I return home, my batteries will be charged sufficiently for me to resume my duties.

Thanks for staying with me this week.

 

 

Finding the Seam

March 6, 2016

Finding the Seam

My Watercolor from Several Years Back

I admit that this is highly unorthodox, but I’m going to post the talk I’m planning on giving before the Samaritan Sunday School class at the First Methodist Church in Arlington, Texas later this morning (hoping that none of the class members will find and read this in advance). This is a class of adults that I came to love deeply about twenty years ago when I was asked on a number of occasions to speak before them.  They even invited me to attend a weekend retreat at Lake Murray Lodge in Oklahoma, serving as a conference speaker.  The memories of them have always been rich, even though we drifted in different directions over the past decades. Recently they found me again and invited me back last Sunday.  Today I will close out my series with them.  Thanks for reading:

Finding the Seam[1]

          Good morning. The title of this morning’s meditation is “Finding the Seam.”  I shared with you last Sunday that my mind has already surged ahead to summer, that I have already booked a cabin in Colorado so I can pursue my passion of fly fishing for wary trout.  I only regret that I still have twelve weeks of classes to endure.  Once that final bell sounds, I will experience escape velocity.  I’ll begin by visiting Mom and Dad in St. Louis, but only for a short time.  I believe it was either Benjamin Franklin or Mark Twain who once remarked that fish and house guests begin to smell after three days.  So I’ll only trouble my parents for three days.  Then I’ll point my Jeep west for a nice, extended over-the-road trip, Jack Kerouac-style, to pick up, as though it were a hitchhiker, a life that I dropped off a few years back.

I recall the words of the author Robert Travers, snickering at the reputation of the frustrated artist, and identifying himself as an unfrustrated fly fisherman.  I don’t think I have ever been a frustrated artist, but I do know that I regard myself as an unfrustrated fly fisherman. It was not always so.  In my redneck days of rod-and-reel river fishing, I heard people say that if you spend the beautiful day outside and never catch a fish, it’s still been a good experience, imbibing the beauty of the outdoors.  Well, I knew that for me that certainly was not true.  If I fished all day and got skunked, it sucked.  But once I converted to fly fishing all that changed profoundly.  There is a ritual that comes with rigging up.  I used to want to jump out of the vehicle, and get my line into the water as quickly as possible. I always wished that I could have the rod-and-reel ready and baited up, and that I didn’t have to drag a tackle box and folding chair and minnow bucket and stringer and lunch pail and all that stuff down to the river’s edge.  I just wanted to catch fish and catch ‘em fast.

Fly fishing, for me, was a revelation, an entrance into a new world.  Indeed I’ve heard some speak of fly-fishing as reverently as religion.  In fact, Norman Maclean opens his famous book with this hook: “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.”[2]  I have to testify in all seriousness that Colorado fly-fishing always restores my weary soul.  I take my time, rigging up the fly rod, tying on tippet and flies, pulling on waders and boots, all the while sensing the river rolling by as it has for millions of years. And then, to approach the river, survey its dynamics, and step into the stream—at that point, I feel my breathing change and sense that my heartbeat has settled down. And yes, if I fly fish the entire day without a hit, it’s still been a most magnificent day to be alive, outside, and away from the daily routine.

Ever since I read the book by former New York Times editor Howell Raines titled Fly Fishing Through the Mid-Life Crisis, and then saw that marvelously engaging film based on Maclean’s novella titled A River Runs Through It, I knew I was missing out on something spectacular in this life.  Even in high school, when I read Ernest Hemingway’s two-part short story “Big Two-Hearted River,” I knew I wanted to hold a fly rod in my hand one day, and step into a mountain stream.  It would be different from what I had known as a child growing up with a cane pole and later a rod and reel.       
Over the past decade, every time I stood in a stream, beneath the shadows of a Colorado canyon, Emerson’s words from his very first book would come whispering back out of the atmosphere to soothe  me, as he wrote: “the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.”[3]  Drawing from another Emerson metaphor, I can testify that when I enter that place, I cast off my years like a snake does his skin, and remain forever a child.  In the river I find perpetual youth.  In the river, I return to reason and faith.

As I listen to the sounds of water rushing over and around the rocks, past my boots as it cuts through the banks, I hear Maclean’s words coming back to me: “Eventually, all things merge into one and a river runs through it.  The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time.  On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops.  Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.”[4]

Now, when one steps into that swift stream, the casual eye will see only a large volume of water surging past.  But there is so much more going on, as anyone observing long enough will come to realize.  The water is running past in channels, or separate lanes, if you please.  Some of those lanes are flowing faster than others.  And oftentimes you will notice that there are pockets of water that are hardly moving at all.

What the fly fisherman is looking for are the seams dividing those channels.  More specifically, the fly fisherman is looking for the seam that separates moving water from still water, or at least the swifter water from the lazy current.  The trout, you see, are lined up in the slower lanes, where they can just hang out with as little effort as possible, and they have their noses in the seam, watching the swift current carry the insects by.  The fly fisherman drops his fly in the seam and lets the current carry it down the lane, past those lines of fish, in hopes that the fly looks real enough that one of them will dart out and take it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau are institutions of American literature, but few people really know what these nature writers are doing. Their school of thought is called New England Transcendentalism, and it urges that for every physical element we perceive, there is a higher, corresponding truth.   And that is where I am going with this morning’s remarks about fly-fishing in mountain streams.  This morning’s topic is about that seam that divides the forces, the fault line separating the dual channels.  There are several modern thinkers I wish to share with you this morning who had intriguing ideas about these seams we find in life.

Paul Tillich, early in his life, published a book titled On the Boundary.  His “boundary” is the same as the “seam” I’ve just been discussing.  The boundary is what separates opposing forces—it’s the seam that separates opposing ideas.  It is the seam that not only divides the camps, but appears to hold them together in tension.  Tillich found that boundary cutting through his religious traditions, his university responsibilities and his daily tasks.

In Friedrich Nietzsche’s masterpiece Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he described the human condition as a rope stretched over an abyss, between the beast and the person of excellence.  The actual life is the journey across that rope, a dangerous on-the-way, a dangerous across, a process and not a destiny.  Life is that narrow seam, cutting through the abyss. On one side are the traditions and on the other are the discoveries. We keep threading the path, one step at a time, between the standards and the experiments.

Karl Barth, a contemporary of Tillich, and likewise indebted to Nietzsche, used the same imagery when he described his life as a dialectical theologian.  He said he had to walk a narrow precipice and keep moving so he would not be in danger of falling to one side or the other.  He was describing the extreme party positions of his day, between the Protestant Liberalism of the late nineteenth century, and the Neo-Orthodoxy of the early twentieth.  Barth testified that the challenge lay in threading the seam between them, always moving forward.

What is that fault line?  What is that junction in the midst of the dualism?  Where are the seams in your life?  Well, I’d like to take the time to point out a few possibilities for thought this morning.  In his first book The Birth of Tragedy, Friedrich Nietzsche argued that there was indeed a seam in the human spirit, but not a division between soul and body as Plato and all his descendents assumed.  Taking his lead from ancient Greek theater, Nietzsche said the two patron gods Apollo and Dionysus personified this dualism, with Apollo representing our reasonable side and Dionysus portraying our passionate side.  Apollo was the tradition and Dionysus was the exploration. These sides are not to be equated with good and evil, by any means.  Nietzsche urged that either extreme was unhealthy.  In the centuries following Greek theater, Aristotle himself urged that all forms of extremism are wrong; the healthy human soul should seek the Golden Mean, another nice synonym for the seam, the fault line that passes between the extremes.  It is easy to see the two sides of reason and passion in our individual makeup.  One side of our makeup is given to order, to rules, to convention, to propriety.  The other side explores the drama, the new, the adventure, the creative impulse.  Neither side can yield a fullness of life.  Regimentation is no way to live life in its fullness, but neither is recklessness.

Another seam that could be found in personal life, if I may draw from the world of basic mechanics, is that line separating Intake and Exhaust.  As human beings, we require nourishment as well as exercise, intake as well as output.  And in our everyday social lives, we take steps to take care of ourselves, and we also find opportunities to reach out to others in our circle.  Throughout my life, in the workplace, and among my circles of friends, I’ve seen many suffer from a dreadful imbalance, and I certainly have suffered it myself.  Exhaustion occurs when you spend all you have in personal resources to prop up others, and neglect your own basic needs.  I still remember the first time I heard the word “burn-out.”  It was used by NFL head coach Dick Vermeil, when he abruptly retired from coaching the Philadelphia Eagles after a Super Bowl loss.  He had been driven like a locomotive, sleeping little, skipping meals, and even keeping a cot in his coaching office instead of going home at night to his family.  Finally, he collapsed in exhaustion and retired.  In his press conference, he described his personal life as “burned out.”

Then there is that other extreme—the individual who lives only for the self and develops a kind of spiritual autism.  When people are elderly we sometimes use the word shut-ins to describe a lifestyle that no longer leaves home, and experiences no one coming in to check on welfare.  They turn in on themselves and eventually their world is just an internal world.  Likewise there are those who in younger years find ways to close themselves off from meaningful contact.  Many times they are diagnosed with clinical depression.  Some are brutally honest and say they just don’t like people and prefer to be left alone.  At times they can degenerate into suspicion and paranoia.

I have often in the past held up Jesus of Nazareth as a prime example of one who poured himself out in the service of multitudes, but balanced it with retreats into solitude where virtually no one knew where he was staying.  He avoided the exhaustion by taking quality time to pay himself and revive.  You could count on it.  If the New Testament record testifies to his spending an entire day teaching, arguing, healing and resolving disputes between parties, you could then find him in absentia the following day.  He is in a mode of prayer and meditation.  In solitude he regains his focus and determines what to do next in his ministry.

Another seam that I would like to address this morning was brought up last Sunday, and that concerns what lies between the individual and the social dimensions of our being.  I once heard a psychology teacher defining introvert and extrovert in the following way: the introvert knows the self and stands confidently in that identity, whereas the extrovert depends on others to define his or her identity.  Some people are more private, so they may be referred to as introvert, whereas others are more gregarious and are therefore deemed as extrovert.  But the human being functions in solitude as well as corporate activity.  And as a teacher I’m just as concerned with one extreme as the other.  Parents are understandably upset at a son or daughter that comes home and broods, choosing to withdraw from family and friends.  Other parents are equally perturbed at the child who comes home with the cell phone perpetually in the line of vision, knowing it’s going to stay there for the duration of the night.  Because, you see, some teens are terrified at the thought of being alone.  If no one out there is talking to them, then they have become meaningless.  And Tillich testified that the fear of becoming meaningless is one of the gut-level anxieties that plague the modern consciousness.

And finally, the seam dividing Time from Eternity. While living for two years, two months and two days in a cabin beside Walden pond, Henry David Thoreau penned these words:

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.[5]

That makes my heart flutter.  In the sixth century before Christ, two pre-Socratic philosophers argued over whether the essence of life was time or eternity. Heraclitus said “You cannot set foot in the same river twice.  All things flow; nothing abides,” while Parmenides argued that time is only illusion; there is only Eternity, there is only Being.

Henry David Thoreau, bending over to drink from a flowing stream said:

Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.[6]

Norman Maclean wrote: “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.”

So, life as a river surges forward, cutting a path between the extremes: Reason and Passion, Intake and Output, Individual and Social, Time and Eternity.  At any rate, it moves forward, in a perpetual flowing stream, never stopping. Emerson mused that few people could look at a flowing river and not make the transcendental leap to contemplating life as a moving stream meandering along its path, enriched by the seams embedded in that contextual flow.

That is my testimony this morning.  Life’s river is comprised of many seams dividing the channels.  And in those seams are clues that offer a greater understanding of life’s choices and rich possibilities.

 

[1] Sermon delivered at Arlington First United Methodist Church, 6 March 2016.

[2]Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1976), p.1.

[3] Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature in Selections from Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Stephen E. Whicher (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957), p. 24.

[4] A River Runs Through It, p. 113.

[5] Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Civil Disobedience (New York: Penguin Books, 1983), p. 142.

[6] Ibid.

Troublesome Fly Fishing I

March 4, 2016

Troublesome 1

Some friends have been asking recently about my fly fishing watecolors. I am posting the three originals that remain in my collection. This one above measures 8.5 x 11.5 and is not currently in a mat or frame. I’m offering it for $125.

Troublesome 2

This one measures 13.5 x 10.5″ and is in a 20 x 16″ white mat.  I’m offering it for $150.

troublesome framed

This one I have difficulty photographing because of the glare on the glass. A better image is on my website http://www.recollections54.com.  The image measures 9 x 17″ and it is in a 19 x 31″ custom frame with insets of a pair of trout flies and a reprodution of one of my brown trout watercolors (I still have the brown trout original as well). This one is priced at $900.

Thank you for the inquiries.

A Second Morning In the Stream

January 20, 2014
A Second Handsome Rainbow Trout

A Second Handsome Rainbow Trout

I have returned to my home and studio, tired, but fulfilled from the past two days’ excursion.  I entered the Lower Mountain Fork River a second time yesterday morning, having awakened around 7:15, rested and refreshed and ready.  It was 35 degrees, and with the added layers of clothing, I still remained uncomfortably cold, yet stayed in the stream much longer.  After fishing for about 30 minutes with no luck, I pulled in my line and found that I had lost my nymph!  Talk about disgusted, fishing with an empty line for that long.  Embarrassed, stupid–I could not find enough words to describe myself, freezing and wasting my time.  I tied on a #20 Ruby Midge and drifted for another thirty minutes with nothing.  I decided I had given it long enough, I was cold, and ready to call it a day, grateful at least for what had happened yesterday.  I began reeling in the line, absent-mindedly.  By the time half of the line was on myspool, a large rainbow struck, surprising me.  I held him for about 15 seconds, and then he broke off.  I got a good look at him–comparable to the large one I had pulled in yesterday.

Well, I couldn’t stop then!  I tied on a #20 Olive Midge and went back at it again.  Thirty more minutes passed, then I tied into the nice rainbow photographed above.   This one took quite a while to get into the net, but I managed, and this time measured (I was too excited and thrilled to remember to measure the one from yesterday).  This one measured 18″ and was very fat, like the one from yesterday.  Another freezing thirty minutes went by, and a 12″ rainbow got on.  Of course, it took very little to get him into the net, and I didn’t bother photogaphing.  My hands were raw from the cold and wet.  I don’t think he minded not getting his picture taken.  Another thirty minutes.  Then my strike indicator suddenly vanished, and I felt a monster on the other end.  This one I worked a long, long time, clearly bigger and heavier than the others.  I got a good look at him.  Huge.  I never got him near the net.  He broke off.  I just took a deep breath.  At least I got to see what was on the other end, a very handsome rainbow.  Thirty minutes later, nothing, and then I knew I had to get out of the stream.  I never did get comfortable with the temperatures.  And I’m glad I had something to show for the time spent.  I finally took a picture of the guy on the other bank who stalked me the entire time I was there.  No kidding.  As I moved upstream, he always took the same number of steps, always staying opposite me.  There were more than a dozen other fly fishermen all up and down the stream.  They all laughed, wondering the same as I, why I was the one the bird decided to accompany.  He did bring luck.

My Fishing Companion (or Competitor?)

My Fishing Companion (or Competitor?)

Thanks for reading.

Extreme Contrasts in the Artful Life

January 18, 2014
Bringing in a Large Rainbow Trout

Bringing in a Large Rainbow Trout

Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.
Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. 

Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

A Quick Photo Before Releasing Him

A Quick Photo Before Releasing Him

The contrast of the past twenty-four hours could hardly be sharper.  Last night found me in the Jazz-infused din of the Dallas Museum of Art, dressed in evening attire and enjoying the strolling crowds.  Today found me three-and-a-half hours away in an Oklahoma trout stream, wearing (more comfortable) fly-fishing regalia, and standing beneath the shadow of a massive rock, looking into the recesses of dark waters and rising trout.  With this being a three-day weekend, I decided I needed a little time away.

Though the thermometer registered 61 degrees, the stream lay in the shadows of a deep gorge, and freezing winds shrieked down the corridor.  It didn’t take long to hook a small 8″ rainbow trout, and it was exciting to see him shatter the surface of the stream to take down a dry fly.  As my hands got colder, and I wondered about the wisdom of standing in such a frigid environ, my dry fly suddenly disappeared, and when I hauled back, I thought the rod was going to be torn from my hands.  The ensuing sound of the rolling surface was not the splish-splash of a small, feisty trout, but the fat body of large rainbow rolling the surface.  I heard gasps up and down the river, and was shocked to realize that surrounding fly fisherman “heard” that as well, and all stopped fishing to watch.

What followed was an aerial show as this huge creature did everything he knew to throw the barbless hook, and frankly, I still don’t know how I managed to hold him.  By the time he was in the net, I was shocked to see that the hook was straightened out to the shape of an “L”.  He was magnificent to hold as I rocked him in the stream after the photo, slowly feeling his strength return, and watching him swim out of my hands and back into the current and away.

Rocking Him Back to Full Strength

Rocking Him Back to Full Strength

By that time, my hands were freezing from keeping them in the water so long.  I could not see the day getting any better than that.  So I left in search of a warm place to land once again.

Thanks for reading.

A Weekend of Needed Restoration

September 15, 2013
An Evening of Fly Fishing at Beavers Bend State Park, Broken Bow, Oklahoma

An Evening of Fly Fishing at Beavers Bend State Park, Broken Bow, Oklahoma

A hobby is a defiance of the contemporary.  It is an assertion of those permanent values which the momentary eddies of social evolution have contravened or overlooked.  If this is true, then we may also say that every hobbyist is inherently a radical, and that his tribe is inherently a minority.

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

Arlington, Texas never looked better to me, as I viewed it from my rearview mirror last Friday afternoon.  The week in school was crushing, and as I looked at my calendar, I saw no relief in sight.  So, I loaded the Jeep and set out for Broken Bow, Oklahoma, a three-and-one-half hour drive, with a mind full of good memories of conversations with eager students, and a heart that lightened with every mile left behind.  I checked into my hotel in Idabel, Oklahoma, road-weary but hopeful for the coming day.

Saturday morning found me in a trout stream in Beavers Bend State Park.  It felt good to wade cold waters on a 65-degree morning (Texas temperatures since July have been the worst kind of hell).  I felt the calm, serene happiness of Nick in Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River,” even though I could not raise a single trout throughout the morning.  I stopped for lunch and a refresher back at the hotel, watched a little TV (didn’t mind watching Johnny Football take it on the chin–being a schoolteacher, he reminds me of too many privileged students I’d just as soon forget), then re-packed and returned to the stream about 4:30 in the afternoon.

The gorge I chose this time was cut so deep that shadows were already falling across the waters, and the signt of flyfishermen beneath the overlooking cliffs made me wonder whether I wanted to paint or fly fish.  I took pictures, and decided to paint later.  Entering the stream, I tried everything the fly shop recommended–lead sinkers, yellow bobbers, an assortment of nymphs, and nothing worked.  Finally I returned to about the only thing I know how to do:  I tied a size 18 elk-haired caddis on, soaked it in floatant, and then tied 18″ of 5x leader off the hook and attached a size 20 red midge to use as a dropper.  Success.  Four rainbow trout, up to 14″, struck within thirty minutes, and I felt that everything I had wanted to happen on this weekend vacation happened.

14" rainbow trout in the net

14″ rainbow trout in the net

A second rainbow . . .

A second rainbow . . .

. . . a third rainbow . . .

. . . and a fourth rainbow to round out the evening

. . . and a fourth rainbow to round out the evening

They were all beautiful, beyond description, as I raised the net and let the late afternoon sun fall across their forms and beheld a dazzling spectrum of colors.  Trout colors overwhelm my eye.  I released them all, happily.  I love watching trout swim away to their freedom.  Once I caught and released the fourth one, I was exhausted.  I struggled to the bank, sat awhile, took more photographs of the surrounding fly fishermen, then found my way to a rural diner for a late dinner, then back to the hotel.

Today I’m home, rested and grateful for the weekend.  I have attempted an 8 x 10″ watercolor of the lovely place where I landed the trout.  I even tried to put a solitary fly fisherman down below in the shadows, to stress how dimutive we feel when we’re enveloped with the grandeur of this stream.

Fly Fishing Beneath the Gathering Twilight

Fly Fishing Beneath the Gathering Twilight

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Transitions

March 8, 2013
Lures and Flies

Transitions

Lazy Ike and Lucky 13Lazy Ike and Lucky 13

Bomber and Tiny Lucky 13

Bomber and Tiny Lucky 13

Like many Southerners, I was ruined for church by early exposure to preachers.  So when I need to hear the sigh of the Eternal, I find myself drawn to a deep hollow between Fork Mountain and Double Top Mountain on the eastern flank of the Blue Ridge.  This is where the Rapidan River plunges through a hemlock forest and through gray boulders that jut from the ferny earth like the aboriginal bones of old Virginia.  This is a place of enlightenment for me, the spot where I received the blessing of my middle years.  Here, after three decades of catching fish, I began learning to fish.

Howell Raines, Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis

Finally I get around to posting the three watercolor sketches I finished up yesterday afternoon (Thursday) after school, while inhabiting my Man Cave.  Tonight, I sigh with a deep sense of contentment, enjoying my first evening of Spring Break, not returning to school until March 18.

Though I doubt that I will get any fishing in during this break (there is so much work to do and I welcome the space for it), I have turned recently to watercolor sketching these vintage pieces of fishing memorabilia.

I am opening this meditation with these words from Howell Raines, whose book changed my life profoundly.  He and I live in parallel worlds–I learned to fish as a young boy, and it was always my passion, but when I took up the fly rod about ten years ago, everything changed in ways that carry religious overtones for me.

I have titled the top piece “Transitions,” because of my shift from bass lures to trout flies about a decade ago.  All the subjects in the sketch are vintage.  The lures are borrowed from dear friends of mine.  And then, a student a couple of years ago gave me a beautiful wooden box filled with vintage flies!  I have been randomly selecting them for watercolor sketches as well.  I dare not fish the vintage flies though.  I just love to look at them, along with a few vintage bamboo fly rods and antique fly reels I have acquired over the past decade–great for looking at and watercoloring, but not for real use anymore.  I treasure them like museum pieces.

Riverbend Resort, South Fork, Colorado

Almont, Colorado, about to enter the Taylor River

And of course, I couldn’t resist inserting a picture of myself during happier days.  The Taylor River, a few summers ago, lifted me out of this world of business, and inserted me into a paradise where time seemed to evaporate.  I felt those Howell Raines sentiments, with the Eternal breathing gently in my ear, and my heart palpitating every time a brown rose to sip a dry fly.  The babbling sounds of a Colorado mountain stream just have a way of changing the way I breathe the moment I step into the waters.

Finding the Seam

 

Thanks for reading.