Feeling the Weight

“Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, inciting at once to work and rest! Days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God. Nevermore, however weary, should one faint by the way who gains the blessings of one mountain day; whatever his fate, long life, short life, stormy or calm, he is rich forever. “ ~ John Muir

I woke up one morning recently overwhelmed by a sense of being in the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong things. That usually means I had a dream about fly fishing. But the day job was calling so I hitched myself up and out of bed to get through the routine of another hum drum schedule.

I feel the pressure. Get up early, snake through five lanes of brake lights, a commute so familiar I arrive without remembering how I got there. Marginally engaged, I go through the motions of meetings, conference calls, and project plans, numbed to the outcomes. All of this justified by the bi-weekly direct deposit then used to pay for gas, car maintenance, an occasional pair of new slacks. Next day the lemmings are still out there headed for the precipice and I dutifully follow along, eyes glazed. And the next day. And the next.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Viewed through the lens of Western society I suppose I’m accomplished. I’ve held jobs where I’ve earned a living wage and learned a variety of skills. I’ve paid mortgages and multiple college tuitions, rescued a dog, and nurtured a partnership with a most incredible woman. I’ve had the honor of bringing into this world three compassionate, gifted children, in awe of how they navigate an increasingly confusing world. I follow a road map that seems to have been placed in front of me by someone I don’t recognize, a blueprint I didn’t create, one predestined and mundane.

It’s a strange weight I carry. I’ve lived a full life but haven’t lived fully. I don’t think I’ve connected to my most fundamental cosmic intention. Is this a mid-life crisis, a reaction to the vacuum created as the proverbial nest has emptied? The questions persist. I have somehow allowed weakness and doubt to seep into my worldview.

I’m simply not wired to work 50 hours a week, checking in and checking out, answering to someone else’s demands, following a pattern predictable and corrosive. In moments of clarity I silently shake my head at the counter-intuitive nature of this design. Archaeologists figure that our paleolithic ancestors “worked” maybe 12 hours a week. And then they would play in order to keep up the skills needed to hunt and forage. I have a primal urge to fish and hunt and forage and forge my path as artist and naturalist, philosopher and interpreter.

I’m a man too gentle to live among urban wolves. I long to stand in rivers. I seek sermons in stones. I want to live in the crepuscular moments of each day finding treasures in the daybreak and mystery in the dusk.

I spend every day reminding myself of this. I spend every day trying to sneak in moments of creativity. And of purpose. I must learn how to start trusting myself again, believing, giving myself permission to say, “my hands were meant for something else, my life can have deeper fulfillment than I originally thought.” There are other paths and other places to do what I was meant to do.

I know one path to such a place. A humble cabin in a wilderness carved by a trout stream. The moment I step into that vastness I am connected to an unmistakable divinity. My receptors become wide open, eyes dilating with rich color, nostrils flaring to draw in the waft of wood and pine needles and leaves goldening through the seasons. The spiritual energy is palpable, has substance, and I can actually run my fingers through it, feeling its weight.

I do not want to go to the mountains. I am ready to be from the mountains, to live in the woods and the waters, to paint on a canvas of sky, to stand in the tempest of storms and deeply breathe in the songs carried by the wind.

Public Access

“Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.”                                                                                                           ~ Camille Pissarro

Woven into most rivers in North America are intervals of private and public water, and the river I fish is no different. I am privileged to have access, albeit somewhat questionable since I only have a passing acquaintance with distant relatives who technically own the property, to nearly a mile of private water. It’s a beautiful mix of long runs, boulder-strewn pockets, and stretches of riffles leading one to the other. There is one place where the private property is interrupted by a stretch of water marked by a short gravel pull-off from the two-lane county road that snakes through the canyon alongside the river. Anyone can fish this stretch, so we suitably refer to it as “Public Access.” It’s well hidden by thick brush and forest, but there are those who know of it and regularly fish it in the busy season and others who occasionally stumble upon it. I imagine there’s the occasional fisherman who’s savvy enough to read property boundaries on a map to find this diamond in the rough.

Sometimes folks get it wrong as did the two gents who were trespassing on the private land nearby early one morning. I encountered them on my daily run up the road as they were ducking through the barbed-wire fence just upstream of Public Access. They feigned surprise when I stopped to tell them they were on private property. They told me they had looked at maps and confirmed this stretch of river was not private. I told them they were dead wrong, you know, referring to the fact they had just gingerly navigated through barbed-wire. Well, that and the sign posted on the fence right next to them that read “Posted No Fishing”.

“There’s a guy up here who walks the banks from time to time,” I said. “Calls himself the Sheriff and takes it upon himself to warn people off the land. Just sayin’.”

They hemmed and hawed, mumbled something about being catch and release guys and wouldn’t stay long. I did my best to encourage them to reconsider by sharing with them a “difference of opinion” I had with the Sheriff a while back when he thunked a 9mm round in the water about ten yards from me last time I was on this stretch. They shrugged it off and I wasn’t about to push the issue, so I said, “Have a good one” before resuming my run.

They must have believed that sneaking onto private property meant the fishing would be better, given the lack of access for regular folks. The idea is that the fishing is best where the fewest go, and I suppose there’s merit to that notion. We fly fishermen look for privacy, for undisturbed streams where fish are not as easily spooked as they are in the well-trodden places. So these seemingly good-hearted men were simply trying to bend the rules a bit, thinking they could fulfill an experience all fly fishermen dream of. Had they only known about the hidden gem a couple of hundred yards away that’s as productive as any water on the entire river, they would have been fishing it that morning rather than risking a confrontation with the Sheriff.

It raises certain questions about private water and provokes controversy about what belongs to all people versus what belongs to the privilege of a few. If one owns the property up to the edge of the river, does he then claim that stretch of water as private water since others can only access it through his yard? Or if folks start wading the river in a public stretch and walk in the water as it enters private property, then assholes like the Sheriff can justifiably shoot in their direction? A fisherman can float his boat through, but the moment he steps out of the boat and onto the rocks in ankle-deep water, is he trespassing?

I’ve given names to most of my favorite spots along the river, a variety of public and private water in which I have been able to carve out secret areas of total solitude. Honey Hole, The Bend, Papa Dad’s. They’re favorites because I rarely get skunked and indeed, Public Access remains as productive as any of them. I surmise the fishermen who know of it are mostly conservation types and return their catch to the river. I certainly appreciate those on the river who would rather sow than reap. So, while this spot feels just a bit more pressure than the private stretches, the fishing is just as damn good.

Public Access is so reliable it seems to always be the place to start walking the river, just to feel the tug and get some endorphins coursing through the system. As it’s a short walk up the road from our place, we also can get on the water quickly. The conversation with the boys usually goes like this:

“Where do you want to start fishing this afternoon?”

“How about Public Access?”

“Sounds good. We usually do pretty well there.”

Pushing through the brush and willows at the river’s edge to the open bank, the key is to stay low and not spook what is invariably a nice brown trout holding close in the skinny water about ten feet out. We alternate who gets the first crack each time we hit that spot. With knees bent in a low-profile crouch, a simple back cast with a #16 bead head Prince Nymph gets that guy’s attention pretty much every time. Then it’s a matter of spreading out and slowly working towards the deeper runs in the middle of the river.

My friend Dale and I were nearly trampled by a moose at Public Access. Well…my friend Dale was nearly trampled by a moose. As we entered from the road, a medium-sized bull moose (medium-sized being relative since even the youngsters are 600 pounds of massive mammal) was ahead of us on the trail to the river, and our presence pushed him through to the river where he hung out just downstream of us as we reached the water’s edge. Dale and I stood side by side, and he began fishing while I kept my eye on the moose. I suppose there’s some science on moose behavior that I wasn’t aware of that says they could become agitated if you decided to have a staring contest with them, which in essence is what I was doing. I think I pissed him off enough that he walked a couple of steps towards us, then trotted a couple more and in a matter of seconds and with those long legs quickly covering ground, he closed the distance and was nearly upon us.

Dale wasn’t aware that I had covertly but unintentionally picked a fight with a creature weighing over a quarter of a ton, not that he was oblivious by nature, but he had a tendency to focus when he fished. All I could process in those three to four seconds was that it would be prudent to get the hell out of the way, and so I backed up into the stand of low willows at my back, leaving a clear path for the moose to hit Dale.

I said, perhaps a little too matter-of-factly, “Dale, watch out.”

Dale turned and was instantly startled by the sight of the moose bearing down on him just a few yards away. Well, startled is a bit of an understatement as I’m certain Dale’s ass-cheeks at that very moment were puckering up a few inches into his abdomen. All he could do was freeze. When the moose was almost on top of Dale, about eight feet away from head-butting him, it stopped, turned left into the shallows of the river, and slowly walked downstream.

I eyeballed Dale, and Dale turned towards me, not breathing, with an incredulous look that seemed to be accusing me of not exercising good judgment (a look he has often given me, most of the time for very good reason). “That was the warning I got? Dale, watch out?”

I said, “Sorry buddy. I can’t believe he stopped, but I sure am glad that he did.”

As Dale remained stuck in place, puckered parts relaxing, I walked to the hoof track in the mud of the riverbank closest to Dale. A moose hoof splays under its heavy load, so the size of the print was exaggerated and impressive. Walking towards Dale heel to toe, and estimating my shoes to be about a foot long, I measured the distance from the last hoof print to my friend. Sure enough, right at eight feet. That was close.

I’m not sure what compelled the moose to stop. What prevented him from taking just one and a half more strides, which would have been enough to cover the final gap before knocking Dale on his behind? I suppose that same science on moose behavior that I wasn’t familiar with would have mentioned that they occasionally marshal a false charge. But if it hadn’t been a bluff, it could have resulted in some serious stuff like bruises and broken bones and death, so I suppose I experienced a fleeting pang of guilt for not protecting my friend.

Not that I was going to allow him to see that, of course. So all I could think of to say to Dale was, “So are you going to catch a fish or what?”

From time to time I’m disappointed to see a vehicle parked in the pull-out at Public Access, so I’ll push upstream and take on the private water. After all, the Sheriff seems to have ventured out less and less over the years. In fact, I haven’t seen him since he shot at me. I suppose the years are placing an increasingly heavier drag on his false bravado and warped sense of entitlement. I’ll continue to work the water, to find pockets of privacy in public areas, to fish on the off days and the off-seasons.  After all, it’s not so much about the catching as it is about hanging out at the edges of water and time. And finding solitude in an increasingly crowded world.

Dead or alive

Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it. ~ Henry David Thoreau

I keep forensic evidence of the two murders I’ve committed hanging in an art gallery in the corner of the cabin.

The first murder happened when I was doing 55 miles per hour in a 35 zone, within a mile of arriving home after another long day of work, taking the curves of the canyon a bit too fast in an attempt to shorten the hour-long commute by a minute or two. The twists and turns of that road were so familiar, having driven it hundreds of times in all conditions, that my confidence sometimes got the best of me. I must’ve picked up that strand of DNA from Mom. We always accused her of driving fast in the canyon, but it wasn’t until I began to spend long stretches of time at the cabin that I realized she drove fast in only one direction. She loved the mountains and couldn’t wait to “get there,” but when it was time to close up the cabin to go home, the drive back down the canyon was languid and melancholy and pedestrian.

I knew from the moment the red fox bounced from the right shoulder of the road, given the lack of time I had to react, it wasn’t going to turn out well for him. We surprised each other at the same time. He was running straight into the lane but seemed to sense there was a chance to turn back, which he did. For about half a second. Inexplicably, perhaps confused at how quickly it all transpired, his fight or flight response misfired, and at the very last moment, he veered back into my path. The right front tire, turning at 750 revolutions per minute, rolled him with a thunk.

My heart sank.

As a conservationist, fly-fisherman, and erstwhile mountain man, I love wild animals, dead or alive. Of course, I’d prefer to see them alive. Sure, I’ll knock a fish on the back of its skull with the handle of my knife if I’ve decided to have it for dinner, which may happen once or twice a year, but for the most part my experience is always better when wild animals are doing what they are meant to do. Living their life in the woods, doing what they need to do to survive. Killing each other if necessary. I remember finding a deer carcass in the yard after being away from the cabin for a few weeks. Well, hardly a carcass. There were shreds of skin and fur, a femur, pieces of backbone and rib cage. And cat prints in the snow surrounding the carnage. Big cat prints. It reminded me to keep my eyes open whenever I headed out to the river or up a trail.

The morning after hitting the fox, I walked the mile down the canyon road to find him still there, pretty much undamaged with the obvious exception of being dead. The area is fairly remote, and it was late in the day when we met, so there had been little to no traffic in the interim. I pulled him to the edge nevertheless so he wouldn’t be flattened and where he would serve as nourishment for magpies and crows and maggots, all of whom would be out of harm’s way of the humans who drive the canyon too fast. His tail was beautiful, bushy and colored rusty red from his back, mixing with white strands of fur further down and ending in a black tip. I walked back home, picked up a pair of large shears, and returned to sever the tail, figuring that keeping it was a gesture of honoring a creature that met his demise by my hand.

His tail now hangs affixed to a club-shaped piece of wood in a gallery of art pieces that I curate just inside the back door next to the fishing closet. These artifacts, about four or five that hang there, all have animal parts woven into their design. It’s a collection of so-called “forest weapons”, as they all seem to have utility for some sort of rustic-style hand to hand combat in the woods. I happen to think the pieces are quite lovely. Then again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I have a club fashioned from a malignant tree burl, a hatchet of twisted driftwood, and a talking stick with beady eyes and devil’s horns. A couple of the forest weapons are adorned with wild turkey feathers from a big tom I found one morning along the road, that apparently had been struck by a vehicle the evening before. There are also bones and leather wraps and beads worked into the motif of most of these pieces. My family tolerates this odd fetish, allowing me to have a few square feet of space in the cabin to express some primal desire to imagine myself a hundred years ago running around a remote wilderness in a loincloth, counting coup when doing battle with the other tribes. It is not normal. What self-respecting individual would see dead animals as a salvage opportunity, and to repurpose them into strange looking pieces of art that cause sensible people—meaning most everyone else besides me—to do a double take and worry slightly about how intact my faculties really are? But then I have never claimed to be normal.

Finding the dead turkey and his array of long, beautiful feathers was a bit of a surprise as I don’t believe they are actually truly native to this neck of the woods. Years ago, a local handyman, Gary Armes, introduced a small flock, technically a rafter, of wild turkeys on Bliss Ranch a couple of miles away where he was caretaker. Gary apparently thought they were interesting and fun to watch and occasionally put out feed to sustain the flock and keep them close. This was a clandestine operation. My guess is he surreptitiously harvested one every year around the holidays but was careful enough to keep that under wraps as it was certainly illegal. And just plain unethical the way I see it. Feed ’em enough so they’re semi-tame, then take one out with a Remington .410 from a sitting position on the porch rocking chair. Doesn’t seem fair. Like shooting fish in a barrel. Like careening around a corner at 55 miles per hour. At least my murder was unintentional. The story goes that the Division of Wildlife caught on to his routine and told him to cease and desist, which he did. But life finds a way, and the flock has maintained a fairly robust presence in the canyon.

The best thing about dead animals and roadkill, especially if you can find the animal fairly unsullied, is the opportunity to get up close and personal. No way to hold a fan of turkey feathers or stroke the softness of a fox tail if the beast is alive. For the most part, the live version has to be observed from a distance, and in the places I explore, the best time to see animals are at the peripheries of light at daybreak and dusk, where they are drawn to the relative safety of the shadows. Relative being the operative word. I believe the mule deer taken by the mountain lion in my yard was attacked at dawn or dusk rather than in the stark light of midday. Predators find the shadowy moments of the passing day productive for the same reason prey find they offer a bit of protection. That’s the way it works in the wild. We’re all trying to find the advantage required to survive.

So, the first murder was unintentional. In human terms I suppose it would be classified as manslaughter by culpable negligence. I’m convinced had I not been speeding, the fox would have survived. The fifty-five pound beaver I killed in a snap trap was murder in the first degree by any definition, premeditated and intentional. At the tail end of an Indian Summer, the beavers in the yard were active, damming spillways and creating marvelous beaver habitat. They are a sign of a healthy ecosystem, and I welcomed their presence. Five weeks later, upon returning to the property following a short sabbatical in the desert southwest, I counted sixty aspen scissored down by my web-footed neighbors. The yard looked a hell of a lot different with sixty trees missing. It reminded me of a joke my buddy tells, a boast from someone who has developed decent skills with a chain saw.

“Have you ever heard of the Sahara Forest?”

“You mean the Sahara Desert?”

“Yeah, well…now it is!”

I had tolerated the growing family of beavers in the water around the cabin. They are rodents, after all, but some of the most intelligent creatures and talented engineers. Native Americans revered the beaver. They knew that the habitat beavers created are the ‘kidneys of the earth’, purifying water and regulating its flow. They noticed that beavers are highly social creatures that develop extended family groups, where aunts and uncles from earlier litters share in the colony’s caretaking responsibilities for the youngest kits. Adults carry their kits away from danger, clasped to their chests with their front paws. They warn them of aquatic predators by slapping their tails on the water. They bring green food to the kits, when they are too small to leave their lodge. They cuddle them and call gently to them. For these reasons, Native Americans called them the ‘little people.’

But looking over the damage to the yard, I was in no mood for sustaining my compassion for our coexistence. I felt I was being taken advantage of and my yard was being compromised. I mean, that was sixty knee-high, sharpened spikes that took a chain saw and a couple hours of work to mitigate the risk of being skewered while putzing around the yard. A good friend and I set the trap and got him the first night.  I marveled at the size of him, his orange incisors, soft fur, and rubbery paddle of a tail. But once again, the guilt of committing murder on something that was only trying to do his job and provide for his family was deeply impacting. A sense of shame washed over me.

Wildlife encounters offer an incomparable sense of connection to the natural world. Moose and mule deer walk through the yard, depending on the season, on a nearly daily basis. It may have something to do with the salt lick in the gully next to the stream formed from a network of seeps converging from the slopes above. The deer are pretty cautious, but the moose don’t spook easily, and why would they? They’re the biggest creature around with few natural predators in the canyon. They have this attitude like “what, you gonna come at me…?” Maybe the big cat that killed the deer could make younger moose skittish, but there’s nothing or no one that would tangle with the massive, mature bulls that occasion the lick.

On those mornings where I’m up and out the door early, when the gray-blue pre-dawn light nudges life awake, I see more animals than at any other time of day. I’ve watched a mother river otter with her trailing pups, staying a step ahead as they tried in vain to grab the rainbow trout that dangled from her jaws. Elk trot through the tall grasses of a marshy meadow, spitting up sprays of water. And the beaver continue to multiply, constructing dam after dam along the streams of the valley. I allow them to ply the still ponds of their domain, loudly slapping their paddles when they spot me, before diving quickly to their multiple pathways of ditches and holes and underwater refuges.

When I’m out the door early enough that a headlamp is needed, I will occasionally catch a glowing, orange pair of eyes, appearing suspended in midair as the dark masks the animal itself. I have learned to identify the species by the movement of the two beady reflections. Bobcat eyes are steady and purposeful as this efficient hunter pads surreptitiously through his domain, confident in his position on the local food chain. Coyote eyes move quickly, furtively. I pick up their beady glows here, then a few yards away in a matter of seconds, then again further down. Their nervousness and caution are at the heart of their survival mechanism. One early morning I caught two gleaming points halfway up a bush across the road, thinking it was a castaway bauble caught in the branches. I approached slowly and ended up eye to eye with a pygmy owl about four feet away. We remained still awhile, each considering the other, until she lifted away.

Magical encounters with wildlife offer connection. Even the random discovery of bones or other remains stirs a primal instinct.  I have a nice javelina skull from the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona, a couple of canine skulls, perhaps coyote and fox, and the skull of the beaver I trapped is an excellent specimen, stripped of the last vestiges of fur clinging to the bone, boiled in the turkey fryer to loosen the remaining dried brain matter, and finished with a brush to smooth the bone and brighten the long, burnished orange incisors. The friends I can count on I can count on one hand, but fewer yet of those would understand this madness about me. But I’ve never questioned what could be considered the inanity of harvesting dead animal parts. I think it is just. A favor to the spirit of the animal. Something of a reincarnation. As I ultimately face my own demise, I will pay no heed to being judged, knowing that if I am, I will be acquitted by all of this circular energy of life and death and resurrection moving haphazardly through time and space.

Chief Falling Rock

 “Everything you can imagine is real.”  ~ Pablo Picasso

I expect this is how I will die. I think this as I drive through the canyon where I live, a canyon deeply incised by the Cache la Poudre River, creating narrow chasms and gorges cut into Precambrian granite and gneiss forming a stunning variety of rock formations, some towering straight up from the water’s edge for hundreds of feet.

The lower section of the canyon is un-glaciated and therefore has a characteristic V-shape through The Narrows where Gothic spires, turrets of ancient castles, and broad-chested exposures of stone loom large. It is surreal terrain. I expect to see Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli chasing Orcs, or Native American Indians on horseback working their way through the landscape. I also expect to see rocks loosening, threatening my passage. This is how I will die. Crushed by a rock slide.

I hunch forward as I drive, craning my neck, eyes skyward towards the top of the cliffs, the steering wheel’s life expectancy rapidly decreasing given my stranglehold. Every drive through the canyon offers evidence of the inevitable – rocks of all sizes litter the road’s shoulder. The fallen rocks haunt me. The mountains are forever crumbling, and I travel through this granite gauntlet. With enough momentum even a softball-sized projectile hurtling from above could easily smash through the windshield, and if not a direct hit causing instantaneous death by decapitation could just as easily send me careening head-on into the canyon wall, crumpling the car like an accordion.

Or it will be a massive rock slide that pushes me over the edge of the canyon road into the frigid, turbulent waters of the river sixty feet below. So if not initially crushed by rocks, they will still be the root cause of my death by drowning, trapped upside down in the car, fumbling to unbuckle the seat belt as the water quickly fills the space, robbing me of air, filling my lungs.

There are times I jerk awake when sleeping, startled by a vague dream about falling into a rocky abyss. Other times I’m the hero, pushing someone else out of harm’s way only to become entangled myself, maimed under the brunt of a slide. In those dreams I hear music, a sound made by the rocks clattering and clanging together. The smaller stones are the strings. Larger rocks the horns. Boulders are the deep winds and percussion. A symphony uniquely its own.

And once in the canyon again, my dreams morph into an inexorable certainty. I will be hit. It’s simply a matter of where and when.

One morning driving up canyon just below The Narrows as the road begins to slither into a serpentine route, I butted up against a lumbering bulldozer, yellow caution lights flashing, gripping the shoulder as far to the right of the lane as it possibly could. I slowed at first until the road straightened enough for me to pass. You don’t see a dozer cruising the road very often. Like never. Where was it headed? Probably on its way to or from a construction site somewhere hidden in the hills. Another mile ahead, rounding a blind curve, I found my answer.

Holy shit!, I thought. There was a Stonehenge-sized slab of granite that had fractured from the mother rock to dead-fall across a lane and a half of the canyon road. On the other side a car had stopped, it’s driver out waving his arms as a signal to stop. I stopped. Not that there was much of a choice.

It must have just happened, otherwise there would have been more cars backed up. And timing is a funny thing. A few minutes here or there and that dream of mine would have become the ultimate nightmare, a car flattened, squashed like a stepped-on bug, with me inside. A moment later the bulldozer arrived and the other driver and I watched as the operator maneuvered his equipment to muscle the slab over the edge of the road and it slid heavily to the edge of the river.

The bulldozer operator didn’t say anything, just nodded and turned around to head back to wherever it was when CDOT first received the call that a rock was on the road. Its reasonable to assume that whomever called it in must have said “huge rock” or “gigantic rock fall”, otherwise the emergency responder would have arrived in a pickup truck with a flat head shovel. This was a monster. How many eons did nature’s forces, freezing and thawing, wind and water, work their way into the first small crack?  How long had the fingers of that slab begun to grow tired of their tenuous hold on the mountain, losing its grip mere seconds before I arrived. The dreams are omens. I will be crushed. Just not this time, if only by divine intervention.

It didn’t used to be like this. I had no fear of falling rocks, only fascination about the secrets hills held. Nearly every summer as a child I traveled with the family across the country from Colorado to North Carolina in the way back of a Chevy Caprice station wagon, hypnotized by the changing topography, my imagination creating stories woven from the patterns of the world flying by the windows at sixty miles an hour. I was especially enamored with the repeating dip and rise of power lines mile after mile.

As we traveled through the Smoky Mountains I saw a sign that read “Watch For Falling Rock”.

“Dad” I asked, “what does that mean? Watch for falling rock?”

“Where did you see that?”

“The sign on the road said watch for falling rock – what does that mean?”

“Well…” he paused. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that this moment was the first of many where Dad demonstrated a certain genius. It took us three and a half days to get from Denver to Red Springs. One thousand, six hundred and eighty-three miles at sixty miles an hour. With four boys. There’s only so many coloring books, Hardy Boys novels, requests for mom to pour another cup of water from the cooler jug at her feet in the front passenger seat.

“There’s an Indian who lives in these parts,” he continued, “his name is Chief Falling Rock and he’s been known to be spotted up on the hillsides and cliffs. If you keep watch – very closely – you might see him yourself so pay close attention.”

My jaw gaped. That’s all I needed to hear. Pay close attention? Did I ever! I looked for tell-tale signs of the Chief. Would he be on horseback? Maybe I would spot the feathers of his magnificent headdress behind some branches before he came into full view.  I wondered if he would be menacing looking. I imagined not, rather that he’d be kind-looking but stoic at the same time. I watched for hours. The Smoky Mountains morphed into smoky foothills as we worked our way into central North Carolina, the hills into flat-lands as we traveled further east. And soon my thoughts turned to the beaches of the Outer Banks and the new adventures that awaited after visiting grandma in Dad’s hometown. I didn’t see Chief Falling Rock but thanks to my dad I knew he was there. I just knew it! But I also knew the chances at spotting him were not very good. That’s a lot of territory he has to cover, after all.

When the transition happened, I can’t recall. I grew up. I became wise to Dad’s tricks, genius as they were. As my body changed from boy to teen to young man my mind also evolved to a place of caution rather than wonder. I got married, had kids of my own with whom I could employ bits and pieces of little white lies into my stories to stretch their own fantasies of the world. Exactly when my caution then turned to a visceral fear I do not know. Here I am now, a child’s imagination muted by age and cynicism, convinced my mortality is inextricably linked to the earth’s slow, perpetual crumbling, dying to the sarsen sounds of an orchestral clamor.

The engine of the bulldozer faded down the canyon, leaving only the white noise of the river.  The other driver and I, pointed in different directions, shared a look of relief and disbelief. I wondered if his sphincter was tingling like mine was. Was his adrenaline pulsing through his veins, did he momentarily reflect on mortality or providence? With a shrug and a wave, he resumed his journey, albeit likely while peering warily up the sides of the canyon walls believing the forces of nature act in unison, that the conditions loosening one slab are the conditions that loosen all. The world will, over time, completely disintegrate itself into a pile of sand. My fear is palpable. There is no escape.

 

 

 

Right as Rain

The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.”  ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

It was going to be a wet one. In the days prior to my trip up the canyon the forecast promised showers over the weekend, although I was hoping for the intermittent variety. Nope. Steady rain Friday through Sunday. But sometimes the best moments happen when one simply allows the conditions to unfold as they should. There is a lot of zen to be found in the rain.

I wanted to try a new stretch on the river, where the water bifurcates around an island big enough to be anchored by small cottonwoods and willows, with one small rill running down the middle. From the near shore where I stood surveying the water, trying to decipher the difference between raindrops hitting the water and a possible rise, I spotted what could only have been the swirl of a trout sipping from the surface in the middle of the rill.

To cast to that spot would be impossible, but I relished the challenge of drifting an imitation over his nose.  Branches and scrubby brush allowed a shoulder-wide opening so I’d have to nestle against a rocky bank pocked with river rock to be able to extend my hand, arm and rod as one, where a wrist flip could allow the drift of the fly to begin far enough upstream to not spook the fish. Slowly I began to cross the first stretch of knee deep current towards the base of the island.

I stopped mid-stream not to find my footing but because I became aware of something. There was a lot of noise. It wasn’t the volume so much as the variety of sounds from different pieces of the day – rushing water, soft winds, showering skies and low rumbles of thunder – all fused together into a muffled vibration of white noise. The rain was steady, dropping hard against the canyon’s granite walls, sheening the sheer cliffs. Rainwater formed a veil across my face, pelting the hood of my rain jacket pulled tight over the bill of my cap. I remained motionless, absorbing the frequencies. If someone at that moment had happened upon me standing still in that river at that time in that storm, they would think me daft. And that thought pleased me to no end.

The rash of rain was not a deterrence. I was dry and warm and willing to burrow against the river’s bank waterproofed in waders and Gore-tex, warmed by base layer and buff. Daft, indeed! When others were hunkered down and sheltering in place until the storm passed I was there brazenly content in a wilderness steeped in sizzling downpours. I was doused in the unwarranted favor of old growth forests and primitive waters clouded by a misty, moisty fog.

Refocusing on the approach, I moved once again.

To have a chance  for that fish to take the Rusty Spinner pattern I had tied on there was only one possible position. As I lay down against earth and moss and water the world downstream had vanished in vapor and time. I was lying prone, wading boots submerged in the edge of the main channel, favoring my left side along the slope so my casting arm was free. Holding my rod tip upstream I held close quarters with the elements, my face mere inches from the water’s surface, the rain back-splashing and falling up into my grizzled chin.

I lifted the rod, flicked and extended the leader and held the tip high to keep a natural drift, not entirely certain where the fly was floating among the plops of rain. I love finding these small treasures. I love the brief moments that suspend time. I could have stayed there all day and night through a relentless rain.

The fish took my fly on the third drift.

Lost and Found

“History is written from what can be found; what isn’t saved is lost, sunken and rotted, eaten by earth.”  ~Jill Lepore

Hey, I found your fishing rod. It was early morning during my daily walk up the road as the light was breaking across the canyon walls. I passed the day-use area on the opposite side of the road where the gravel pullout accommodates one or two cars on any given day, and hadn’t noticed anything peculiar other than there were no cars parked that morning. It was too early for even the most ardent fisherman to have made the trek that far from town. On the way back down the canyon however, now on the same side as the pullout, I saw the rod lying at the gravel’s edge. At first glance I assumed it had to have been broken and discarded. As I drew closer it became clear it was not intentionally left behind.

I’ve lost many an implement walking the river. A nice pair of forceps with orange rubber handles. A few zingers. Probably close to a hundred flies over the years loosely fashioned to a sheepskin patch. A coveted fly box holding a collection of favorite dries. But river karma works both ways, as it should. I’ve found a nearly new Yeti cooler bag hung up in driftwood that must have floated down from places above. Alas, no cold beer inside. And the forceps I kicked out of the long grasses behind the rip rap near Mel’s place were even nicer than the pair I lost. But the real treasure was your rod.

It was completely intact, not a scratch. It was a high-end rod with a beautiful large-arbor reel replete with a fine fly line, leader and a popular dry fly pattern that always seems to work well in that river. My best guess is you spent around $900 all in. You must have laid it on the ground at the tail end of the prior day’s fishing when the dusk created shadows and hiding places, probably a little distracted, tugging your waders off, thinking about the drive home in the dark. Perhaps you were reflecting on a successful day, musing on the number of fish you lured from the depths and the shallows both. Or like me you were under a spell, mesmerized by the quiet and unseen forces of the mountains.

Make no mistake I’m well aware of how karma works, so after picking up the rod and walking it back to the cabin I logged on to Craigslist to post the item in the lost and found section. All I offered was that the rod and reel were found in the Poudre Canyon and as long as you, the rightful owner, could describe the make and model and the day and location you lost it, I would be happy to get it back in your hands. The offer still stands.

I can imagine the awful, sinking feeling in your gut when arrived home and realized the rod was missing. Your mind furiously retraced your steps and your stops. You thought about when you last had it in hand. Did you place it atop the car where it gripped the roof as best it could until after picking up a little speed it clattered off? Did you leave it leaning against a fence post at the last stop? (As an aside, I did leave a note there.)  You weren’t quite sure. So, you checked the car. You checked the driveway. You checked the garage shelf. You even patted the pockets of your pants to make sure you had your wallet. Then you checked the car…again. After a while, regrettably, you had no choice but to resign yourself to the loss.

Just so you know, that morning I spent a few minutes casting in the yard with your rod, getting the feel for its balance. The line stripped smoothly through the ferrules, the aim was true. It was a very fine fly rod. But the day’s chores beckoned so I placed the rod across the top set of nails on the wall of the fishing porch, respecting karma, knowing I should leave it alone until it could be claimed. Two weeks later, having received no response to my post and finding nothing posted in kind by some despondent fisherman looking for his lost rig, I re-posted. Time passed and still…nothing.

My friend I must confess. In the ensuing two years there have been times I’ve taken your rod down and fished with it. I believe I’m honoring you by keeping your equipment in fishing shape, retaining its purpose. By the way I caught a couple of nice ones and the rod responded agreeably, the action seemed to give it life.

Maybe one day you and I will be fishing the same water, say hello and ask each other if we’ve had any luck. If the conversation persists a moment longer you might recollect the good days and the bad ones, including the day you lost a favorite rod of yours. Of course that would prompt me to ask you when and where and how that happened. I may mention that I live up here and with a twinkle in my eye offer up that I occasionally find things, and we will at the same moment realize I have your rod. We’d head up to the cabin to reunite the two of you, reflect on coincidence and good fortune, and shake hands as we bid farewell.

In the meantime somewhere along the continuum I’m hoping you are experiencing reciprocal karma, that you are finding your own treasure along the river banks and the roads of your life.

 

 

 

 

BFW Pattern

“The friends I can count on I can count on one hand”. ~ Anonymous

I have a fishing buddy who’s fond of sayings and that particular one has resonated with me. He’s always been one of the guys I have counted on. Not sure he can say the same thing about me.

We are an odd couple. He’s an experienced hunter – waterfowl, upland birds, whitetails and mulies, varmints, etc. – while I don’t have much interest (I’ve only once, accidentally, shot and killed a chipmunk with my Crosman pump-action BB rifle when I was twelve. I fired casually from my waist as it ran across the driveway, launching it two feet straight up, the poor creature dead before it landed). He’s talkative and funny, a purveyor of groan-inducing corn humor while I’m reflective and moody. He’s built an arsenal of firearms, knives and outdoor gear and gadgets while I remain satisfied with a single decent fishing knife and a pair of rugged shoes. He expresses uncertainty both in the moments that have passed and the moments yet to come while I trust that the process unfolds as it should. And I have my fishing preferences and favorite patterns while he has his own.

I’m an average fly-fisherman mostly because I stick to my home river, and beyond a handful of standard and dependable western flies that seem to work I don’t vary my routine. The dry patterns include the Elk Hair Caddis and Parachute Adams, the nymphs – Copper John, Bead Head Prince and Pheasant Tail. I do keep a local favorite in my box I call the Poudre River Special that mostly resembles a spinner.  On occasion I will work terrestrials, midges, or streamers but they’re mostly in my box for the slack times that I want to experiment and learn. When I happen to venture outside my comfort zone to new waters I simply hit up the local fly shops or guys on the river as to what pattern’s working.

My fishing buddy uses his favorite pattern, the BFW, almost exclusively and he consistently catches nice trout with it. There have been plenty of times I’ve hassled him for this choice thereby creating another subtle obstacle, another difference in perspective between us. Admittedly there are occasions I envy his productivity when we fish the same water and I happen to be getting skunked trying to match the hatch. And there are times I cringe when he lands a nice trout that has nearly swallowed his BFW whole rather than being lip-hooked. However, we both stand in the river as conservationists and the best of his compassion is on display as he retrieves the BFW as gently as possible with forceps.

With strong intent he tried to supplement his fishing with a new habit, joining me at Angler’s Covey to take advantage of a discount on a new Sage 9′ 4-weight rod. He bought a pair of high-end Simms chest waders and boots plus a really nice wader bag, all of which probably set him back a grand or so. He learned how to rig his line and leader and mastered an adequate cast. I can’t remember if he caught any fish on that rod, but I think he probably did.  But it wasn’t long before that equipment remained in the closet and he returned to a sure thing, returned to his comfort zone.

To be fair I used the BFW in my youth prior to honing my fly fishing technique and it’s surely reliable at certain times of year on certain waters when my go-to flies aren’t producing. One such time is the spring run-off when the river tears through the canyon carrying high country silt and eleven months’ worth of debris splintered from the bank’s edges. The volume of water bullies through the middle of the channel, thrusting its chest out with a primal roar. The grasses and stands of willow at the edges act as if caught off guard by the onslaught, wildly dancing back and forth while their feet catch snags of driftwood for the few weeks they are inundated by the annual deluge.

So as late May turns into early June and the river crashes through to rearrange the landscape and carve new channels, I’ll resort to the BFW pattern. While a bit tough to admit because of the nuanced guilt, I can’t go too many outings without the adrenaline hit of a trout on the line reverberating up through my hands and arms, radiating electric surges and chemical stimulants, fueling a visceral urge.

Friendships are funny things and he and I have gotten sideways for a couple of years. I believe he was pulled too fast and too deep into a series of life-changing events, and for my part I committed too many sins with my lack of support. We’ve been drifting, losing our devotion as friends somewhere along in the evolving bitterness.

I hope that fishing will be the thing that brings us back into the fold. I’ll continue to ask him to join me every time I make a trip up the river. And I hope one day he’ll accept, move past our differences, help rub salve on our wounds, and forgive past transgressions. And I’ll make it clear there’s no criticism waiting if he pulls the BFW pattern out. I just want my friend back.

 

 

Haunted

“Perhaps nature is our best assurance of immortality.”  ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

There exist several memorable fish in my experience. The little brook trout caught in a narrow, tumbling stream whose encounter caused us both to blush. A cutthroat from the depths of a mountain lake so clear it reflected a Colorado sky all the way through to the Earth’s core. A hefty mountain whitefish, one of only two I’ve ever caught, whose silver-scaled sides shimmered with electricity. An eight-pound rainbow trout fooled by a black woolly bugger in an impossibly small pond high in the Bolivian Andes. But none of them held the mysticism of one particular rainbow I encountered as a teen on the Cache la Poudre River.

While it was an ordinary day, I hold fast to the belief that no day in the mountains is truly ordinary. I’m relentlessly drawn to the river, fascinated by its forever flow, bouncing through the canyon, reshaping itself with the turn of each day and each season. I had been working my way further upstream from Papadad’s to a stretch that I figured ought to have held fish since it was a mile from the old homestead, too far for the less intrepid to venture. It presented a nice variety of pocket water and wide runs accessible from bank to bank, and the time of year allowed me to wade without risk.

From the moment he hit the Elk Hair Caddis perfectly drifted around a rock across the river from where I stood, a rock behind which he had lived undisturbed for a thousand years, I knew he was the biggest fish in the canyon.

I felt his weight wrenching away from me, fighting the tension of the fly line, angry at the intrusion. My God, the fight! My rod wheezed as it bent, the loop of line I had been holding now stripped tautly and hotly through my left hand, my shoulders tightened. For just a few seconds, it was an epic struggle that spoke of possibilities about what this water could conceal. Burly behemoths now lurked everywhere. There were gargantuan creatures in the deeper reaches of this river resembling sea creatures I’d seen on old world maps wrapping tentacle and tooth around masted ships. Every step in the water now posed the risk of being bitten and dragged beneath the surface.

Then…the line went slack. Time froze. The river moved in slow motion. Bewildered, I watched the rod straighten from its bend, the line lay limp. He had spit me out. And for one disbelieving pause, I wilted with disappointment, just as my legs started trembling.

Of course, there was only one thing to do. I gathered myself to cast again, shaken as I was, to set yet another perfect presentation around the drift of the rock. I cast again, and again. I needed him to take the caddis! Damn it, he was huge! I needed to see him, to lay my hands on his girth and feel his pulse, to watch his gills slowly quiver, gasping for oxygenated water for the brief moment I would have held him close to admire his form.

Alas, who was I fooling? I had lost him to the ages. I would have few chances in life to encounter such a brawny creature ten times the size of any of his brethren, a freak of nature, secreted away in his lair. And while I was wrecked by the loss, in hindsight this was the seminal moment in my transition from casting metal spinners to fishing with flies. In fact, had I fished this spot with my Zebco and my go-to lure, the Panther Martin, I would not have lost the fish given the fact that it has a treble hook, all three of which are barbed. When you catch a fish with one of those, there’s no releasing it to live another day as the damage inflicted is a death sentence. But at that moment, spent with that fish, it was clear that the spinner would not even have solicited a sniff. It was the fly. I could have caught eleven-inch fish all day long on a spinner, but the fact that I was more closely imitating nature was the only reason I danced with that beast. Fly fishing was the way. It was poetry and art, a labor of intimacy and mysteries and dreams.

I knew that the monster I had hooked was a rainbow trout without even catching so much as a glimpse of him. At that time, the river rainbows had not yet been decimated by whirling disease, and I caught them nearly 100% of the time. The occasional brown was a novelty and rarer still were brookies. But over the course of a few years, whirling disease virtually rid the river of rainbows, except for the apparition I experienced that day. He has something special in his DNA and apparently to this day remains immune to predators, disease, and fishhooks. He still resides behind that rock; of this, I am certain. The average life span of a rainbow trout is roughly six years, and I read that the oldest recorded age is eleven years. My rainbow is pushing forty-five years old this year. I can’t imagine he’s grown too much bigger—after all, the size of the river dictates the size of the fish no matter how many insects and terrestrials he gorges on day after day, year after year.

I have returned to that spot just a handful of times since we battled. The pooling, swirling water behind that rock contains enough lifeblood for a school of fish, but I imagine he’s viciously territorial, and no fish would dare tangle with him. I’ve landed a couple of smaller trout off to either side of the rock, but the leviathan remains as wily as they come. I’ve come to give myself credit for contributing to his guile, as a fish as legendary as he can only possibly be fooled once. Because of me, he scoffs at the occasional fisherman who happens to approach. Because of me, he sneers at the passing cars high upon the canyon road. Because of me, he claims a bravado that broils the water through which he swims.

With the passage of time, most fish stories are built bit by bit inside the storyteller’s imagination, but there is no need to embellish the mythology of my nemesis. He is a biological miracle placed in the clear, chilly water by the very hand of God. He remains the supernatural giant of my youth, indeed the sort of ghost that makes you believe in all ghosts. Fleeting moments spent with legends like this creature forever weave us into the designs and patterns of the natural world. I remain haunted by him to this day.

Silent Forest

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.    ~ John Muir

The size of the ponderosa pines in Silent Forest is a testament to the vigor of mother nature. These are clearly not discontented trees, rising a hundred feet or more, trunks wrapped in red-barked girth that my outstretched arms can’t encircle. The entire forest is rooted in satisfaction as it climbs the steeply sloping southern exposure of Roaring Creek Trail.

Just off the trailhead, the creek itself belies the solitude found once the trail meanders away from its murmuring. Especially in late spring as it is now the rush of water is a cacophony of gurgles and laughter and inviting words spilling down the mountain before a convergence with the Cache la Poudre River.

The path offers switchbacks to ease the climb that lifts quickly from the dusty, graveled parking area. The scars of a prescribed burn, intended to create improved habitat for Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, lap up against the side of the trail until I reach the first footbridge spanning the creek. As I continue to move further away from the road and civilization and oblivious people, my…breathing…slows. I listen as my footfalls mimic the muted conversations between tree and rock and sagebrush clinging to illogical perches in the cracks of small crags and outcrops.

The trail pushes me away from the stream to the solitude of a glen where the aspen and ponderosa stand with strength and purpose.  Even as the wind slightly rustles the branches and leaves, it is a quiet place found only in the dreams of the burdened lives thousands of feet below. I sit where a break in the sun-dappled woods offers a view up-valley where the meadow at Bliss Ranch holds a few deer and further up, Sleeping Elephant mountain stands resolute.

I think of my fellow warrior, Grey Sky, who was once with me at this spot and who expressed his appreciation for the “big fucking pondos” of Silent Forest. But I sense he connects without real commitment, a piece of him being swallowed by the next distraction before he gets too deep and unable to extricate himself from the discomfort of being away from things familiar, unable to allow the silence to penetrate too deeply. No, warrior, you will not find a cell signal here. I only wish for you to find a sign.

I rise and walk further up. The path again pulls me towards the stream, and the stream draws me towards its play. The forces of nature have caught me in a collaborative seduction, a lascivious come on back to the babbling brook and the treasures held in still pools. One hears it far ahead of seeing it, a clue to this fisherman to approach on a crawl.

From a few yards away, I belly to the bank and pause. Not even seven feet across but deep enough below to hold at least the promise of a small brook trout, the stream entices. My fly has little logic, as the decision on size or color or the stage of the short life-cycle of the insect I’m attempting to imitate is not based on any specific experience in these woods, and I resign myself to believing that whatever I choose will appear too alien to bring a fish to the surface anyway. Or perhaps these little, skittish fish, who are frankly miraculous examples of high-country survival, will see anything resembling a meal as a signal to strike. I think smaller is better, with just enough color and white wings.

Slowly I unfurl the line without rising from my place and swing the leader over the far edge of the pool, dapping the fly on the water’s surface. The take is immediate, and I slowly and protectively play the little brookie to the bank on my side, careful that my nine-foot fly rod doesn’t catch up in the overhanging branches. If you ever want to be truly amazed at the universe, study the markings of a brook trout—marbled shades marked by a sprinkled pattern of red dots encircled by mystical blue halos, and an underbelly impossibly orangish in hue leading downward towards fins edged with white.

I wet my hands as to not wipe the slime from his skin, gently hold him to remove the hook and cup him back into the pool. No man will ever put his eyes on him again, rest assured.

The sun lifts higher, the heat drawing a few beads from my nape to trickle down my back, and I drink from a pine needle-tinted eddy of winter’s rime and mountain seep. I stand to walk back through the towers of Silent Forest satisfied that I have lived this day in God’s unwarranted favor.

The ROI in Poppies

“Vines will be planted, corn will spring up, a whole growth of new crops; and people will still fall in love in vintages and harvests yet to come. Life is eternal; it is a perpetual renewal of birth and growth.”                      ~ Emile Zola

For about two weeks in late June the garden off the cabin deck explodes in the brilliant red-orange shades of the Papaver rhoeas, common poppies whose seeds were first sown in that spot by my grandfather years ago. I imagine him scratching the soil, strewing a few handfuls of seed indiscriminately, perhaps without expectation. But life finds a way and these seeds took to the soil, imbibing on the ample sunshine and rain, prospering in the mountain air. That few specks of seed did their reproductive thing so well that there are now hundreds of blossoms. (Maybe it has something to do with their proximity to the leach field from the septic tank! ) It is a panoply of the brightest, splashiest spectacles of color, spraying vivid hues into the cosmos.  A magnificent show that moves emotions, the big bold stalks bending under the weight of full grown blossoms five inches wide.

And then it ends. Suddenly…done. By early July the show is over, the blossoms lose color and drop leaving behind stems and leaves that fairly yellow as the summer heat persists. When the last petal of the last bloom gives way to gravity the poppy bed holds no promise for another ten months when in spring, even as snow cover clings to the garden bed, the first green leaves appear at the base of the old stalks.

As summer perspires away to fall the poppy pods which I have allowed to hang suspended have dried into brown rattles, some popping open to spew seeds.  I harvest a few each year, carrying them to outlying areas of the yard and sowing them as my grandfather did, without expectation. Gradually and somewhat reluctantly these new stands take hold with a few stalks at first then proliferate over the years.

At the height of the spectacle people have observed (tongue in cheek) that there is a large enough crop to open a robust opium operation. Seems complicated and I have little motivation to do so.  I’d rather just go fishing, honestly. It’s a better high anyway.

Prior to the first frost I cut the stalks down, clearing the poppy bed down to the nub. I rake the field to gather the stalks and either toss them in a mulch heap or just burn the piles in place, depending on my mood. Fire is fun and the ash serves as a soil amendment to prop up the next crop, although that’s just my theory. It’s really more about satisfying the pyromaniac in me.

As winter melts into early spring the green leaves begin to appear at the base, growing steadily over a few weeks as the stalks ascend skyward while the flower buds form again. As if on cue each year the buds begin to crack their casing in response to the lengthening daylight. Then with the summer solstice as their prompt the blooms surge forth laughing and dancing their jig for another fortnight.

I wonder if it’s all worth it. I make a significant investment for the short-lived perennial payoff, as beautiful as it is.  It’s a fair amount of work for a mere two week festival. Why not simply dig out all the poppies and replace them with plants that bloom as prolifically but for a longer period of time?

For me its akin to the investment I make in fly fishing. I could easily walk 150 yards to the river with a spinning rod and a coffee can of worms and know that I’ll catch a fish within a matter of minutes. So why do I sit on the deck for a lazy hour checking my leader, replacing tippet, organizing my fly box, tying on a guess, and pulling on waders with no expectation to actually catch anything but rather to just go fishing?

To me the return on investment is worth it.  Of course the end result is gorgeous and seductive, like holding a living rainbow trout in your hand, but most certainly it is the process that is the allure. Like fly fishing, the poppies decipher some of the mystery of life. The rhythm of this seasonal renewal assures me the world still spins on its axis. Our own lives are significant investments yet in the grand scheme of things we too blossom for a relatively short time. I take solace in thinking that when I’m gone I remain connected to the natural pulse found in the soil and light and rain and wind that nurtures this flower bed.