The Struggle of Ice Fishing

It is difficult to know why any modern member of our esteemed species, particularly those ruminating the issues of age, would allow themselves to walk out on avery frozen lake, amid the constant push of a gentle breeze, to sit for many hours, back to the wind, in an attempt to catch an eight-ounce fish. While it may seem I have a derogatory tone in this inquisition, that cannot be the case because it was me that made the long walk, all bundled, all stiff, all tucked in my confining cocoon.

Even at twenty-two degrees, it was just matter of time before the cold crept in and begin the nagging push to force me away from this Zhivago-like adventure, this arctic trudge that would likely hold no sense of accomplishment at the end. I do not live in some gulag archipelago and could be home comfortably tight against the warm wood stove dreaming of other, maybe distant, outdoor conquest, or casually consuming a fresh, still-warm cookie, or smiling with amorous intent at my always-suspicious wife.

However,the cold held off and from one hole to another we moved wanting to find the magic, the school of keepers that would provide sustenance for our notably well-fed families. The wind, or was it a breeze, obviously non-threatening, bit as we faced into it, thinking the better school of bluegills were to the west in what we calculated was a deeper more productive hole. I shuffled as an older man, but little different than the others all bundled, bulging and confined in thick clothing  For me, maybe more as truggle since I had my legs shot away in the big war, when I took a mini-ball at Gettysburg—so it is rumored. The cold does work a man’s mind and as we sat there, it was not difficult to recall other years, maybe long ago before my time, when this lonely adventure was more crucial, more a task of desperation.

These thoughts still did not answer the question, the one mostly beginning with the word why, yes why. After finding no fish and embarrassingly venturing within inches the dreaded hypothermia, I returned shuffling, confused, almost stumbling to the warm vehicle with my head shaking in doubt thinking it is a younger man that needs to walk across the frozen landscape to embrace his beloved metaphorical Tonya or secure a few paltry, but delicious fishes. My more appropriately-equipped companion caught fish, a few meals and at no time struggled with the cold December breeze, the foreboding clouded skies, or the modest weather that was my demise.He is not even Norwegian and still smiled as if the world was complete– and he was the master of the pond, the triumphant angler—which I jealously suspect, at that moment, Jim was.

Still chilled, maybe despondent, I ask,  why do I choose to do this?

Froggy went a Courtin’

Froggy went a courtin’

The bullfrog looked at me out of the corner of his wet eye. I was off to his right and four inches behind him. Initially, I hadn’t actually seen him but had simply been attracted to his deep penetrating croaks.

He was, by any measure, gorgeous with his side discs all shown off and dripping with early more dew. He was a piece of work to say the least. I love the spring and perusing the weedy shoreline looking for one special “bull”.

Froggy hanging cool

He turned quickly toward me in a swift singular motion showing off his, what appeared to be a grinning face. His thin but massive lips did not quiver but showed the emotional constitution of a mature frog, unrattled, confident and not subject to emotional outbursts. I like that about a strong frog. Great patience, maybe nerves of steel, a frog of commitment.

I moistened my eyes and was momentarily distracted by a dragon fly, a Green Darner,that had decided to make this his morning rest. In an uncharacteristic motion,I gently hopped forward bringing my now partially closed eye with in an inch of this denison of the swamp, the stalwart stallion of the sedges on lake’s edge.His eye followed me, and then he unexpectedly gulped, then bursting forth one of the most romantic sounds I had ever heard. It bellowed across the now-still pond reverberating and echoing a song of love. He slowly lifted his small but well-meaning front leg, as if to say, welcome.

Writing— Considering Whiskey

 

 

There are legends out there in many places that writers, maybe not all writers, but let us say torn writers of passion, the ones fighting dragons, or demons—or those just struggling while trying to lay word to some distantly perceived, muddled thought that has in the long hours of their daily fight introduced them to the warming glow of whiskey. Faulkner was rumored to have lived in a world of bourbon-induced thoughts, all the while tripping through southern swamps seeking the wild black bear. Joyce, one would suspect, allowed the Irish nectar to dredge out his guilt and at the same time induce him to fondle a language into a world of confused beauty and barely comprehensible gibberish that only the pedantic, self-possessed could gleefully hope to consume.

For me, I think on those writers, wondering if I  were to take on, say, more than a wee dram, would I be able to travel among the Harrisons and Hemingways?  I’m not one to normally nonchalantly rattle my limited ability with alcohol-induced confusion but it seems fitting, at this late hour to seek a modest bit advice by having in front of me, a serving of Jamison, the Irish claim to a yeoman’s whiskey. Fresh from an afternoon of Erin fiddling, a handsome tumbler now sits quietly and pleasingly to my right, resting on an ancient table constructed not far from the home of Herman Melville.

Sitting unconsumed, it is a clear liquid, unassuming but for the distant tone of well-processed alcohol. It offers no hint as to its ability to make me write, or not write. As I learned one night in Dingle under the watchful eye of the bar keep, a bit of water has been added, and not the ice I tend to favor in my often-provincial hand. As I sip, the angel’s breath is drawn in and drops into my chest and in passing tenderly kissing the delicate nerves of a welcoming nose. In this elixir, there is only a faint hint of the bogs of Ireland. It is more an earthy tone of grain roasted, of a malt of youth we found in milky shakes.

Initially, I am not drifting up the west coast of Clare but do see myself as being younger, maybe not much younger because I still remember the experience with the mirror this morning, an indelible image I will not forget for some time, a time after most of the bottle has been consumed and my aging eyes are well-blurred. But that is not the point, the point is about my writing, about the history of whiskey appreciation and writing.

A few sips in and I am thinking more clearly, maybe realizing I will have to have just a wee bit more to make me into a James Joyce. In fleeting moment, I am recalling the my wife’s Wild Turkey pie we devoured only an hour ago. Yes, the all-feathery, elegant, locally harvested Wild Turkey.

My mind reeled as the words, “Wild Turkey” flew by! Good God, its Hunter Thompson in front of me—and his endless bottles of Wild Turkey that made him go gonzo. It is the Hunter Thompson whose chair I briefly occupied at the Woody Creek bar those many years ago in Colorado. It is coming to me now. Its working, The whiskey is working. I am channeling but I wanted more. I wanted Steinbeck, maybe Faulkner. Not Joyce for I have to be understood.

And so as the evening is swallowed by the fleeting music of resting sparrows, and the bucolic mumblings of so many distant fairies tucked endlessly in some deep and darkened hollow waiting for the comforting  singing spring,  the story ends—for this evening as the last Rose of Summer Fell, my fancy turns away and another dram is poured.

 

 

Winter’s Stove

Winter’s Stove

Almost fifty years ago, the stove came to us from Adam and Eve, not directly but through Nellie over in Kiowa, the once frontier town where cowboys gathered and Indians raised deadly hell protecting their homeground.  It seems the stove had been around this short-grass prairie hangout for many years for on the cast iron side stood the year 1885. No doubt, it rode the rails on the now long-gone tracks and then headed overland on a horse drawn wagon as it wound its way to some far ranging ranch. Who knows what families sat comfortable around the stove as it glowed from the fragrant Ponderosa, and the more subtle but exotic Cottonwood.

The stories we were told back then, back those fifty years ago, would certainly let one’s mind see wandering Native Americans drop by some isolated, almost desolate ranch house to sit there in warmth while outside the autumn chill crept in.

When Adam and Eve purchased the stove remains a mystery, but we first saw it proudly sitting in the middle of their small home, there on the dusty Main Street in Elizabeth, Colorado those many years ago. The wood smoke lifted from the stack and drifted over the town casting about the sweet and alluring sent of the local pines, the fragrance of the Wild West.

In the early fall the wild Sunflowers bloomed along with the Chamisa and sage, adding another subtle odor to the surrounding grasslands and community.

One day, as they say, the stove had moseyed out of town and been replaced by a more convenient, less aesthetic gas stove. Some said, this was due to the aging couple’s accumulating years, and to neighborly fears of uncontrolled fire. Still, Adam and Eve lived their peaceful life as they had which included moving about their modest home quite naked. The community simply said little other than to give the couple the moniker we all knew. Not long later the duo, brother and sister it was learned, moved to the springs, newer, younger, more modest occupants with curtains moved in and that tick of time disappeared into the prairie night like the last of the buffalo, which ironically occurred about the time the stove arrived in Colorado.

It turned out Nellie in Kiowa got the stove and quickly put it up for sale as a token to the past, an antique of sorts, but still pristine and useful,  one waiting for newly-arrived pilgrims that might once more heat a home with all the Ponderosa now going to ground. So, with wild eyes on visions of the old west, and a good nose for a subtle but penetrating warmth, the stove became ours, and with it stories of our own, and imagined stories of its wandering life on the short-grass prairie. .

This is the same stove that to this day is the center of our living room and in a winter way, the center of or lives as it was for others years ago.

 

Winter’s Wood

Winter’s Wood

This year the old Silver Maple in the backyard had to go away after an extended stay that probably began in the beginning of last century, a time when trees were few and tortured. Its ancestors had been systematically consumed by the advance of land-hungry settlers all thinking the forest were endless, and that their God had ordained them to feast upon the land. It was out of self-interest they acted and not that of the earth’s. It is just the way it was.

Now the tree is down, scattered on the lawn, as if so much litter. In its own way, it had become abusive in that our house was being threatened. The winds of November are stronger now, and the tree’s falling would not play well on human ambitions,  our coveted property. The old Maple is now wood in a crude form waiting to be gathered and split.

Each species has its own characteristics that needs to be understood, not just in handling but in storage and burning. It lays there in great round reels, almost intimidating in its mass. Like diamonds rough and uncut each section has to be analyzed, for trying to split it by running a wedge down the middle is a fool’s errand meant only to rattle an aging brain that does not need to be rattled. In this maple’s case, blows of the splitting maul must peel sections off the edges avoiding  knots and fissures for they are trouble and very much like to argue.

Maple, unlike white oak, has little appeal to the delicate nose unlike the dense oak which cast a distant smell of fine whiskey or aged wine. A barrel made of maple would lay a cold and unpleasant nose on those sacred nectars. So this maple, this silver maple is destined to become warmth in a winter’s fire.  One would suppose that not being of oaken charm and embedded heat, it could be deemed a disappointment but piled deep in carefully chosen rows of winter’s wood it is a monument to all the years spent guarding the childhood yard and picnic dreams.

Music by Ann Herzog Wright, Tony Albrecht, Ann Huntoon, David Wright

 

Dimming of the Day

This is a small piece I put together after canoeing on the Tomorrow river. We had seen versions of this all summer but as the fall took over there were changes, some subtle others more pronounced.

Dimming of the Day

 

Into the last of the evening light, the canoe slips through the still water of the quiet River. In that dimming, the Kingfisher makes its last half-hearted effort. His world of the transparent water, has been cut off by the disappearing evening light. Eastward on the weedy back bog, the forlorn frogs serenade into the quietness out of habit for it is fall and thoughts of love are distant and not to be fulfilled.

At canoes edge, delicate mayflies cruse in measured pace as if to ride the invisible slipstream of the moving craft. In learning to fly, which one would suppose was many millions of years ago, and now locked in tiny genes among the spiraled DNA, the technique is to bounce in a  rhythmic pattern moving noticeably up and down while still proceeding ever forward. It is as if they take three wing strokes, and for reasons unknown, pause for the time of three more. One has to wonder if this odd pattern is ingrained in this species as a way to avoid some forgotten predator. Does the trout, the ones we have sought, know this pattern or do they simply wait them out knowing their lives are short and soon will spin dying to water’s surface.

Why they choose to accompany the canoe cannot be embedded in those genes, for the boat, in genetic time, is too recent upon the waters.  Are these pulsating flights simply an opportunity to ride the metaphorical rails, much like a dolphin rides the bow pressure of a plowing boat, or the eagle seeks the ever-lifting warm air. It is a quiet music of a visual sort on the river journey home at the dimming of the day.

Dimming of the Day

Here is an effort that has never been done before on this site as we have really never messed with auto/visual undertakings. It is but a small passing that came about one evening on the Tomorrow River, and in truth on may evenings. Take a listen. 

Dimming of the Day

 

 

 

A Cardinal has a bad Day

 

There plopped on the back driveway, among all the fallen leaves and pine needles was a brilliant red-colored form. The cardinal laid there not dead but shaken, rather bobbing his head and seeming to have taken too many drugs. One wing reached out while the other was held in. Clearly, the bird was in trouble and hardly made a motion as it was picked up and held gingerly.

It was a sad thing to see such beauty in trouble and we wondered if it was a victim of some bird flu but Eleonore scanned the surroundings and noticed the outline of tiny feathers, red feathers, attached to the garage window left there as a telltale. The impact had been sufficient enough to dislodge the delicate red colorings and enough to knock the bird to the ground. As we used to say on the field of play, he had his bell rung.

cardinal

We took turns holding the trembling bird making small apologies for the clear glass and the obvious misfortune making note of man’s inventions and how they do not always play well in the natural world. The bird obviously thought the window was an opening and willingly flew into it.

The pathetic bird shivered in trauma. Its head bobbed as if controlling his nervous system was not a possibility. As is said, “He had a six foot stare in a hundred foot forest.” The bird, after examination for broken parts and finding none, was placed in a bed of pine needles where I personally thought it would quietly fly off to the final frontier, but at least in comfort.

As the afternoon passed, the Cardinal remained alive and seemed to become more responsive while feebly and desperately trying to hop and flap its wings, but still there was a haze in those terrified eyes, an unknowing.

I recalled a time in Colorado many years ago when visiting an office building and finding, there lying scattered like dry leaves about the building, a dozen dead Bohemian Waxwings. They had been eating dried miniature apples and then seeing another tree in the window, headed off after it. Silent death. Some observers felt they were intoxicated by the partially fermented fruit and simply ran their cars into the metaphorical light post.

Wanting to wish away a silent death, and reflecting on enjoying the Cardinals this year, I ultimately put the bird, now showing still more improvements, into a cardboard box made comfortable with a nest of the pine needles, and placed it in my studio where the creeping winter frost held no sway. It had occurred to me that one of the silent cats that seem to peruse the area, frequently hanging by our bird feeder trying to take down more song birds, might find the weakened bird and see it as another easy meal. Safety and comfort in my infirmary was the call.

The top was shut, while quietly thinking the morning would find it deceased or still lost in the haze from a serious bird concussion. Still, if I remember right, I always had come out of my concussions and the damage wasn’t real detectable—I don’t think, but I never did learn to fly.

The bird’s pathetic misfortune came up in our household discussion in the evening after our neighbors had headed home, themselves reflecting on the possible loss.

cardina 2l

There is always a certain quilt associated with seeing a life snuffed out by something that is not natural, say a speeding car or even that cat, which was never a part of our real world, taking some hapless unsuspecting bird.  It is one thing to hunt, to be respectful of that process and then consume that game with an understanding we are part of a natural world in that way, but to see things poisoned, crushed or indiscriminately killed by an unnatural process is discomforting.

I walked into the studio this morning thinking it might be a lead-in to a burial, but then just maybe, in the time in quiet repose, his neurons had realigned and all his instinctual attributes had returned. When the box was touched, there was a shuffle that sounded of conviction. There was intent and just maybe the box was not appreciated in its confinement. The  cardboard infirmary was taken outside and opened carefully. Then in an instant the Cardinal lifted straight out of the box and headed out into the sky probably thinking that was one hell of a night. He seemed to look back but I suspect only in confusion and terror.

I put tape on the window and filled the feeder with sunflower seeds wanting very much to see the bird back but if he did not come, I would understand.

 

 

The Big Maple—Saying Good-by

The truth is, cutting down the big Silver Maple in the backyard is much like putting down a wonderful old dog. So many thoughts run through our minds many of them more complex than dealing with a suffering canine that has simply worn out.

The tree, now incredibly massive, was probably the result of a planting, on purpose or voluntary, at the same time the home was built over one hundred years ago. Through time, it has had a cable placed to hold its three trunks upright and had numerous cuttings to prevent it from tumbling on all-too-close houses. It is a monster that has taken over the backyard. Cutting it back has only encouraged it to throw out more lean and hungry branches that shoot skyward at ten feet a year.

Then, there are those historical pictures from the turn of the last century that clearly demonstrate that after white man’s short presence, there were few trees standing. That can give pause to a person willingly planning on taking this old brute down. It came from a time of few trees and now I am about to put it down.

It is a Silver Maple, a weed in the mind of some tree elitists, but it has cast much needed shade, provided the home for numerous generations of squirrels, a host of birds and generally added to the flavor of the well-treed community.

To top it off, yesterday a pleading came over the airwaves to grow and protect trees for they are the one thing capable of removing the CO2 from the atmosphere—and it did it on a day when it was eighty-six in September, twenty degrees above normal. But, the tree is mature and its apparent spot-rotting branches hang to some degree over two houses and should it fall, the price to pay would be painful and unappreciated.

Last year the crease in the trunk grew a flush of mushrooms, usually a sign of greater problems and possibly the hollowing of the tree. The hired cutters reminded me, and not out of need to work, that the winds in these warming years have also been more extreme and one good blow could be the old maple’s last. We have had visions of being skewered by some extended branch maybe as a way of taking vengeance for all the environmental harm we have caused in our brief time here on this land.

This year the tree I commonly punched in seven sugar taps, no sap flowed. There was virtually none as if to tell me the game was over; maybe the tree was tired and wanted a last unmolested spring. However, the summer leaves grew strong with the flood of rain.

This same tree also has cast its long shadow on our garden making the broccoli grow long and rangy and the peppers ae struggling to find the sun they deserve, at least that is how they put it. The sunflowers are eight feet tall. The raspberries are so long in branch, they droop and in the closeness to the ground rot before we can turn them to winter’s jam.

That long shadow, particularly in the morning also blocks our solar panels and keeps the batteries wanting. While we try to help the environment with power from the sun, the Silver Maple, the one feeding on carbon dioxide, is hindering our effort, almost slapping our collective hands trying to say something.

While not one to wallow in guilt, this damn tree is rattling my cage. But like the old dog who still may be trying, the maple has to be put down. It has had a good run, there is still some syrup in the cabinet from years past and the wood will heat the house for a couple of years. Like the old fireside dog, it will be replaced possibly making a story for someone else down the line.

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