Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Hot, Cold, Hot, Cold, Sweaty

If this January has taught us anything, it’s that snow beats mud, anyday.

This month we've seen both ridiculously cold and unseasonably hot weather.  With the cold, hot, cold, hot cycle, I finally know what my wife feels like in the car.  It’s not fun.  She’s right – it is uncomfortable.

Cool snow fort with tunnel entrance
that even Dad could squeeze through.
Status: Melted.
We’ve made the most of things, from a family leisure perspective, not sure when the next deep freeze or spring thaw will hit.  We’ve gone sledding, of course, and built giant snowmen, and gone ice skating – once at the downtown rink and once on a natural pond. We made a radically cool snow fort, with tunnel entrance.  And next to that, we put in the first few rows of an Igloo.   Of course, that construction took place two days before a heat wave, so all we have are the memories.

Among other lessons, I learned that building an igloo is really hard. If I needed to build one for survival, I’d be dead.  

More importantly, I’ve learned that my kids really love winter, and all the fun stuff we get to do around here for just a few months each year.  Between December and February, we expect it to be cold and to snow.  We want it to happen.

We just can’t take this warm winter weather.
And yes, to those shaking their heads in disbelief, it has been warm here in Syracuse.  Despite the reputation, Syracuse isn’t the coldest place on earth.  Just the snowiest.   And when it warms up for a few days, like it has done everywhere in the Northeast repeatedly this January, all our beautiful snow melts and becomes – mud.  And that makes us all realize even more how much we prefer a cold winter to a mild one.  Because mud sucks.

Think about it:  You can’t make a mud man, you can’t have a mud ball fight and you can’t go mud sledding, not without ruining your clothes.  The only time mud performs better than snow is when it comes to building shelter.  I’m certain a mud thatch hut would be easier to build than an igloo.  But we are not about to take the kids out in the yard to build a mud hut.  For one thing, while even a partial igloo can make one the envy of the neighborhood, a mud house would likely mean a visit from the code enforcement officer.

So this warm weather has us stuck inside, waiting for an Arctic blast to set us free.

We wait.  And we wait.  Today it’s January 29th, and it’s 40 degrees out.  Tomorrow, the high might break 60.  Ugh.

Nobody is happy about it here.   The only good news: Snow in the forecast.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Fish, I View

When I started this blog I promised not to write too much about fly fishing.  I promised myself, anyway.  I even joke about it in the heading of this blog, saying no one really enjoys reading about fishing.   But that’s not really true.  For one, I like to read about fly fishing.   In fact, of the three magazines that come to our house with my name on the address, two are dedicated to the pursuit of fish – Trout magazine and American Angler, the fly fishing authority.   The third is National Geographic.  I know, kind of cliché, but I like it.

The real challenge in writing about fishing is that, for some reason, almost all the best writers in the history of the world liked to catch fish with a fly rod, and it seems each took the time to write about it.  For me, writing about fly fishing is an intimidating endeavor.

But for some reason, I feel compelled. 

The desire to do so struck at an odd time.  Over the holiday break, I was taking a moment to process the year that just past, looking at all the photos of my children taken on my phone.  Seeing my kids as they went through the seasons, growing a bit with each frame, was bittersweet – a strange, aching kind of joy that all parents know.  Precious moments, frozen in time, but gone forever.   As has been said by every adult with children in their lives, they just grow up too fast. 

Amongst the many picture of my kids, about every ten photos or so, I found a photo of a trout.  Looking at the fish as the seasons changed, that was a lot easier.   And they too, change with the season – leaner in the spring, plumper in the summer, more colorful in the fall, more sleek in the winter.  (I don't take a lot of pictures of the fish I catch, and usually only break out the camera phone for a very colorful one, or the occasional lunker).

Plump little brown caught in May.
Loved the color on this fish.
As I savored all the memories made with my kids, I thought too about all the time I spent out on a river or a local stream in the past year, seeking these fish, and when luck would have it, bringing them to the net and then releasing them.  Cold early mornings, lazy weekends, the occasional summer afternoon, moments when the pressure of work and home receded for a bit, and I was able to just be. 

Some people I know wonder why I spend so much time standing up to my waist in cold water, fiddling with invisible line and accidently pricking myself on occasion with tungsten steel hooks, only to return the fruits of my labor to the water in which I found them.   There is a simple answer, and it’s not because I need fish.  I fly fish because I love the art of catching them.

And, I do it whenever I can. Which still isn't enough. Usually, it’s squeezed around the edges of regular life – before the world wakes up, or when the wife and kids are doing something else, or the rare occasions when the lawn is mowed, everyone is content, and there are no work deadlines in sight.  I joke that someday I’m going to write a book about the great lengths people like me go to get their fishing fix.  The working title, “The Other Woman is a Trout.”
Rainbow brought to net in September

The allure of fly fishing is easy to understand.   But the true joy of the sport is almost impossible to sum up.  Maybe that’s why so many better writers than me have spilt considerable ink writing about it.  For me, though, the joy is in the supreme challenge of it all – a challenge that is ever changing.  Sun, wind, water temperature, flow, clouds, time of day, season, all are variables in constant flux.  No two days are alike, no two moments are alike.  And each one presents new challenges and potential rewards.

To catch fish with a fly, you have to do your best to understand nature.  You have to become an insect.  You have to think like a fish.  You have to observe, and learn, and change.  And when it works, and that elusive trout sips your little bug off the surface of the water and tightens your line, you get your reward:  the heart pounds, adrenalin surges, your mind celebrates, and then focuses on not snapping the leader as the fish begins to fight.   Because, getting the trout to take is often just half the battle.  Maybe two-thirds, but there is work to be done.

Beautiful Brookie, took big fall streamer
And for some reason, the very second that the fish is taken off the hook, admired, and released, your whole being wants to catch another.  It’s relaxing and addicting all at once.  It teaches patience and problem solving.  It delivers calms and demands focus, like yoga combined with chess, all on a river -- with cool gear to boot.

On good days, when everything is working, and you are thinking like a fish and acting like a bug just right, it can be beautiful.   On those days, as time ticks by, and life and responsibility beckon, you can't help but think, just one more fish.
It’s beautiful, too, when it doesn’t work just right.  Standing in a river, surrounded by nature, trying to solve the problem in front of you.  Frustrating, but beautiful.  And on those bad days, when nothing's working, you keep telling yourself just one more cast.  Even as time passes and your need to get back home encroaches, you can’t help but think it again and again, just one more cast.
Me, holding a 18-plus inch Rainbow.
Of course, it was dusk so you can't
see the fish. You'll have to trust me.

As I think about it, there is a deeper reason I love fly fishing.  For me, it is about slowing the world down just a bit, stopping time and doing something pure, if only for a moment.  And, while my wife has no interest in the sport, I can’t wait until my kids are old enough to truly enjoy it too – if they choose.  If they do, and if we go fishing together, I can’t imagine what if anything will force us off the river, short of the setting sun.

But, for now, all I have to show the world from the many hours I've spent pretending to be a bug and thinking like a trout, is a few photos on my phone, scattered among the photos of my beautiful children.  And that will have to do just fine.