In almost exactly 48 hours my dad will be flying up to Boise for 2 weeks of fly fishing adventures on the way through Ketchum, Jackson Hole, Montana, Colorado and parts unknown. This morning I stopped by Lamson to pick up a reel I had specially made for him; a one off, only-one-in-the-world 5 wt. fly reel. My entire life he’s been taking me on trips and footing the bill and teaching me how to do things right. For the first time in my life I get to return the favor. I’m absolutely tickled pink to surprise him with this as well as a new Sage and a delectable bottle of Stranahan’s.
My father has always loved me in his own way and although it has always been from a distance I can still see him beam with pride as he reads my name in print just as he did when he heard my name over the loud speakers on a Friday night so many years ago. I remember looking up at him in the stands from the 2 yard line after a fourth down sack, seeing him standing from his chair and shouting “That’s my boy! Alright bud!” as the other dads looked upon him. I remember coming in in relief with one out and striking the first guy out on three straight fastballs, then looking up the leftt field line at my Pops as he fist bumped Bob Prieto and Jim Wilson before he glared out at me with his narrow hawk eyes, lip bulging with snuff, before shouting “Alriiiight! One more buddy” then giving me his secret head nod. And right then with my dad backing me up, just as I feel today, the devil himself couldn’t have frightened me.
We’ve had our differences and it pains my gut to think what a disappointment I must seem to him now, but I feel not the slightest shred of shame in telling you that I have never met another man who comes close to being my father’s equal nor have I ever loved or respected another man more. My father has always done the best he could by me and although I may regret deeply parts of my journey, I regret not where it has led me. Because two days from now my father and I will be sitting in a drift boat catching wild Yellowstone cutthroat beneath the shadows of the Grand Tetons and I can’t imagine another place on this planet I’d rather be.
I love you Dad, thanks for the lessons, the confidence and most of all for never giving up on me, even when everyone else did.
I’m not a trucker, but I’ve made my share of midnight runs and I know that lonely sound a highway makes. The dull thump of shifting gears, the bitter taste of Copenhagen and Mountain Dew, the tragic dichotomy and nervous anxiousness of running away from something you know far too well and toward something you don’t quite yet understand. I’ve seen the sunrise over Cheyenne as US-80 stretches out in front of you for a million miles across the high desert and for a moment it looks like the whole world has been set on fire. Incredible reds and yellows blazing up out of thin air and lighting up all of existence. Then, just as fast as it all started, it melts back into the horizon leaving only a gentle breeze that whispers softly in your ear, pleading with you to keep its secret.
You close your eyes for a second and they burn with sleep and salt and by the time you open them again you’re in Colorado. The Rockies explode up before you and behind you lies only the swaying timber of the Pacific Northwest and all the things you left rotting in your wake. At exactly that moment you feel yourself being ripped right plum in half. The two sides tug at the little black piece of your heart that has been left in the middle, the only piece you have left.
There is nothing like the Northwest in the springtime. As the first steelhead of the year begin nosing their way up the same swollen creeks and rivers as their forebearers did a million years ago. Their sleek bodies all shoulders and guts. One solid muscle forged out of green chrome, all surging toward a final destination that they cannot possibly understand, yet it calls to them and resonates through every fiber of their being.
Likewise, nothing can compare to the crisp September evenings in the Quakie groves of Colorado as a herd bull bulges across a deep dark canyon making your bones involuntarily shiver in awe and anticipation. The two sides tearing at you and teasing you and batting those big beautiful blue eyes at you until you just want to explode.
Some days last longer than others, but those days spent wrapped up in long, lithe, tanned legs and smoldering skin smashed against your chest, those days always go too fast.
So now I spend my days searching for a woman I only know as perfect – or I should say, purpose- and if I ever cross her path again I hope she’ll stay. Sometimes it’s better not to say “I’m sorry”. Sometimes it’s just best not to say anything at all.
I’ve been a carpenter and I know the feel of calloused hands swinging a hammer all day long. I’ve been not a poet, but a thief, and I know what it’s like to be young and hungry and lost. I’ve been a fisherman and I know the silly disregard of a thousand conquests while brooding over the one that broke your line. I’ve been a gambler and I can tell you a hundred stories about hitting it big and a thousand more about losing it all.
I am not wise man, nor am I a soul what can be saved. I am simply a man with barely a soul. But I’ve seen the sunrise over the Rockies and the sunset over the Pacific and the prettiest pair of blue eyes as they first open in the morning and although that might not seem like much, I can’t imagine anyone has ever seen anything sweeter.
I wake up everyday knowing the great battle that lies before me. So impulses to deny and demons to slay. It is no easy task and for years they got the better of me; some of them still do. A picture reminds me that a call won’t be answered. My bank account forces me out of bed. The view in the steamy, post-shower mirror makes the gym a bit less agonizing. Scarred tracks on my arms tell a thousand stories of the needle and the damage done. Yet amongst this rotting mess of rehashed past and uncertain future is a dim, flickering light that still gives me hope and heartburn when I read the words written by an amateur that I recognize as my own. The delicate sprouts of a dream growing up out of the ashes of some barely existent talent that has been stifled for a lifetime because I lack the the confidence and faith in my own ability; the very archetype of my charm and candor. As I ready to march the demons off to slaughter and prepare myself to accept the things that are about to come -when I am still and hushed- some inward utterances of profound truth slip through the minefield of doubt and self loathing, allowing me to rise and face the day.
The one thing I know about life, the only thing you can count on, is that it goes on. Whether you are a hero or a victim, happy, miserable, in love, spurned, a genius or deaf dumb and into vampire books, life has no other intention except to impose itself upon you and beat you into bloody submission until you accept it without question. All of the things you hide from, shut your eyes to, take for granted, deny and disbelieve and despise, they are the things that beat you in the end. Those painful nasty things, the shortcomings and character defects, they can become a source of great power and pride and beauty if first you only accept them as they are and face them down each day. You can be cops or you can be criminals, but when you’re staring down the barrel of a loaded .45, what’s the difference?
The measure of life is not to merely exist, but to live; and to live is to take action. Life is not easy. Love is fleeting. Beer is good. Death is in an instant. I dream the dreams of kings and poets, but life is not a dream and each morning I wake up. After all these years I’ve finally learned that dreams are not just to be had, they are to be chased down and tackled. Sometimes you have to rally courage from thin air and take a risk. Other times it means pulling yourself up out of the gutter and being better than you think you really are, even if you have to fake it a while. Sometimes, when you’re lost and confused, all you need is a fishing trip with your old man to remind you that life is beautiful and somebody out there cares whether you live or die. Sometimes the right tunes on the radio can change your whole attitude.
As I sit here writing this on my front porch, the soundtrack is just right and I realize that it always has been. It’s a great feeling knowing that I can go from dreaming to living without any post-traumatic depression. I can go from my porch to a fresh beer in the fridge to my fly-tying after a long day. From Eddie Vedder to Clapton to The Lumineers to Florence and her lovely machine to The Toadies and Seager and Willie and Johnny Cash. From my front porch I can watch the whole universe arise and head out into the day; sorry sods and beautiful souls, old and young, all rushing off into a world alive and throbbing, full of treasure and heartache and everything and nothing all at once.
You can forget yourself in a place so rich and new and unseized. Forget everything that is, everything that is not and get lost in the literature and the music. The wind blows and my puppy lifts her head to investigate this sudden and overwhelming flood of the senses; I don’t understand it anymore than she does. The impermeable arcana of a world nobody really understands. Who cares though, says I, it all ends the same. From my front porch I am never very far from everything I ever wanted. I hold court with Norman MacLean and John Steinbeck and Hemingway and Smallwood and Bukowski. I dream the dreams of my own thoughts and memories and I feel sorry for the poets and kings who will never know the love that I’ve had or the waters I’ve waded. And though blue eyes and rising trout both evaporate in an instant, leaving you wondering if it was all just a mirage, it’s hard to explain to another what it feels like to have been blessed by either. It’s hard to be Charles In Charge when you ain’t fuckin Scott Baio.
The threads of our existence are stitched meticulously, painstakingly, day by day. Like slow labored breaths drawn in and then exhaled. They are measured. They are definite. The colors may change, the direction veer, but as surely as you are reading this, a pattern is being followed. For most of us the lines have been drawn since we were five minutes old. We grow and we adapt and we mold, but when the chips are down we always revert to who we truly are. A man can sooner change the course of human history than he can change that of his own future. Realizing this I am overwhelmed by the sneaking suspicion that it isn’t the pooch who is screwed here. I’ll grant you that I’ve had my share of poignant moments and ephemeral conquests, ah but grand plans and fond memories.
One day you wake up and you can’t remember what she smells like anymore. One day you turn on the news and someone else made a million bucks off of your idea. One day you’re sitting across a desk from a doctor who tells you that there’s nothing else they can do. When that day comes, when it’s the last day of summer and you’re about to be shut out in the cold, wishing you’d told her you loved her more or had the guts to risk that failure or perhaps that you’d been a better person, it won’t mean a thing to anybody.
My biggest worry is not failure, it is not being alone nor is it even dying. It is that when the final tally is added up and the margin is called I’ll find I’ve spread more hurt than love, had more ambition than performance, spilled more tears and blood than joy and laughter, more time spent on the couch than I did with my line in the water.
One day the devil will come to collect my soul and my greatest fear is that after I’ve pleaded my case he will say, “I’m not here for what you’d hoped to do; I am here for what you did do.”