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  #181 (permalink)  
Old 02-09-2014, 06:40 AM
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Default Re: I Met Myself Last Night...

The small boy stood in the doorway of the cabin, soaking wet from his head down to the bottom of hip boots nearly long enough to qualify as waders, given his height. In his left hand rested a well-worn bamboo rod, one that had seen its share of time on the river. In his right, a pair of fine brook trout hung from an old metal stringer. With the moxie of a more seasoned angler, the boy offered a trade-- the trout for a chance to sit by the fire for awhile and dry out. The deal was made...

As the youngster found his perch near the stone fireplace, the older man found the conversation somewhat sparse in the beginning, and himself growing more curious by the minute. Obviously, the boy knew a fair amount about the fly rod he carried and the sport he practiced, given his "trade bait." But, what was so young a boy doing this far from the main road and fishing the river by himself? And, why was he soaking wet, given the cloudless skies and moderate temperatures, unless he'd found one of the river's many "holes?" The answers to his questions soon became a sort of shared knowledge between the two.

The boy's recalling of the events leading him to the door of the cabin came slowly, at first, then washed over the older man as the detailing of the morning picked up steam. And, as the youngster brought to light every single moment of his on-stream adventure, the man found himself enjoying the boy's recall of the morning-- youthful embellishments aside. Obviously, the youngster came from a line of good story-tellers, men who had taught him to see the "small things," that which so many others seem to miss in their hurry to get to the next pool, and he admired the boy for his attention to such details. He also liked the boy's obvious respect for those more "advanced" in age than himself.

An hour or so had passed before he heard the sounds of men calling/searching for someone-- undoubtedly, the boy who sat near the fire. Stepping out onto the front porch, he heard the name "Buck" echoing through the woods. Turning back toward the door, his unasked question to the boy was met with a nod. Answering their call, he awaited their arrival and the end of their search.

The first man to arrive at his doorstep surprised the cabin owner, as he was a familiar face, indeed. With the usual "John Holship, you old SOB" sort of greeting, handshakes were exchanged before the aforementioned John Holship introduced his hunting/fishing partner of many years-- Harry Carson Kincaid.

As the three men settled near the fire, the man noted the youngster adjusting the logs in the fireplace and adding a few more just so. Afraid that the boy would burn himself, his fears were quickly put to rest by the boy's grandfather, Harry. It didn't take but a moment to recognize the fact that the boy had some experience in building a good fire as well.

The hours passed quickly as the stories flowed back and forth, with the boy interjecting when asked to do so. Soon, it was time to leave and start the long walk back to the farm-worn Ford pick-up that had carried them to the banks of the river. As the threesome prepared to leave the porch, the man reminded the boy about his trout. In a small voice, he replied "No, sir... we had a deal," before turning to take the path that had led him to the cabin's door. The man then added a return invitation to them all, one that would become a part of each of their northern trips to the river, especially the young boy in question...


The year was 1962, the man was the late Montgomery Jackson and the cabin was "Trail's End." And, the boy in question? He was a much younger me. Such was my introduction to the man and his cabin, and the start of a friendship that would bridge some 50+ years...
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  #182 (permalink)  
Old 02-13-2014, 04:03 PM
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Default Re: I Met Myself Last Night...

Returning The Favor...

I saw evidence of the man's visitation long before I ever glimpsed the man himself. After hiking the two-track back into "Trail's End"-- walking is great for "winter weight control" --I came upon the firepit with its vaulted circle of "stump chairs," and noted that one had been swept clean of snow, with the ground at its base flattened by the pressure of boots. As no cigar ashes were present, I wrote Tom off the list as a probable suspect, then dismissed the event as just another visitor passing by and deciding to take a load off.

Once re-assured about the cabin's status, I started traversing the downhill slope to the river. One of the nicest things about an impromptu wandering of the woodlands is that nothing is planned, and every directional compass change is fair game. If my inner compass needle took me west, I'd end up at Tom's front door. However, if the fates dictated a north by northeast track, I'd be able to follow the river's edge for as long as my legs could stand it. And, so it went...

Most trails that trace the course of the AuSable River see their fair share of travelers, even during the off-season months. Today was no exception, as a pair of boots sporting a tread pattern similar to my old L.L. Bean boots had already marked their path through the light bit of snow that fell overnight. Obviously, with the weather a little warmer than it had been in recent weeks, someone else felt the need to see the same country that I was seeking to travel.

He stood at the bend in the river where it switches from a short northerly course to a turn due east, a man whose stature was somewhat bent from age and years of toil. I paused before continuing down the path, not wishing to disturb the man. His gaze down to the currents was an intense one, more closely resembling a studying of sorts, as if he was committing it all to memory. Having had a similar session or twelve over the years, it was a moment that I didn't want to be seen as an intrusion.

He hailed me as I turned to leave, breaking out of his silence and asking me to join him on the riverbank. Once introductions were exchanged, the inevitable "talks of discovery," as the late Montgomery Jackson used to call it, began at a comfortable pace. Had I known the man who'd lived in the hillside cabin? I assured him that I had for many years. Had we fished together? More times than could have been easily counted, I replied. Had he passed on? Again, I answered to the affirmative.

As his posture relaxed and the conversation slowed, I picked up my end of it and asked if he was a fly fisherman? He was... once. The steady march of the years and health concerns had taken him off the river almost a decade before, and now he found himself again standing near a spot that had been among his favorites along this stretch of the river. What he wouldn't give for strong legs to buck the currents and the flex of a fly rod in hand once more.

My offer came out hard and fast, so quickly that it nearly surprised me. As wading wasn't in the cards, would he like to take part in an old fashioned, AuSable riverboat float trip down through this series of river switchbacks in the late Spring? His answer was faster than my offer-- "I'm in!"

With that, numbers were exchanged, possible dates were discussed, and tentative plans were ultimately made. Come the hatches of mid-May, his fly rods will be dusted off and his vest pulled from storage, all in preparation for the man's return to the river. On the day in question, I will put a small box of my own ties in his hand and Tom and I will be privy to one of those rare, truly fine moments in fly-fishing. And, in doing so, I'll make good on returning a favor that was gifted to me almost 50 years ago...

Full circle, indeed...
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  #183 (permalink)  
Old 02-16-2014, 06:03 AM
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Default Re: I Met Myself Last Night...

Yesterday was a class day for the group commonly acknowledged as "my kids," and as I walked around our small living room answering questions, making suggestions and the like, I was amazed at the progress many of "my kids" have made in their short tenure as "fly-tiers." While a few still enjoy tying their versions of simple and effective "variants" in an array of colors, others are taking on such patterns as the Adams-- traditional and parachutes --no shortage of old Catskills patterns, and some of the more popular nymph ties. It was a satisfying afternoon, to say the least.

About two hours into the gathering, one of "my kids" threw out a question that took me completely by surprise. In a very small voice, he quietly asked, "What do you think Heaven is like?" All tying activities stopped in unison, as the entire room turned my way and awaited my answer-- parents included. It was a rather deep question for one so young, but not an unfamiliar one.

I paused for a few moments, struggling to find a "non-theological" explanation and to recall all of the details of a similar conversation I'd been privy to nearly 10 years ago. It took place at the cabin known as "Trail's End," and was held by "the gang" who often gathered at the late Montgomery Jackson's place during the Spring, Summer and Fall months. They, too, had discussed such a question, the basis for which was amazingly similar to the concerns of "my kids."

You see, both "my kids" and the late Montgomery Jackson's "gang" had one thing in common-- a precarious hold to this thing we call "life." The question concerns "my kids" because of their illness, while "the gang" sought the answer because of the inevitable advance of age. Or, in my own case, a little of both.

It was the aforementioned Montgomery Jackson who put forth perhaps the best answer that I'd heard previously or since that day. He summed it up in this way... "Think of some of the best days of your lives-- good times spent with your families, being on the river at sunrise with the entire day astream yet to come, or those special moments when you were just flat-out enjoying yourself to the fullest. The enjoyment of those rare days, my friends, is exactly what Heaven is truly like..."

And, my own recollection of his words was exactly what I told "my kids" on Saturday afternoon...
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Last edited by hairwing530; 02-16-2014 at 11:48 AM.
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  #184 (permalink)  
Old 02-16-2014, 09:29 AM
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Default Re: I Met Myself Last Night...

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  #185 (permalink)  
Old 02-23-2014, 12:37 PM
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Default Re: I Met Myself Last Night...

Fly-tying sessions are always special moments, especially when the session involves a "one on one" arrangement of a man who is the teacher and a father on one side of the desk, and a young girl who is student and a daughter on the other side. A man is truly blessed if he's privileged to have a wealth of such moments, though seldom are these rarities numerous enough, no matter if he lives to be 100 years of age...

Today will offer up another "gem" in the lives of both participants. Though the lessons will differ little from the normal curriculum, it will be another tutoring session for the books, so to speak, collected and collective pages that will ultimately prove too few in number when the writing and final edit is done.

As always, she will arrange her "prepped ahead" hackle, tools and vise positioning just so in her corner of the desk, while the man will spend his time rummaging around his tying area in search of this or that throughout the entire few hours of "hook wrapping." Where one's mind works best among the clutter, the other's approach is one born of a clarity that comes about with the days and hours are a measured sort of proposition.

When the final flies are tied on this Sunday afternoon, her pile of precision "bugs" will no doubt dwarf his own collected production from the jaws of his vise, both in the sheer volume and the quality of the ties. And, in keeping with tradition, when the feathers have stopped flying and the bobbins have been put aside, the flies will be gathered and loaded into a "Community Jar,"-- a tradition began by the late Montgomery Jackson. In the none too distant future, many within the jars will find homes among a special group of anglers that the youngster will never have the chance to meet.

Such will be the setting in about 30 minutes, when my tying session with Ms Emily comes to pass. By birth, she truly is a good man's eldest daughter, as I've grown to know her father well. By virtue of our shared time together at the bench, however, she has been a blessing these past four years to the man she and "my kids" all call "Pops," one that will leave behind volumes of the best of memories when her time here is done...
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  #186 (permalink)  
Old 02-24-2014, 05:13 AM
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Default Re: I Met Myself Last Night...

The late Montgomery Jackson loved the time he spent with "my kids," as his own son denied him access to Montgomery's growing grandson, deeming that the late Montgomery Jackson's "pursuits" were frivolous and a pure waste of time. So, Montgomery "adopted" the classes of "my kids," spending many of his weekend hours assisting in the teaching and advising where he could in his "grandfatherly" way. He also invested a fair amount of his money as well whenever I came up short, in order to keep the program going. It would become a part of his legacy, if you will...

And, two of his favorite "students" among the classes of "my kids" were my own late daughter, Laramie, and the youngster who's in her last days on this earth-- Ms Emily. Yesterday, she and I participated in another of our patented one-on-one "tying get-togethers," as she has grown a bit uncomfortable in a class setting with the progression of her leukemia and its effects.

When she arrived, I could tell that the intensity of the treatments to try and stave off the inevitable was beginning to wear on her. As always, she carried her perpetual smile and good nature, but the youngster's eyes told the whole story. She is tiring and slowly growing weaker with each passing week, and it showed in her tying yesterday.

Where once Ms Emily tied in an almost marathon style with great confidence-- previous sessions would often last three hours or more --her wraps on Sunday afternoon came in measured bursts, still finely honed but slower than her norm. And, as fatigue began to get the best of her, frustration set in and I called for a break in the action, despite objections from the youngster.

Her Dad joined us at the tying desk, his right hand finding its way to his daughter's shoulder. I know his pain far too well, and the moment brought to mind memories of the hours spent by this father with his own daughter as she battled the same disease as Ms Emily, with the same eventual outcome.

As they quietly talked, I slipped away and pulled down one of the late Montgomery Jackson's journals. Flipping back to the dog-eared page that carries his thoughts on patience at the bench and knowing when to call it a day, I laid open the journal to the page in question and let Ms Emily read through the thoughts of a man she'd known during earlier classes as one of "my kids."

When she closed the book, Ms Emily looked up, nodded and started packing up her tying kit. Once finished, we all gathered to take stock of the 44 whitetails feeding in the side yard and the wild turkeys picking among them before the young girl and her folks took their leave.

One day in the all too short future, such moments will be "recall memories," as Ms Emily's time will come to an end before the Fall of 2014 ends. Until then, I intend to capture and commit to said memories as many of these occasions as possible, to draw from later on whenever I need once again to bring to mind that certain sort of fond recollection of days gone by...
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  #187 (permalink)  
Old 02-27-2014, 06:03 AM
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Default Re: I Met Myself Last Night...

There are moments in this journey we call "life" that shape a man's character-- some for the worst, but most for the better. They are, I believe, our proverbial "crossroads," intersections offering multiple directions to take, and all of which have the power to change a person's life in very distinctive ways.

I was reminded of these "crossroads" last night as I read further into another of the late Montgomery Jackson's journaling of my life as it was in years past, and up until the last few weeks before his death. Even in my youngest years, I'd come to my share of early "crossroads" in which I'd faced decisions that could have altered the outcome of who I am today, in terms of my ethics, my beliefs, and my general approach to the world of fly fishing, upland bird hunting, or life as a whole.

It's only as we age that we realize the significance of our choices when standing at said "crossroads." Fortunately for me, I was privy to the advice of some of the finest "guides" imaginable when choosing my own directions-- my grandfather, for one, and the late Montgomery Jackson as another. Together, they allowed a youngster to make his share of mistakes and learn from them, all the while gently nudging me toward the right personal compass points.

And, over the years, their "life lessons" have become so engrained that I can't imagine myself being or living any other way. Is there still room for improvement? Always... I've never been shy about telling anyone who'll listen that I will continue to be a "work in progress" until I no longer walk this earth.

When I closed the journal last night and laid it on my tying desk, I reloaded a favorite pipe and struck a match to the tobacco before mulling over the words I'd just read. And, as I sat with a half-finished fly still in the vise, I realized that, despite the challenges faced in later years, I was truly blessed to have stood at those respective crossroads in time and chosen the roads under my feet that led me to my grandfather's house, and the small cabin known as "Trail's End..."
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  #188 (permalink)  
Old 03-02-2014, 06:07 AM
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Default Re: I Met Myself Last Night...

The power of "healing" comes in many forms, some real and some perceived. Be it a heart broken by the loss of a loved one or a small body breaking down under the relentless onslaught of a cancer that grows inside, knowing that people actually care, and that one can and often does make a difference in more lives than realized tends to give rise to one of the greatest feeling of all-- hope. Without hope, life can be a very empty place...

Yesterday was "class day" with the small group known as "my kids." And, as they all took their seats and set up shop for another afternoon of fly-tying, I took a read on each and every one of "my kids." After years of teaching these classes to "my kids," I've quickly learned to recognize the nuanced signs that spell trouble and torment raging inside a youngster battling an insidious disease.

So, at our usual break in the tying action-- and after "pre-arranging" the whole expedition with their folks in advance --"my kids," their folks and me and mine all slipped into our winter gear and headed outside to supplement the feed piles that have sustained our resident whitetail herd over the winter. With so many hands taking part, the work was soon finished. And, within moments, this is what "my kids" were privy to on a cold Saturday afternoon...

Click the image to open in full size.

Within moments, there were smiles all around, and a very different feel in the air. Obviously, there is truth to the belief shared by myself and the late Montgomery Jackson, in that the power of "healing" can come from the most unlikely of places...
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Old 03-05-2014, 05:55 AM
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Default Re: I Met Myself Last Night...

I am an addict... There... I've gotten it off my chest and a tremendous weight has been lifted from my shoulders. And, according to the writings of the late Montgomery Jackson, I've suffered from this addiction nearly all of my life.

After minutes of diligent research into my addictive behavior and my need to satisfy said addiction, I've discovered that there is NO cure... no 12-step program that can cure what ails me. For better or for worse, I will forever be locked in the grips of this addiction until the end of all things
"hairwing530,"-- forced, if you will, to dance to its drummer rather than one of my own making.

And, while I admit to my "addiction," I also qualify that confession with another statement, in that "I wouldn't have it any other way..." You see, I'm addicted to spending far too many hours messing around with young setters, spaniels and Labrador retrievers. Give me a young dog that can be a boon companion on an exploration of the woodlands bordering the river, and I'll show you a man who'll easily kill three to four hours of time when he should be engaged in more productive ventures.

As well, I'm addicted to anything "fly"-- fine rods, good reels, stretches of river coursing through a small valley, and the sight of a trout rising to an early Spring hatch. If the aforementioned trout is reliable in the timing of its feeding, it will have an audience for as long as the hatch holds--weather conditions notwithstanding. On more than one occasion, I've fought off the urge for the comforts of home and hearth just to see the currents part a bit as a trout took one more small insect topside.

My addiction doesn't stop there, however. If the total truth be known, you'd find that I'm equally addicted to all things "old"-- riverside cabins, the fly-wranglers and fly-tiers of years past, double guns and upland bird paraphernalia, and places that hold an immense amount of sporting history within their walls. Stick me in a lodge that pre-dates me by 50 to 100 years, and I can spend hours immersed in the exploration of its historical nod to years past.

So, there you have it! I am an addict... for all things related to our moments of being astream or afield. Old or new, yours or mine... it doesn't really matter. Each and every one of them will provide a "fix" in its own special way. And, if anyone stumbles across a "cure" for my addiction, please don't tell me about it. I've come to appreciate my addiction for what it brings to the table-- reminders of where I've been and where I am now, and promises of where I hope to go in the years to come...
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Old 03-08-2014, 05:35 AM
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Default Re: I Met Myself Last Night...

Yesterday was one of those "promise" days that almost always follow the cold, blustery weeks of a winter past-- temperatures pushing the 40-degree mark for the first time in months, and southern-exposure hillsides quickly shedding their snow cover and exposing the underlying grass. If a man is paying close attention, he can pick up on the "promise" of a coming Spring, and almost hear the sounds of a reel screaming in protest at the tug-of-war being waged with the first fish of a new season.

With the warming sunlight cutting through the curtains on every eastern window, the "promise" of a grand Friday to be outdoors wasn't lost on my aging bones. Thermos filled and properly attired, I made my way to the gate at "Trail's End," parked the "Fish Truck" and walked the long two-track leading back into the place rather than partaking of my usual drift-busting.

With little wind, plenty of sunshine and mile-high blue skies, I was on a quest of discovery, if you will. I wanted to stop at every well-worn deer trail and judge the health and number of the local herd, and how they fared over the brutal winter months. As well, I was curious to see if I could flush the ruffed grouse that had taken up residence near a great stretch of aspen and alders residing at the halfway point on the trek back to the riverside cabin. Such things only can be accomplished by a man on foot and "seeing some country," rather than powering the four-wheel drive through the mounds of snow.

The long walk in passed more quickly than I realized, and before a scant 30 minutes had gone by, I found myself seated on one of the stumps surrounding the fire-pit-- steaming coffee in hand and taking stock of the place. The "Spring Clean-Up" would be an easy one this year, taking a weekend or two, at most. And, after last year's massive undertaking, it was nice to see that the repairs had held and that the work necessary to ready the place would be minimal.

I heard the sweet chiming of the bell hanging from its neck long before I actually saw the dog. Its arrival at the fire-pit signaled one of two things-- either Tom was on his way over to the old place from his own "Trailhead," or he'd let the dog out for a riverside run. Either way, the dog always proved itself to be great company.

When Tom didn't immediately show, I rose and followed the dog back toward the river, tracing its path even when the dog turned right to follow the riverbank instead of left along the trail leading over to Tom's place. With a comfortable gait that made for an easy pace, it was enjoyable to watch the dog work the ground and the surrounding cover. It brought to mind days when I'd followed my own dogs in the Fall of the year...

We weren't more than 300 or so yards into our tracking the course of the river when the dog plunged into the brush lying straight west of the trail and made its way down to the river's edge. There, just above the highest of the water marks was a natural flat "bench" of sorts, a hillside notch of dirt 15 feet or so in length that was a perfect casting platform for a stretch of water that's normally accessible only via riverboat or by way of some "delicate" wading. Duly noted and later mapped, it would see its share of visitation later this year.

After another hour of exploration in the company of Tom's dog, we parted company as we neared the turn to "Trail's End"-- the dog heading home and me up the hill. And, as I climbed, I realized that an old adage of long standing had been completely shattered by the events of the day. I now believe that one can teach an "old dog" a new trick or two. Sometimes, it just takes another "old dog" to be the teacher...
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