Tuesday, March 15, 2011

So There I Was.....

a bad place to be lost at night

....walking out of the headwaters of a favorite stream, alone in the evening, when suddenly I hear the sound of a rotten log being ripped apart, like thick organic cloth tearing, raising my pulse, my eyes straining into the dusk and forest to see what's out there.

....up to my neck in the Two Hearted river, my rod and pack held high over my head, the soft sugar sand bottom sucking me down calf-deep, miles down a remote road that no one has traveled in months, struggling against the steady push of the current that seems to whisper one word to me, "Surrender".

....up to my waist in snow, bow in hand, 15 years old, the light crespuscular, my throat tightening, sweat pouring off my brow even as I'm getting colder and then, that sick feeling as I walk up on the only thing I recognize in this thick swamp- my own tracks.

.... lost, stem climbing down between two massive house-sized boulders, in the pitch midnight dark, the sound of my brothers ragged breathing behind me, my own heart pounding in the desert stillness, groping my way down looking for a way out, when suddenly the bottom opens up, I still can't see the ground and I know- the only way out is to go back up.

.... standing on Route 99- the Kamehameha Highway, in my suit, listening to the ridiculous blabbering of the woman who struck me, my rental car totaled, on the far side of Oahu from where I need to be- in Honolulu, in court.

....walking back through Alphabet City, after taking a friend visiting from Finland to the place she's staying- what is an out-of-towner doing staying here?- past the drunks and skells, a man in dreads shouting insanely, the streets full of the young, the pierced, the tattooed, the fringes of even New York life.  We walk up behind a young woman, obviously high, and she turns around, puts her arms around my friend and in a dreamy voice says "Hi" and attempts to kiss him.

...sitting in the snow, my friends out of sight, my call silent.  Turning my head I meet the steady, yellow-eyed gaze of the bobcat, his great ruffed head twenty feet away, searching for the dying rabbit that he'd come to finish off, trying to figure out what this large camouflaged object is staring back.

....sitting in the delivery room, Long Island College Hospital, holding my newborn daughter as she calmly stared into my eyes.  I believe we made a connection, then and there in the noise and bustle and smell, as the doctors worked frantically to save my wife.

....high on this ridiculous talus slope, Keith out of sight below, my leg throbbing in pain, threatening to buckle with every step, my other friends already gone back down to retrieve my pack.  The altimeter on my GPS reads 10,800 feet.  Another rock clatters down the avalanche chute I'm about to cross in the fading light.

....on a paddle boat on the Elbe river in Dresden, Germany, sipping a hefewiezen redolent of green apples and spice, having just reviewed the horror of the Allied carpet bombing and fire-storm, the legacy of war tattooed on the pocked and cratered walls of the museum, and thinking too myself "Travel does not get better than this.".

....hanging on desperately to my climbing tree stand, the platform cable- the one that holds it to the tree- hanging limply, kicked out of its bracket; I'm struggling desperately to hoist myself up into the seat from below in a futile effort, the terrible realization dawning that I'll be hanging here 35 feet up and it will be at least 8 hours before anyone realizes I'm missing.

....on my belly in the apropriately named Billy's Belly Crawl, Sloan cave system, central Kentucky.  I've had my helmet off for the last 150 feet, head turned sideways, my back touching the roof of the cave with each breath, fighting the rising bile and tension, straining to keep my breathing steady and calm.  The guy in front of me has had it- the hours of darkness, four miles of walking, crawling, climbing and constant contortion, the bats, the cold humidity itself claustrophobic.  He stops moving, his breath coming faster, and he starts backing up, kicking me in the head twice.  I grab him and we start The Conversation.

....half a mile off shore in my kayak, a shotgun shoved down between my legs.  It was calm when I paddled the three miles up here, but now, with the red orb of the sun touching the horizon, Lake Michigan has come up.  I've paddled out this far to get past the breakers that threaten to swamp me, and the shotgun sticks up awkwardly, making me feel unstable.  I take another wave over the bow (why didn't I bring my spray skirt?!!), adding more water to the cockpit, and the boat starts to slowly rock.  I paddle towards the landing, still off-shore, my eyes and ears straining in the gathering dusk to find a hole in the gauntlet of waves.

....alone in the darkness with the sounds of the stream, my largest brown trout ever brought to hand after a tremendous battle, and I realize I've come full circle- I've caught this, my best fish ever in the same hole where I learned to trout fish 30 plus years ago, and within 150 feet of the place I caught my first trout on a fly.  One of my most sublime moments ever.


  1. there are definitely a few brutal ones there...

  2. I love those kind of moments...cool!!!

  3. Very well done! The cave thing gave me the creeps - I don't do caves. Great piece of writing here.

  4. Thank you all for the positive response. I was worried about this one. The challenge was to build as vivid and complete a story in a couple sentences. I'll keep working at the creative stuff, you've really encouraged me.

  5. Really, really great stuff. I've known a few of those situations...and I'm thankful that I haven't known them all. 'The Conversation' is one I've had to endure multiple times.

  6. @Fontinalis - It is certainly much deserved encouragement! I'd like to read " The rest of the story " as Paul Harvey would say , for just about all of those :) Keep up the good work!! I can't wait to see more.

    This is truly one of the best blog posts I've read in a long time.

  7. Good post Jay. I wondered if you remembered that details of that night taking that girl back to where she was staying.
    I remembered the details of that night you and Jon were in the desert....from a different perspective ;)

  8. best one yet! in the end that is all we have