Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Summer, the Once and Future Dream

I wrote this piece in December for the last issue of The Cedar Sweeper magazine. That issue has now run its course so I'm happy to share it with you here.  If you miss summer or are looking forward to it, read on.
dreaming of waters tropical....


A thin coat of snow covers the landscape like a sheer garment.  It’s late December, and frankly, we’re having a mild winter.  It doesn’t matter, we’ll be buried in snow soon enough, the rivers and lakes here in the tip of Northern Michigan will ice over, swaddled in snow, and the fishing will grind to a crawl, quite like molasses in, well, January.  My tying vise is out, it’s time to clean up and reorganize my bench, and settle in for the winter.

I can’t complain, with all of the warm weather we’ve had so far, I’ve fished more this December than any other in the past.  We’ve had a lot of days in the 40’s, a lot of nights that didn’t freeze.  Still, I can’t help looking back.


the onset of late-stage winter madness
Somewhere in the back of my mind lies a memory, one that seems to be quickly fading, much like a dream half way through the morning.  Did that really happen?  Was it just a dream?  Colors, images and emotions swirl.  I remember wet wading, and wearing a t-shirt all day long.  I recall fishing dry flies until 10 p.m., the boreal glow reflecting blue and gold from the surface of the water as the sun slid off to the north.    I remember warm nights on the river, the whine of mosquitoes in my ears.  I remember hitting any stream, anywhere, anytime.  Ah, memories.

Why does winter feel like the only reality now?  The incessant damp and chill, the gray skies, frosty mornings, short days?  It’s difficult to imagine going outside wearing anything less than two layers, and it’s impossible to fish without feeling like the Michelin man.  But somewhere, deep in the recesses of our minds, a candle burns.  I like all those guys who say they love winter fishing.  I’m sure that a tiny minority do love it on its own merits- the beauty and silence of winter, the distinct lack of crowds, the satisfaction of catching hard won fish, that face-to-the-wind satisfaction of perseverance in adversity.  I get it.  But when you corner these guys, pin them down and get them talking, terms like “solitude” and “lack of crowds” come up repeatedly.  It’s about aesthetics, the season has nothing to do with it.

Beauty? Yes, Solitude? Yes, but it ain't summer...

Honestly- who would willingly trade summer for winter?  In summer the days are warm and long, there are bug hatches galore.  You can fish 24 hours a day if you like.  You can fish seven days a week and fish for a different species each day, you can fish the whole season without fishing the same body of water twice.   Right now you have to pick the most ice free streams out of the few that remain legally open, and there is usually only about six hours through the middle of the day that are very productive- if at all. 

Summer is a two-fold dream.  When here it has that surreal, whirlwind quality- like so many dreams, it passes too quickly, leaving us befuddled, wondering what happened, trying to figure out why we were talking to a pin-striped duck with a blue head at our mother-in-law’s house.  Before you know it, it’s here, it roars through your life in a swirl of heat and light and activity.  You’ll spend too much time at work, or mowing the lawn, or consumed with necessary things- family obligations, graduation parties, oil changes, backyard barbecues, and renewing your vehicle plates at the Secretary of State’s office.  Like a dream there will be those moments of clarity, snapshots in time frozen in your mind’s eye- a rise on a favorite stream, black and red spots on a yellow flank, the warm sun on your face as you doze to the sound of murmuring water, fireworks lighting up the night sky, the taste of ice cream on a hot afternoon, the sound of thunder under darkening skies, the smells of watercress, cedar and spruce, and of fish on your hands.  All of this happens in the same fast-twitch REM fashion, and we wake up in late September in a cold sweat, out of breath asking ourselves “Was that real? What happened?”  The harder we try to pin it down, the harder it is to remember.


One. Cold. Fish.
This time of year, summer is that other dream.  We only recall those pleasant days of blue skies and Simpson’s clouds, the leisurely days spent on vacation, the weekends when our schedules opened up, the wife took the kids to visit her sister, and you got away to fish.  The weather cooperated, the fish rose, you somehow managed to dodge the canoeists and tubers, you found a lonely stretch of water, enjoyed a cold one on the river bank to the gentle sounds of flowing waters, the clattering racket of kingfishers, and the splash of rising trout.  Your casting was perfect and even the tag alders restrained their greedy, grabby limbs.  You see with astonishing clarity your size 16 Adams land silently, a dimple on the surface film; you throw the perfect cast, the perfect mend and get a perfect drift.  Quietly a large nose breaks the surface and your fly disappears.  Fish ON.  There are no mosquitoes, no black flies, no harsh winds, no deadlines to worry about, and no one splashes their way down the river through your hole.  Like I said, it’s a dream.

Winter can be a lot like exile or imprisonment- the forced labor of shoveling snow and scraping frosty windshields, having to wear garments we don’t like, the involuntary confinement brought about by extended darkness, fierce weather and deep cold.  Prisoners and exiles, the ones who didn’t merely survive, but found a way to flourish, all say the same things.  They had routines, and they had hope.  For us interred in this darkest of seasons, we have both.  Besides the demands of our daily lives, we will clean our gear, inspect our reels and lines, and decide what we need for the coming season.  We will pore over catalogs drooling over the latest rods and nets.  We will tie flies.  We will get out our maps and guidebooks, consult with our friends and plan for the upcoming season.  We’ll watch videos online, read books and otherwise vicariously live the dream.  These things will sustain us, they will keep a flame of hope burning inside, a ray of sun shining through the bars, until the days grow longer, the snow melts and we are liberated again.

flame of hope? most definitely
I fish year-round now, I have for several years.  I’ve come to realize that it’s not out of some sort of purism, or some perverse love of cold extremities and icy guides.  For me it’s about keeping the dream alive, of not being able to let go.  I feel that if I just keep going I’ll get a taste of that happier time, that I may actually be able to remember what it is like to be warm, bug bitten and sun burnt, happily casting my three weight to rising brook trout far in the backcountry.  I feel that if I just keep going back that the montage of sights, sounds and smells that flashes through my mind will somehow materialize, congeal into something tangible, and that I’ll be prepared for the next time, ready to net the stream itself and carry it with me for the rest of the year, to fix myself in that happy time and place where the sun is warm, a river flows free, and trout are rising.


8 comments:

  1. Great read on another gray day. Can't wait for 50 SPF longsleeve shirts. Until we meet on the water. Tight lines,
    Koz

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    1. I'll be working down your way for the rest of the year, so we'll be sure to hit the water soon.

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  2. I love this piece! You nailed it, fishing to keep the dream alive. Perfect!

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    1. Winter fishing is tough, but it beats not fishing. Summer will be here soon enough.

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  3. That middle paragraph Summer is a two-fold dream really struck a chord- oh so true around here! All that waiting for the high season, then there's Life, then you look back and wonder where it all went. Sigh, I miss Summer. :-/ mike

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    1. Yeah- when it's here, summer is a hectic whirlwind, when it's gone it becomes this surreal memory. Glad you enjoyed it.

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  4. Yeah this definitely drives in several nails. A very true and enjoyable read. It is, perhaps, a bit too good for the Sweeper! ...that's saying something.

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    1. Thanks Will, glad you enjoyed it. Summer will be here soon enough, I'm sure I won't be ready for it.

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