Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Autumn Affirmation

The eyes of all wait upon thee; and thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing. Psalm 145:15,16

If summer is the season of action, then fall is the season of reflection. A sense of melancholy settles in my spirit. Yet the last Saturday in October glows with promise and beckons me to my front porch. Supper bakes in the oven and a salad waits in the fridge. I have planned ahead to capture this afternoon all to myself, understanding that I require soaking in the last burst of autumn. This is a journey I must travel, complete with deep rumination, before I release the season and face winter’s challenges.
Normally I would sit on the back porch of our rural home and observe the White River and Fletcher’s Mountain. Often the river soothes my subconscious and provides transition and closure to another phase of my life. Then why today is the sunshine of the front yard more enticing than the river side? Perhaps because the maples glimmer with transparent light unlike their shaded brethren on the mountainside. The hilltop hardwoods haven’t yet begun their fall cycle; but the four maples on this side of the house preen in their reddish jewels, not quite ready for full cocktail dress. Like a young woman requiring help for the formal dance, they demand my full attention.
I loll in the small rattan seat with my feet propped on a straight chair and alternately read my current choice of fiction then gaze into the forest across our country road. Neighbors call to one another on the mountainside. Then silence seeks dominion and I begin to settle. For a few seconds, I am captivated by the wood’s hush soon disturbed by the raucous calls of angry crows. Perhaps I have interrupted their train of thought. Their bickering and irritation, directed at a small hawk whose mother has left the nest, keep me from simple mental vegetation.
Forced to return to my deepest thought processes, I muddle on the latest question in my world: have I accomplished enough service in my life? I will turn sixty in April. If sixty is the new fifty, as the Baby Boomer literature tells my generation, will I somehow re-capture the affirmation I felt at that age when only one year from retirement? Or will I struggle inside the dreary pit of fifty-one where I lost my nineteen-year-old child to a drunk driver? I have survived both the pre and post of fifty. I have completed a sparkling career, built a successful resort business, been published several times, learned to fly fish, contributed much to my church, been a faithful friend to several and a loving wife to only one.
Yet I contemplate the last third of my life and wonder whether those accomplishments are enough. Is this season of my existence like the October of my youth where the holidays were anticipated with many secrets and much yearning, or simply a slide into bleak winter and too many days spent shut up in the house? I examine my list of incompletes: finish writing the great American novel, master the perfect tight loops of my fly rod, laugh more, encourage enough people with kind words and support along the way. Some of those accomplishments can be evaluated and measured. Yet others may become part of the great immeasurable: a never ending parade of unfulfilled prayers and people resistant to change and help.
I review a mental list of friends whom I could call to drag me from my gloomy reverie and discard the idea, choosing instead to navel gaze then study the trees again. They hold the key to my dilemma if I will accept the lessons they teach. They have escaped the normal wind and rains thus far. Their leaves cling tightly to their branches, knowing their time will soon come to dance. They prevail impervious, not fearing the loss of leaf security or dignity. They enjoy their protection and success for a short while, discarding them to face the next season unafraid, secure that spring will bring rejuvenation.
A small whirling insect captures my attention. Aroused from my sun drenched laziness, I watch as it lands on the porch rail. Slightly larger than a ladybug with a thin body, the beetle’s green back holds distinct black marks which lend a checkerboard image to his color. He pauses to touch each foot to his oversized antennae, unconcerned about the female giant who leans closer for a look. After his brief rest and polishing, he departs---his green wings a tiny flare of hope before twilight arrives. I soon lose sight of him in the bright sunlight. Does he provide a teachable moment?
I survey a piece of spider web floating across the space between the trees. This is how spiders travel. Does the spider fear the distance from one tree before it can arrive at the protection of the next one? I marvel at his faith to let go without positive assurance of a secure landing; but sense that his survival lies in the breathless courage to try. There is a connection here among the creatures of the lawn and backdrop, if I just open my mind. Receiving the gift of the association developed by the variety of God’s resources promises to enhance my life as they have blessed this special October day.
Consider the lilies how they grow: They toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Luke 12:27

As the oven timer dings, I breathe in the victory of this humble yet glorious landscape and realize that I have much to offer this world with the last third of my life. Like the trees, I will prevail without trappings and protection. Like the beetle I will spin with joy. Like the spider I will survive the journey. Copyright 2007

Writer Gal

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Casting Catastrophes

For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. Hebrews 10: 36

Low water to a fly fisher, who’s been deprived of it for weeks, is akin to unlocking the candy store to a small girl with ten dollars in her fist. Recently, Bull Shoals Dam generation schedule has been conducive to some of the finest wade-fishing I’ve ever encountered. So when I prepared my blog post, I expected to supply wondrous tales of all the days I’ve caught a ton of fish lately. I almost considered mentally moving my Rookie status into the intermediate category until one day this past week.
That day reminded me, once again, why fly fishing is never an exact science and why Murphy’s Law operates in my world on a frequent basis. I fished only two hours since friends were invited for dinner that night. I’d prepared cabbage slaw and an old fashioned banana pudding before I left for my favorite gravel bar.
By the time I finished fishing, I noticed my leader appeared short and needed a new piece of tippet. Weary and somewhat lazy at that point, I decided to remedy that problem the next fishing trip and head on home to finish dinner arrangements. The supper went well. Everyone raved about the banana pudding. Fast forward to the next day.
I analyzed my leader and deduced I could get by with a longer piece of tippet rather than a brand new leader. I rode the four-wheeler to my favorite access point behind a neighbor’s place, rigged up with an extra-long piece of tippet and my favorite White River Angel fly, descended the new steps my kind neighbor had built into the gulley and waded carefully across the ditch to my favorite spot.
As I began to cast, I realized the tippet was perhaps a bit too long, when I hit myself on top of the head with the fly. Attempting to adjust and wait a bit longer with the “hesitation step” of my backcast, I next wrapped it around my hat. On the third try, I not only hit myself on top of the head but wrapped it around the magnifiers connected to the brim.
Beginning my normal self-counsel whereby I talk aloud to myself, I finally managed to get a decent cast with no fish. Changing flies and shortening the tippet seemed appropriate, so I chose a yellow soft hackle called an Anna Kay. Getting the line through the hook hole became a trial. The feathers blocked the way. I soothed them down and finally gave in to my sixty-one year old eyes and flipped down my magnifiers. After tying a cinch knot, I somehow managed to trim not only the surplus but the knot as well. Maybe focus was my problem; as I managed to repeat this embarrassing process three more times before I trimmed the excess properly.
After casting the Anna Kay several times with no results, I decided to switch flies again. By now the tippet was too short and I did what I should have done from the beginning, which was to install a brand new leader. I tromped to the gravel bar, disconnected the old and unwound the new. I connected the leader to fly line and prepared to tie on a piece of tippet. I had just recently learned to tie a proper surgeon’s knot and thought I’d give it a try again instead of my “made-up” version, that’s easier but takes up too much leader. Somehow it didn’t work as well as when I had the picture in front of me. When I pulled one last time for security, everything came apart. In my now totally frustrated state, I decide to fall back on my old knot.
At long last, I was ready to re-enter the water with a fly named a Little Randy. My tippet was the right length. My back-cast didn’t snare my hat or glasses. All I needed was a fish. Where were those fifteen to twenty trout I’d caught on my other days? Why did my thumb and palm throb from all my extra casting? And why was the sun suddenly broiling in the heavens?

When my life is snarled and my patience gone, where should I turn? On those knotty days when impatience and doubts overtake me, I realize I can't resolve my problems alone. I cannot simply cut the knots, throw down my gear and walk away. I must instead reach for the Lord’s guidance. No matter how many fears and problems overcome me, he never abandons me. He is always here, walking beside me, guiding, guarding, wrapping his loving arms around me even during my deepest distress.
Isaiah 41:13 says: For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand,saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.
When hunger waved a hand at me one more time, I finally succumbed and made my way back across the ditch and up the steep steps to my trusty vehicle. I mentally shook myself, promising a better fishing day tomorrow. In deep reflection, I steered the four-wheeler home and consoled myself with the banana pudding leftovers!
Writer Gal

Friday, July 24, 2009

Holy Hitchhiker

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, " plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
When I return from wade fishing, I rinse off waders and boots. After a few hours, they are dry enough to bring in for storage. However, I leave my dip net on the porch propped against the wall for a couple of days until the wind and heat assure it won't mold. When I picked up my net to return it to its hook yesterday, I noticed gooey yellow slime on the slider unit. After wiping it off with a paper towel, I discovered a hitchhiker in the form of a caterpillar who had obviously deposited the goo. I carefully balanced him on the net handle and took him outside to leave him on the porch rail in a safe place. This time I made it a few more steps when I saw the result of part of a butterfly's life cycle: a brown lumpy chrysalis imprinted with an undecipherable shape almost like the hardened body of a caterpillar. Who would have guessed that in all the normal habitats around our back porch for such an event to happen, the worm would have chosen the dip net? There are all kinds of nooks, posts and ledges on the porch as well as plants, trees and brush only a few feet away. But the worst part of all, was that I had inadvertently interrupted his mission: to complete the pupate stage in which he will form the chrysalis around his own body thus imprisoning himself until he “dies” to resurrect again as a fully formed butterfly in the future. What I had done by my “good deed” of releasing him outdoors was to force him to begin the process all over again. I reflected on how often we mortals interrupt God's plan for our lives with our petty concerns and agendas. I can only speculate how much we must try his patience when he has to start over again re-molding and shaping us into the Christians he wants us to be.
Yet, I see the results of his efforts as I gaze out my office window. I feel as though I'm immersed in my own butterfly kingdom. With the onslaught of summer sun, our butterfly bushes are now as tall as the lower edge of our windows. Like the hypnotic trance one encounters when staring at a fish aquarium, I'm mesmerized by this view of a variety of Ozark butterflies to delight the eyes. Smaller varieties, like the Zebras with their turquoise colors banded by black stripes, frolic and drink from blooms next to my little corner of the universe. They're often accompanied by hummingbirds who flee from our sugar water feeders to seek a more natural taste. When these creatures leave, the larger swallowtails arrive at the table including the Tiger, Spicebush and the Giant Black Swallowtail. They drift and cavort in the glimmering buds until I'm almost lulled to sleep, so peaceful is their rise and fall ... like a baby's sigh during nap time. And once again, I'm reminded of the simpler pleasures in life and the glory of God's love and patience ... where time waits for the rustle of butterfly wings and sunshine brings them back to me at dawn.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Only One

The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty;he will save; he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.
Zephaniah 3:17
Recently, the hot line number for the generation schedule at Bull Shoals Dam announced 2 units. I checked the water level on our campground boat ramp and decided I could safely wade there or a high mound of gravel bar upriver. Choosing the latter, I found clear water and safe footing. My approach was to cast a fly, let it swing in the current for a few seconds and then drift next to a brush pile. Trout often seek the quieter water in this situation where they wait in lazy fashion for served food. Several light ticks on the line indicated small fish, but nothing I could capture. After trying a Little Randy fly (very hot the week before on no generation), I experienced no hits both with and without a strike indicator. Next I attached a tan scud with no results either. I paused to watch a pair of damsel flies land on my sleeve. I wondered if they were attracted to my sea foam colored shirt or simply paused to visit. Concentrating again on the task at hand, I chose my “go-to” fly: Mike's White River Angel. I used it first with a strike indicator with no action. Since I normally like to strip the fly in, I removed the indicator, cast into fast water and again allowed it to drift into the seam separating shallow water from deep. A strong take startled me and a sassy fat Rainbow gave me keen competition. After several healthy lunges, he finally tired and I scooped him up in my dip net. I gratefully admired his vibrant colors; then I eased the dip net back into the water for his release. Any day with at least one fish in the net is always a joy to a rookie fly fisher.
God ministers to each of us on an individual basis. He lovingly catches us in the midst of our struggles in icy cold waters, washes our sins away, then gently releases us to witness to others of his mighty power. He takes great delight in every single one of us.
The shirt sleeve view and rich hues of the damsel flies as they sought respite, were simply added blessings.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Riffle Rendezvous

Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you. He will never let the righteous fall. Psalms 55:22

Like an old friend who waits for my return, my riffle is back and ready to fish. Last year during the floods, the river's landscape dramatically changed. My favorite rockpile and stream site sustained punishment from the pounding waters. I feared I might never fish my spot again. Yesterday with another low water day, I resolved to wade across the swift water and determine if it was again fishable. Even though the white rock which had been my marker was covered up, I found the rock collection in much deeper water, but wadable. I pulled my cinch knot tight on my White River Angel fly and threw across the swiftly moving water and allowed it to drift down stream. Within the first two casts, I landed a glistening Rainbow. The next several casts rewarded my net with five more fish. Each one was carefully released to await my next trip. Wishing to get closer to the far shoreline where I'd hooked and lost a nice Brown two years ago, I waded into deeper swifter water. I planted my wading boots hard into the gravel bed, but the current still rocked me with a constant pressure. After several casts along the edge of the mud and with no more fish, I began to feel uneasy at the continuous push of the water and realized I was close to losing my balance. Two giant Blue Herons fussed at me with raucous language. Deciding to heed their advice, I reeled in my fly, attached it to my rod and ever so cautiously turned around to seek a shallower spot. I stumbled over a large unseen rock, but regained my footing thanks to my wading staff and a small prayer. Finally I reached a more comfortable position but with no takes. I walked up the gravel bar and fished the end of it where there is heavier water and a deep cut; but netted no fish. By this time, the sun slid over the horizon and I decided to return to the riffle. I threw in a slightly different direction and again, waited for the fly to drift downstream. Two more fish plunged at the end of my line before I left. I'd accomplished what few rookies do: caught and released over my limit in an afternoon of fishing. I will rejoin my old pal riffle on another low water day. The rockpile and the fish will be waiting.

Dazzling Dries

After over 10 days of high flows, Bull Shoals Dam stopped generation last night at midnight. I made numerous trips down to the campground to check the water level, seeking that magical drop in flow so I could wade-fish. By the time the water was right, humidity draped the shoreline like a heavy woolen blanket; so I planned on late afternoon fishing. Finally at 4:45, I strapped on all my gear and headed to my favorite spot downriver on our 4-wheeler. Like a small child turned loose in the candy store, I could barely contain my thumping heart. It has been almost a month since circumstances allowed me to wade.
Fitting my Albright 4 wt. rod together and attaching my Galvin reel, I was soon ready after threading on my favorite fly: Mike's White River Angel. Within 5 minutes, I landed a small Rainbow. After light takes which never produced another fish, I changed flies several more times with no results. The afternoon humidity continued to wear on me and I decided it would be healthier to seek some shadier spots. I walked several hundred yards upriver near a neighbor's boat ramp and tied on a tan Scud with no takes. There was a hatch on. The twirling cavorting insects looked like a Parachute Adams, often touted by my friend George Peters. Now, I've never been successful with dry flies. I can never seem to get the drift just right. But I kept repeating to myself what the experts always tell us: “Match the hatch.” I tied on a Parachute Adams, squirted it with dry fly “dressing” to keep it from sinking and began to cast. I decided to allot myself 5 attempts before I switched to something else. On the 4th cast, I allowed the fly to drift way below me and gave it a couple of twitches and then began to strip it in. When I stopped, my attention was momentarily diverted by Canadian Geese and their new brood of goslings as they paddled beside the far shoreline; but I quickly focused when my fly was attacked by a healthy Rainbow. He skipped across the water determined to shake loose the hook; but I kept the pressure on the line and steered him carefully into shallower water where I scooped him into my net, admired him for a few seconds and gently released him. I had successfully captured my first trout on a dry fly. George would be proud!
Writer Gal

Monday, May 25, 2009

Wading Safety--Part 1

Since I first became a fly fisher 3 years ago, I have always worn a personal flotation device (PFD). When I was a kid, we called them life jackets. If you aspire to become a fly fisher, you will see large groups of folks without PFD's. Unfortunately, this should not be the norm. Rocks are slick. Holes are deep. Stubbing your toe and falling into cold river water is uninspiring, not to mention the possibility of drowning. Originally I wore a PFD with a "shawl collar" and a pull string over my fly fishing vest. You pull the string if you get into trouble, thereby inflating the device and floating to safety. On the day I stepped in a hole and ran icy river water down my shirt sleeve and into my waders, however, I forgot to pull the string. The resulting struggle of attempting to rise upright with waders several pounds heavier, risisting another urge to fall, and holding on to my rod---all at the same time---is not a memory I treasure. After that exciting event, I re-considered my flotation options and searched for a combo PFD/fishing vest. The result was the purchase of a kayak vest, which performs both functions. I now have the security of knowing that if I fall, this outfit will keep me afloat as well as handy zippered pockets to keep secure all the "stuff" we fly fishers like to carry. If you're contemplating a switch to fly fishing and intend to wade, I strongly recommend you wear a PFD. Fly fishers believe in "catch and release". Make sure you're never caught without one!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Crooked Creek Crazy

Since I'm a rookie flyfisher, I don't often catch the largest fish on our outings. However, last week in Crooked Creek, my luck suddenly changed. After tying on one of my spouse's hand-tied flies, I made my first cast in front of a large rock. Originally, I thought I was hung; but when the line moved and a heavy fish attempted to swim away, I knew I was on to something. My 4 wt. Albright rod bent in a delicious arc and I carefully played the fish as he made several sashays back toward the rock. Luckily, I succeeded where he did not and soon had a large Smallmouth Bass near the boat. During the netting process is where I normally tend to lose the fish, as it's difficult to keep the line taut, hold the rod with one hand and scoop the fish with the other. Everything came together, however; and I soon landed the largest Smallmouth of my fly fishing career: 16' and over 2 pounds of brilliant gold streaked thunder. My husband happily declared it "the fish of the day." Stay in our guesthouse and arrange for one of our Smallmouth guides and you, too, can go Crooked Creek Crazy.

Dip Net Fever

At the age of ten I became an avid cane pole fishing enthusiast and later graduated to my first Zebco rod and reel. At the age of fifty-seven I considered myself a competent spincast fisherwoman, able to hold my own on river or lake. All my expertise flew out the window, however, when my husband Mike began fly-fishing. He stored all his old equipment and raved about the challenge of his new sport. I became intrigued.
Finally by summer of 2005, I could resist no longer. I began learning to cast. Mike attempted the role of teacher. All of us old married folks know this is a difficult situation. At one point, sitting on the steps of our front porch and directing me, he sighed. “Honey, I think you’ve about exhausted my patience.” I continued to flail until my arm ached trying keep my instructions intact: don’t break your wrist, bend your arm, load the rod, start at 10:00, stop at 2:00, don’t let the line end in a pile. My frazzled brain struggled.
In July I broke four ribs and punctured my lung in a freak boating accident. About two months into recovery, I began learning to fly fish again. A local fly shop associate instructed me in their parking lot. I learned about loops, the old “load the rod sequence” again, and a new technique of looking over my shoulder and watching the line in the far fetched hope it would stay straight keeping the offending loop from growing. I felt encouraged. One out of every ten casts, my line sailed across the yard straight out and not in a tangle. Progress was mine.
The next day I paid for the new strategies. My ribs throbbed at the stretches endured from the day before. For the next several months, fly-fishing wasn’t high on the priority list. Recuperating was. I fished a total of three times, caught two fish from our riverboat and remained totally discouraged by my ineptitude to cast the rod.
This spring buoyed by healing and a new determination, I resolved to succeed. The fly shop guy agreed to an encore session. I began to improve somewhat. When I complained at slow progress, a neighbor active in our fly-fishing club said, “just go out there and keep after it.” Another woman fly fisher volunteered, “our instructor said," ‘I don’t care how you get it out there, just get it out there!’
I can do this; I promised myself. I practiced my casting while wade fishing in our stretch of the White River. On Feb. 21, I waded out with a Chernobyl ant. The wind blew my line around. I continued to cast determined more than anything to practice. After about three hours, the net, which was hooked on the back of my vest on a retractable string, began to annoy me bumping against my leg. The wind blew it in front of me. I sighed in frustration. Why was I draggin’ it around?

Watching white capped waves led to drowsiness. Memories of farm days and horses asleep on their feet came to mind. I yawned and looked for my ant, now buried in deep water and completely disappeared. Our club guest speaker the previous meeting emphasized “lifting the rod.” All afternoon I had repeated that mantra. And so I lifted the rod--which suddenly throbbed in my hand. There was a heavy fish at the end.
He wouldn’t come in. Should I crank or pull in line? In panic I did both, but remembered to keep tension steady. He splashed once. Please stay on, I prayed, and he did. “Oh my gosh,” I shouted to the trees. “This is a big fish!”
Finally I could see him. About twenty-three inches of critter gave me the fish eye as a Brown trout glided in. Now where was that blasted net that had aggravated me all day? Locating it, I stabbed at the fish that laughed and flopped the other direction. “Go for the tail, stupid,” I told myself. I scooped once more and missed. At last, more through accident than design, I captured the trout.
I reached for the forceps to remove the hook, but forgot to unhinge them. The Brown continued to bounce in the net. Time was wasting in terms of getting the fish back into the water without harm. After several attempts, I pried the hook from his tough mouth and released him into shallow water. He paused unaware that he was free.
So did I. Afraid he was hurt, I urged him forward with my now best friend favorite dip net. I let out a breath of relief when he swam away.
I’d done it. I’d caught my first hefty fish on a fly rod. "Yee haw," I yelled to the Great Blue Heron swooping over my site. Rejuvenated and no longer quite the rookie, I reentered the water secure in the confidence that I had reached new status if only in the eyes of my critter audience.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Opening Day

Since I'm a writer, launching a blog has long been a dream of mine. Combining three of my passions, Christian witness,fly fishing, and writing, seemed like an ideal beginning. I live on the White River in a setting most people consider a little bit of heaven. Each day I awaken to a scene which encompasses the sight and sounds of water rushing by our campground. Daily this affirms that God has blessed my life with goodness and abundance.