It was the phone call that I knew was coming at some point. If I’m really being honest, after our trip home for Christmas a few months ago, I knew it was a phone call that I would probably receive sooner rather than later. Because of some growing health issues in our 14 year old basset hound named Bessie that my parents took care of, the time had come to discuss the options that would be the best for her and the quality of life she lived. After a half-hour discussion we decided that the best thing was to have her put down instead of trying to put her on a medicine that would only serve to prolong the obvious: she was an old dog whose body was starting to shut-down. On Thursday of this past week, Bessie was put to sleep while being petted by my dad and a caring vet who is a close family friend.
What’s struck me in all of this is how attached we can become to our dogs, even when that dog hasn’t been a part of our daily lives for a long time. We got Bessie during the Spring of my sophomore year in High School, and for those next 2 1/2 years she was fully my responsibility. Once I went away to college the time spent with Bessie was reduced to the weekends or holidays I was home; when I moved to Seattle after graduating college, the time was reduced to roughly a week around Christmas. Yet even though the amount of time I spent with her grew shorter and further between over her 14 years of life, it felt like she was always as happy to see me as I was to see her–even though her brown face had turned white, and she showed new signs of age each time I came home, she always responded with an excitement reminiscent of a puppy. Perhaps the fact that Bessie never really lost her energetic spirit (albeit in increasingly shorter bursts) is why I’ve struggled with what I know is the truth over the last few days: letting go was the best thing for Bessie.
Or, perhaps the letting go is difficult for other reasons. I would think that most dog owners would agree that a good dog might actually teach us more than we teach it. We only need to watch a good dog to learn lessons about loyalty, forgiveness, compassion, and how to live in such a way that we are willing to drop everything in order to pursue joy–even if joy is drinking from the toilet (wait, scratch that last thought). Dogs can teach us how to be leaders and followers; they can teach us how to love and protect; they can teach us that life is supposed to be full of laughter. In some ways during its life, a good dog shows us the person we wish we could be. At the end of its life, it causes us to look back and reflect on the person we were and the person we have become.
Thinking back over Bessie’s life, there were lots of good memories: the cold winter nights where I would build a fire and she would sleep with one ear folded over her face so deeply, as if she was trying to soak up every ounce of heat possible; taking her for car rides with the windows down, watching her ears flap in the wind; going for long walks over the past few Christmases, where even those 13 year old legs could still hold their own; or the time I accidentally dropped her leash and had to chase her down the street in 8 inches of snow for about 50 yards before I finally laid out in the street to catch her–at which point she simply licked my face as if to say “that was fun, huh?”
But I’ll also miss a lot of things about Bessie-dog. I’ll miss how she would trip over her long ears as she had that hound-dog nose planted to the ground following a scent; I’ll miss the sound of her half bark, half howl when I would walk up to her the first time after being away; I’ll miss how gentle and sweet she was; I’ll probably even miss the hound-dog smell and slobber. More than anything though, I’ll miss Bessie because of the 14 years of life she connects me to–a span that has seen me grow and change in more ways than I could possibly count.
In our time on earth that goes by way too quickly, it’s good to have faithful companions that help us savor specific moments in life. Bessie was such a companion, even from a distance. Even though it was hard to say good-bye, I’ll forever be grateful that Bessie-dog waddled, tripped, and sniffed her way through our lives.
This past weekend I spent a day checking out the Fly Fishing Show in Lynwood, WA. For those of you that have never attended one of these, the show is a two-day convention of sorts with booth spaces held by people from one of four aspects of the industry: gear manufacturers, lodge/guide services, artists, and organizations that focus on conservation or outreach work. The shows give you a chance to test out the newest gear on the market and talk to people connected to the sport in a wide range of ways. Additionally, there are short classes that cover everything from casting techniques to how to travel to South America to fish.
Some of my favorite parts of the show however, are within the art realm. The show also gives you the chance to watch some of the top fly tiers in the sport, talk to custom bamboo fly rod makers, and also interact with artist of the paint/ink/photography realms. One such artist at this year’s show was Josh Udesen, who currently lives and runs Tightline Studio in Boise, Idaho. If you’ve been around the sport of fly fishing for the past few years you might recognize some of Josh’s work, which has been printed on gear from several of the big names in the industry.
A lot of Josh’s work is similar to the part of the sport that I love photographing: the small, intricate details and bold colors that vary from fish to fish, and it was these aspects that caught my eye as I passed by Josh’s booth. When I finally got the chance to stop at his booth late in the day, I purchased a print entitled “Idaho Redfish” because of the striking contrast between the red sockeye salmon and the blue background. On Monday after the show I mounted the picture on top of a piece of solid matte inside of an 18×24 inch frame. The following is now hanging in our living room:
Even though casting the new Sage Circa 8’9″ 3 wt. was a thing of beauty (and I’ll gladly accept one from anyone that’s feeling generous) and looking at pictures of monster fish from lodges I’ll never be able to afford was entertaining, this print topped them both and will be something that my wife and I can enjoy for years to come.
Be sure to check out all of Josh’s work for yourself at: www.tightlinestudio.com
On Monday I launched a series of posts whose purpose is to reflect on the places and situations that come to mind when I look at some of my favorite pieces of outdoors-based gear. It is in these moments that a piece of gear’s true value is recognized. Today I offer the first full installment in this series, reflecting on the piece of gear that is partially responsible for my passion for the outdoors: a Sage LE 8’6″ 5 wt. fly rod…..my first fly rod.
The Sage LE line of rods were an all graphite, medium-fast action rod released in 2002 that were marketed towards the beginning or “cost-conscious” angler. To a 19 year old who was in fact both of those, and who had never held a fly rod before, it was simultaneously the greatest fly rod ever produced and a sheer marvel of modern technology–I mean, how could a fishing rod weigh so little short of a NASA or extra-terrestrial intervention!? My fascination with this masterpiece of human ingenuity only increased as I spent a large portion of that Christmas break in my parents’ front yard throwing twenty foot tailing loops and snagging tree branches in my self-taught backcast.
Over the 10 years that has spanned then and now, that LE and I have spent a lot of time together and have seen a lot of things: multiple species of fish, salt and fresh water, my largest and smallest trout to date, and the waters of a couple dozen rivers in a half dozen or more states. Even with the multitude of time and experiences registered with that fly rod, the one memory that immediately jumps out is of a family trip to Yellowstone in 2005 where my love of the sport was forever cemented–and I almost developed frostbite retrieving a stonefly nymph from the back of my head.
See, for a 21 year old whose 3 year fly-fishing experience had been tied almost exclusively to the delayed-harvest trout rivers of North Carolina and Tennessee, stepping into the Yellowstone region was like graduating from YMCA basketball to the NBA. Every single aspect of it felt larger-than-life. From the bison roaming nearby to the sheer expanse of the landscape to the fame associated with the names of the rivers I was wading into, just being there was 95% of the importance for me. And that was a good thing, because by Yellowstone standards the fishing was pretty lousy.
There were two things that didn’t cross our mind when planning our trip to Yellowstone in early June: run-off season and the potential for snow. The reason that these two things never crossed our mind was because neither are June concerns for those living in the Southeast. For us, “run-off season” from snow is only a 3-4 day event, and the chance of snow in June consistently hovers in the negative percentiles. Our packing for the trip reflected this: mostly shorts and Chacos on my part, with a light jacket or two, and a medium-weight coat, socks, beanie, and wool gloves thrown in at the last minute “just in case.” I had chosen to ignore my mom’s research of what weather temperatures to expect, and had left all of the heavy (read: “warm”) items back in the Tar Heel State.
Which brings me to June 1st. We had been in Yellowstone for a day or two already and had found a few rivers to be fishable in their upper stretches within the park. By that point we had made our acquaintance with some smaller browns and rainbows on the Firehole River, but June 1st was the day we would set our sights on the Madison River and all of its notoriously large trout. It would be the day that I would officially cut my teeth on a large, wild, Western trout. We loaded up the rental van that had already carried the 5 of us from Salt Lake City to Jackson Hole to the Tetons, and was now aimed at the Madison River in the heart of Yellowstone. This is where the snow enters into our story.
By the time we reached the stretch of river I had read about in a “best places to go fishing”-type book, a few snowflakes had turned into a downpour. As my brother and I stood looking at the pile of clothing and gear available to us, somewhere in the back of my brain a small voice began saying, “you realize that’s not enough, right?” Choosing to quickly ignore that voice in the name of cutting my teeth on a large, wild, Western trout, we divided up 2 pair of waders, 2 long-sleeve cotton shirts, 2 medium-weight jackets that weren’t waterproof, 1 light-weight waterproof rain jacket, 1 pair of gloves, 1 beanie, and 1 baseball cap. In case you’re scoring at home, that amount of gear would have made one person decently comfortable–and yet two of us were in need of comfort.
After gearing up we quickly began moving towards the water in hopes that our walking would fight off the chill that was already creeping in. Now you might say that our best plan of action, considering our lack of forethought in the bringing of suitable gear, would be to fish until we were cold, and then use the van as a warming hut to regain feeling before heading back out to fish some more–and you would probably be right. Only, we didn’t plan that out very well either. After gearing up and heading out, our parents and my sister-in-law left to visit West Yellowstone, leaving my brother and I alone to fend for ourselves.
Even though it didn’t take us long to recognize the miscalculations in our plan, it did in fact take us a few minutes too long: the van was already out of sight by the time we realized that this wet snow and wind was going to zap our warmth quickly. My brother and I devised a plan that the one of us without gloves (myself to start with) would fish as long as possible without them, he would then retrieve the gloves from the person wearing them just before numbness completely set in, and he would then attempt to quickly re-warm his hands while the other person began the process of losing all feeling. The same would go for the beanie if need-be. Trust me, even today the ridiculousness of that plan is blatantly obvious, but did I mention that the Madison has notoriously large fish that we really hoped to catch?
Upon picking out a spot in the river that looked promising, I was able to put the lack of warmth out of mind just enough to focus entirely on the task at hand. Every drift held the potential of a fish of a lifetime, so every portion of my brain that wasn’t essential to fly-fishing was turned off. That bought me roughly 20 minutes.
Now, there comes a time in being cold that no matter how much distraction you put in front of yourself, there’s going to be something that snaps you back into reality. For me it was an errant cast caught by the wind that sent my large and heavily weighted stonefly nymph crashing into the back of my baseball cap-wearing head. It felt like a brass knuckle-wearing toddler had punched me in my upper neck, and I could tell that the fly was stuck on something–my jacket collar, my hat, my (at that point) almost shoulder-length hair, or maybe even my scalp. Part of me didn’t want to reach to the back of my head for fear of finding a hook embedded in a place a hook has no business being embedded. The other part of me was waking up to the fact that my hands were going to be useless in this process no matter where the fly was.
In my 20 minutes of being “in the zone,” my right hand had frozen to roughly the shape of a fly-rod cork handle while my left hand had frozen with only my thumb and index finger extended in order to strip in fly-line. None of my 10 fingers were going to move without a lot of effort, and neither hand was frozen in a shape conducive to locating and grabbing a fly the size of a Jolly Rancher. A few moments of attempting to awaken the nerve-endings in the general area I believed the fly might be led me to believe that the fly hadn’t found skin, but was instead frozen into my hair with snow accumulating on top of it rapidly. Since my hands stood no chance of removing the fly in their present state, my only hope was that my brother’s fingers were still functioning properly.
I managed to reel up my line and make my way down to where he was fishing, yelling out, ” I need some help” as I got close. He turned, looked at me, and yelled back, “Yep–it sure is cold.” “No,” I yelled. “I need help getting my fly.” At that, his face turned to puzzlement. His response of “where is it?” came at roughly the same moment that he was able to trace my line from the tip of the fly rod to the back of my head, thus answering his question. His laughter was met by my laughter a split-second later, and in that moment we realized how absolutely ridiculous June 1st, 2005 had become.
To keep a long story from becoming ridiculously long, I will say that shortly after he managed to untangle my fly from my tangle of frozen hair, our family returned from their shortened trip to West Yellowstone and we moved towards the warmth of the van as quickly as our extremities would allow. In the middle of our thawing, the snow stopped and the sun began peaking out from behind the clouds. Once we had warmed enough to have proper usage of our fingers and toes, we restrung our two fly rods and gave the Madison one more shot.
While no epic fish were landed, I did manage to land one decent brown, and was able to share the experience of fly fishing in this beautiful place with both my brother and our dad–a combination that has only happened on this one particular trip. Because of this connection to family in a season of change in our lives (I had just graduated college and was about to move 3,000 miles away to Seattle, while my sister-in-law was pregnant with their first son), this family trip to Yellowstone in May and June of 2005 will forever be the memory that comes to mind when I think about, or fish with my 8’6″ 5wt. Sage LE.
If you haven’t been to the Image Gallery page at Three Weight recently, I have added several new pictures to both the “Fly Fishing” and “What’s Old, Is New” galleries. I’ve also added a brand new “Everything Else” gallery, and will be updating all of them from time to time. Check it out by clicking on the “Image Gallery” tab at the top of this page, or by mashing here: https://threeweight.wordpress.com/image-gallery-2/
Thanks for stopping by and enjoy!
My wife and I own a decent amount of outdoors-based gear. We both enjoy backpacking and I have my “affinity” shall we say, to the sport of fly fishing. Over the last 8 years, gear has accumulated because of the natural cycle of buying new items to replace ones that are either worn out or are dated by more modern technologies that make things lighter or stronger. As we replace gear we rarely get rid of the old gear unless it is worn beyond use.
As I’ve thought about why this is, what has struck me is that it isn’t necessarily the financial attachment to outdoors based gear that causes us to hold on to it, but rather the emotional attachment. This led me to think about some of my favorite gear and the stories that those objects conjure up–about the moments that happened and the places I’ve gone as a result of their purchase. It is in these moments, and in these memories, that an object’s true value is measured. While we would all agree that a $60 fly rod will do absolutely nothing better than a $600 dollar one, all of that goes out the window in the hands of a child holding their first fish. In those moments value has nothing to do with cost or brand, but it has everything to do with the ability to forever go back to a specific instance in time where a brand new world was unlocked or a feeling of sheer exhilaration was etched into your brain. We pay for these objects once, but they repay us with memories for as long as we use and own them.
And so I thought it would be entertaining to relive some of my favorite moments in life as conjured up by the objects that played a role in taking me there. This will hopefully become a series that I weave among other posts. Because of my love for fly fishing, and because of it being the activity that has launched my passion for other outdoors pursuits, it seems only right that I start with a fly rod….my first fly rod: a Sage LE 8’6″ 5 weight that was a gift from my parents during the Christmas of my Sophomore year of college. Check back on Thursday of this week to see the full story.
Although I cannot claim to have read all of The Bible, I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that there are very few verses from Genesis to Revelations with more importance than the 5th verse of John 15: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” In essence, Jesus is summing up the entirety of his teachings into two sentences and is offering the blueprint for how the disciples are to carry on once he is gone. It’s no wonder, then, that this teaching is one of the last ones given to the disciples.
Since I’m in a “venturing out onto a limb” mood, I’ll also say that there aren’t many verses that are tougher for us to swallow than verses 2 and 3 of James 1: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” In times of joy or contentment this verse might not seem so difficult. But step back into one of the dark times of your life and then think about finding pure joy there. Further still, step into that time of your life and consider what it means to remain with Christ throughout the depths so that joy and perseverance and fruitfulness can be obtained. Now we begin to see the depth of meaning behind, and difficult nature of, Jesus’ words.
But here’s where things get interesting. Jesus wasn’t telling us to remain in him as he remained in us from some distant mountaintop where everything is neat and clean all the time. Instead, his words came directly after washing his disciples’ feet, having Judas leave in order to betray him, after telling Peter that he would deny Jesus three times, and after attempting to explain to the disciples the crucifixion that awaited him. In essence, he spoke these words in the midst of his darkest hour, in the midst of his toughest trial, directly before this group of disciples that he was telling to remain in him would all abandon him. And yet his message to them was still to remain as he remained.
As we consider that point, the good news in these two passages starts to come into focus. See, it’s not that remaining is in any way easy. Neither is finding joy in the midst of trials. But if we are to remain as Jesus remains we must be willing to walk through the midst of our trials and dark times with the full knowledge of an omnipotent plan that leads to joy on the other side. In essence we must be willing to pray both sentences of Jesus prayer in Gethsemane: “If it is possible may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
At the point where we learn to lean into God’s plan for our lives, even in the darkest of times, our reward is to know what it means to be attached to the true vine that is the very source of pure joy. May God help us in our pursuit.