Thursday, July 7, 2011

Perfectly Mobile

This morning it is cool, not like the previous day.  The clouds are close, shrouding the conifers, slithering through the forest.  There is barely a breath of wind yet the fog's movement is constant.  The river makes a large oxbow around our camp here and it can be heard on both sides- the soft pops and gurgles as it moves through the branches of drooping tamarack and cedar.  A thin wisp of smoke curls from the coals of the previous evenings fire and blends with the fog.  The dark tannin color of the river is dull today, even in the shallows where the light can penetrate it fully.  The golden hues and mellow auburn's of yesterday's sunny afternoon have vanished, replaced by a dark ochre in the flat light.  Even the white foam lines appear to take on a dull, muted, yellow, hue.  A fine mist from above sends me looking for my Gore-tex and I set out upon my morning camp chores. 

Everything is damp this morning, the weather having moved in sometime during the night.  I poke at the coals and lay some dry pine boughs over the fire.  From the larger tent I hear the stirring of nylon and zippers as Greg's head protrudes from the hatch, surveying the situation.  A well known real estate broker from Charlevoix, he was my best friend, Spencer's, Dad.  This was his trip.  It was an honor to be invited.  He'd been doing it for over a decade and guarded its identity with monk-like devotion.  After my inaugural trip he pulled me aside: "Ok, If anyone asks how the trip was, you tell em the bugs were terrible, we didn't catch any fish, and we'll never do it again."  Perhaps there was something to it that only a handful of people ever cared to paddle this section of river.   

A respected wrestler in his high school days, he was compact in size with the build of a brick shit-house.  A lightening quick take down was his signature and once his opponents height advantage was taken away he would drive them into the mat, like a cowboy breaks a horse, until they were too winded and too tired to carry on.  Ferocity manifested.  His demeanor towards camp life was much the same; calculated, planned, and relentless.  Dinner consisted of multiple regimented courses he would lament over at every encounter during the days paddle.  "Salad, Potatoes Au Gratin, New York Strips over the fire, and the coup de grace- fresh pan fried Brook Trout! MMMMMMMM!" you would hear him exclaim as he rounded the next bend and paddled out of sight, his canoe loaded with enough gear to clear no more than 3 inches of free board. You could tell he was always thinking about it.  For him it was not enough to simply "go down the river".  No, for Greg, one needed to do it as a total expert, executing flawless woodcraft and incorporating downriver navigation with the joy of angling in a symphony exhibiting character, humor, and camaraderie. 

The pine boughs began to crackle over the coals as each of them took to flame.  Slowly I fed the tinder  chunks of larger fuel as the grasp of heat overcame the damp morning air.  Greg was already taking stock of the foodstuffs, on this, our last morning of the 3 day trip.  "Gonna be an easy paddle out."  he announced. "You guys eat like Ethiopians at a Golden Corral."  I smiled behind the smoke of the freshened fire at his early morning wit.  He reached into one of the plastic totes and produced a Ziploc of instant coffee.  "Ground betwixt the loins of Nubile African princesses!" he exclaimed as he approached the newly invigorated flames with the bag and a pot of water.  At this, laughter erupts from the tents as the rest of the expedition members listen in, struggling to draw themselves from the shelter of bug netting.  The camp is awake now.  In the time before this, it was still and quiet except for the rivers sound.  Now it would be busy as each man set out about his business.  There is not much talking that is unrelated to work at hand.  Everyone knows their part.  While breakfast is being prepared, there is constant movement as each piece of gear finds its way from living mode to moving mode.  The fog closes in.  We are a well oiled machine as each member of camp performs their duty; sorting, packing, and loading it all into the boats. 

Breakfast is a spartan intermission.  In the shadow of the cedars we stand around the large pan cradled by embers, eating with primordial vigor whatever food remains mixed with scrambled eggs.  Words are few- mostly gratification to the cook who must now catch up in his own packing routine.  Greg prepares his gear for voyage like a surgeon before the first cut.  Methodical.  Seamless.  Intuitive.  It feels like a race.  Each team wants to be the first to splash their vessel.  The goal; not even to be the first downriver.  It is enough simply to be the first standing in the river, boat pointed confidently downstream; ready to go.  A living testament to preparation, organization, and teamwork.  Masters of the nomadic lifestyle.

At first touch the river is always colder than yesterday.  Here, it is only knee deep and after a few minutes the pain is dulled.  Now it is the time for final preparations.  Each team prepares their craft, affecting personal touches to its configuration.  Gear is shifted around to better balance the boat.  Today we have placed a grid of sticks to hold our cargo above of the keel, allowing any rainwater that accumulates in the bilge to be channeled fore and aft for bailing purposes.  Spencer and I run a tight ship.  Leaves, sand and debris that find their way aboard are policed at every point of stoppage.  Our lass is clean and organized.  Essentials are always close and the rest stowed securely for transport.  We coexist as a singular unit in our little floating world, embracing the challenges and enjoying the simple pleasure of paddling- a constant process of assessing, planning, and executing. 

Now, all the boats are layed up side by each, shifting as one in the current, tied off to an overhanging cedar branch.  Everyone is ready, but like the late risers in their bug net cocoons, there is again hesitation to leave the comforts provided by camp.  Once the crew has pulled out, we will not return until the next voyage.  It is a place we are all fond of and to go around the bend is to sever the ties.  To leave our coniferous mistress.  In this moment before action takes hold, we linger and take in our surroundings.  Once departed, the world is no longer stationary as we make our way downstream.  It must be done though, and like the sun rises, the first boat will pull out, followed by the second and the third in twenty minute intervals until only the smoke curling from the smothered fire bears witness we were ever there.  Spencer and I are the last to pull out.  We linger the longest.  As the fog shifts, we too move along silently.  Mobility, perfected.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Waterfowlers Commute

Then, there is only the sound of the expansion joints passing beneath the tires in a steady rhythm.  This time is special to few- most would rather stay within the warmth of their chambers, their minds wandering through the unconscious, bodies still.  The rig hustles West on Route 6.  Every overpass brings with it a streetlight, growing brighter and briefly illuminating the cab of the pickup as it approaches and passes under the bridge- gone in an instant.  A cup of gas station coffee rests in the console and the steam rises, mixing with the smoke of a lit Parliament cigarette.  Hanging from the rear view a braided duck call lanyard swings with the rhythm of the highway, occasionally tapping off the dash with an audible "CLACK!"   The lights of distant farms dot the indistinguishable horizon along with the occasional opposing headlight reflecting in his eyes.  Winter is closing in, but the truck smells of mid November.     

It is during this time that a mans mind can take the path of the unconscious, his body at home behind the wheel as if he were still supine in his bed.  As the pickup speeds off toward the marsh, his mind races  into the abyss- towards what is privy only to him.  While this may resemble the common daydream, it would be foolhardy to treat it as such- first, because it is not yet day, and second, because daydreams are the work of school children and liberal politicians (both of whom seem to have a knack of getting them paid for by someone else).  The hour he spends driving to his sanctuary is as significant as the first minutes of light over the marsh.  A clearer image; with depth and contrast, emerges from the throws of the night.  In this sight he finds whatever answer he might seek without ever really knowing the question.  The road is empty.  It is a simple hour.  There is no music, no fanfare.  There is only the lights, the coffee, the cigarette and him.  It is here though, in the truck that smells like mid-November, that he cares not for reality.  He must let go, for come mid-December, when the marsh is frozen, he may just discover faith.  The rig hustles west on route 6.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Smitten by the Mitten

Apologies to the readership for the lack of posts lately.  Well, to be perfectly honest, I'm not sorry in the least, I hope you'll understand why.  Here is the result of a much needed trading of keyboard for cork-  sometimes you have to go off looking for something, anything, to get yourself lost in.  Sometimes you end up somewhere you've been a thousand times, yet, for some odd reason this time you've managed to dig yourself in deep.  The beauty of the whole game is evident when the best plans are reduced to shreds.  Here is a little bit of the latest romp through the great lakes state-

R4PB Trout Camp Video Diary from H.C. Foster on Vimeo.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Police Report

1400hrs May 23rd, 2010- A tan Toyota pickup towing a small unidentified camoflage vessel was observed traveling south on I75 at a high rate of speed near the town of Grayling.  State Troopers pursued the vehicle for almost an hour when they lost contact after being led down a sandy logging road near the intersections of King Road and Sunset Trail.  Recovery efforts for the disabled police cruisers is ongoing.  The pickups occupants was said to be one English Setter with priors of cardiac larseny and one unidentified male believed to be in his mid twenties wearing long underwear, shorts, and flip flops.  They are considered armed but not dangerous and known to frequent fly fishing shops and boat launches  Both are wanted for questioning in connection to a recent outbreak of terrible luck throughout the Northern Michigan area as well as the shortage of Whiskey.  If you have any information as to their wherabouts, please contact the MSP.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Drop the Gloves

Where I'm from, 30/30 means: "Its time to break out some Winchesters." 

Well apparently MUCC feels the same way.  Fighting the good fight the way us anglers know best- 30 species in 30 hours. 

Watch, remember, donate or write.  Get active, get serious, and get on it before its too late.  Don't let this resource be something I can only tell stories to my children about.  You think an oil spill is bad?  Just wait.  Oil doesnt swim. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Pullback Outhouse Approved Reading Material: Fly Fishing with MacQuarrie

 Gordon MacQuarrie is most widely known for his "Old Duck Hunters Association" stories published between 1927 and 1956. The ODHA was a fictitious organization created by MacQuarrie for literary purpose and the president of this club was based on his father-in-law with whom he frequented his time in the outdoors with. "Fly Fishing with MacQuarrie" details sixteen short stories based upon MacQuarrie's adventures with "Hizzoner" along the mighty Brule River in northern Wisconsin. The Author's quick wit is ever present in this peek into fly fishing history. Steeped in tradition, MacQuarrie has the ability to dance the pen with the same mastery as the line with which he strings the rod of choice. Detailed are perspectives on life, love, and the pursuit of fish from "back in the day". Humor provided unequivocly by MacQuarries cast of characters that are so thoughtfully related the reader may believe they're disguised amongst the home team. A true classic piece of literature that is sure to please the reader who has "read it all", this collection is a sip of fresh water.

"A few decades back, before the days of high-modulus graphite rods, when chest waders with zippered flies were the stuff of science fiction, there lived a cadre of men who nurtured and advanced the art of fishing with the fly.  These men fished for trout in a time when few anglers had even heard of fly fishing.  They covered their skin with citronella oil to fend off mosquitoes and black flies.  They kept their cat-gut leaders soaked in water to make them pliable.  They wrote about fly fishing and they went by the names Haig-Brown, Wulff, Traver, Maclean and MacQuarrie.

Of them all, Gordon MacQuarrie may be the least known as a fly fishing author.  Like them, however, he was a master storyteller as well as an accomplished fly fisherman.

MacQuarrie did not scribe "how-to" articles.  Instead, he drew the reader into streamside angling ventures, telling an absorbing but instructive story as he did so, always in a light-hearted style."
-rear jacket excerpt

Fly Fishing With MacQuarrie
Compiled and edited by Zack Taylor
ISBN 1-57223-025-8
Willow Creek Press
Minocqua, Wisconsin


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Chroming Cleveland

Chroming Cleveland from H.C. Foster on Vimeo.

Another "no budget" film from the hole.  Making my fishing buddies world famous, one cheap film at a time.
Here's a little taste of life on the Alley!  Some of you locals might recognize a few spots... shhhhhhh!