Monday, December 19, 2011

20 Questions: Santa Claus


I first met that jolly old elf at the old Cinderella City mall in Englewood, Colo., where he occupied a gawdy throne and stat stoically and patiently, awaiting the requests of what I assumed at the time to be thousands of kids, myself and my brothers included. That was the G.I. Joe Christmas. Or maybe it was the hamster Christmas. I can't remember... It must have been 1974, give or take a year. I'm pretty sure it wasn't 1976--that was the bike Christmas. That I'll never forget.

But I do recall that odd mix of excitement and fear in my bones as I inched closer to this jolly fat man, dressed in a bright red velvet suit, trimmed in what I assumed at the time to be white fur procured from naughty polar bears, and sporting a beard so white and fluffy that I wondered if it could possibly be real.



It might have been my first-ever true experience with anxiety, not that I'm a frequent sufferer. There have been other moments in my life when I can recall that deep-in-my-soul feeling of gut-wrenching anticipation, but they've been few enough to where I can recall most of them. There was that definitive moment in sixth grade, when I finally mustered the courage to ask Chris Hawthorne to "go" with me--why she took so long to answer, I'll never know (but I do know that was 1981, not long after the Atari 2600 Christmas). She was gorgeous. Simply beautiful. From the time I handed the note to my friend Richard for delivery, to the time I got it back, complete with the "yes" box checked in purple ink seemed a miserable eternity. I remember, when I finally opened the note in sixth-hour social studies, how relieved--and then terrified--I was. It didn't take me long to realize that I was no longer single, no longer "on the market." At 11, I was spoken for. Talk about buyer's remorse.

Then there was my senior year in high school, a center on the varsity basketball team and on the free-throw line with the score tied against fourth-ranked Carthage. Seconds remained on the clock ... I've never been so nervous. Until the day I told my then-fiancee to "shut up," and that "I'd marry you today if I could."

Turns out, with 20 bucks, a witness and a county judge, you can actually make that arrangement happen faster than you might think.

Then there is the arrival of both my children--one horribly stressful and the other meticulously planned. Both were terribly frightening, and I can only imagine what their mother endured.

But that first visit with Santa... that might just take the cake. As the line moved, and my turn atop the old man's lap approached, I don't think I'd ever been that uptight.

As the years have passed, my relationship with Santa has gotten a bit less tense. He's been good to me over the years, and for that I'm grateful. I'm in his debt for that first "big boy" fishing rod, a white fiberglass pole equipped with a thumb-release reel and what must have been 20-pound-test mono. It yanked many a fat carp from the bottom of Stern Park Lake, and one fat rainbow trout from that little urban reservoir that stretched the tape to 18 inches.

I owe Santa for, of all things, a machete he somehow transported from the North Pole to our little house in east Texas without bloodshed in 1983. With that blade, I hacked my through some of the stickiest country in the Big Thicket as my brothers and I explored the river and creek bottoms in a place we thought was about as wild as it could get.

And I thank Santa for my first fly tying kit, the introduction to a minor obsession. I found that package wrapped and under the tree in 1994.

But mostly, I want to thank Santa for the visions of wonder and expressions of awe that he's put on the faces of my children. For years, as they followed Santa's annual journey around the globe thanks to NORAD and the wonders of the Internet, they believed. They believed that a squatty old elf from way up north could touch their lives and and their hearts, sometimes to excess. They believed that goodness existed on this earth and that it started and ended with a bearded sleigh driver being toted about by eight magical reindeer--nine when the weather was particularly nasty.

And, through their unquestioning love for this man they met once a year in a place not unlike the old Cinderalla City Mall, I, too, began to believe again. Thanks for that, too, Santa.

Merry Christmas to all... and on with the questions:

Friday, December 16, 2011

20 Questions: Erin Block

Erin Block
I love Erin Block's words.

I don't really have an explanation for why that is--with some of my favorite writers, I can nail down what it is about their prose that strikes me. Jim Babb, for instance, writes through poetic conversation that is riddled with regional verbiage that almost always pulls me into the pages of his books. It's almost as if I'm sitting on a rock next to the river, watching his words come to life before my very eyes. I think Jim Babb is today's Mark Twain.

Erin's writing is ... deeper, more seminal. It's rife with emotion--even when she's writing about the simple task of fishing. Her words convey a life spent working to live better, not only in the amount she pulls from breathing in and breathing out, but in what she offers to this world by just being who she is. Her words are honest, and more often than not, that honesty is directed inward, as if she's taken the time to step out of her body and evaluate herself from the outside in. It's a unique manifestation of introspection that just floors me whenever I find a piece she's written about her past, her family, her intimate connection with "place."

As I said, I love Erin's words. If you spend some time combing through her prose at Mysteries Internal, I think you'll come away with the realization that not every great writer sells a million copies in paperback; that not every accomplished essayist tackles topics that can only be filtered to the masses through the New Yorker. Erin, in my opinion, is gifted. And I think it's her love of the words of others that gives her such insight and inspiration to put her own words to such good use.

Erin, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions--even the answers to these kitschy, off-the-wall inquiries offer a glimpse into your soul. I'm proud to present Erin's answers. Let's get to 'em:


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Eat More ... Eurasian Collared Doves?

Eurasian collared dove, a beautiful scourge.
Editor's note: Apologies for the foray into the world of upland game bird hunting. I know this is a fishing blog, so if you're not into shotgunning, it won't hurt my feelings if you choose to skip this post.

The gravel crunched beneath my boots as I walked the lonely road down the hill toward the Snake River, my shotgun cradled across my left arm, and my tired old mutt wandering slowly by my side.

My feet were killing me. I had the makings of a couple of new blisters, and I'd managed to turn my ankle pretty good earlier that morning as we trudged across the steppe looking for huns. Then, as we walked an edge in search of the pheasants that taunted us by leaving behind very clear fork-shaped prints in the remnants of last week's snow, I tweaked it again. I was spent--four months spent largely sitting behind a desk had trickled the last of whatever was left of my stamina out of my bones. But I wasn't about to admit it. I masked the limp as best I could and powered through the pain in my toes (I learned later that I ripped one of my toenails completely off my toe).

"There are three things you need if you're serious about bird hunting," my good friend and an excellent wingshooter, Greg McReynolds, said to me as we walked slowly through the brush, half-heartedly hoping to move a flock of huns, and half expecting more of what we'd experienced most of the day, which wasn't much. "You need a dog, good shotgun shells and a good pair of boots. And I'm serious about the boots."

I looked down at my perfectly serviceable hiking boots that had taken me happily along trails all over the West. Then I realized my folly. Trails. Busting through brush and walking ditch rows behind eager dogs doesn't give the upland bird hunter the luxury of trails. Disturbed earth, rocks hidden under matted cheatgrass ... gopher holes that twist ankles ... they conspire against the tender-footed.

Boots. I'm in the market.

Friday, December 9, 2011

20 Questions: Tim Romano

Tim Romano
Tim Romano is a gifted photographer, and if I said nothing more about him, that would be plenty. His innate curiosity behind the lens is unmatched, in my opinion, and it shows in the finished product.

But he's so much more than that. He's an entrepreneur (he and renowned outdoor writer Kirk Deeter co-publish Angling Trade, the fly fishing industry's leading trade publication). He's a blogger (he and Deeter team up to do the Fly Talk blog at Field & Stream magazine's website). He's a conservationist (he's deeply involved in Colorado Trout Unlimited's unique Greenbacks group, a collection of younger fly fishers who are putting their passion for fly fishing to work protecting Colorado's rivers).

I would submit to you that Tim is what a lot of us wanted to be when we grew up--he's smart, talented and, largely, doing exactly what he wants to do to make a living. Every time I meet him, I come away thoroughly impressed that a guy so young can be so "together."

But I have a suspicion that that's all about to change. Tim's wife, Ellie, is eight months pregnant with the couple's first child--a daughter. When that little girl shows her face, the balance in Tim's life will tip drastically, and knowing Tim, he'll devote his existence to the girls in his life, as he should.

I think you'll be as impressed by Tim as I am. On with the questions:

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Another great book review

Thanks to Ben at Arizona Wanderings for this stellar book review. I am very grateful for the exposure on Ben's blog, which I have followed for some time and visit often. I hope you'll give Ben's site a look, and I hope you'll consider giving the book, "Shin Deep: A Fly Fisher's Love for Living Water," a read yourself. You can get the book at half-price through the Holidays, too... Thanks again, Ben.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Thanks to Jason at Fontinalis Rising

Jason Tucker, the heady and talented author of the blog Fontinalis Rising, just reported in with a review of my book, Shin Deep: A Fly Fisher's Love for Living Water, and I couldn't be happier. I've been a follower of Jason's blog for ages–he and I share what could be considered an inappropriate love for brook trout.

Jason, thanks a ton for your kind words. I'm so glad you enjoyed reading it. I'm glad to see my labor of love struck a chord with you. Thanks again.

Please check out Jason's review of the book, and, if you hurry, you might be able to get a copy shipped to you in time for the holidays. When you go to the page to order the book, simply enter the discount code TKRB8UHY, and you'll get the book for half price. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

20 Questions: Hal Herring

Hal Herring
If you met Hal Herring on the street, you probably wouldn't suspect that he's one of the most influential–and, I would argue, gifted–outdoor writers in the country. You might think he works a blue-collar gig somewhere, and that the smile on his face is always there, even as he's yanking the guts out of a tractor, hammering nails on a roof or mucking out a barn (and I would suspect that, at one time or another, he's done all three of those things).

That Alabama accent of his kind of woos you into a comfort zone, a place where candid conversations are the norm, not the exception. Discussions with Hal, sometimes over a can a beer or a glass of good whiskey, become infectious and animated–you don't want them to end, because they're so productive, so ... inspiring. He's got a bartender's ear. He looks you in the eye when he talks to you. And he's more contemplative than just about anyone I know.

And maybe it's that "Ah, shucks," thing... that down-home personality that put you at ease, but after a time, you'll come to the realization that you're in the company of a wise, sensible man who can quickly sift through all the litter that surrounds a complex issue and settle on the solution. He's a thinker. He's a doer.

And what I respect most about Hal is his uncanny ability–without reserve or hesitation–to speak truth to power. As an independent outdoor writer catching assignments as they come with some of the best-read publications in the industry, you might think that, in order to preserve the next job, the next paycheck, that he'd be cautious and maybe a bit reserved.

But like a good baseball umpire, Hal Herring "calls 'em like he sees 'em," and his delivery of factual information has more potency than 800 mg of ibuprofen.

I have had the good fortune to spend some time with Hal "in the field"–one of the benefits of my day job. He's been assigned to cover a couple of "Best Wild Places" tours through Field and Stream magazine over the last couple of years. The project–a partnership between the magazine and Trout Unlimited–is an attempt to shine some light on some of our country's best public lands sporting destinations and then describe the threats to the persistence of these places in their present state. Over the last two summers, Hal has visited Colorado's Roan Plateau, where natural gas drilling threatens a relict population of native Colorado River cutthroat trout, and the Clearwater country of north-central Idaho, home to the largest swath of unprotected backcountry left in the Lower 48.

Inspired by wild country, and a shameless advocate for wise conservation, Hal's work has very likely played an influential role in the effort to protect these and other "best wild places" around the country. If you have the chance to read some of his work, you'll quickly catch on to the fact that Hal has a knack for identifying solutions, not just lamenting the problem.

I hope you enjoy this chance to get to know Hal a little bit better, and that his work will inspire you, like it does me, to protect our country's wild heart so that one day, your kids or you grandkids will have the chance to experience the best of America.

On with the questions...