Tag Archives: nature

Fishing for Family

Bruce, Me, DeanSince January, I’ve thought and written a lot about the inevitable shift in my family relationships. In the days immediately following Dad’s death, I told my brothers that I wanted them to include me in their fishing trips.

One of my brothers immediately noted, “But you don’t like to fish.”

I told them it wasn’t really about the fishing. I knew that they had always connected through hunting and fishing. We are three brothers and one sister… three fishermen and one non-fisher person. I figured that if there were going to be future gatherings of family, they were most likely to happen around the activity that brings them together. My request was noted.

This summer, my brother Dean called to invite me to join a trip on the Deschutes River in Central Oregon. With a lump in my throat (that’s what happens when the dog catches the bus), I joined Dean and brother Bruce on September 2, when we put in at Warm Springs, OR, for a 4 night floating-camping-fishing expedition.

Dean’s led this trip dozens of times, most often using his own 13′ raft, and Bruce has often participated. I was jumping aboard a trip with a lot of history, joining men with well-established habits.

What happened wasn’t really what I expected.

I imagined it kind of like a movie: after attending to the necessities of the day (breaking camp each morning, making camp each afternoon) and a long day of fishing and floating through dramatic volcanic canyons beneath blue skies, we’d contentedly kick back in our chairs and fall to talking about Dad, or Mom, or the burial, or our families. It would be a reverie of memories, longing and love.

I was right about the talking, but wrong about the quantity and the topic. The sporadic conversation centered on fish, insects, stars, geology and fish. Did I mention fish?

For example, did you know that Gary LaFontaine extensively studied caddis fly behavior underwater and designed the Sparkle Pupa fly to imitate rising nymphs (read more)? Or that they work so well because the sparkly antron fibers successfully imitate the gasses that build up under a real pupa’s shuck?

That makes me sound unappreciative. On the contrary. It was just one more life experience where you go looking for one thing and find something completely different, something all the more beautiful because it was unexpected.

I learned a lot. I had to confide that I’d never set up a camp, and I needed to be shown a lot. It turns out that Dean has quite specific ideas (inner smile) about how one does things. When you’ve made this trip as often as he has, you have long since figured out the optimal menu, way to organize a camp, method of packing a boat, and even how to do dishes (wash them with environmentally-friendly soap in one container, rinse in a second basin of hot water, and dip a third time in a basin with a few drops of Clorox for good measure). I also learned a lot about fishing, although the one that I hooked was by complete accident when the fish saw me pulling the line up to recast it (I’m told I got him on the rise).

I also was awed by the majesty of the canyons, river and sky of the Deschutes. How had I missed this? Within the first hour, the walls of the canyon rise up along side the river. The first few buttes stood back at a shy distance, their rising brown hillsides topped with rocky red crowns. In front of them, green water streamed serenely by. As we floated past rock gardens — shallow bars with water only inches deep — every rock gleamed in the crystal clear water. The canyon walls crept closer, and erosion revealed their geologic story of volcanic pressure, uplift, ash explosions, hot flows and cooling into a myriad of shapes, colors and textures.

The Deschutes near Warm Springs OR

Some lent themselves to flights of fancy, the way cloud formations beckon us to see images in their ever-changing shapes. Bruce thought the lone rock below looked like the head of an Argonath. I found myself remembering Dad being wheeled down the hospital hallway for an MRI reciting from Shelley: “My name is Ozymandius, king of kings:/Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Ozymandius?

Small islands straddle the center of the river between the off-limits property of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation on one side and the many public campgrounds on the opposite shore. As we pass them, Bruce and Dean remembered their fishing luck on past trips; one island was so favorable they referred to it as “our island.” We tied up at one that could be circumnavigated on foot, revealing tree roots that waved in the water like red hair.

Tree roots in the Deschutes River

We did not go unnoticed as we floated down the river. Wild horses on the reservation stopped their slow stroll as they came down to the water to drink, the stallion keeping us under observation to make sure we posed no threat. Great blue herons heard our approach, crouched and flared out their five foot wide wings to beat slowly upstream ahead of us. Mergansers dove, kingfishers cried their piercing call and ospreys whistled and chirped, circling high above the river. We counted 43 osprey during the course of our trip. At one point, a young buck cautiously approached the river’s edge while Dean cast just 30 feet away.

After the sky flamed from orange to fuschia to grey, the nights were even more magical. With only the background noise of the breeze, the Milky Way made such a perfect, broad arc over us that I could imagine a circle of spray paint continuing past the horizon both north and south, cinching the earth beneath us like a belt. Thousands of stars blinked into view revealing constellations, many of which I’d heard of, but never identified. Each night, I watched shooting stars through the netting of my tent and listened to the chorus of crickets and the thumping of bugs trying to penetrate the thin layer of nylon between them and me. I started to bargain with God: “I’ll go to sleep if you show me just one more shooting star.” And each morning, I awakened to an orchestra of birds calling as the sun poured down the brown hillsides behind us, often punctuated by the cry of a frustrated osprey as it flew reconnaissance over the river.

As entranced as I was by the natural beauty of the area, I really noticed things about my brothers.

I watched Dean walk upstream to fish. I love to watch my brother walk, as weird as that sounds. He conveys preparedness in every fiber. It’s visible in the set of his face, the tension in his arms, and the way he plants his legs as he moves purposefully forward. He has such a sense of purpose, a guy who know’s where he’s going and what he’s going to do there. When he sits, which isn’t for long, he’s usually (as my Dad would say) “working the problem.” When we were en route to Maupin to pick up a rented boat from Deschutes River Adventures, his face reflected concern about making it on the river in time to set up our first camp before dark. Even more serious was his expression when approaching White Horse Rapids. His intensity of expression reflected the responsibility he felt as organizer and river guide. Once he met the challenges of the day, he was finally at ease. Dean is such a rock, and I love that about him.

Dean

Bruce’s demeanor is and always has been more relaxed, even graceful. There is a gentleness to him, in his stance and in his voice. His walk is loose and his movements, fluid. He stood up and demonstrated casting back and forth, side to side, until he popped the fly right in front of a big trout. It was almost like watching a dance as his weight shifted from side to side. Of course, I teased him and said, “Can you do that again?” (He obliged.) Bruce loves to share his passion for things, and his passion for fish may be unsurpassed. Although he had plenty of time to fish on his own, he seemed to really want to guide my progress as I attempted to lob or roll cast. As bad as I was, he never seemed frustrated or irritated, using the same, calm voice to direct me.

That voice brought me right back to being five or six years old, when he patiently illustrated a poem about an elf sitting under a mushroom cap umbrella. I still have the drawing.

I watched as he caught the biggest fish of the trip. “Are you getting this?” he asked, knowing that I had my camera in hand. After the fish was released, he showed me how his hand literally shook in excitement. Bruce is such a geek, and I love that about him.

Big trout on the Deschutes

On our last night in camp, after being chased off the river by a dramatic thunderstorm (complete with hail, 40+ knot winds and horizontal rain), I summarized my experience for my brothers, telling them that the trip was different than I had expected. Dean asked, “What did you expect?” I shared my little fantasy about deep talks under the stars.

“Oh no, we don’t talk about relationships,” Dean said, “This is a guy’s trip. We do stuff.”

One brother was missing, and that made me sad. His absence made me wonder aloud on the first night, “How are we going to stay connected as a family?”

The next night, Bruce replied, “I’ve thought about what you said. We’ve learned some things. We’re better off together than we are separately.”

We as a family are moving forward, perhaps in fits and starts, but making progress.

Hole in the Wall campground

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Real-life Giving Trees

Camphor tree

On our daily walk down Berrendo Drive, Dad and I often stopped to appreciate this beautiful camphor tree in our neighbor’s yard. There’s something almost human about her – so much so that the female camphor tree branchespronoun is what springs to mind. Her muscular arms seem to embrace the Hall’s home while her graceful, leaf-laden branches stretch out in welcome. Trees can seem forbidding, or forlorn, or, like this lovely lady, friendly. Upon seeing her, my Dad expressed his admiration by reciting lines from a poem he learned in childhood:

I THINK that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,

         

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;…
— Joyce Kilmer

 

sunset by betsy campbell stoneDad had a friend in our backyard, too. As the evenings warmed, we barbequed and dined outside. Dad’s eyes glowed with emotion as he gazed upward at the young redwood tree next door (at left in this photo). I saw that look on Dad’s face many times: awe of creation in all its variety, love of nature. He would mark the tree’s growth, noting that while he could still see the tip from our position beneath the roof of the porch, he would soon have to crane his neck to see where it met the sky.

I’ve always had the feeling of being in a relationship with trees. When I was five, we moved from Honolulu to Seattle after a disastrous couple of years. The ground had faltered beneath me: Dad had nearly died from a massive heart attack, and we lost Nana, my maternal grandmother, the year prior. I often fled to a tree in Roanoke Park, where hours slipped by as I invisibly watched people walk through the park or I curled up and let my imagination loose in lengthy daydreams.

That tree was my refuge and my friend, even as the redwood tree and camphor tree became my father’s companions. They may not have said much, but their reassuring gentle presence was a gift.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

My brother Bruce remembers, “My Dad was cool!”

brucedad

At my mother’s memorial in 1999, we were all too raw to share personal remarks, but at Dad’s memorial, it seemed right to share our memories and reflections. Together, we painted a more complete picture of Dad for those who joined us in honoring him, and for each other. Bruce is my middle brother, 10 years older than I am. Here are his remarks:

“I wrote this recollection in 2008, shortly after Dad had a pretty significant stroke and I thought we were going to lose him. I wanted to capture some of my favorite times with him (and some were yet to come). Most of my best memories of Dad took place outdoors, frequently involving hunting or fishing. I dimly recall fishing Deep Creek Lake with Dad and Scott before my sister Madeline died, and I also remember fishing through the foot-thick ice on Lake Ontario. My first “best memory” took place during the summer I turned 13. It may actually have occurred the day I turned 13, but I’m not sure of that. It was the summer before everything changed, forever.

I had been involved in the Sportsmen’s’ Club (not sure that’s the name) as an after school activity at Kensington Junior High that year, and I wanted to go fishing with Dad in the worst way. I also wanted to go to summer camp at Monte Vita Ranch, near Berkley Springs, WV. I had been invited back as a CIT, and all of my best friends were going. I knew it was a financial stretch for our family, at least in comparison with those of my friends in Kensington’s Rock Creek Hills. When I actually got to go to Monte Vita, I was surprised and thrilled, and really didn’t expect much else, birthday-wise. I did mention to Dad that I wanted to go with him to fish for smallmouth bass in the upper Potomac River sometime.

On the second weekend at camp, Dad showed up (my birthday or parents day?). I remember showing him around the camp, especially the pond where I fished for bluegills after supper, and also the rifle range where I had just earned my Sharpshooter and Expert Rifle certifications. That night, Dad gathered me and several of my friends up and took us all down to the Potomac River, just upstream from Harpers Ferry. He had a rod for each of us boys, and he set up the rods for my friends. Then, he roped us all together and, ever the optimist, handed each of us a burlap sack to hold our fish. Then we waded out. It was terrifying, but incredibly exciting at the same time. It was dark; my glasses were completely fogged up from the humid summer air. The cool rush of the water tugged powerfully at my legs, and the rocks were slippery beneath my PF Keds. I have no recollection of actually catching anything, but I know absolutely that I was an instant hero with all my buddies. MY Dad was COOL!

I know now that Dad had fished the area many times for smallmouth bass. I know from personal experience later in life that it is possible to know a river well enough to wade safely even at night. I know now that he would never have done it if he felt we were seriously at risk. But I didn’t know it then, only that I trusted him completely. He never failed the trust we placed in him; he never failed the trust anyone put in him.

My second “best memory” with Dad probably took place in 1978 or 1979. It was not long after his first bypass operation, and he had a new lease on life. I came home in November on leave (perhaps for Thanksgiving?), and we took off Friday night together for a weekend of chukar hunting in the Bridgeport, WA area. We stayed at the “Y” Motel, a running joke: Y NOT! The next morning, we parked the truck and began walking uphill along a long intermittent stream channel. We had been walking perhaps 30 minutes when the current dog started getting birdy. As we crested the rise, it opened up into a sunlit shallow bowl. Dad was slightly downhill and to my left with the dog, working along the edge of the rimrock, and I walked slowly into the depression. About ten yards in, the birds began to flush. I hit one, then another, and the birds kept flushing and flushing, in the hundreds. I heard several shots from Dad, and saw more birds fall from the sky. We recovered 4 birds (one of mine was lost), and spent the rest of the day picking up scattered birds from that same initial flock. We probably walked ten miles up and down the mountainside. It was a great hunt, and we returned to the Y tired and content. After that, I never again saw a flock of chukars that large in one spot.

My Dad also loved the romantic poets, and often recited long passages from memory. He often quoted from the poem I am going to share with you. It embodies, I think, how he sought to live his life, and largely succeeded.

A Psalm of Life, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tell me not in mournful numbers,

Life is but an empty dream!

For the soul is dead that slumbers,

And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!

And the grave is not its goal;

Dust thou are, to dust thou returnest,

Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,

Is our destined end or way;

But to act, that each tomorrow

Find us farther than today.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,

And our hearts, though stout and brave,

Still, like muffled drums, are beating

Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,

In the bivouac of Life,

Be not like dumb, driven cattle!

Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!

Let the dead Past bury its dead!

Act, – act in the living Present!

Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime,

And, departing, leave behind us

Footprints on the sand of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,

Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,

A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,

Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us then be up and doing,

With a heart for any fate;

Still achieving, still pursuing,

Learn to labor and to wait.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

(My) Words May Fail Me, But These Do Not

sunset by betsy campbell stone

I’m continuing to look back through old bits of detritus I find in drawers, words I tucked away at some point because they spoke to me. The river theme continues… and Dad’s love remains radiant…

Winter Heavens

by George Meredith

Sharp is the night, but stars with frost alive

Leap off the rim of earth across the dome.

It is a night to make the heavens our home

More than the nest whereto apace we strive.

Lengths down our road each fir-tree seems a hive,

In swarms outrushing from the golden comb.

They waken waves of thoughts that burst to foam:

The living throb in me, the dead revive.

Yon mantle clothes us: there, past mortal breath,

Life glistens on the river of the death.

It folds us, flesh and dust; and have we knelt,

Or never knelt, or eyed as kine the springs

Of radiance, the radiance enrings:

And this is the soul’s haven to have felt.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized