Monday, April 28, 2014

Practicing "the Speech"

One of the best spring salmon fishermen on a river I visit gave me "the speech" to get out of trouble with a girlfriend.  "I am sorry. It was my mistake. Please forgive me."  He had been a missionary on many continents so I figured it was worth a try.

The next time she and I had an argument, I tried but forgot a few words. "I'm sorry. It was your mistake.  I forgive you."

When I saw him on the river, I explained I messed up a few words so his "speech" didn't work.

"What exactly did you say?" he asked.

When I told him, he said I needed more practice.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Fisher-in-Residence on Cascade Head

Some of the poems were written at The Sitka Center for Art and Ecology in Oregon.

I recall a scene in the film Fast Times at Ridgemont High when Sean Penn's character Jeff Spicoli says in a dream, "Well Stu I'll tell you, surfing's not a sport, it's a way of life, it's no hobby. It's a way of looking at that wave and saying, 'Hey bud, let's party!'"  I could substitute "fishing" for "surfing," and "river" for "wave," which I must do now more that ever, partly as a result of having too many community college students like Jeff Spicoli.  Yes, that means you Hieronymus!  My students said the film was based on Clairemont High, one of the feeder schools for where I teach.

Anyway, since I had some positive responses on my last post, I decided to expand it.  Years ago, I  applied to be a writer-in-residence at The Sitka Center for Art and Ecology on Cascade Head partly because I wanted to catch winter steelhead close by. In case you haven't figured it out, most of my major life decisions are made based on proximity to salmon and steelhead fishing.

For eight years on The Starfisher, I trolled and drifted reefs off Cascade Head, and explored rivers north and south on my days off.  I was so excited when my application was accepted, I oiled my reels.

When I arrived in January 2004, the weather did not entirely cooperate.  A rare ice storm threatened my plans.  At the time, I was reading Early Morning by Kim Stafford.  The guest book in my Russ' Treehouse studio had entries by Kim, and this gave my adventure a meant-to-be feel.  Without hesitation, I put tire chains on to discover I was the only driver foolish enough to be on the road.  Later, noted "President Bush issued a major disaster declaration for 26 Oregon counties affected by the winter storm."  I spent a large part of the morning weaving around, or physically removing, fallen alders on the way to my chosen river.

My car radio said schools were closed and issued a warning to "stay off the roads. Like a wounded muskrat, I slowly maneuvered until I made it.  "Where in hell did you come from?” a local who had walked down to the river greeted me. “It’s 28 degrees,” he added.

I just smiled and unpacked my gear, thinking of warmer days when Chinese poet Li Po wrote his famous poems about this.

On the still-dark trail there was windless silence but ice-weighted branches fell like spears.  The water, however, flowed perfect steelhead green. I was dizzy with cold but determined.

Four hours later I had a fish on who threw the pink-cured prawn and orange Corky.  Suddenly, it felt a little warmer.  Two minutes after that, I had a really big steelhead on – maybe sixteen pounds -- who broke the line two feet from shore because the cold made me clumsy (fishing buddies would say it had nothing to do with the cold). 

Only minutes later I hooked a third steelhead who saw a huge branch floating through the far side of the hole and made for it like a wide receiver going for the end zone.  Downriver went the branch and steelhead.

My right brain and left brain, perhaps short-circuited by the cold, engaged in a quick argument.  Right – “We can do this.  Let’s scramble along that undercut bank and across those boulders.  See the river bottom over there?  The water can’t be more than five feet, even with the reflection, and you are six feet, more if you get on your toes.  Besides, we can cross farther down . . . What’s that? Sure the water is fast there, but it’s shallower too.  How bad do you want this fish? Chicken.”  Left – “Need I remind you the air is 28 degrees?  Can you spell h-y-p-o-t-h-e-r-m-i-a?  No fish is worth getting wet.  Live to fish another day.  You can’t be stupid enough to drive, and crazy enough to leap into a winter river, can you?” 

Right, as usual, won, and into the river I went.  Water poured over the top of my hip waders as the steelhead leapt in his cage of branches above the tailout.  I sprinted downriver to shallower faster water, rod tip high in the air, numb as an Alaskan cadaver in December, and 70 yards later, landed the fish and branch above rapids.  

I could go on but was told blog posts need to be short. Suffice it to know the branch was a 40-pound alder, a little smaller than the ones I removed from the road on Cascade Head, but entirely capable of putting up a good fight when attached to a winter steelhead in a swift tailout. I shared my steelhead and story with a painter-in-residence.

Years later, I took a wonderful workshop from Drew Myron at The Sitka Center, and had my all-time favorite reading experience at her Off the Page event in Yachats.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Fish or Cut Bait or Teach

Photo by John Campbell. Click photo to see text.
Four summers ago I taught a writing class at Columbia Gorge Community College in The Dalles so I could fish The Deschutes River.  The class had a big window overlooking The Gorge.  It was magical.  I loved the summer steelhead, redsides, smallmouth bass, and teaching among the wonderful people and students at that college.  I was a contender for their full-time English professor job a while back so I put a line in the water thinking they may hire me for the part-time gig.

A year ago, and seven years ago, I did sabbatical work at Pacific University's Residency-only M. F. A. Program in Seaside, Oregon, partly to catch winter steelhead.  I caught the two above at sunrise just before my creative nonfiction workshop taught by the smart and humorous Craig Lesley, author of the novel The Sky Fisherman.  The photo above ended up in Pacific's M. F. A. brochure I found wandering the tables at AWP 2014 in Seattle, oddly thinking maybe I should be fishing for late-run winter steelhead.

The idea of combining fishing with my job may have come when I read how Jack Hemmingway, author of Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman and son of Noble Prize-winner Ernest, "managed to smuggle his fly rod along on his [WWII] French mission and was almost captured while trout fishing" according to New York Times writer Paul Schullery.

Then again, maybe the idea came when I was a deckhand off Depoe Bay, Oregon, saw a wedding party offshore on the mighty Tradewinds Kingfisher, and wondered aloud, "Man, there is a truly great tiderip moving toward them.  It's probably full of salmon.  What's wrong with dropping a baited hoochie and flasher into the sea?  The poles are right there."

It's nearly killing me now to be in San Diego during spring chinook season, but, unfortunately, tenured professorships in creative writing in Oregon are nearly as rare as barcodes on wild chinook.  Maybe if I spent more time writing, and less time fishing, some day in the distant future I may have a chance. Nah.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Spring Chinook in April 2014

                                                        Here is my first spring chinook of April 2014.
                                                       I caught these in 2013 in a few good days.
                                         Ted Hughes wrote in his book River my favorite fishing poem 
                                                      "After Moonless Midnight."  Here are two lines:
                                                      "Their eyes waited, furious with gold brightness,"
                                                      "Their savagery waited, and their explosion."
                                                       The infamous skunk cabbage is a harbinger of spring on the 
                                                       Pacific Northwest coast.
                                                                    Spring sun warms through a big tree over the river.
Spring chinook season is my favorite.  I wait all year for the tug of a monster silver slab from the deep, followed by delicious red flesh with basil, olive oil, and lemon pepper.  A few days ago I was lucky enough to land two on spinners, which I quickly clubbed, along with three bonus wild steelhead I quickly released.  While I love teaching creative writing and world literature in San Diego, I'm envious of Pacific Northwesterners who get to fish every day this time of year.  Their stories, generosity, and laughter show evidence of lives well-lived. 

Warm sunny days mixed with rain and gray clouds make this a time of transition. Winter's mold and moldy thoughts vanish with the cry of "Fish on!"

I mentioned Ted Hughes' writing about fishing in my first blog post called "Metabolism of Stars," and again above, because Pacific Northwest spring is about circles and renewals.  In my first blog post, Senegalese environmentalist Baba Dioum was quoted, "In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."  It reminds me of a poem by Thomas Rain Crowe in his book Zoro's Field titled "May It Continue." I use Zoro's Field in my creative nonfiction classes, and many students love it.

Regarding the eco-theme, thanks to poet Miriam Sagan for interviewing me on her blog, Miriam's Well: Poetry, Land Art, and Beyond  with these three questions: "1. What is your personal/aesthetic relationship to the poetic line? That is, how do you understand it, use it, etc.; 2. Do you find a relationship between words and writing and the human body? Or between your writing and your body?; and 3. Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?"  Thanks also to Beverly Faxon at Skagit Valley Food Co-op where I shop for her brief review of my book The Other History, and for placing that review beside an article on "The Hidden Secrets of Chocolate."  Life is good, for now, and I hope to catch more springers in late May when I return from teaching.