The Worst Day Fishing…

You remember that old quote, “The worst day fishing is better than the best day working”? Well, not necessarily.

Recently, my husband Gene and I got up early in Purgatory, Colorado (It’s really Heaven), and drove 90 minutes to the San Juan River in New Mexico. We were excited to fish for “the big one.” 

I love that river. It was the first place I went fly fishing on my own; that was in 1997. I caught one fish that day, with a guide, in the snow; it was about 8 inches. But it was a milestone fish.

San Juan River, November 1997

Gene and I parked near Texas Hole, a large area near the Navajo Dam within the Quality Waters section, where only single, barbless, artificial flies are allowed, and trout must be “carefully” released. These fish – rainbows and browns – average 16-18 inches. (In 2019, Mary Freelove of Round Rock Texas, caught a 30-inch brown trout!)

So, we pull on our socks, waders, and boots. We load our vests with flies, floatant (stuff to keep the yarn indicators afloat, so you can tell if a trout is interested), tapered leader (attaches to your line), tippet (fine line to tie onto the leader when you’ve lost flies, and had to keep trimming the tippet to tie on new ones), nippers, forceps (for removing hooks from the fish), retractors (to pin on your vest and hold your nippers and forceps), and line straighteners. Then there are the extra flies, weights, and indicator yarn. I put my medicine, Kleenex, and lip gloss in a special vest pocket, and slip my phone into the plastic zippered holder that flips upside-down inside the front of my waders.

Yep. Fly fishing really is this much trouble. But once you get the hang of it, it feels natural.

We don’t want to leave our spots to eat lunch because they’ll be quickly taken, so Gene puts the picnic into the zippered pocket on the back of his vest, and I offer to take the two large waters in mine. I grab my walking pole, which attaches to my belt. (My balance is not good, due to Parkinson’s, so the walking pole, which I use as a fishing staff, is like having an extra foot in the sometimes slippery river bottom.) And off we go!

We walk down the path to the channel we need to cross to get to the thicket we will fight our way through to get to Texas Hole, a deep area in the river where your chances of catching “the big one” are the best. (Trout don’t move much from their territories, so when you find a good spot, you go back to it, unless someone else has been there recently.)

When we get to the channel, which is two to three feet deep, the current is fast, and the rocks are slippery. Gene takes my rod and I hold his hand and use my pole to cross. Then we fight our way through thick growth, taking care not to get our lines caught. (Thank God for hats!)

Gene waits for me in a portal to Texas Hole

We emerge from the thicket, and there’s the San Juan in all its glory! And it’s a beautiful, overcast day. The water is clear and the usual 42 degrees — it’s nearly always 42 degrees because it comes from the bottom of Navajo Dam. There are about seven guys wading and a few guides with their clients in drift boats out in the river.

San Juan River, just below the dam

Gene gets me situated near the mouth of one of the channels – a perfect spot to cast to, as the fish like to lie on the bottom and grab your fly as it goes by. There’s a guy down channel from me casting up past me and hogging the whole area. I do my best for the next hour or so to stay out of his way, but I can see he’s annoyed. I finally manage to get tangled in his line, and he untangles them and throws mine to me in disgust. “Damn women!” I can hear him thinking. Meanwhile, Gene has waded about 100 feet from me, and catches a nice rainbow.

Another hour goes by, and I need to pee, so I carefully make my way to Gene and let him know that I’m going to go back through the thicket and into a little clearing where I can hide behind some trees.  I turn around and begin to make my way carefully through the water, when – you guessed it – the current is too fast for me, I slip on the moving stones, and fall. My waders begin to fill, and the bottles of water in the back of my vest pull me backward, and I can’t get up!

Gene gets there quickly, and the bully — I mean the guy who’s been hogging the channel — kindly asks if I need help. (I hate it when I don’t want to like somebody, and they turn out to be nice.) After thanking him, Gene gets me to my feet and walks with me to the portal in the thicket, through the jungle to the clearing, waits while I pee behind a tree, and then carefully gets me to the other side of the channel. (Yes, this man is a saint. Well, most of the time.) Meanwhile, the 42-degree water inside my waders is beginning to penetrate my feet and legs.

We walk down the path to the picnic area, and out to the parking lot, my teeth chattering. First order of business, of course, is to pull out my phone, and it’s fine – Hallelujah! Then it’s off with my hat, my vest, my boots, and my waders (which takes two of us, as the booties, which are attached, are filled with water). My socks are a challenge, but I get them off and put on my flip flops, grab my dry clothes, and make my way to the women’s bathroom in my wet shirt and leggings.

Teeth chattering, and standing on the cement floor of the bathroom, I finally peel off the leggings, which were stuck to me, and take a good look at my feet. They’re bright red from the cold.

I get dressed, make my way back to the car, and sink into the front seat. Gene has eaten, and as I start my lunch, he walks back to the river to resume fishing. I’m not about to ask him to stop when it took 90 minutes to get here.

So, that was my day at the San Juan – August 11, 2021. But I’ll be back because I love this river. And I’m like the little girl in the pile of poop: I know there’s a pony in there some place!

Epilogue: We had better luck two weeks later:

The One Main Thing

It’s New Year’s Eve, a time for reassessing our lives and ourselves. What have we learned? What have we achieved? Where have we failed? It’s a time when many set goals for the coming year.

If I am any indication, many of us keep setting the same goals and ignoring them as the years roll by. For example, there are books I thought I wanted to read, but never have. There are pounds I thought I wanted to lose which now have company. There are religious practices I thought I needed to follow that have gone unincorporated into my daily routine.

So this year I’ve had a good talk with myself and set goals that are based on thoughtful reflection of who I am and who I want to be.

Conservative rabbi Harold Kushner writes in his 1986 book, When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough, “Our souls are not hungry for fame, comfort, wealth, or power.  Those rewards create almost as many problems as they solve.  Our souls are hungry for meaning; for the sense that we have figured out how to live so that our lives matter, so that the world will be at least a little bit different for our having passed through it.”

Despite the tragedies, frustrations, isolation, and inconveniences of this past year, it has given us many gifts, among which is the time to assess ourselves — our motivations, our priorities, our behavior. Today, as we turn over a new page in our lives, I’m setting goals that will help me live so that my life matters.

  1. I’m going to take care of me, so that I’m available when my family and friends need me.
  2. I’m going to pay special attention to my husband and family, so they know they are the most important people in my life.
  3. I’m going to read more books.  
  4. I’m going to continue to write regularly because it forces me to think about what’s important.

To accomplish these goals, I have a list of activities, and one is to look at my goals every morning, so that I start each day reminded of their importance. Because if I forget what they are, they won’t become part of my routine. And having a routine is comforting in uncertain times like these, even for us spontaneous types. And when we’re comforted, we feel motivated and joyful and free to live so that our lives matter.

I will end my little essay with the following poem, which I hope will help you focus on the one main thing I believe will bring you joy in the coming year, and that is keeping your own company. Second to that would be carefully choosing all others with whom you spend your precious time.

 
Sweet Darkness
  
 When your eyes are tired
 the world is tired also.
  
 When your vision has gone
 no part of the world can find you.
  
 Time to go into the dark
 where the night has eyes
 to recognize its own.
  
 There you can be sure
 you are not beyond love.
  
 The dark will be your womb 
 tonight.
  
 The night will give you a horizon
 further than you can see.
  
 You must learn one thing:
 The world was made to be free in.
  
 Give up all the other worlds
 except the one to which you belong.
  
 Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
 confinement of your aloneness
 to learn
  
 anything or anyone
 that does not bring you alive
  
 is too small for you. 
  
 DAVID WHYTE  

Pets on Parade

THIS BLOG HAS THREE PARTS. TOGETHER, THEY WILL TAKE ABOUT 20 MINUTES TO READ.

part iii.

It was 2013 when King Tut died. As you can imagine, by then I had a collection of pet ashes. We decided to have a Pet Funeral when the kids were with us for Thanksgiving.

I thought it would be nice to gather under the big mesquite tree under the dining room window and bury the ashes of Libby, Allie, and Tut there, and recognize Sunny, too, even though we had already buried her in the herb garden. Since Gene and I had taken care of stepdaughter Katie’s bunny, Miss Piggy, while Katie was a visiting nurse in California, we included Miss Piggy in the ceremony.

Katie and Miss Piggy

David suggested hanging pictures of all the pets from the tree branches, so I bought little black frames and ribbon, and the day after Thanksgiving we got everything ready.

My father, an Episcopal priest, had written a prayer for a friend’s dog in 1939, when Papá was in his 20s.

A Prayer for Taffy

O Lord, we pray thee to receive into thy

kind hands this, thy servant, a dog.  Look upon

him with the love thou showest all thy creatures;

and, as thou art the final judge of evil and

the eternal reward of good, take this clear heart,

faultless in our eyes, under thine own protection,

making such provision as thou hast ordained for

him in thy goodness.  For, as the temptation

toward evil and the opportunity for good were

both less freely offered to him than to us, thou

knowest, Lord, what little evil was in him and

what great good.  Finally, we are grateful that,

having lent him to our imperfect affection, thou

takest him back again to thee.  Amen.

A few days before the service, I asked Aidan, our oldest grandson, who was nine, if he would read the prayer for Tut. He said, “Well, Nonnie, Tut and I never really hit if off. But I’ll read the prayer for Allie!” Then I went to daughter Annie and asked her if she would like to read the prayer for Tut. She said, “Tut and I were never that close, Mom. Why don’t you ask Mamá?” So much for Tut being the favored pet.

The big kids hung the pictures, daughter-in-law Kim helped me bring out my clay garden animals and some flowering bougainvillea. We gathered around the tree, read the prayer for each pet, and shared memories of them. David dug the holes around the tree, and Gene poured the ashes into the tiny graves and covered them with dirt. Grandsons Caleb and Asher, ages six and four, collected rocks and decorated the little mounds. It was a sweet day.

And as I think about the animals that have been a part of my life, I am thankful for each one of them.

Whether it’s trust or responsibility or the importance of consistency and predictability or simple affection or biology, our pets are some of our best teachers. They are role models for unconditional love.  

But it hurts deeply when we lose them. And sometimes we wonder if we want to take that leap again because we know what’s going to happen: we’re going to lose our greeting committee, our biggest fans, our quiet companions, our exercise buddies, those who love us no matter what.

And we usually take the leap, figuring the many gifts they bring us far outweigh the pain we know will come when it’s time for them to leave.

Pets on Parade

this blog has three parts. together, they will take about 20 minutes to read.

Part II.

So, on to the pets our children had. We started with guinea pigs, then bunnies and hamsters and hermit crabs and turtles, and finally dogs. (Annie was allergic to cat hair, so we skipped cats.)

In the late-70s, Annie and Phoebe were small, and we had guinea pigs; they were a cute diversion. After we moved, Phoebe got a big, gray lop eared rabbit we named Cottontail. About that time, we also got our first dog, Chester, a Lhasa Apso mix. Annie adored Chester. He was just her size, with a cute little body and a face to match. Although he was small, Chester wasn’t a barker; he was a lover. And Cottontail was a sweetheart. Cottontail and Chester were great buddies, and used to chase each other around the back yard, going one direction and then the other, taking turns doing the chasing.

We moved to North Central Phoenix, and one day, Cottontail got out of the yard and was nowhere to be found. I heard the sheepdog next door barking loudly, and when I looked through the fence, I and saw that he had Cottontail up against the wall. The poor bunny had dug under the fence and gotten into the neighbor’s yard, gotten himself cornered and, not knowing what to do, sat in fear, shaking all over. I ran next door and got him, rounded up the kids, and we sat with him in a circle in the grass. I could feel his little heart pounding. I held him in my arms while the kids took turns petting him and after a few minutes, he stopped breathing. There were a lot of tears that day. I imagine Chester was sad, too

Phoebe had several Hermit crabs, which all died attempting to move to a larger shell. We had a red-eared slider turtle, who also died. That was probably my fault, as I didn’t really know what to do with him.

Eventually, we got a dear little Holland Lop bunny for Phoebe. His name was Charlie, and he was a character. Phoebe trained him to use the litter box in his cage, and he lived in her room, keeping her company and humping her stuffed rabbits. (Yes, really!) David loved taking him on a leash for walks in the neighborhood. Charlie lived to be about 10, when he succumbed to an infection.

We had two hamsters, Apply Dappley and Ralph. Ralph was given to us by my friend Nancy, whose boys had lost interest in him. He was a sweet guy, but like so many hamsters, did not want to stay in his cage. One day he escaped. Two days went by, and I woke up late one night and walked out to the kitchen. I could hear scratching under the oven. I pulled out a drawer and saw two beady eyes looking at me from behind the partition. He couldn’t climb out.

I went to my dresser and found a bandana. I twisted it, dropped it down to Ralph, and literally prayed to God to help him find his way up the bandana and out on the drawer guide. He slowly crawled up and barely onto the guide when he fell back down. I tried again, and this time, he made it. I can still see him carefully walking out on the guide and into my hands. I put him in his cage, locked it up tight, and watched him drink an entire bottle of water. I went back to bed relieved and happy.

Two days later, Ralph was gone! And we never heard from him again.  

When David was about 11, we got a black lab puppy, and named her Libby. She became David’s dog, and they were inseparable. Libby, like so many Labradors, was a destructive puppy. She ate through an entire Haitian cotton sectional while we were gone one day. I crate-trained her after that, and she was a changed girl.

When she got older, she slept with David. Even though she was a Labrador, the only way to get her to swim was for David to dive into the deep end of the pool and pretend to drown. He would call to her, and she would run to the pool, hesitate for a moment, jump in, and swim to him.

Libby and Chester were great pals, dashing out of the house if we didn’t pay attention and running around our cul-de-sac peeing on every bush they could find, having a great adventure. As Chester got older, he began to get grouchy, and I worried he might bite one of the children who liked to come over and play.

One day, the two dogs ran out the door, but only Libby returned. David and his dad went to find Chester, and they did, but he had been hit by a car and had died. They wrapped him in a towel and brought him home. When we buried Chester, he took a piece of our hearts with him. But he died having a great adventure.

About that time, David, knowing how much I loved birds, gave me a lutino cockatiel. It was too young to sex, so I named it Sunny. Sunny later produced two little eggs. So, then we knew. The other tip-off was that Sunny never spoke, which is typical of female cockatiels. She loved people, though, and sitting on my shoulder.

In the mid-90s, we decided to get another dog. After much research, I decided on a long-haired Dachshund. Shortly after I began looking for my dream dog, a friend at work brought in a homeless Golden Retriever mix puppy she and her husband had found tied to a tree downtown. All my research went out the window when I saw Allie, and I took her home. She was my dog and my faithful companion through my divorce in 1996 and living alone until I remarried in 2001. She helped me feel safe at night and took me for three walks a day.

And I mean it when I say that she took me for walks, stopping whenever she wanted to and pulling me this way and that. I found a trainer to help me, a Marine veteran. He was a no-nonsense guy, and he made it clear from the get-go that I was the one he was training, not Allie. And it worked. With the help of a choke collar, she became a dream dog, and our walks were fun!

One weekend when Phoebe was home, she, David, and I went to the Humane Society to pick out a cat. I had my heart set on a tuxedo, but an all-black kitty with gold eyes, the most relaxed kitty of any we met in the Get Acquainted Room, won us over. I named him King Tut, and he was my baby.

Libby lived with David and his dad after our divorce. She was the sweetest dog you could imagine, but as she got old, arthritis set in, and she wasn’t able to get up anymore. When it was time to say good-bye, I met David’s dad at the vet, and we patted her as she slowly let go and died. David was 17 and heartbroken. I gave him a big stuffed black lab for Christmas, and I think it helped a little, but nothing could take her place.  

I met Gene in 1997. We were married in 2001 and moved to Tucson in 2002 with a dog, a cat, and a bird. I had married a man who lived like a monk, with little furniture and no pets, and he had married an animal lover.

Sunny had trouble adjusting to our Tucson house. I tried putting familiar artwork near her cage, setting her cage near the deck so she could see out, changing her diet… But she began screeching incessantly. I took her to a bird specialist, who said it could be that being by the window seeing the hawks and other birds scared her. Or perhaps she missed her old surroundings. Or maybe she was needing more attention. I did my best by her, and she seemed to calm down once we moved her away from the window. She loved being held and talked to and lived to be 19.

Although he had sworn never to have another dog, Gene was incredibly good to Allie. She got Valley Fever in Tucson, and it weakened her terribly. Our house was a tri-level, with no doggie door (we didn’t want Tut to go out and be eaten by a bobcat or hawk or snake or great horned owl, all of which we had in abundance on our acre of desert). The only way for Allie to do her business was to walk down two flights of stairs to the ground level and wait for one of us to let her out and back in. She weighed 62 pounds, and when she got too weak to walk downstairs, Gene carried her down and back up, so she could be with us.

While I was visiting my mother in Seattle, Allie was bitten by a snake, and poor Gene had to be the one to put her down. He may not have wanted a dog, but he got attached to Allie.

Tut was the last of my pets to go. He and Allie had been great pals, sitting together at the screen door watching the birds, sleeping together, and simply being companions. I’m sure he missed his doggie friend. When he got to be 16, his kidneys began to fail. Gene, who adored Tut, set up a MASH unit in the laundry room for his IV’s. We gave them to him several times a week, and they did wonders initially. But after a few weeks, he finally began to fight the treatments, and Dr. Kaufman, our vet, said, “Sometimes they’ve just had enough,” and we let him go. He was 17 and my sweet little man.

 

Next Up: Part III.