Don’t get too excited.
Don’t get too excited.
On July second Tim Daughton handed me this opportunity.
The outdoor retail guy and Orvis brand ambassador came to Beaver Island at the invitation of the benevolent and generous Cameron Mortenson, who always seems to gather just the right blend of personality under the roof of the Fisherman’s House each summer.
Tim is slight of build, reserved, soft spoken, and quick to smile. He doesn’t drink and to say that is atypical for this group would be an understatement but I have to admit I was envious of his mornings; looking rested and reflective as he sat comfortably next to a cup of coffee and a bowl of oatmeal in warm morning light on the porch of the Dalwhinnie Bakery while I tried to drown my headache in hollandaise sauce and bacon.
This annual trip with its revolving cast of characters is always centered on carp, but as I have talked about before the archipelago has a fabulously epic smallmouth bass population and on days when carp are moody or just not around the smallies are generally Plan B. And as far as Plan B’s go, it’s stupid awesome. “Oh dammit, I am so bummed that we have to resort to sight-sticking giant smallies in shallow water,” said no one ever.
This year Tim and Cameron worked out a Plan B competition: At the end of the trip the angler with the largest recorded smallmouth would win the prize- a shiny new Orvis Superfine Fiberglass 6wt, complete with a Hydros reel and line. Needless to say I was interested, as were most of the others and like a lot of things in life it came down to luck and timing, and now I am the proud owner of my first modern fiberglass rod.
On the last day of the trip as Tim handed over the bright silver rod tube he said, “Congratulations. Now you get to carry this damn thing around airports for a day.” (It’s a three-piece and doesn’t fit in most retail fly rod luggage.) I didn’t really mind all that much. I already had an idea where the rod would make it’s debut.
A little under two months later it was back at the airport, this time rubbing butts with an 8, 10, and 12 weight as my duffle and extra-long rod travel tube made their way down the conveyer belt behind the United Airlines check-in counter. Standing next to my buddy Marvin, I wave to our bags as they push through the black plastic curtains, hoping as all air travelers do that when they re-emerge this afternoon from an airport’s mechanical bowels we will be there to greet them.
At 4:45 local time, Annabelle (you don’t name your rods?) touched down on target in Harlingin, Texas:
I stood on the bow of Capt Ben’s fancy new Hell’s Bay skiff with the fiberglass in hand. I threw a few loops toward the horizon and it was clear that all of my recent work on Beaver Island with The Mallet (my basically-a-ten-weight eight-weight TFO) had me moving too fast. This rod operates on it’s own time, and will not be rushed.
I was reminded of something one of my Gunsite instructors once said. His name is Walt Wilkinson and he is a wonderfully cheeky retired Special Forces Sergeant Major. He looked over the group while talking about draw technique and said “I am not impressed with fast. I am impressed with smooooooth.”
I slowed down, smoothed out, and things began to come together. The rod loaded and I added a haul, feeling the fiberglass flex all the way down into the grip as it pushed the line into the wind. Fiberglass is a different species. Annabelle isn’t like The Mallet, or Thunderella (my 10ft Helios) or any of the other nail-driver graphite sticks I own. Sweet Anabelle is a fine southern belle, and should be treated as such.
Marvin started on the bow but the morning progressed slowly. Around 10am I had failed to connect on a handful of shots and he had just broke off a fish near a scattering of grassy sticks that separated the main body of this cove from a wide shallow area that pushed back toward the mainland maybe a quarter-mile. We had seen a few fish move in and out of this spot through the cut near where our boat rested lightly on the seagrass bottom. Capt Ben explained that the weather was pushing in a good bit of water, and that the place where we were stopped usually doesn’t carry enough water to hold fish, let along pole a boat. I stared out into the shallows. “Can we walk back in there?” I asked. “Heck, yeah,” Ben said.
When Marvin and I fished here last year we didn’t do any wading so I was totally digging it. The dust-fine mud was slippery and cool on my feet, pushing up between my toes with each step. It was pleasurable in a way I wasn’t expecting. I smiled at Ben. “Yeah, it’s like a foot massage,” he said, smiling back.
Maybe ten minutes later and a few hundred yards from the boat we spotted a dark spot about 150 feet out: a single cruiser straight ahead, coming in slow. I could just make out the lazy undulations of the fish’s gold-red back through the glare. “That is a big fish for back in here,” Ben said in a low tone.
I gathered my line and breathed; four seconds in through my nose, and seven seconds out through my mouth; a thing my mother once told me to repeat while I was trying to relax into sleep. I follow the fish’s potential path and see a lighter-colored mostly sandy spot maybe about 60 feet from us. The wind was mild and left to right and I began to cast, aiming for that opening. Smooth Smooth Smooooooth repeated in my head. False cast, adjust, one more haul, and let it go. Rings appeared where the silver and white baitfish pattern fly touched down, and it looked like I hit my mark. I stopped moving. The fish came, same speed, same path, slow and indifferent, into the light patch. I started a strip. “Wait,” Ben said in a quick whisper. My hand twitched again. “Wait,” he said again. My eyes felt like they might pop from my head. Adrenaline pumped, my whole body twitched, goosebumps rose on my arms. I couldn’t stand it. The fish must be over it by now. By now. Now? Now?
“Now,” Ben said. I stripped. The fly moved up and out, inches from the fish’s mouth. It didn’t even have to move, just flared it’s gills and paused, as if taking a little moment to savor the easy meal. The next strip came tight. My head exploded.
The first fish of a trip is always a special thing, as is the first fish on a new rod. This was a double-dip in sweetness. Annabelle flexed, bent to the cork, smooth as fiberglass and my smile was probably visible from Arizona.
I think the opening of this post completes the coverage of this year’s Beaver Island trip, so I would like to take a moment to thank to Tim and Orvis for the really cool rod, and Cameron Mortensen and TFM for setting up another fantastic Beaver Island trip this year. Also deep thanks to Kevin Morlock, Steve Martinez, and Austin Adduci from Indigo Guide Service. It is always my pleasure, and you guys definitely make the island a special place to visit.
While I was writing this I began to wonder really what kind of distance I was getting on average with Annabelle so I took a quick drive to the park and measured out 75 feet. I feel confident that with a little more practice and a calm day I could make this rod poke 90. That’s pretty cool for full-flex glass.
Also, if you missed the Beaver Island Pixel Dump, and you want to see some of those giant smallmouth bass, check it out here.
To view all the Beaver Island 2016 coverage, CHECK THIS OUT.
-Alex who has more to say about Texas.
Kevin raises the outboard then lifts the oars and slides the blades into the water. I stand and straighten my shirt, turning to look at him. “Periscope up?” he asks, and I nod and slide under his right arm and pick my way into the back of the boat and onto the polling platform.
I like being up here. I like the advantageous perspective, how the glare runs just a little farther away toward the horizon like a pretty girl hiking up her skirt, just a little higher, just for me.
It reminds me of a scene in a movie called The Mothman Prophecies. Richard Gere is a reporter who is drawn to a small town in West Virginia to investigate some supernatural-ness. He learns of these strange beings known to some as Mothmen (it is unknown if there are Mothwomen), who, for unknown reasons, meddle occasionally in the realm of man by abstractly prophesying future events (usually bad) and generally creeping people out.
There is one scene in particular where Gere is talking to a writer who has published stories about these creatures. Gere asks the man how he can explain the fact that these creatures made predictions which later came true. He asks how it can be explained what they seem to know. Are they God? The author points to a tall building, and to a person hanging from a platform on the side, cleaning windows. He says, “if there was a car crash ten blocks away, that window cleaner could probably see it. That doesn’t mean that he is God, or even smarter than we are, but from where he’s sitting he can see a little farther down the road.”
When I stand on this polling platform I feel like that window cleaner, and it takes me back to my middle school days when I had a friend named Dane. He had a big tree in his backyard which we once climbed all the way to the top and I was able to see across the alley and neighbors to the next street where my house was. I had never seen the house from that angle. It looked strange and gave me a funny feeling like this was not actually my house, but one that looked like it, and if I were to stay up here enough I might see a kid that looked like me on a bike that looked like mine return home to parents that looked like my parents and to a dinner similar to what I would later find on my own plate. I felt like a multi-dimensional-tree climbing voyeur.
Whoever first said, “it’s all a matter of perspective” probably climbed trees as a child.
Cameron stands in the front of the boat and I look past him at sand and rocks and trees and water. I see a fish straight out in front of the boat, right where he is looking, but he doesn’t see it yet. In this moment I am the only person on the planet that knows that this fish exists. It is a secret, between me and the earth and it feels good, powerful. But like any good secret it wants to be told and soon Cameron is casting and from up high I watch the line lay out in the afternoon sun and wait for it to come tight. Because I am up next and as much as I like being on the polling platform, the casting deck is really where it’s at.
“You see what I am looking at?
“Yeah, I see it.”
The cast hit the water sixty feet from the bow of the boat.
“This is going to be about a seven second countdown.”
I striped back towards the boat, then stopped.
“Yeah, now wait.”
I counted in my head. Kevin counted out loud. We visualized the fly in our heads, moving down at about one foot per second towards the dark spot against blue-white bottom. The count ended.
I striped. The line came tight. I strip-set and swung the rod to the right, then striped again to build some pressure. Cameron and Kevin cheered behind me and I couldn’t see them but could feel the arms raised in triumph, fists beating at the sky, a winner’s celebration. But there was a problem. A problem with the pressure… it was constant. No headshake, no run. Sometimes people momentarily snag things and claim fish, but deep down they know. We know. Even for the smallest moments, when there is life at the end of the line, we know. And we know when there is not.
However, I can say without any doubt, that this is the best guided, casted, and hookset stick of my fishing career. It fooled us all. Good on you, fishy stick.
-Alex who thanks Cameron Mortenson for the photographic documentation.
I wish I liked tomato juice. I really do. I like tomatoes as much as the next guy, I guess. Thin, deep-red slices on a hot grilled chicken sandwich with green chili and mayonnaise on a warm toasty roll are as necessary as delicious. Fresh from my folks garden with a little salt, pepper, fresh basil, and a dash of balsamic? Shit, yeah. Salsa? Duh. And of course ketchup. Anyone who has ever said “I can’t believe you don’t like tomatoes, do you like ketchup?” is a moron. Ketchup tastes nothing like tomatoes.
I like vodka. I like Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, celery (I suppose, as much as one can like something that tastes like crunchy stringy nothing), olives, pickled vegetables, and various delicious salted and cured meat products. Goddammit. No drink I have ever experienced begs for extravagant overindulgence than the bloody mary.
We have all seen the garnishy ridiculousness: hamburgers, fried chicken, cocktail shrimp (this one isn’t too bad), brisket (slightly impressive), grilled salmon fillet (what?), sushi, etc. But art is not excess. Art is in the balance of taste, aesthetic, and the functionality of the thing itself. If you can’t take a walk out to the porch with your drink without fear of some catastrophic structural failure, that is a problem. Balance, my son.
That being said, Danny Reed is an artist. Literally. So when I saw him working in the kitchen of the Fisherman’s House during that first bad weather day, I was delighted and also slightly scared. I knew that he was about to create something special, that I would need to partake, and that I wouldn’t enjoy it as much as it deserved. That thought made me sad. Like a colorblind person at a Rothko exhibit, I felt I lacked the ability to really appreciate what the man was doing. I thought I would be shunned. Humiliated. Outcast. Like when you tell the smug, judging, skinny-jeaned hipster bartender that you don’t like IPA’s. But I was wrong.
The kitchen was thick with the smell of bacon. I stole a slice of Smoked Beef Snack Stick from the cutting board and popped it in my mouth. I was headed toward the jar of pickled okra when Danny turned and held out my drink. “Here,” he said, thrusting it at me like a medieval armorer handing out implements of war in the face of a fast-moving enemy front. He had thirsty men who needed cocktails, and the quicker that I took my weapon of intoxication, the faster he could arm the next weather-day warrior.
I took the cold pint glass with care, softly, as if it were sharp, dangerous. The red rim was lined thick with old bay and salt. A piece of bacon leaned casually on the rim, crispy and content with itself. Toothpick-speared pickled vegetables and cured meat products clung to the edge behind the bacon looking fearful of sinking beneath the ice into cloudy orange-red liquid. I plucked the brussel sprout off the top of the wooden spear and the pickle relaxed a bit. A long celery stick shot out at an angle adjacent the bacon, crunchy and indignant.
I raised the glass to my nose and breathed deep into an olfactic cacophony: discordant and harsh, but also pleasant and good in a way which I find difficult to put into words, like trying to describe a color.
I put the rim to my lips and closed my eyes. The thick potent liquid poured into my mouth, over and through the spices and danced around my tongue. The velvety cold mix was perfectly balanced. I let out a sigh as the flavors rose like a fire. Those flavors… that taste…
My face contorted and I stifled a gehbleh in my throat as my eyes began to water. I quickly ate a piece of smoked beef stick, a pickled okra, and half the piece of bacon followed by a bottle-shot of vodka for good measure.
Fucking tomato juice.
—Danny’s BI Bloody—
Grey Goose vodka
McClure’s Bloody Mary Mixer
Old Bay/Seasoning Salt rim
Okra, pickles, brussle spouts
meat stick, salami, fresh bacon
Danny Reed can be found online at CrookedCreekHoller.com, and on Instagram @crookedcreekholler
-Alex who thanks Danny for the cocktail and good company.
Photos now, words later.
The 2016 Crew:
-Alex who keeps understanding that sometimes you just have to stop thinking and pull the trigger.
“Goddamn,” Dave said past a cigarette, leaning back in the boat seat. “I just lit this thing.”
The golden fish ran at the white-grey horizon, toward, then away, then toward again the spit-dribble of land that trails away west from Hog island, known as the pigtail. The backing knot ticked out of the guides and I pulled my forearm in tight, easing the pain in my elbow; a traveling injury, as far as I can tell the result of awkwardly wrestling thirty pounds of pelican case around the interior of small aircrafts.
I am getting better at traveling. I still hate packing; picking what goes and what stays. I am and have always been a take-it kind of guy.
Are we going to need this? Well, shit, maybe. Just take it.
I like driving places. Fill the truck, fuck it. What’s an extra hundred pounds of gear if you have the room? Southwest airlines gives you two checked bags for nothing. And you can sit wherever the hell you want. Hey, brother! You were paying attention and checked in early and now you have a boarding number that lets you get that front row seat, or that please-verbally-confirm-that-you-can-and-are-willing-and-able-to-kick-the-goddamn-door-out-if-we-all-need-to-evacuate-this-bitch extra legroom seat. Or the seat next to the cute girl that looks like she might be a destination local. It is always good to know people in places where layovers are common. (Looking at you, Chicago)
But unfortunately Southwest doesn’t offer a flight to Traverse City, so I was downgraded to American. Southwest gets a bad rap, but I can’t follow the logic. As far as I am concerned, Southwest’s “Hey, we all know that this sucks, so let’s just call a spade a spade, suck it up, and get there with as little fuss as possible” attitude is great. (Two bags for nothing!) American’s $25 a bag each way can lick my taint… But sometimes we all have to do a little taint-licking. Such is life.
The carpeted deck was warm on my feet as I shuffled around, dragging the fish into position. Dave stood and flicked some ash into the white-blue water as Austin put the oars away and picked up the net. Dave looked sullen, but in the best way: The way of someone who is excited but doesn’t want to show it. The way men of a certain caliber act in fun situations, that “aww, shucks” kind of pout that if pealed back would reveal a child’s smile.
It didn’t take long for that smile to prevail.
It was a smiling kind of day.
A smiling kind of trip.
A pretty girl told me I should stay on the island and I thought about it longer than I should have.
Don’t threaten me with a good time, lady.
-Alex who finally got his shit together enough to make a photo edit which will manifest itself here next in the form of a giant pixely dump.
“I don’t have the words. I’m too tired,” I said, leaning back in my seat with a sigh. Dave Grossman stood over my shoulder.
“You want me to guest post it? I have a lot of interesting things to say,” he said through a moonshine smile. “My one rule is you can’t read it before it goes up.”
Maybe tomorrow, Dave. Maybe tomorrow.
Dave and I killed it today. Seriously. A thing of legends. Tomorrow is suppose to be windy. Whatever. Doesn’t matter.
-Alex who only had a little white lightening from the ball jar tonight.
He stood like a statue in the orange misty morning light, looking down. Black plastic tubing snaked by his feet and through and around the plants, appearing and disappearing between the leaves and stalks. Thinner tubing sprouted perpendicular from the main line, carrying up small sprays of water that misted into the air before falling and condensing, forming little drops and drips as it ran toward the dark soil. It sounded like a thousand leaky tires.
He turned when he heard the gravel crunch under my flip-flops as I crossed the driveway heading from my truck toward the house, cradling a towel and a clean pair of underwear in my arm. He smiled. “Morning,” he said. In his right hand pinched between his index finger and thumb was a paperclip that had been partially straightened. He held it up for me to see. “Had a couple plugged ones.” The mental image combined with the stimulus of the running, dripping, spraying liquid brought forth an unpleasant tingly pressure in my bladder, and after a moment of hurried pleasantries I quickly headed inside.
At this point I had been fishing the San Juan river for four days, home-basing from the back of my Tahoe which Chris Taylor, owner of Fisheads Lodge and Guide Service, graciously allowed me to park in his driveway. Thad, who manages Fisheads and lives in the same house, had been a permanent fixture in the yard since my arrival.
The first night I spent hanging around I watched him use wooden posts and orange string to layout a seventy-five-by-four foot section of the yard that bordered the fence separating the property from the river.
“I can’t stand a crooked garden,” he said when he saw me and my beer standing on the grey paver walkway. I motioned towards the turned ground. “What are you going to plant here?” He wiped his hands and turned to look down the rows, his headlamp light soaked up by the dark, wet-looking soil. He told me green beans, maybe asparagus, other various things, but that beer was far from my first and I have to admit that I don’t really remember. He made his way back down the rows, poking at the soil with a long-handled tool.
Behind where I stood was the most visually impressive part of his setup. Naked steel hoops arched over four wide rows. Bright red mulch covered the raised beds outlined with railroad ties. Down the middle of each ran tomato plants caged in round five-foot-tall wire cylinders wrapped in plastic. As well as protecting the plants and giving them support, the plastic creates a humid atmosphere for the plant to thrive. “This is the first year I have used actual greenhouse plastic,” Thad told me. “It is much better than using painters plastic,” he explained, saying that it lets in about three times as much UV light. The downside is that it is much more expensive. About four-hundred dollars more expensive. Worth it? Time will tell, but the happy look on his face told me all I needed to know.
Running down both sides of the tomato apparatus were various types of pepper plants; Anaheim, Naked, Poblano, Jalapeno, Habanero (I think), Sante Fe (probably), Ancho (most likely). We walked between the beds, Thad using his headlamp to point out the different varieties, and talked about techniques and improvements made over the years. He would stop sometimes and point out a plant that needed a little help, saying this one needed a little more (insert chemical here), which he would take care of tomorrow, or how this one needs a little (insert other chemical here). This time of year from early morning to late at night (I think it was around 1:30am at this point) Thad will plant, tend, check, and recheck. And not only at this location. He came home one afternoon as I was re-rigging some gear and told me he had spent all day out at a friends place putting down over a hundred more plants.
Along with the peppers and tomatoes to the west, the green beans, maybe asparagus, and nine other things to the north, there were raspberries, blueberries, bushy little plants, tall leafy plants, plants on tables, and on trailers. Every morning and evening there was Thad, the male version of Hegemone in the San Juan valley.
The night before I left I reclined on the screened porch beside the low burble-talk of the river and shared a home-made pizza with Thad. The dough was airy and perfect, the sauce was from the previous-years canning. The basil fresh from the garden laid gently atop fresh melty mozzarella. Inbetween bites I asked Thad about cost. Wasn’t it expensive versus buying it at a store? I immediately felt like an idiot. Of course it costs more. A lot more, but that isn’t the point. It is a love, a passion, a thing he needs to do. Like fishing for me. But at least after all his time and money and effort, he has things. Delicious things. And lots of them to enjoy year-round. When I left the next day my hobby had netted me a sore elbow, a slight sunburn, and an empty cooler. Well, almost empty, because luckily there are people like Thad, who insisted I take a few pieces of that wonderful pizza for the road.
-Alex who did make an attempt to get ahold of Thad for a little more specific inventory of what he is growing, but alas he wasn’t around and was most likely green-thumbing the shit out of somewhere.
Roughly two feet tall and eight feet long, the pile of magazines slowly grew and collected dust on a low concrete shelf surrounding the cold fireplace in the southwest corner of the converted master bedroom. An addition to the house sometime in the mid-seventies, the roughly 600 square foot red-brick room has served pretty well for my photographic purposes, even though it is not plumbed for either heat (hence the im-my-opinion-totally-useless fireplace) or for cooling (hence the 70’s era wall AC unit that makes strange noises and once tried to kill me with fire).
“One of these days I will get around to cutting all my work out of those damn things.” I would say, usually following someone pointing out the stacks with a raised eyebrow. Early this year that day came, and ended up be a slightly more massive project that previously anticipated, but it was neat to be able to walk back through time and see the progression of the magazines themselves, as well as how my photography grew with experience and gear. The early switch from continuous lighting to strobe, as well as the adoption of a PCE (tilt-shift) lens being probably the two biggest noticeable points. To see all that work in the clean plastic pages of the ITOYA 11×17 Portfolio binders was well worth the effort, and the weight of the combined pages gave a physical presence to the decade-long effort to create good looking, competitive artwork.
January marked ten years of photographing guns and law enforcement related subjects for Harris Publications, and the morning of April 28th seemed business as usual. I woke up to editors copying me on gear and product requests, issuing work orders, and the general hectic banter of email chains that seem to accompany any communication business. The main project needing attention this morning was regarding a feature piece for a new magazine called ARMED. The feature was going to be called Threads, where I would take a model and outfit him with clothing and gear that followed a common theme, similar to building an avatar for a game character. I was working with a dozen companies to get gear and accessories for the initial project, which accounted for about half of the emails on this particular morning.
At 10:47am, everything ended.
The letter was simple enough. On company letterhead and addressed “To Our Valued Partners” the letter quickly announced the closing of the Harris Publications, blaming the “rapid ascendance of digital media, changing consumer content preferences, magazine wholesaler struggles, and consolidation in the supply chain.” And further saying they have “tried mightily to persevere against these forces, but have been unable to overcome these challenges.”
Obviously it was a shock, but I felt mostly for the employees. Editors, assistants, layout designers, and all the other people that had become my friends over the last decade, people who had just had their financial throats slit and given 24-hours to clear out before the doors were locked on 1115 Broadway, New York, NY.
In a freelance or independent contractor situation there is always the potential for the work to end without warning. That is just the way it goes, and I have experienced it before with publication companies in the past. People get shuffled around, the art direction changes, one photographer shoots a style someone thinks is more appropriate for a certain publication, or an editor gets a note to “tighten the belt up a bit,” so no more soup for you. At least, until they find an empty spot on the worktable for you to occupy. That is just the way it is. But this was unexpected, to say the least.
But I would be lying if I said I hadn’t seen some writing on the wall. Two years ago, there was a pretty large cutback in work orders, and the decline was especially noticeable at the big party Harris throws to all their vendors, advertisers, and supporters at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas. However this last year everything seemed back to business as usual and the work resumed, increased, even. I can only attribute that to the theory that the powers that be at Harris wanted to keep the pretense up as long as possible, keeping even their most senior people in the dark. Also, when I met Stanley Harris’s predecessors at the SHOT party last year, I got the impression that these people (his son(s)) had little interest in the publication business, let alone anything regarding guns. However this is only speculation and assumptions on my part, and like Sgt Schultz, “I see nothing, I know nothing, I was not here, I didn’t even get up this morning.”
Consider this a belated shout-out to my people; Nino, Mike, Linas, Shirley, Cara, Richard, Rory, and all the others who appreciated and approved work orders for my blackhawk rides, tactical excursions, silly opener layout concepts, Rio Grande gunboat lounge-abouts (working on my tan), mountain ranger treks, felony warrant ride-alongs, and the countless product projects that ran through the studio. I would be less without your appreciation and direction.
But the show must go on, and it does.
There will be more on this, as one landed editor has already reached out from the ether looking for a familiar face.
-Alex who enjoys the company of good people.
Note – It is currently 2:50am, which already disqualifies me from keeping to my own timeline, but hey, whatcha gonna do.
It is not that I felt particularly mossy, really. Well, not more than usual, I guess, but there were outside forces, events that were out of my control that led to decisions to attempt a higher level of rolling-type behaviour that is good for the cleanliness of the soul, but difficult on the perceived thickness of one’s wallet (even in the most basic of accommodations), which can be an issue when the aforementioned “outside forces” are directly responsible for the filling of said wallet.
“What the hell have you been doing?”
Well, pretty much the same as usual.
What does that mean? Well, hopefully if I can keep my shit together for a week and a half, I will be writing a post a day up until I leave again for Beaver Island.
Yes, folks. The Beav is happening again, and it will be gorious.
Tomorrow – The demise of my biggest freelance client, and my thoughts on the state of the gun-photography nation in regards to my immediate workload.
But for now, here is a photo of me flashing the New Mexico desert my hairy man-nips.
-Alex who still keeps this signature style because K8 from the Rogue Angels once a long time ago said she liked it.
It might have been ten minutes or an hour but it didn’t matter and nobody seemed to mind. When the storm came it moved fast and the trio sought refuge on the deck of a fishing shack where they ate lunch and spoke to others and watched one of the men throw a net and pull out horse mullet that flopped around in the rain on the wet boards. The outboard had sucked some seagrass on the way and overheated and they almost hadn’t beat the wall of wind and water but eventually the engine fired and pushed them to shelter where they sat and ate and talked and when there was blue in the sky they climbed back aboard and ran towards the islands.
The sun had past its noon meridian and cooked the damp air pulling sweat from their bodies. The wind remained and the guides pant-legs rattled like shutters as he polled the boat across the flat left and right and forward and north. The storm had stirred up sea grasses that floated around the boat in long thin fingers pointing at Port Mansfield.
One man sat quietly and the angler stood on the platform. His body made slow movements side to side like he was drunk and he looked back and forth across the thin water. His head turned left as baitfish pushed away and right as mullet jumped near the sandy bank then back left again and the guide called a tailing fish at one o’clock. The wind and the guide pushed right and carried by the two the angler dropped his fly from his hand and the golden-blue tail wagged then disappeared into nervous water made gray-white by distant clouds. They all three stood now silent and watched and the guide pointed, “small wake moving left” he said and the angler began to cast sending the blue line from the deck into the air. “More left” the guide said and the casting angler shifted and the man looked from the water to the angler then back again. “Ten feet left and drop it” the guide said and the angler shifted once more then stopped his rod pointing at the horizon and when the remaining line was lifted from the deck and fell to the water he crouched and began stripping. All three were silent and watched the line and the water and waited but nothing happened. The angler stood tall again letting his hands fall to his sides and the guide looked out over the water and said “I lost him.” The angler brought the fly back to his hand and cleaned a few pieces of grass from the hook then turned to face forward. The man sat down again.
It might be ten minutes or an hour till the sitting man takes the platform for his turn to cast at tails and wakes but it doesn’t matter and he doesn’t mind because this is the salt and these are the flats and time moves different in the mother lagoon.
-Alex who thanks Marvin Chapman for always the good fishing and traveling company and to Ben Paschal from Laguna Madre Outfitters for the great times. We will be back.
What is the first thing that people notice about you?
My beauty. Haha. But seriously I am good looking. It’s true I am a big, but that just means there is more to love. (#BBS) My mountains are some of the best around. I can be a little wild and it is true that my lowlands are pretty marshy, so remember your rain gear and rubber boots. If you are the adventurous type and feel the need to go tromping around in my bush I’m always game, but you should probably bring a gun.
What’s the most important thing you’re looking for in a person?
A sense of adventure. Real people. Rugged, with flannel and gortex and callused hands who don’t mind getting a little dirty.
The 4 things your friends say you are…
Most of my friends live pretty far away, but Hawaii and I stay in touch. Canada is nice to a fault, but a little boring. My ice-sister Russia… we had some wild times back in the Beringia days, but we occasionally have a hard time seeing eye to eye. Russia is one of those places that outside of a party environment is difficult to understand and impossible to know truly, but we probably still have more in common than I like to think. But as far as what I think they would say about me: Wild, fun-loving, dangerous, and strong.
What are you most passionate about?
Remaining true to myself. Being pure. Clean living.
How do you typically spend your leisure time?
My current occupation keeps me pretty sedentary, but I enjoy watching the boats. There is poetry in their movement like the tickling of the first snowfall or the cleansing of the spring runoff. Summer is busy and winter is long and slow but it’s my favorite time. It is the most real, I think. Those who remain are known and familiar. There is a quiet seriousness in the cold twilight that affords reflection. I have to admit, though, it can get a little trying. Times when I feel I can no longer take it I just drop a line to Russia. She’s always down for a good time.
The guide rinsed the knife in the river with a quick back-and-forth motion that made a gurgling sound. The angler sat behind him talking through a smile, “wow, that meat is beautiful, so red. I think we will probably cook this tonight when we get back to the lodge.” He leaned back and cradling his fly rod in his arms. “Yeah, I can’t wait. It looks delicious.”
The guide stood and turned, slowly wiping the blade on a towel. The angler continued. “I cook quite a bit of fish at home. My wife likes it well done, though.” He shrugged.
The guide looked up and a spark flashed across his face as the the sun was momentarily reflected in the knife’s high-chrome steel. He stood perfectly still, the long thin blade gripped in his right hand. His face was in shadow but his eyes seemed to glow beneath the low brim of his hat, from under which brown curly hair twitched in the breeze. The sky darkened and the world hushed: The babble of the river, the lap of the waves against the boat, even the buzzing of bugs and the bird songs all seemed to fade away as if on some galactic dramatic que.
All was still.
Then the guide spoke.
“Don’t cook this well,” he said.
The anglers smile faltered, but for only a moment. “Of course not.”
For two seconds nothing happened.
The guide made a quick movement with his left hand and slid the sheath over the blade with a loud snap and unleashed a million-watt smile. “Okay!” He said loudly, tossing the blade into the fish-box and looked at the other three anglers in the boat. “Who’s up next?”
I am tired and stare at the sun.
Behind thin brown and yellow clouds above the mountain edge it hung looking stagnant, indifferent, cold.
The wind had been increasing all afternoon and we leaned against it. Ladders and men paralleling the shore, following the edge of deeper water like pylons of a missing dock. The breaking waves cause a great din; words were carried away on the air and rolled between the swells so we threw line mostly without speaking but gave the occasional nod or sideways glance to affirm each other’s fortitude.
I am hungry and lick my lips and taste corn dogs.
Corn dogs are a ritual at Pyramid. There is a thing called “fry sauce” which consists of one part ketchup and two parts mayonnaise. Someone said they thought the original recipe had sweet relish, or maybe bbq sauce, but they didn’t know for sure and figured it had something to do with which part of Utah a person came from. Some people mix their fry sauce while others layer it in the little plastic condiment containers like a colored-sand-in-a-bottle grade school project on which you glued a fuzzy little red wig and googly eyes and set on a shelf in your room. Regardless of the method of preparation the mixture was tasty on corn dogs and when the lunch-getters returned with their booty we came down from our ladder and gathered, dipping and chewing like addicts. There is an absent-mindedness to lunch on the water.
Shallots would be a good addition to fry sauce, I think. A little oniony crunch would complement the sweet fried cornmeal batter. Some might feel a high-class item such as a diced shallot has no place among stick-wielded food-stuffs, but I am no snob about that kind of thing. Delicious is delicious, regardless of one’s culinary prejudices.
The majority of corn dogs on the Paiute Reservation are handled by Val, the over-worked and ever-present counter attendant at Crosby’s who is best known by her ability to give very accurate yet amazingly vague fishing reports, take somewhat correct booking reservations, and occasionally give the right people the wrong keys to the wrong trailer, leaving the renters to fend for themselves like the participants in The Hunger Games but where contestants are released onto the grounds to fend for themselves among the maze of trailers and single-wides, hoping that the chosen contestants from neighboring districts realize they are in the wrong bathroom before they sully the toilet.
Lunch seemed a distant memory now. A wave broke against my shins, sending up a cold palm of water between my thighs, slapping my man-parts. I thought about karma.
Can karma be real? Destiny? Fate? Can ones past actions, feelings, and thoughts dictate the outcome of seemingly unrelated future events? Can thinking you will catch a fish actually create success? I suppose it can. The actions of the faith-filled angler are more precise, his mind centered and focused, his time on the water utilized more efficiently. But for how long can one maintain? How many empty casts and unmolested drifts can faith sustain?
Akin to the rise and fall of a wave, the high and low movement of the tide, sways the optimism of an angler.
The sun is gone and I want tacos and a shower. I stare at my sinking line writhing like a snake as it makes its way through the chop. I haven’t touched a fish since before noon. My back is sore. My face and eyes wind-burnt and weary. Landon stood on his ladder to my left, then Ben further down. We moved quickly, almost frantic in the chaos. One more cast. One more cast. One more cast.
I climbed down and uprooted my ladder. As I pushed out for the last time that day thinking about a cocktail and dry socks. Somewhere to my left a camouflage Nomad boat net slowly floated away to the west.
I didn’t bring a flashlight. Well, I did but I left it in the car.
Hadn’t thought about it, really, because everything that I was planning on shooting that night was well lit, allowing the tourists ample ambient light for viewing the monumental glory. I had one speedlight in my bag, but hadn’t taken it out.
Then the lights went out and the screaming started.
I was kneeling on the floor digging through a backpack pocket one moment, the next I couldn’t see. The middle school tour group, as middle school tour group kids will do, began hooping and hollering in the dark, phone flashlights and screens tracing the walls and floor. I had an idea.
20sec exposure. One remote flash per shadow. Middle School tour group supplied the ambient. Ninety seconds later the lights came back on.
On my way out, I asked one of the guards if the light situation was normal. He said no. Never happened before.
This is what it looks like with the lights on:
-Alex who is thankful for the person who accidentally leaned against the switch.
Step 1 – Go camping somewhere cool with happy trees.
Step 2 – Get to campsite without breaking your truck. If you do have issues, surround yourself with fix-it guys to scratch and grunt until repairs are complete.
Step 3 – Pour “creative juice” down your throat and fill your belly with delicious grilled vittles until it is dark and you are ready to work.
Step 4 – Locate your good flashlight.
Step 4 – Find your spot, get your subject properly framed and low-light camera settings correct for the ambient light. I went more in-depth on this in the BI post.
Step 5 – Open shutter and start painting.
Step 6 – Don’t fall down while running around nature in the dark.
This image above gives you an idea what the ambient exposure looks like with and without the flashlight work.
We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.”
“You can do anything you want to do. This is your world.”
-Alex “happy accident” Landeen.
“How’s it up here?”
“‘Bout the same as down there.”
“What do you have on?”
“Well, if you catch something, ask it some questions. Figure out what the hell is going on around here.”
“You want to go down?”
“Well, you want to go up?”
“Do you want to stay here?”
“I don’t know. I think I am just going to sit here for a bit.”
“Stained water is good for streamer fishing?”
“Yeah. Well, I think so. Shit. I don’t know, I thought so.”
“What are you guys going to do now?”
“Evening, boys! How’d ya’ll do out there?”
“Very productive day.”
“Yes, ma’am. I found a perfect spot to take a nap.”
-The Mule Men of NM