Monday, August 23, 2010

The Sportsman's Kiss

What I know about fly fishing would fit on the back of a dipteran. Better to ask Bob, Fern Forest Treehouse guest from Montana. Bob and his wife Rachel are producer, director and editor of a fly fishing show on the Sportsmans Channel. Some of the shows feature celebrities traveling the world to fish with host and show creator John Barrett. Imagine fishing with Liam Neeson, Michael Keaton, Kevin Costner, Robert Duvall and Bode Miller.

Bode Miller on water? I thought he was strictly a snow guy.

The only thing I know about fishing comes from my brother Ron, an avid bass fisherman. That’s a much different sport. Seems to me it’s as much about the equipment—the fast boat, the big SUV to pull it, fish finder and lures and expensive accoutrements—and it’s about the competition. There’s big money to be had for pulling in the biggest bass or the most bass or the cutest bass—something like that.

H’s best friend Alex fly fishes Vermont streams. It’s just Alex and a rod and fly and a stream and the fish. He catches and releases. We have to believe him when he says he caught a twelve-pounder. It doesn’t matter. For him fishing is about solitude and nature and finding peace.

Bob is also coordinating producer for Canon Photo Safari and has been to some of the most picturesque locations in the world, including Costa Rica, Antarctica, Ecuador, Alaska, Thailand, Africa, and the Brazilian Amazon. The hosts are world renown wildlife photographers and the guests are—you guessed it—celebrity amateur photogs. Imagine an elephant asking for an autograph.

Rachel directs some of the outdoor shows from a helicopter. Once the copter got too near a mountain, and the tail rotor hit rock and took a nose dive. The pilot managed to maneuver the damaged vessel to the only plot of sand, and all was well, fortunately. That was several years ago, and Rachel says she still hasn’t told her mother about it. So please don’t provide her with a link to this blog.

When they’re not on work adventures, this couple lives in Missoula, Montana, which is rough enough. Bob has spotted wolf, bear, mountain lion and a grizzly in the wilds of the Northwest. He grew up on the east coast about an hour north of New York City, but since he was a boy he dreamed of living in Montana. He went to college at University of Nevada-Las Vegas—could that by any chance be a party school?—and afterward took a job managing a hotel. One weekend a hot young woman came to the hotel with some friends and fireworks went off. Her name was Rachel, and she worked for an outdoor TV show on the Sportsmans Channel. After twenty years of marriage, the rest is history.

Things were pretty tame the two days they spent at Fern Forest. Bob had twisted his ankle hiking Camels Hump and by evening was ready to put his feet up. We drank some wine. They had a soak in the spa. They ate at the Bobcat Café. They went to bed early. They slept in the next day.

After breakfast they hung around and talked. They like to talk. Then they stopped by the Gales’ house, our neighbors who sugar, and bought some maple syrup. Neighbor Jodi says they lingered and talked some more. I guess by now they’re back in the land of grizzlies and wolves and mountain lions. And, of course, fish.

This seems as good a time as any to put forth my poem about fishing. It’s about all I know regarding angling, if that’s what you call it.

The Kiss

Motoring the Chris-Craft on Lake Champlain

we saw a line of thirty geese winging south.

They have internal clocks, and when the alarm goes off,

off they go. We putted into Mallets Bay and counted bass boats

buzzing by, thick as swarms of bees. Evinrudes churning,

noses of the sleek torpedoes lifted like low-flying birds.

A hundred fifty of the best fishermen in the world

fishing for supper money, fishing for fish

they don’t eat. A hundred fifty men

and not a woman among them.

Why don’t women fish? I think

it’s because the boats are out all day

and because it’s hard to hang the butt

over the bow to pee. Men have the advantage there.

I’ve seen men on the fishing channel kiss the bass

before they throw it back. I could love a man who kisses

fish, but could he love me after he’s seen

my white ass hanging over the side

of a sixty-thousand-dollar dreamboat?

It's not a pretty thought.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Oh, Sisters!

Fern Forest hosted our first sisters last week. Christine is a retired teacher from Ontario and brought along Lois, who will be teaching second grade in Vancouver when school starts in a week. Christine is a widow and Lois is recovering from breast cancer surgery, and they thought a dip down into the States would be just the thing.

These two bubbled in from a long drive and appeared to be not the least bit fatigued. We gave them a little glass of wine, and they bounced off to the Bobcat for a bite of dinner. When they came back, they climbed into their pajamas. Lois wears a pale green satin number, and Christine was bundled in flannel. H gave them flashlights and they marched out to the treehouse for the night’s adventure.

In the morning Christine was up first. She slept like a baby in the lower bunk under a down comforter. Lois in the loft was a little distracted by critters skittering across the roof, but she persevered and finally fell asleep until the sun streamed in the window in the morning. Rarely have I met mature women with such zest. Christine asked about everything—H’s lamps and stained glass work, the house design, the artwork—and ahhhed with enthusiastic appreciation. Lois gave us a verbal tour of the cottage she’s designing for herself and hopes to get her hands dirty with some of the building. She also told me about the seven surgeries to remove the cancer and reconstruct her right breast. For the reconstruction, doctors took fat from her stomach and muscle to hold the fat in place like a sling inside the skin.

"I'll show it to you," she said and without waiting for a reply she lifted her shirt and revealed her beautiful, natural looking breast. I didn't reciprocate. My own surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from my left breast was 25 years ago, a lumpectomy followed by six weeks of radiation. I was able to keep most of the breast and the nipple, but Lois and I weren't in a competition. We are survivor sisters.

H was reading the paper in the other room and missed the show. Christine was with us and sat quietly, smiling support. A different kind of sister.

After breakfast, Christine suggested there was no time to dilly dally. They were off to Portland to dip their toes in the ocean and then planned to make their way to Boston where they’d sightsee for a couple days. Then Christine would put Lois on a plane from Logan to Vancouver and would head back to Ontario solo. She lives in a small town on Lake Ontario and next door to a hundred-acre conservation area five minutes from Presquile, a Provincial Park renowned for birds and butterflies. Her home is big enough to host Airbnb guests, so you might get a chance to meet this ebullient lady. She and Lois get two thumbs up from us.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Magnet and the Church Mouse

My friend Amanda is a magnet.
The last time she visited Fern Forest, H and I took her to a
neighborhood Fourth of July party. I’ve never been so popular as when I was standing close to Amanda. Sitting by the pond, we were surrounded by men who wanted to hear about her travels to Asia and India and her work with the Peace Corps. Women got her talking about her stays at Kripalu and about growing up on the Jersey shore. She practices yoga and meditates. Sometimes she eats tofu and raw veggies. Sometimes she pigs out on ribs and bacon. Always she’s vivacious and beautiful.

She was getting off the subway at the East Broadway station, walking up the stairs on her way back from yoga class. Abner was coming back from a class, walking unusually slow.

"Are you okay?" Amanda said.

"Yes," he said. "Just trying to get in touch with my muscles."

Who was this compassionate woman? Who was this man so tuned in to his body?

They talked. Then he asked her to go swimming. He grew up on the Lower East Side and knows of an Olympic size pool that’s free, and he took her there. He’s a strong swimmer and I imagine he looks pretty good in a suit. He’s fit and his Dominican bronze skin and long curly black hair charmed her.

What a couple
they make. Blonde, cherubic Amanda is bubbly and funny with an underlying Jersey acerbic. Abner is pensive and exudes strength and wisdom. When I first met him, I checked his wrists for gang tattoos—he looked that dangerous.

“Are you in a gang?” I asked.

“No,” he s
aid, “I’m a church mouse.”

His father emigrated from the Dominican Republic and became a Pentecostal preacher on the Lower East Side, and Abner went with him to church every Sunday. When he was fourteen, Abner was riding on a flatbed trailer—a hayride with friends—and his foot got caugh
t in a wheel. He was pulled off the trailer and his body wrapped around the tire as the truck rolled over him. His bones were broken, but he told his mother, I’m going to recover from this.

Through faith and will, Abner fought back. He majored in philosophy in college and enrolled in seminary but decided he’d be better at teaching physical education. H
e knows how the body can respond to dedicated work, and he wants to pass on to young people what he has learned.

Amanda has a generous heart and is driven to do good in the world. Yesterday she got on a plane for Trieste, where she’ll teach in an international school for a year. Abner went to see her at Jersey shore. They said goodbye on the dock, where he boarded the ferry back to Manhattan. Did she see tears streaming down his cheeks? Maybe. He speaks a little Italian, and perhaps he’ll visit her. Amanda’s a magnet, and I know she’s going to attract new adventures. And maybe some old ones, too.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

No rocks in our pockets

“They were both in the prime of youth, or even in that season which precedes the prime of youth, the season before the smooth pink folds of the flower have burst their gummy case, when the wings of the butterfly, though fully grown, are motionless in the sun.” (from “Kew Gardens” by Virginia Woolf). Anne-Sophie and Arnaud are in that stage of their lives, drying their wings in American sun before they fly back to Paris, back to their jobs as a teacher and counselor.

Anne-Sophie is a tall French beauty with dark hair and bangs bringing attention to her eyes. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on Virginia Woolf’s short stories and essays and I’m trying to convince her to translate the 500 pages into English for publication in the States. But she’s awfully busy teaching in a school of predominantly North African students and preparing to have a baby in March. Arnaud is thrilled to be starting a family. His mother died when he was very young, and he was raised by various aunts, and he takes his role as father seriously, checking labels to make sure milk and cheese are pasteurized and vegetables and fruits are washed before Anne-Sophie consumes them.

When I first spoke with Anne-Sophie on the phone, I thought she was British, she speaks English so beautifully. Her father said it was important to be fluent in English, and he sent her to spend several summers in Cleveland living with an American family for the experience and enrolled her in a school in England. She helps Arnaud with his English, but even with the language barrier, his intelligence is obvious, and his sweetness is endearing.

They stayed in Fern Forest for four nights, choosing the guest room in the house rather than the treehouse. They’d been traveling in New York and Montreal and asked to use the washing machine to launder their clothes. Anne-Sophie draped the clothes over the line outside rather than using the dryer, and they went out to dinner. When they weren’t back by dusk, I brought in the clothes quickly to keep the dew from wetting them and put them in a basket in their room. The next morning Arnaud came into the kitchen with a spider he had captured under a glass.

“He was in my shirt,” he said. “He slept all night in my shirt and I found him this morning.” He was wearing a black shirt that morning and had laundered the shirt he’d worn the day before that said “Brooklyn” across the front. He held the glass up for me to examine the spider, which looked like a small black widow but without the red spot.

“I don’t think it’s a black widow,” I said. “I’ve never seen a black widow here.”

“Maybe he is the husband of the black widow,” he said.

“No—the black widow eats her husband after he mates with her.”

“I don’t kill insects,” he said. “I—um—surrender him?”

“Free him,” I said.

“Free him? I can say free?”

“Yes, free him outside. But far away from the house. He’ll eat bugs.”

“Fly,” he said. “He it fly.” He held up the glass and spoke to the spider. “I free you to it fly.”

Then he took spider to the other side of the parking area, near the compost, and set him free to “it” fly.

One day they explored Burlington, but the other days they stuck close to Fern Forest. Arnaud took Anne-Sophie to lunch in Bristol or cooked for her in our little kitchen. One night I was working upstairs and smelled garlic sautéing at ten p.m. They don’t have a car and take public transportation to and from work and get home around six. By the time they shop and unwind, dinner is late.

On Sunday I made Vichyssoise and popovers to take to friends’ house for dinner and left some soup and popovers for Anne-Sophie and Arnaud. When H and I returned that night, they had eaten and cleaned up the kitchen and were watching a James Bond movie on TV. I went upstairs, and when I looked over the balcony, Anne-Sophie was reclining on the sofa, her feet on Arnaud’s lap. H was in his favorite chair, and the three were engrossed in 007’s adventures. It seemed so natural to have them in our living room, stretched out, satisfied.

Virginia Woolf killed herself by putting rocks in her pockets and walking into the Ouse River. In their final hours with us, we took Anne-Sophie and Arnaud to the river for a swim below a waterfall. No one had rocks in their pockets.

H had discovered that Arnold was born in the year of the Dragon and Anne-Sophie in the year of the Rabbit.

“Rabbits are the luckiest sign of the Chinese zodiac,” I told them.

“Yes,” Arnaud said. “We are very lucky.” And he kissed Anne-Sophie’s hair.

Before she died, Virginia Woolf wrote, “Beauty is everywhere, and beauty is only two finger’s-breadth from goodness. So, in the name of health and sanity, let us not dwell on the end of the journey.” I’m trying not to dwell on the end of our brief journey with Anne-Sophie and Arnaud but on the beauty of their visit, which was less than two finger’s-breadth from goodness. It was all good.