Friday, May 31, 2013

Happy Birthday, Walt Whitman

Time to remember Walt Whitman again.

In this post from 2011 I talked about the impact his poetry had on me when I first discovered Leaves of Grass as a young man. This is the particular section of that work that was transformative for me then, and that has deepened in meaning with each successive stage of my life. I love this.

Song of Myself, Part 52, from LEAVES OF GRASS

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab
     and my loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadow'd wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.

I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

What a way to live; what a way to go. Thanks, Walt.

Here's more on his life from The Writer's Almanac:

It's the birthday of Walt Whitman (books by this author), born in West Hills, Long Island, New York (1819). Whitman worked as a printing press typesetter, teacher, journalist, and newspaper editor. He was working as a carpenter, his father's trade, and living with his mother in Brooklyn, when he read Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay "The Poet," which claimed the new United States needed a poet to properly capture its spirit. Whitman decided he was that poet. "I was simmering, simmering, simmering," Whitman later said. "Emerson brought me to a boil."

Whitman began work on his collection Leaves of Grass, crafting an American epic that celebrated the common man. He did most of the typesetting for the book himself, and he made sure the edition was small enough to fit in a pocket, later explaining, "I am nearly always successful with the reader in the open air." He was 37 years old when he paid for the publication of 795 copies out of his own pocket.

Many of Whitman's poems were criticized for being openly erotic. One of Whitman's earliest reviews had called the book "a mass of stupid filth," accusing Whitman of "that horrible sin not to be mentioned among Christians." But rather than censoring himself, Whitman added 146 poems to his third edition.

He began to grow a literary reputation that swung from genius to moral reprobate, depending on the reader. Thoreau wrote, "It is as if the beasts spoke." Willa Cather referred to Whitman as "that dirty old man." Emerson praised Whitman's collection as "the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom America has yet contributed," and the critic William Michael Rossetti proclaimed that Whitman was a talent on par with Shakespeare.

Whitman left New York when his brother was wounded in the Civil War, traveling to Virginia and then to Washington, D.C., to serve as a volunteer Army hospital nurse. He had a reputation for unconventional clothing and manners. He wrote, "I cock my hat as I please, indoors and out." With the help of well-placed friends, Whitman eventually found work as a low-level clerk in the Department of the Interior. But when former Iowa Senator James Harlan discovered Whitman worked in his department, he had him dismissed, proclaiming Leaves of Grass was "full of indecent passages," and that Whitman himself was a "very bad man" and a "free lover."

Whitman's friend William Douglas O'Connor immediately came to his defense. He arranged for Whitman to be transferred to the attorney general's office, and he published a pamphlet refuting Harlan's charges. Titled The Good Gray Poet: A Vindication, the small book praised Whitman's "nobleness of character" and went on to quote from positive reviews — and to ridicule Harlan as an under-read philistine.

The pamphlet became more than a vindication: it helped to radically alter the average reader's perception of Whitman as both a writer and as a man: Out with the image of the bawdy nonconformist and in with the "good gray poet," the nickname for Whitman that is still popular to this day.

Whitman spent the last 20 years of his life revising and expanding Leaves of Grass, issuing the eighth and final edition in 1891, saying it was "at last complete — after 33 y'rs of hackling at it, all times & moods of my life, fair weather & foul, all parts of the land, and peace & war, young & old."

Today, most scholars agree that Whitman was likely gay. When he was asked directly, toward the end of his life, Whitman declined to answer. But he did say, shortly before he died, that sex was "the thing in my work which has been most misunderstood — that has excited the roundest opposition, the sharpest venom, the unintermitted slander, of the people who regard themselves as the custodians of the morals of the world."

Thursday, May 30, 2013

"At the Pond" by Mary Oliver

One summer
   I went every morning
      to the edge of a pond where
         a huddle of just-hatched geese

would paddle to me
   and clamber
      up the marshy slope
         and over my body,

peeping and staring--
   such sweetness every day
      which the grown ones watched,
         for whatever reason,

   Not there, however, but here
      is where the story begins.
         Nature has many mysteries,

some of them severe.
   Five of the young geese grew
      heavy of chest and
         bold of wing

while the sixth waited and waited
   in its gauze-feathers, its body
      that would not grow.
         And then it was fall.

And this is what I think
   everything is all about:
      the way
         I was glad

For those five and two
   that flew away,
      and the way I hold in my heart the wingless one
         that had to stay.

Mary Oliver has received a Pulitzer Prize for poetry and a National Book Award. She lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Trout Lake Report: The Fisherman's Economy

May is getting away from you, so you make an effort to get out again. It's still cool, windy, and showery. But the sky puts on a spectacular show that easily tops anything IMAX 3D can do.

You launch at the channel again but head into the north lake and drift with the wind due west down the long shoreline that takes you away from the road and the campground and right to the wildest part of the lake at the base of the mountain.

There are known fish hot spots along here, but with the high water they haven't come into their own yet. But you get enough follows and hits to keep you on your toes.

Down at the farthest distance from the road, in the bay where the shoreline turns north, a stretch that will be alive with Brown Drakes in just a few weeks, you drop the muddler off a log and get the attention of this beautiful fish. Beautiful, and strong. This fish gives the hardest fight of any you've caught this spring.

You do something you hardly ever do on the lake--you check the time. Jeremiah has a baseball game that you want to get to. So you turn and head back the way you came. This time you're kicking against the wind, but you have a right hand cast to the shoreline. Perfect conditions.

More swirls, hits and misses. At one familiar spot where you've caught good Browns before you find a few little fish willing to play. You manage to hook two of them.

By the time you near the take out a new band of clouds is rolling in.

And another waterfall of rain drifts toward the lake.

You pack up in record time and drive through the rain before it gets to the lake. You stop at the house to wash up for the game and find your wife there. You expected her to be at the game already.

"Oh, they changed it to Thursday night," she says in answer to your question. "Didn't anyone tell you?"


But that's OK. In the fisherman's economy that just means you've come out ahead: the universe now owes you a full evening of fishing.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Family Post: Grandson Rodrigo

Had a little family gathering on Monday. Grandson Rodrigo was there. Four months old, and getting cuter and cuter.

Trout Lake Report: A Fly Fisherman's Work Is Never Done

You get away on the Sunday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend. Surrounding lakes are packed with campers. Trout Lake is much better. You're happy that no one is camping at your favorite channel access.

You're still in a muddler mood. You haven't said it out loud, because that might constitute a commitment, but the thought has crossed your mind that it would be interesting to go an entire season using only muddlers. So far they're working beautifully.

You're backing into the breeze down the shoreline along John's Cove when you sit the fly down in one of those fishy slots in the willows. Before you can strip, a fish comes up all back and shoulders and takes out the fly. The pure predatory efficiency is breathtaking. This is a fish good at what it does.

It was perfect. You think you could go home on that one, but you elect to stay and fish some more while savoring the experience. The first muddler is soaked, so you tie on a fresh one. You soon get another take, this one a classic Rainbow whack.

You miss some takes, and hook and lose a couple. You wish your predatory efficiency was half as good as that of your prey.

You get to the end of the willows on the west side of the south end and cut across to the east side. You miss some more takes. Your confidence wanes.

Then you make that one cast out of a hundred, to a stretch of shoreline that looks much like any other, and you start to strip as you have so many times before, and the fly has waked out five, then ten feet from the bank and you're thinking about the next cast, when the fly disappears in a boil and the line goes taut and you feel the weight and the shake--shake--shake of a big head and you know you've just been mugged by a very good Brown.

What a beauty. Before you let him down into the water you lay him across the measure on the tube's stripping apron. It goes up to 18 inches, and you estimate that this Brown lops over a good three or four inches. At least.

You're glad you stayed after that first fish.

You wend your way down the shoreline savoring like crazy. You get some hits, and then you're amused by this little Brown. He hit hard, and he killed the fly. You know what he wants to be when he grows up, and you hope he makes it.

You take a break back under a flooded tree. This time of year, when the water is so high, shallow places that allow you to stand are few and far between. This is one of your favorites of the ones you've scouted out over the years. You take care of business, take a good stretch, and then sit and look at the photos of that big Brown. You feel real good.

You kick out and continue on your way around the lake. Not much is happening and you end up back in John's Cove. You know there are fish along this stretch. You've missed some of them, and seen some of them. And you remember big fish from years past.

You work it over pretty good, without success.

Then you find a fish.

It's a signal. All around you, as the light dims, random rises begin to bloom out in open water. You stick with the muddler and patrol that prime stretch of shoreline for any fish that may begin working the edge.

You find them. There are miniscule rises up along the bank, a fish working right under the willows, and you cast a few times before getting a take. You hook him, but he comes off. You keep watching, and then realize you're seeing tiny ripples radiating away from the bank, even though you didn't see where the rise was. So you cast in as close as you can. You don't need to strip; the fish slams it.

You keep watching--more tiny ripples. You cast the muddler in tight and another nice fish is right on top of it.

And then one more time, but this time the fish bores deep and keeps going and comes off the hook. He felt big.

You try a few more casts, but the moment has passed. You kick across the channel and slip into the willows at the takeout.

As you pack up and drive home you think for the hundredth time about that big, beautiful Brown you caught--and the big one at the end that, like a hundred more before it, got away. How did it do that?

Just goes to show you: a fly fisherman's work is never done. And you're already looking forward to when you can be back on the job.

Dude, Check This Out: Wait, Did I Already Do This One?

Deja vu. CSNY debut album, 1970. So good.

Bonus Question: Who played the pedal steel on "Teach Your Children"? Answer below.

Jerry Garcia

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Skagit River: Catch and Release

The Skagit River has been known historically as a legendary steelhead river. There was another kind of fishing going on there Thursday evening as first responders fished people out of the river after the I-5 bridge collapsed. A truck carrying an oversized load took out several support beams, triggering the collapse.

Kudos to the rescuers. It was all catch and release. Only minor injuries and no fatalities. Like the governor said, a lot of luck and a great rescue team. Good work, guys.

 Photos by Jesse Barnhart, Jimmy O'Connor, and Angie Bantas.