Woke up a few days ago with itchy eyes, a sudden reminder of the shifting season. On the way to the mailbox, I looked up, and yep, catkins dangling from the alders. Bad news: I’m allergic to alders. Good news: The world is waking up. After months of cool, damp weather, a few torrential downpours, and a lot of darkness, the first signs of bouncing up into spring come as a surprise. The more I looked around, the more signs I noticed–daffodils rising in the neighbor’s yard, tiny green buds on the salmon berries’ crooked canes, a bit of remaining light in the sky at 5:30pm. And all those pollen-filled catkins, on alders and hazels, like the ones pictured above.
Sure, we’ll still have chilly days and months of rain ahead, but this is somehow uplifting. It means wild steelhead in the rivers, spring Chinook not far behind, daylight shellfish tides. And before we know it, we’ll shed these layers of puff insulation and go back to flip-flops and t-shirts. Here we go!
Man plans, Mother Nature laughs. I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I will say it again. And it pretty much sums up our most recent shoot for the film I’ve been working on. The laughter, this time, came in the form of 30 kt winds and torrential downpour. That’s our director, Bones, on the left, and DP, August, on the right, as they wrestle with the very-expensive Red Dragon camera wrapped in the high-tech weatherproofing known as a Hefty bag. The humans are not laughing. Somewhat miraculously, during what added up to about 15 minutes of actual fishing time in a full-day shoot, we brought three shakers and one really nice blackmouth (feeder Chinook salmon) to the boat. Better to be lucky than good. Huge thanks to Matt McCulloch of Tyee Charters for driving a second camera boat in adverse conditions. Thankfully, we’ve all dried out and the camera appears to have survived. Onward!
Another night, another great book event at Patagonia Ballard: So much of the fish conservation work we do involves theoretical, or “paper” fish. We work on populations, runs sizes, escapement goals, and deal with government policies and legal angles. Last night, I spent a thoroughly enjoyable evening reading from and talking with Lee Spencer about his beautiful book, A Temporary Refuge, and a very different kind of fish conservation.
Lee is the guy who, for the last 19 seasons, has stood (or sat) guard over 150 to 500 extremely vulnerable wild summer steelhead as they seek thermal refuge in a cool-water pool of a North Umpqua tributary. You might have seen him in DamNation. His presence deters poachers, who, in the past, used explosives to harvest these fish, earning the pool the local name “The Dynamite Hole.” Lee’s work is fish conservation in its truest sense–personal, specific, intimate. Lee stays, and the fish are not blown up.
But Lee is more than just a guardian; he is an observer, writer and thinker of the highest order. His field notes, taken over the days and years he’s spent quietly watching the pool and its fish, written in clean, deceptively simple prose, make a gem of a book. Talking with him before, during, and at dinner after the event, was even better.
Hey Puget Sounders! I’m going to be reading this Thursday, January 25th, as part of a Writers On The Fly event at Patagonia Ballard. Four authors, fish stories, beer, talk–I think it’s going to be an awesome time. I’ve been part of two events at the Ballard store, and they throw a hell of a party. With all the good food and drink in the neighborhood, might as well make a night of it, too. I’m pretty sure I will.
It must be that time of year. I can’t stop thinking about steelhead and rain-forest rivers. Of course, with a schedule packed with a film project, book commitments, kid basketball and volleyball tournaments and the usual post-holiday glut of “real” work, it’ll probably be at least a month before I can make it out to the coast. But that’s where tying flies comes to the rescue. I can take a little break from the daily grind, twist some feathers and dream. As you can see from the critters above, I’m currently dreaming of high water, light tips and shallow lies. And big chrome steelhead.