Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry, Merry

For my friends hailing from more temperate climes, a few pictures that you might enjoy a white Christmas from afar.  For my hearty northern brothers and sisters, more of the same.  Soldier on, and we'll make it till May.

For everyone, I wish you the best in whatever you have going over the holidays.  Merry Christmas, happy holidays, all hail Skadi, goddess of winter -- whatever floats your boat, I hope it floats it high and dry.

All my best,


Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Feather Touch

This one is geared a bit more toward the ladies... or, if you're a fella who happens to enjoy sporting a feather or three in your hair, well then... go for it I guess, dude.  I'm not judging.  I'm probably going to alienate a female reader or seven here in a bit, spewing stereotypes and generalizations as I go.  I don't need to lose anyone else in the first paragraph.

There are some universal truths in life -- what goes up must come down and the sun sets in the west.  A flush beats a straight and the Bears still suck (put more generically: the sports team from my geographical area is superior to the sports team from your geographical area, always and in every way).  We hold these things to be true everywhere we go.

If you're a tyer of colorful and flashy warmwater flies, another thing will occasionally happen to you that is as consistent as the seasons.  You can see it coming almost every time.  Open your boxes in front of a non-fishing woman or group of women.  Almost without fail one of them will, in that particular timbre and frequency that is somehow simultaneously jarring and oh, so satisfying to the male ear, oooh and aaah and say, "These would make cool jewelry.  You should make me some earrings!"  

I'm not a social scientist, and I only have the anecdotal evidence that is my life, but apparently, when a member of the fairer sex encounters something small and colorful and sparkly, most of them can't help but lose their mind for a few seconds.  It wouldn't be a stereotype if ... yeah, you get it.  All emails regarding my perceived anti-feminist generalizations will be ignored in the order they are received.

The trout guys are notoriously out of luck here, by the way.  Nobody other than the angler and trout gets excited over a box full of little brown creepy-crawlies, and few outside the fish has ever thought of a dobsonfly nymph as sexy or delicious.  Google one up if you don't believe me.

No, it's us warmwater and big, bitey-fish chasers who tie the flash and sparkle that looks like it might be jewelry to some uninitiated female friends.  The modern equivalent of that unboxing in front of the girls is, of course, the sharing of our pics on social media.  Maybe I'm way off base in all this, or maybe I just tie really girly flies somehow, but if you looked at an archive of my Twitter, Instagram, and (fledgling, admittedly) Facebook tying pics, you'd find quite few requests for jewelry in the comments and replies.

I believe this was the most recent winner in the eliciting jewelry hints game

It was inevitable then, really.  A while back, Randi asked me if I'd like to have a bunch of peacock feathers.  I really would, as it turns out.  That much herl will go a long way, staring a long winter of tying in the face.

I first brought up the subject of peacock jewelry being fashioned in trade for the feathers.  It doesn't really matter who broached the subject, I was almost certain she'd be flatly thrilled at the prospect.  Decades of occasionally opening fly boxes in front of females had already taught me that to be true.  Aside from that, I'm always down for the challenge of trying to make something beautiful.

The irony of putting together feather jewelry as a fly tyer is not lost on me.  Beginning in 2010, I believe, the whimsy of the behemoth fashion industry turned to feather hair extensions, and pretty much kicked the average tyer right square in the teeth.  One article I read said that a buyer for a home shopping channel called a grower asking for a weekend run of 15,000 saddles, more than twice what the grower produced in a year.  Such was the demand for rooster saddles.

Once the craze hit there were simply no grizzly feathers for most of us, and when you did find them, they were usually from a hair salon supplier and almost comically, astronomically overpriced.  To this day they are very difficult to find -- many of us often tie with substitutes or choose different patterns altogether -- but at least you no longer get salt rubbed in the wound by seeing women with perfectly beautiful saddle feathers hanging uselessly in their hair every time you leave the house.   

In any case, we committed fly tyers are a resilient bunch, always with an eye out for new and different materials we can use in our tying endeavors.  Fly shops and online fly tying retailers are, of course, our main source of feathers and fur and little shiny baubles to stick on a hook.  But the low hum in the background of our brains that is the sound of seeking new materials thrums a little louder in the art supply store, the hardware store and many other other places.

There are fly patterns out there that start with everything from flip-flops to seat belt webbing.  Me, I tie one fly with "collie dubbing."  The pooch has cool gray underfur on her rump that behaves much like Laser Dub and she was just lying there watching me tie one day when inspiration struck.  It made sense then, and it still catches fish now.  Best of all, she loves a good butt brushing.  (I'm choosing to leave that softball perched right there on the tee.)

The craft store is a treasure trove of fly tying materials.  Craft Fur, some feathers, Prismacolor markers, beads and beading wire, chenille-- that one stringy looking yarn that is basically polar chenille, only in a multitude more colors.   Eyes in particular are everywhere at the craft store, and not just the doll eyes and stick-on googly eyes (but those do rattle nicely).

The eyes above are made from the "stamens" sold to construct artificial flowers.  The bottom two flies below have eyes made from cheap stick-on rhinestones.  Those rhinestones inspired the entire color scheme, as a matter of fact.

So, I'm in the craft store at least once a month, often more than that.  They know me there.  I've always had a fairly easy touch working my few charms on the mothers and aunts (and sometimes sisters) of the world, and the cute little frosty-permed craft store ladies are no different.  

When one of them found me in the jewelry aisle, looking mildly perplexed, she approached to help.  She knows I'm a fly tyer, but when I related that I'd roped myself into making some earrings and such, she patted my arm, and said, "Oh, hon.  We get you fellas in here all the time.  Here's what you need..."

Having a craft store grandma is pretty sweet.  No snickerdoodles yet, but I'm holding out hope.

There was no more putting it off.  I had to sit down and make some jewelry.  It had been a long time since I sat at the bench (vise now pushed over to the side), and had no idea what I was doing.  Often when I'm struggling to jazz up a well-known fly pattern or come up with one of my own, I start with color.  I have no formal art training -- I vaguely know what a color wheel is, but wouldn't know what to do with one, so it mostly entails me rummaging through bags of feathers, holding stuff up together to see what it looks like.

That's exactly what I did here.  I made a glorious mess of things, hauling out every bag of feathers that had cool patterning or that I thought might look good in the color scheme.  I soon found myself adrift in pheasant skins, strung guinea fowl, soft hackle patches, and whatever else I could dig up.  My side of the mountain... of feathers.

I felt a feather overload flop sweat coming on, so I put all but my favorites away, and began to mock up some layouts.  While there were some struggles initially, and almost no sustained or consistent technique throughout, I did eventually manage to meld some stuff to some other stuff roughly approaching a state of bedazzlement. 

Things I learned about making earrings and hair clip... things with peacock feathers:

  • All the little metal posts and rings and stuff you use to make earrings are called "earring findings."  I had no idea.
  • You don't have to baby peacock eyes as much as I'd thought.  They'll generally hold together as long as you don't completely destroy them tying them on.  That said, some Super 77 spray adhesive would be nice next time.
  • I watched a lot of crafty women go through a lot of shenanigans to get their feathers attached to head pins on YouTube.  Somebody needs to introduce them to fly tying bobbins -- multiple times faster and no hot glue oozing everywhere.
  • You can't "reef" on soft earring components with the thread like you can a hook.  Somebody needs to introduce this fly tyer to a little finesse.
  • I own a number of bins of feathers that might be deemed "ridiculous" by some.  Some of the packs of feathers have never been opened, and that makes me feel slightly like a greedy asshat.

Here's what I managed to cobble together in my initial efforts, warts and all.

A little good old fashioned cherry Kool-Aid dying to get the red there.

I'll never claim to be a crafty jewelry maker, and I don't know how they'd rate in the highly competitive world of peacock jewelry making.  Or if that exists.  But I do know another universal truth in the male world...

... on the occasions you manage to craft something that makes a beautiful woman smile as above, it's often best to stop babbling about it on your blog before you say something idiotic and ruin the whole thing.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Comfort with Discomfort

It would be easy for the uninitiated reader of all the wonderful outdoorsy books and blogs out there to assume that all we do in the outdoors comes with ease and comfort.  One can read entire shelves concerning life afield, and never encounter a mention of biting ticks and mud and soggy feet.  In much of our literature there exists a dearth of reality, in which the protagonists always bag the game with ease and aplomb, and usually have some schmaltzy life-affirming quip to back up their legendary shooting.

Never having experienced the sport, a novice might wade into fly fishing, quite literally, without any consideration given to the fact that they might someday find themselves staring, rather startled and vexed, at an impromptu piece of feathery jewelry dangling painfully from an appendage they'd not intended to pierce.

It ain't always wine and roses out there.  In fact, it rarely is.  A lot of times, it's even gonna suck a little.  If you do what we do outside, you're going to sunburn and shiver, bring home scrapes and bruises along with a full game pouch.  Or end up with a fish thrashing on the other end of a crank bait buried in your leg.  Them's the ropes, but it isn't often addressed in the glossy mags or erudite literature, and I think a touch of reality is in order.

Excursions for most of us common folk begin with throwing the gear and some food in the truck. Then we do what we do all day, and haul it all back out of the vehicle, slightly more muddy than it was when we left home.  There are no dog handlers, no chefs, no maĆ®tre d'.  It's up to us to power through the slogging and sorting, the cold and wet and tired, bird cleaning and deer gutting by headlamp, because this is what we love to do.  The vast majority of the time there are no panoramic vistas or transcendental moments.  Those are the rare treasures we seek but seldom find, and they are that much more powerful in their rarity after countless hours sitting in the cold or stumbling around on slippery river rocks until we take an unplanned swim.

The following is taken from an email I was forced to send to my entire contacts list years ago, as referenced in one of my very early (and pretty amusing, if I do say so) posts here -- Falling Down

It was going to be a glorious morning.

Waders on, fly rod in hand, I made my way down a slick bank to enjoy a few casts before officially starting my day.  It was then that I suddenly found myself flailing at nothing, enjoying a rather pleasant -- if unexpected -- weightlessness.  Followed immediately by a free fall to a muddy, wet finish.  I stuck the landing with my chin, and the Romanian judge gave it an 8.6 with a the full level of difficulty rating.

My phone is toast.  The screen shattered somewhere between the second and third full twist in the pike position, with no way to retrieve the contacts.  It also feels like I bruised my duodenum and sprained sixteen ribs, but that's not the point of this message.  Please reply here with your contact info if you wish your number(s) to be in my phone.  Or don't, if you're sick of me.

Of course replacements are currently backordered, so Verizon has kindly provided me with a lovely Bakelite rotary-dial eight-pound loaner to lug around in case the need to call in danger close air support should arise.

Have a nice day.

It was actually an abysmally useless early Windows phone for the sake of setting the record straight, but that isn't what we're driving at here.  This is: Much of what we do outside leads to a lot of hanging around slightly bored, getting frozen solid or cooked like a brisket.  Yes, there are those glorious moments of accomplishment, but there's also a lot of waiting around in the rain -- and trust me, there's a very fine line between the badass-ery of hunting in the freezing rain and simply sitting in a sopping duck blind like you were dropped there by a short bus.

I recently listened to Meat Eater's Steven Rinella among a panel of guests on a very popular podcast.  In the course of their discussion about the physical demands of hunting, one of the guests (I can't recall which) summed it up by saying that sometimes you just have to become comfortable with discomfort.  I'd never heard it put more succinctly, nor had I realized that was precisely what I and many other outdoorsy folks do without ever thinking about it.

Years ago I took my neighbor and friend in Madison ice fishing for his first time.  He was a professor at the UW, southern by birth, and a hell of a good dude.  An outdoorsy kid decades before, after years cooped in classrooms and meetings he was finding his way afield again in his free time, and I was frankly honored to take part.  He mentioned that he'd like to try ice fishing, so when I knew the bite was on we bundled up, and hit The Triangle on Monona Bay right downtown.

It was a steely hard mid-winter morning with blustery winds, but I didn't own a shelter big enough for the two of us at the time, so we braved it on upturned buckets like everyone used to do.  We caught a passel of fat bluegills before the whirring glow of the Vexilar, and I called it for the warmer climes of home just when I began to worry he was going to turn blue and topple off his bucket in one big frozen chunk.

Months after that, as we drank beer and told stories in my living room -- I think he often took great pleasure in escaping what he termed the "insufferable droning of academicians" with me -- he shared that one of the things he was most struck by from our day together on the ice was that I hadn't worn gloves while I fished.  His wife corroborated this sentiment, stating that he'd repeatedly mentioned it and stared at her dumbfounded when he'd returned home. 

Now, any jigger of panfish through the ice will attest that when the bite is hot, you can't really wear gloves and remain effective.  They eventually get wet and useless or gooped up with fish slime and useless, and you can't really tie a knot or bait a tiny hook with them on anyway, so you end up tossing them aside to get your jig back in front of fish faces with as much alacrity as possible.  And your hands get cold, but you deal with it.

I don't share this story through some need to express online machismo (fishing without gloves had never occurred to me as exceptionally "tough" or even "fucking crazy," to quote our shocked looking southern professor friend), but to demonstrate a reaching of comfort with discomfort.  My hands get as cold as anybody's, but we ice fishermen know that putting gloves on in that moment isn't the right play.  You just ride it out as long as you're on the school.  First your hands sting, then they ache, then it goes away.  As long as they turn pink and not blue or white, you're fine.

Pro Tip- Occasionally huffing and puffing on frozen hands, whacking them on your legs and cussing, or boinging around furiously with your hands thrust between your thighs like you just smacked your thumb with a hammer are all perfectly acceptable substitutions for gloves during short fishing breaks.  But you don't do any of them in front of your male Arkansan neighbor.  You sit somberly and give your best Intrepid Ice Guide thousand yard stare from behind the beard and mirrored shades.  There is a manliness protocol when taking southern guests ice fishing.

When asked how I can stand to sit on a frozen lake or hunt in the rain for hours by my "city friends" I often equate this becoming comfortable with discomfort to being hungry in a meeting or sometime when you can't eat.  You acknowledge it and move on.  Toughen up, Buttercup.  Or alternatively, if you're gonna run for the truck every time you spring a leak and spurt a little blood... or take a massive digger on snowshoes right in front of your buds Pike and Rum Runner moments after proclaiming your expertise to them on said appliances...  maybe stamp collecting is a better option for you.

I'd love to try a hunt of ease and luxury someday.  Maybe a proper English driven pheasant shoot with a scatter gun that costs more than my first car (which isn't really saying much -- almost every shotgun at Dick's costs more than my rust and powder blue Volare station wagon did).  I'd make long passing shots with grace and humble wit, then retire to the library, all herringbone and tattersall, for scotch and talk of favorite dogs in front of a warming fire, the birds and guns left to be tended to by handlers and cooks.  

But my hunt will almost assuredly never end that way.  Instead, I track mud into the house, and drink PBR while starting dinner.  Brian combs burrs out of Buddy and carps about city people.  Or bird watchers.  Or people who ride bikes ("goddamn hippies")... mostly anybody who isn't us.  The man has issues and a rare talent for colorfully entertaining vehemence, but he knows his way around the woods better than almost anyone I know.

Just occasionally though, after all the discomfort, just when you've made your peace and accepted it, there does come that perfect fish or deer or bird.  Or simply a moment of grace, a pittance of quiet understanding at the feet of the natural world.  Perhaps a short escape into that perfect panorama.

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