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A......TJB Part 5

Posted by Mark Tuesday, May 23, 2017 2 comments



Part 5
It was way past dark when I got home. In fact close to bedtime actually. I knew I was in for it from Mom. I attended to the essential chores of feeding the animals and left the rest for the morning. I slipped in the front door quietly trying not to announce my arrival too loudly.
“Anders, is that you?”
“Yeah Mom” I said sheepishly
I walked into the living room where she was sitting in Dad’s favorite big chair. She had a smile on her face, which eased the situation somewhat.
“You were with Walt weren’t you”?
“Yeah Mom, and it was so fun!” 
The next 10 minutes was a non-stop recounting of the entire afternoon and evening from working on the old Jeep to the hanging out in his shop to the mule ride to the river. I explained with wide-eyed wonderment what it was like to watch Walt cast and fish.
She could see in my eyes that I had experienced something remarkable and knew at that point what I would be focused on.
“You are just like your Dad,” she said with a sigh.  “There’s no cure for that fly fishing bug, I knew it when I married him, I knew that’s how it was gonna be. Now I can see the bug has bit you too.”
“You know I haven’t seen you this excited about anything in a long time Anders. You’ve been a loner since your Dad’s been gone, its good to see you make a friend, even if it is that heathen Walt Mcleod!”
We laughed and talked more about Walt and she told a few good fishing stories about Walt and Dad. Her eyes twinkled and she cried a couple times and I could tell that despite her initial caution and the recent hard times Walt had experienced, she had a respect and love for him that went back many years.
“Get to bed now, you have school in the morning and I know you didn’t do all your chores tonight cause you were out messing around!”  
She swatted me on the rear with a rolled up newspaper, more out of love than discipline and I scooted out of the room in a flash.
“Yes mamma” I said as I ran to my room in the back of the house.
She was playing the stern role but inside I could tell she was happy to see me interested in something again.

School dragged on as usual the next day. I couldn’t wait to get to Walt’s and learn more about fly-casting, fishing and those steelhead!  The bell signaling the end of school again shattered the daydream I was in. I hopped on my bike and raced straight away to Walt’s.
The big lab met me out front on the long driveway and escorted me into a place that would fast become my second home. As I got close, I got off my bike and leaned it up against the shed. Walt walked around the back of the shop with an enormous yellow chainsaw in one hand and an Olympia beer in the other.


“Well don’t just stand there Kid, we got work to do!”
“A big fir came down last night in that wind and it’s laid up on the hay barn roof. You ever driven a tractor Kid?”
“I’m only 12 Walt, not really…”
“Well, today is your lucky day Kid!”
He threw the McCullough 35 saw in the bucket of the old Massey Ferguson and fired it up.

“Get on Kid, let’s go!”
I jumped up into the seat next to him, half sitting half standing and he jammed the thing in gear and we lurched down the rutted road to the barn at the back of the pasture. He swilled beer expertly with one hand while steering with his knee and shifting with the other.
We got to the barn and I could see the big fir on the side of the roof. The tree had broken off mid stem and hung into another tree before finally crashing through and resting on the barn. The other tree had broken the initial fall so the barn had actually sustained minimal damage. The trick now was getting it off without causing any more havoc.
Walt jumped out and drank the last of his beer before assessing the situation. Tossing the empty can into the grass next to the barn he grabbed a bull rope out of the bucket of the Massey and in two minutes had scaled the roof and had the rope tied to the upper part of the tree.
“Now I’m gonna cut this thing down at the base and you are gonna pull it toward the field when I tell you” Walt said excitedly.
I don’t know Walt, that thing is huge, what if I cant do it?”
“Its easy Kid, just do what I tell ya!”
I jumped into the seat, pretty unsure of how this was going to go. The rope was attached to the bucket and the bucket arms were raised up to 10 feet or so. He explained the levers and controls of the tractor, looked at the tree height and had me back up a bit more, and wished me luck. 
“I’m hoping I can just get you to curl the bucket a little and that will pull it where we want it to go, its not gonna need much.” Walt said as he reached for the pull cord on the big saw.
Walt’s plan was to cut and hinge the big tree in the lower trunk so that the bottom went one way and the top came towards the field. The tree was resting pretty vertical now and this would prevent the tree from crashing through the roof and ruining the barn badly.
Walt pulled the cord 6 times and the saw started on the 7th.  He expertly faced and notched the tree putting in what he called a Dutchman to keep the tree away from the barn. The sawdust came out in long ribbons as the saw made quick work of the fir. When he had the tree faced, he motioned to me to curl the bucket up slowly. The rope tightened as the bucket curled and Walt stayed near with the saw, watching the movement of the tree making small cuts to open the back cut when needed. I continued to slowly curl the bucket and could see the tree starting to move. All of the sudden, the tree did exactly what Walt said it would. The bottom of the tree below the cut went backwards and the top swung around and came straight away from the barn and landed in the field out in front of the tractor, perfectly placed, 20 feet short of my position.
“ Glad I backed you up a little there Anders, I love it when a plan comes together!”
Walt gathered up the rope, saw and other tools and laid them in the bucket and climbed into the seat of the tractor as I moved to the side.
“ We can save bucking this up for later, I just wanted to get this thing on the ground. Thanks for the help, you may make a good hand around here yet.”
“Walt, can we go fishing at the home pool again?” I asked hopefully.
“I want to catch one of those things bad!” I continued
“Patience Kid. I want you to practice with the fly rod before you go down there. You have a lot to learn still before I just turn you loose on those fish. I don’t want you stumbling and bumbling around without proper instruction son. If you are gonna do it I want you to do it right. I have a few tips to give ya. These fish deserve respect, they have made a long journey here and they should get our best!”
We got back to the barn at 5:30 and the shadows were getting long. Walt parked the tractor and stowed the saw and gear in the shed. He grabbed a rod off the rack at the side of the barn already strung up from the night before.  He clipped off the fly and plucked a head of rye grass from a nearby stalk and secured it to the end of the fly line.
“There, now you wont hook yourself” Walt chuckled, as he looked me in the eye.
“It will give the fly line the feel of the fly without the possibility of hooking yourself in the backside or something”. He laughed again while nudging me in the arm with a grin.
He quickly pulled off a couple handfuls of line and started false casting in front of me. I memorized the slow and easy motion making note of hand and arm and rod tip position.
“Its OK to turn and watch the line behind you until you start feel the load of the rod. The timing comes with practice”
“Here, you try it” Walt said as he handed me the rod.
It was bamboo and it was beautiful. The rod felt different than the fiberglass rod I had felt and fished briefly last summer.
I tried to remember Walt’s stroke and timing and started casting the rod.  I immediately knew I was going too fast and the line was tailing terribly behind and crashing into itself ending in a pile on the grass. I tried again, and my timing was still horrible. I was forcing it and not feeling it. I knew Walt was going to chime in and I was ready when it came.
“That’s not a buggy whip you’re holding onto there Kid, SLOW down for Pete’s sake!”
‘ I need a beer” Walt said as he disappeared back into the shop and went to the refrigerator.
He emerged with an Oly for himself and a cold Coke for me.  He set the Coke down on the back of an old Studabaker rusting in the grass near me and leaned against the trunk to watch. He tore the tab of the Oly and tossed it in the burn barrel to his right.


“Now kid, remember I said to watch your line on the back cast, wait until it is straight behind you before you go forward. That will help get rid of that tailing loop you have going. And for crying out load, go slow.” And don’t break your wrist, more forearm and less wrist.
“Get your hand a little higher, that’s right, above your shoulder a little more, that’s it!”
He sat and sipped quietly on his beer while I flailed away for the next ten minutes. Eventually, I felt like I was getting the hang of it, carrying 30 feet of line in the air without getting too many tailing loops. My forearm hurt but it was fun and challenging.
I laid the rod against the car and drank heartily from the icy Coke as I watched Walt walk over on the grass and set up a beer can he grabbed from a pile on the side of the old car. He set up 6 cans in all. The cans formed a circle, about 40 feet from the center. Walt motioned to me and I put my Coke down and walked to the center with the rod.


“Now try to hit and knock over the cans with the end of that line. That head of rye will have enough weight if you do it right.” Walt said.
 I tried in vain to hit a can, any can. I was not even close.
Walt grabbed the rod from me after a few minutes, obviously impatient with my progress. He measured out line in the air getting closer and closer to the can with perfect control. When he knew his distance was good, he cast the line and fake fly, hitting the first can and knocking it down. Around the circle he went measuring distance and hitting cans till they were all knocked down.
He set the rod down and guzzled the last of his Oly.
“That’s how its done son. You need precision and grace to cast to these fish. If you are whipping the water to a froth there’s not a fish in the county that will lay around long enough for you to get a shot at them, especially in these smaller creeks.  In low and clear water these fish can see you from a mile away.”

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And the lessons were just beginning………..

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A.......TJB Part #4

Posted by Mark Thursday, March 16, 2017 2 comments




Part 4
Walt scanned the water intently as he walked. I followed behind, stumbling on a bank side rock and almost falling down trying to keep up.  The creek in this spot was about 100 feet wide and the water was around 5 feet deep out in the middle. Walt went up to the top of the run in front of the shallow riffle and sat down on a fallen log and pulled the worn fly box from his vest pocket.
“This is a perfect night to try and fool one up to the surface Anders,” he said as he withdrew a heavily hackled dry fly from the clip inside.
“This is my own creation here.  An elk hair tail, simple natural dubbed body and some spun deer hair up front. I’ve been playing with these materials for a while now and I like how they float. I make a few changes to it every now and again and it fishes pretty well.”
“I call it the Meadow Muffin” Walt continued.
“You name your flies Walt? I said inquisitively.
Well yeah, a flies gotta have a name don’t it kid?
“There are plenty of famous flies out there by lot’s of famous guys and I fish a lot of those flies. I also like to create my own. That’s the fun of fly tying son, there are no rules and you know what? The fish don’t care most of the time if it has the right profile and is sized right for the situation.”
He grabbed the leader from the fly line on the already strung rod and clipped the wet fly off and stuck it in his hat, quickly threading on the new dry fly in it’s place. He tied the fly on in an interesting way. After tying a simple clinch knot, he took the line and put a half hitch in it and slipped it over the eye of the fly and secured the hitch directly under the center of the eye.
“That there is what ya call a riffle hitch, it keeps the fly riding up at the surface when you have tension on the line and its quartered down stream swinging through the run.”
All of this was new to me, fly rods, steelhead, bushy dry flies, riffle hitching, tension on the line; Walt may have just as well been speaking Chinese.  I just wanted to watch him cast the fly line and see what this was all about.
He then greased the dry fly with something out of a small jar and walked to a small rock outcropping that allowed him to be slightly above the water without getting wet.
Wordlessly he pulled line slowly from the reel, the gears and pawl growling low. After he had a little line off the reel he cast the line slightly down stream and the fly landed lightly and came under tension and waked across the surface of the fast, upper part of the run. When it got down stream of him he pulled a bit more line off and repeated the cast. Soon he was casting around 50 feet of line, and it was a sight to behold. There was no wasted motion as he pulled the line off the water at the end of the cast and flipped the whole thing behind him in a smooth fluid motion. Once the line was straight behind him he brought the rod forward, pulling down on the line in his left hand and sending the line out over the water in a tight loop, the fly neatly turning over at the end of the cast, line and fly landing straight and coming under tension immediately. It was a mesmerizing dance of man and fly rod; it was a beautiful thing to watch.
Walt had now made his way to the middle of the run, the water had slowed and there was more depth to the water. Rather than the fast, tumultuous water of the head of the run, the water now was flatter, glass like and swirly at times. The surface water shimmered with the influence of the many boulders just under the surface.
Walt’s fly skittered and danced across the water like a water skeeter, pausing slightly at times only to be torn away by a puff of water to continue it’s down and across arc. Again and again he cast as he slowly moved down the piece of rock he was standing on.
“Ah, it feels good to get out here again and cast” he said after some time.
“I don’t think I fished down here at all the last few years.”
 After the wife passed I just never……..” his voice trailed off without finishing.
Then he began again, his voice noticeably breaking with emotion ”I was in a really bad place there for awhile Anders.”
I didn’t really know what to say, but could relate to what he was feeling for sure, what with my Dad being gone too. I started to think of my Dad again as I watched Walt cast. I fought with my own emotions in that moment, trying to keep it together but I just wanted to cry.
Luckily Walt broke the tension with an excited yell. 
“Did you see that?” Walt squealed in a voice I had not expected from a 70 year old.
I had to admit I had no idea what he was talking about, my mind had drifted to thoughts of my father, the river and what was happening in front of me went out of focus briefly. Snapped back to reality with Walt’s exclamation, I turned and looked to see where he was pointing.
“I just rose a steelhead right over there, right off that break on the far side where that log is laid in the water. I had a feeling he would be there!” Walt then started to pull in his line but did not recast.
“Whatcha gonna do now Walt?” I said, having no clue what had actually happened, or what raising a steelhead even was. My thought was it was a good thing as that’s the fish he was chasing. I expected to see him send the fly back over to the lie and catch the fish.
I’m gonna have a smoke is what I’m gonna do.” Walt said suddenly very calmly.”
“Have a smoke?” “Why? I thought you were trying to catch a steelhead”
“I’m just letting the fish settle down a bit Anders, there’s no need to rush this thing. I know right where he is now, he showed himself to me.”
“What did he do, I was daydreaming and missed it.” I said awkwardly, kicking myself for not watching the whole drift of the fly.
Walt pulled out his pipe and stuffed it full, lighting it with the flick of a match across the leg of his jeans. He took several long draws on it before he continued.
“Pay attention here son, I’m trying to teach ya something. Ya can’t go drifting off into Candy Land and expect to learn anything about fishing. This is important stuff I’m trying to show ya!” He said gruffly.
“Now, raising a steelhead is a big deal Anders. It’s when you get a fish to move to the fly, almost commit and then for whatever reason, miss the fly, or decide he doesn’t want to eat it. The main thing is, we fooled him into showing us a few of his cards.  These cards he showed will tell me a few things.  We know he liked the fly. I now know where he lives, and by the type of rise I have a good idea he’s aggressive and will take another whack at this thing.”
Walt sat down on a corner of the out cropping he was walking down and leaned back against the smooth stone, worn and weathered from a thousand storms. The sun dropped on the horizon and the last rays disappeared behind a big sugar pine tree. I looked over in the field next to the creek and noticed the big mule hadn’t wandered far. The waist high grass kept him plenty busy eating to his hearts contentment.
Walt puffed on the pipe a few more times and then knocked it out on the heel of his boot, the embers fairly glowing in the fading light.  He stood again and regained his position on the rock. The line was coiled up on the rock in a pile, waiting to be recast. The length was the exact distance where the fish rose.
“Imma gonna give it right back to him, same distance as before and see if I can get him to chase it” Walt said, excitedly.
“Oh boy this is fun, I almost forgot how it gets my heart a racing when these fish start to playing with me!”
I wasn’t gonna miss a thing this time. I watched intently as Walt gathered the line from the rock in his left hand and made one false cast backward then forward adding about half the line. In one more move backwards he added the rest of the line and sent it out over the water in a perfect arc. Before the line hit the water he reached upstream and flipped the line straight, the fly then landed light as a feather and started to wake.
My eye was tracking the fly as it neared the soft inside seam below the log, the water was glassy and flat and quite clear.  I saw a large shadow moving quickly toward the fly, it was the steelhead for sure. The fish slowed as it got nearer and then came behind the fly, rising to the surface slowly then refusing the fly again in with a flash of its body.  A slight bulge of water was all that was left on the surface. The fish returned back to it’s lie and the fly continued to swing.
“Oh he’s gonna eat something for sure!” Walt said with confidence. “It just may not be this fly”
He stripped the fly line in through his weathered hands again dropping it in loose coils at his feet. He grabbed the end of the leader and with his teeth he nipped off the deer hair fly and placed it in his hat. He pulled the small wet fly that he had attached to his hat earlier and tied it on.
“This is the comeback fly. I almost feel bad putting it on cause he’s gonna whack it this time. I could keep playing with the dry fly but he’s toying with me. This will seal the deal you watch.“
Walt wound up about 10 feet of line off the rock with a few turns of the reel.
“Whatcha doing that for Walt, wont you be way short of him now?”
“That’s right son, I’ll be a bit short but I want to slip it down to him a couple feet at a time now. I’m gonna re-cover the water a little above him and let him settle again. When he sees this little Coachman, he’s done.
Walt started in casting again and even a little shorter still, holding some line back in his left hand on the first drift. The fly was so small I could not see it and I followed the fly line as it swung, imagining about where the fly would be. Another cast and drift still 10 feet short of the lie. The next cast fell about 7 or 8 feet short of the lie and started to swing, suddenly there was a large boil and Walt’s line went tight, snapping against the guides, the old Hardy paying out line in short staccato bursts.
“There he is Anders! I knew the Coachman would get him!”
The fish was taking line fast and jumped several times. It was a steelhead of 6-7lbs and it was beautiful. Walt played the fish wonderfully but he had gotten to the end of the rock outcropping and could not chase him without getting wet.
The fish jumped two more times and spit the hook, the once taught line now laying limp in the slack water on the edge of the creek.
Walt threw his head back and was yelling and hooting like a crazy man. I had no idea a fish could make a man act like that.
Yahoooooooooooo!  His big voice boomed of the canyon walls with pure joy.
I too was caught up in the moment. I had just witnessed a fish that would change my life.



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A.....TJB Part #3

Posted by Mark Saturday, March 4, 2017 3 comments


Part 3
 The reel was beautiful. It had a worn look on the leaden finish that told of years of loving use. I grabbed the reel off the table when he laid it down. He quietly crossed the room to toss a couple logs on the fire in the stove. The big stove creaked as he opened the door, the heavy cast iron door swung wide as the inviting fire light from inside flickered on the old Indian woven carpet on the floor.
I turned the reel over in my hands; it felt solid and well made. The light gray agate line guide was still perfect, not a crack or check in it anywhere.  I pulled on the backing line, pulling it from the reel in long strokes like Walt had done moments before. I could feel the vibrations of the reels mechanism in my hands as I pulled. The sound was sort of mesmerizing………
“That’s a 1906 you got there Anders, I actually bought that one in England when I was over there almpost 50 years ago. That thing has sure caught some fish!” 
I continued to look at the reel in my hands.  3 3/4 “ Hardy “Perfect” Salmon Wide Spool it read on the side. Hardy’s- Alnwick –Patent was written in a semi circle around the hub.  A smooth brass reel foot was attached to the reel and there was an ivorine knob on the reel handle.
I looked up to the ceiling and recognized the same kind of reel was on many of the rods that were resting on the rack. 
“Walt, (I surprised myself by calling him by his name for the first time) what’s the deal with these reels, why do you have so many of them?”
“ Well” he said after a lengthy pause, “The main reason is that they hold up so well and there’s hardly anything that can go wrong with one. They make them by hand and they take their time doing it. They use real good metal and by golly the reels just last and last.”
“Hey I want to show you something out back,” Walt said suddenly. He got up abruptly and headed to the small door at the far end of the room that led to the back of the shop. Smoke from his pipe trailed behind him as I hurriedly swallowed the last of my Coke and followed him out the door.
I was a bit behind as I rounded the corner of the shop and found myself in front of the home built smoke house. Walt was inside mumbling about this and that, the smell of smoked meat and fish was intoxicating. There were piles of split alder, apple, peach,oak and cherry stacked at the entrance and the smoke from the fire inside was seeping through the gaps in the walls. I approached the doorway and could see Walt had drawn his knife in a flash from the leather pouch on his hip. He expertly carved a small piece off the bottom of the hanging ham in front of him took a quick taste and handed me a piece.
“I’d say that is perfectly done” Walt said smiling with delight.
“That’ll melt right in your mouth I guarantee, it’s the honey cure I use”
I took the morsel in my hand and quickly popped it in my mouth, the flavor was amazing and I immediately smiled my approval.  Walt was watching for my reaction and saw my eyes light up and when they did, his did too.
“Told ya!” He said with a laugh.
“You’d slap your own mammas hand outta the way to get you some of that now wouldn’t ya?”
I had to agree it was good but the thought of slapping my Mom’s hand had me thinking I’d end up getting slapped myself.
“Did you raise that hog yourself”, I said as my eyes scanned the back fourty and noticed a few animals running around back there. A particularly large boar wallowed in the mud by the fence under the pine trees.
“That’s right, I raise all my own food and do my own butchering and packaging. You should see the garden!”
“Wow, that’s neat!”  I said as I reached out to pet the big lab that appeared out of nowhere knowing we were at the smoke house.
“This is Shep” Walt said.  Reaching over to scratch the head of the 110 lb lab.
“He’s ornery and stubborn as a mule but he watches the place and takes good care of the animals and me. A coyote came into the field the other night trying to get a hold of one of my lambs. Old Shep was watching from the tall grass along the ditch line. That Coyote never saw him coming and Shep jumped him and rolled him in the dirt but good, got a good piece of him too, I saw the fur flying! That little wild dog lit out like his ass was on fire, and it kinda was!”
“ You keep them doggies outta here right Shep?” Walt said in the voice reserved for the do
“Hey Anders, you want go look at the home pool?”
“The steelhead should be up in here by now pretty good”
“Home pool?”
“Yeah, I got a great fishing run down there about a half mile from where I saw you the other day.”
The North Fork of Boulder Creek bordered Walt’s property for more than three miles. He owned over 500 acres and I had snuck on the lower end a couple times with my buddy Jimmy but we were just throwing spinners and bait. We were always in there in the early summer. The trout fishing was great but we never had any idea there were steelhead in the creek
“Yeah sure Walt, I gotta be home before dark though or my ma will skin me!”
“Won’t take long to see if there’s one in there that wants to eat a fly. Let me grab a rod and we’ll go!”
Walt disappeared into the shop and came out with a fly rod of around 8 ½ feet. It had a Hardy reel on it and was strung up with what looked like a big bushy dry fly. A bit bigger fly than what I had seen other guys trout fish with.  He also had a small metal fly box and a spool of tippet, both of which he slipped into his vest pocket.
“ I ain’t walking down there, lets take the mule!” Walt said as he headed towards the barn.
He clucked his cheeks together twice and a huge mule came over to him. He gave him a small flake of alfalfa from a nearby bail and gathered the bit and reins of the hook on the wall of the tack room.
“That’s Pete” Walt said as he threw a beautiful blanket across the back of the huge animal.
“No need for a saddle, we’ll bare back it”
He expertly fitted the bit into the mouth of the still chewing Pete and threw the reins over his head until they rested on his mane.
“Here hold this rod while I jump on” Walt said as he climbed the rail corral to get high enough to throw a leg over the gentle giant before us.
I grabbed the rod as he climbed aboard; Pete was fighting the bit a little as he was still eyeballing that flake of hay. I climbed on the rail as I saw Walt do and when he motioned to me,he extended his arm and I swung around and sat on the back of the mule behind him.
“Now this is traveling in style,” Walt said as he clucked his cheeks again and gave Pete a gentle nudge with his boots. Pete responded and moved ahead with the steady gate of an experienced mount.
 It was probably a mile and a half to where Walt wanted to go and I was on back just enjoying the ride.  The late Indian summer sun was still high in the sky. We meandered through the upper meadow, Walt pointing out and naming everything he saw.
Walt said,” Look at that fir tree over there, you see that lightning scar spiraling down the side? I was moving the cows down to the water last year during a big thunder boomer and was right in here somewhere when that sucker hit. I was on Buck my quarter horse and he reared up like Trigger on the Lone Ranger, problem was, I ain’t no Lone Ranger. Left knee hasn’t been the same since, that’s’ why were riding!”
As we rode Walt continues with story after story of his exploits on the ranch. It was a wild and wondrous place for a kid like me. The cares of the world, school, chores, and all the rest melted away.  The steady plodding of the big mule was comforting; he barely felt our weight on his back.
After a few minutes we rounded a patch of madrone and I could see the creek. This was the part I never could get up the nerve to sneak into. It was actually pretty big here, a nice riffle at the top broadened out into a perfect glide filled with rocks and boulders, the water slowing and deepening as it went. It was several hundred yards long and Walt was looking at a particular section as we drew nearer.
Walt spoke excitedly “You see that mid river boulder that is just barely submerged? Look how the water breaks behind it. That rock creates a soft spot that goes on down from there. Fish will look to get into that soft spot and hold. Just like you and me, fish are lazy; they don’t want to work any harder than they have to”
There was a corral near the Creek and Walt guided Pete over to the split rail fence so we could dismount. We both climbed off and he pulled the reins over Pete’s head and let them lay on the grass in front of him.  He wandered around and ate of the tall late summer grass as Walt grabbed the rod from my hands and headed toward the water..........
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Anadromous- The Journey Begins Part 2

Posted by Mark Saturday, February 11, 2017 4 comments

Part 2

The hair on the back of my neck stood straight up as the voice of the Old Man hit my ears.

“Hey! Where do you think you’re going sonny?”

I had made it three quarters of the way across the field when he appeared seemingly out of nowhere. I was scanning the surroundings as I rode, keenly aware of any sign of life. He must have walked out of the old barn next to the windmill; his movements disguised by the wind blowing through the tall basin rye grass and old apple trees that grew in the lower part of the field.

In a moment he was in front of me. My heart pounded out of my chest as he blocked the entrance to the gate that would have put me in the clear. He had a pitchfork in one hand and an old six-gun strapped to his side. I was caught.  The situation I found myself in was not great for a 12-year-old kid.  It doesn’t get any more frightening than this. 

He looked me up and down for a minute, not saying a word. My heart continued to race as adrenalin pumped through my veins. The look on his face was threatening and angry, this was not going as I had planned at all.

“You’re little Anders, Lars Hansen's kid aint cha”?   His sudden calm demeanor and softening facial expression took me aback. He suddenly didn’t seem nearly as scary as everyone had always told me he was.

“Yes sir”, I mumbled quickly, barely getting the words out through the lump in my throat.
Then he said something unexpected that caught me off guard.

"You know, it's been 6 years to the day since that big redwood tree took your Poppa out." 

The words hit me like a splash of cold water. I guess the Old Man wasn't much for being subtle. I missed my Dad terribly and had not thought about the day the logging crew foreman came knocking at the door for years. 

When the big company took over the mill Dad lost his job to mechanization and had to go back out into the woods to fall trees to support the family. It was hard, dangerous work and one day, a tree barber chaired on him and he couldn’t get out of the way fast enough. It took two D8's and a loader to move the logs and recover the body out from under the 7ft diameter redwood. 

Then the Old man started slowly speaking again, deep in thought, his eyes looking vacantly into the west.

 "Your dad.......... he was a damn good man, the best.” His voice trailed off choking slightly with emotion. 

Then he regained his composure and said,   "How’s your Mom? You know she is the best cook in the valley by far, her apple pie is amazing!  I can see you aren’t going hungry boy!”

I was put at ease now by the way he talked. I was probably too little to remember him, but something about him seemed familiar. Some things started to come back now. I had faint memories of early mornings hearing my Dad and the Old Man talking quietly on the front porch, arranging gear and food for a day on the river. I could hear the familiar rumble of the ancient Willys jeep the Old man drove idling in the driveway with his pram on the trailer behind it. The memory faded and I answered him.

“Oh, she’s good, she’s working three jobs sometimes, you know trying to keep the farm and all.”

“Your Dad and I, we used to work together at the mill before it changed hands to the Big Guys. We also spent a good bit of time on the Big River fishing over the years. Once you and your sisters were born we never did fish much anymore, he was always working.”

Then he looked me in the eye and said  “I thought you were that blasted Talbot kid, he spooked my mare into the wire fence awhile back and she and her colt ran off. It took me all day to find them again. I was going to let him have it, you know scare the hell out of him”

He looked at me again and raising an eyebrow and grinning a grin he said. “Hey kid, you ever shot a 45 before?”

I was tempted to stay and shoot the big iron but my responsible side told me no.

" I gotta go Mister, my Mom's gonna kill me if I don't do my chores before dark. Then I have homework to do."

"Chores and school are important and you should get home to do that. You respect your Mom son and do what she says, she needs your help now that you are the man of the house." 

 Then the mischievous grin came back. As he was patting the old single action Army Colt he said "But, if you want to shoot this thing, you come around the house tomorrow right after school. I got some other stuff I want to show you that you might like." 


“OK Mister”, I said quickly not thinking to ask his name, and then I jumped on my bike and headed for home as fast as my pedals would go.
 The whole way I home I thought about what had happened. The Old Man actually seemed kind of nice. He didn’t shoot me with rock salt so that was a positive development. The painful memories of the day my Dad was killed swirled around in my head, brought to the surface from the Old Mans remarks. Why did he have to be so harsh? Why did he have to bring that day up?
I went straight to the woodpile when I got home and started bringing in wood for the night.  My sisters were cleaning up the house, doing their own chores, and getting dinner ready as they always did, since Mom never got home till after 6PM.
Kari, my older sister by 3 years was at the stove when I walked by to stock the wood box. 
“ Where have YOU been mister?”  “You haven’t been messing around at the creek again have you?” “You know Mom wants you to come straight home after school”
“What’s this the third degree?” “What’s it to ya, you’re not the boss of me!“  I snapped angrily as I flipped a split piece of madrone into the wood box with a thud.
“Wow, what’s got you in such a huff?” She said with a loud voice.
The whole encounter with the Old Man had me of out of sorts for sure. Without hesitation I told her of my encounter with the Old Man. She listened intently as I described where I was and what the Old Man looked like.
“That’s Walt McLeod, Dad and he worked at the mill together, they used to fish and hunt all the time before Dad died. He has been sort of a recluse since then and when he lost his wife a couple years ago he sort of went off the deep end, some people say he’s plum crazy now!”
“I know he told me he and Dad were friends, he didn’t seem crazy to me, I thought he seemed a bit lonely really. He said today was the day 6 years ago the tree came down on Dad, is that true?”
She went over to the wall calendar and looked at the date. I went over and looked with her. Mom had drawn a small heart on the bottom corner of the calendar, it was her reminder of the day and we both knew why it was there. It confirmed what the Old Man had told me.
We both stood in silence, as we looked at that little heart there on the calendar, both of us lost in the emotion of the moment.
I looked at my sister, “Kari, I’m sorry I snapped at you. I was just kind of upset thinking about Dad and how much I missed him since he’s been gone. I just got mad. It’s hard without him.
“It’s OK Anders, it’s hard for all of us, I don’t know if it will ever be any easier”
Just then Mom rolled into the front drive. She was still driving the Ford truck that was Dad’s pride and joy. The tires crunched on the gravel as the old truck ground to a stop along the side of the house. The door slammed and in a moment she was up the steps and in the door, dropping her bags and collapsing in the big chair in the front room. She was exhausted.
I ran over and gave her a big hug, climbing up in the chair with her and burying my head in her overcoat. The smell of her perfume calmed me instantly. She didn’t even speak she just closed her eyes and hugged me back for a long time.
Then finally she said “Hey honey, how was school today, and more importantly, did you do all of your chores when you got home?”
“Well Mom, it’s kinda like this” I started out sheepishly.
“I did get the wood in for the night and……
Kari burst into the front room and blurted out  “ He was messing around at the creek again and he got caught cutting through Old Man McLeod’s property, about got himself shot!”
“ What a tattle tale, I can’t believe you!” I said jumping out of the chair and running to confront her.
“Well its true” she said with her hand on her hip.
Mom interjected opening her eyes for the first time and said, “What were you doing on Walt’s place Anders?”  “ That man is not right in the head”
She continued, “Ever since Fran died he’s been kind of unpredictable. He tends to hit the bottle a little too much at times. I’m not sure you should be hanging around with him”
“ He’s not so bad Mom, I didn’t know he was friends with Dad.”
 I then filled her in on the conversation we had, and how he said that today was the anniversary of Dad’s death.
“We looked at the calendar and saw you had written a small heart under today’s date,” I said
“Yes, I put one there every year. It helps me to remember the great man that he was.”
She continued, “ You know he loved you all so much.”
“I miss him Mom.” I said trying not to cry.
“So do I honey, so do I,” She said.
“He told me to come over tomorrow and shoot the gun after school, can I go Mom?”
Mrs. Hansen sat in the chair lost in thought. Deep down she knew that Walter was still a good man and that he was just in a rough patch right now. She had lost touch with him after the accident and in fact had not spoken to him at all since then. He had taken the more recent loss of his own wife hard and sort of pulled back from all his friends. She remembered all the times he and his wife had come over to the house, sat down for Sunday dinner after church when the kids were still little. She recalled the great friendship that he and Lars had. Maybe he could use a little friendship from Anders right now…..
“I need to call him and talk to him first” She said after thinking it over.
“Well Call him Mom call Him!”  I said excitedly
She went over to the phone and picked it up, scanning a phone list taped to the wall she went down the list with her finger, stopping at Walters name. Her fingers worked the rotary dial until all the numbers were in. She grabbed the phone and with the long cord dragging behind she went around the corner into the study and closed the door behind her.

I wanted to follow but knew I should not try to listen in. I strained my ears and leaned toward the door.
I heard her say, “ Hello Walter, it’s been a long time”
And then my sister grabbed me by the arm and pulled me away from the door and said 
“Don’t be an eavesdropper, if Mom wanted you to hear she would have stayed in the room”.   
It seemed like forever but finally after 10 minutes or so Mom came out of the room. She had been crying for sure.
“Are you OK Mom,” I asked trying to be of some comfort.
“Yes, I’m fine” She said wiping a tear from her eye.
“That call just brought up a lot of old memories about your Dad”
“ I had forgotten just how much a part of the family Walter and Fran used to be”
“We both have a lot in common you know Anders, we have both lost our spouses and it was so good to speak to him again”
“You can go over there after school as long as you get home for chores, and let’s be clear, there will be no shooting of that pistol!”
“OK Mom”
We sat down for dinner and I wolfed my stew down in a few minutes, knowing full well I had chores and schoolwork left. My little sister Astrid cleared the plates and did the dishes then went back out to the barn where she was tending to a new litter of puppies that had just been born. She was the animal lover of the family and she was actually starting to do a lot of the farm animal feeding and such.  For a nine year old she was pretty tough and she had a good bit of Tomboy in her.
I raced through my chores and got to my schoolwork. I hated math with a passion and it was always the subject that threw me for a loop. I struggled with some figures and finally finished my assignment. Tomorrow could not come fast enough. It was good that Mom had called him, if she trusted him then so could I. The mystery of the Old Man and what I would encounter at the big log house at the end of the lane were the last thoughts before I drifted off to sleep.
I rode to school the long way, riding by the front of the drive that led down the lane to the Old Mans house. I knew his name now but he was still the Old Man to me.  I strained my eyes to see anything interesting down the lane. It was overgrown with rhododendron, oak, maple and madrone. Towering redwoods lined the lane and it looked like a tunnel through the dense foliage. His house was the only house on the road and was completely invisible behind 30 years of neglected trees and shrubs that were once a well manicured front yard.  The Old Man wasn’t much for yard work anymore it seemed.
School was boring as usual, I could barely focus and my teacher again noted it as I filed out of the class. I hopped on my bike slinging my backpack over my shoulder as I mounted the seat. I rode straight to the long lane and looked down again to the end where I knew the house sat. After taking it all in I started down the one lane road. As I drew within a quarter mile of the house the most amazing smells started to hit my nostrils. Alder smoke from a smoker was first to attack my senses.  He must have some early fall Chinook going in the smoker already I thought. Then fir smoke from the wood stove hit my nostrils. The pungent earthy smell of hundreds of years of decaying forest duff rose up through the air.  The afternoon sun broke through the clouds creating a misty fog that wisped upward from the ground as it heated after the fresh rain. This ground cloud chased me down the road, curling behind my bike as I rode toward the house. 

As I rounded the bend in the road that led to the long driveway to the house, a big black lab rose from the driveway entrance and growled half menacingly. He barked once then looked at me.
“Hey boy, watcha doing” I said as confidently as I could.
He cocked his head to the side and then shook off the rain that had collected on his coat as he was sleeping.
He slowly and cautiously came over and I put my hand out for him to smell.  He smelled it and decided I was not a major threat to the property and he started toward the house.  I followed and soon he was jogging slowly beside my bike as I rode.
The smell from the smoker was intense now and my mouth was watering for whatever was in there.  As I got closer I could see the house better. The house was made of log and was fairly large. Various out buildings, shops and barns emerged from the overgrown yard as I drew closer. The big lab lead me to a large covered but open carport attached to a shop. 
I could hear noises coming from behind the open hood of a Willy’s Jeep. As I walked around to the front of the rig he hadn’t even seen me yet. The Old Man was almost entirely inside the engine compartment frantically wrestling with a fuel line that was leaking gas all over
“@##%$% fuel line!  Don’t do this to me now when I’m so close!”
“Hey mister” I said quietly
He turned toward me and raised his head, obviously startled and cracked his head on the open hood of the jeep, which sent him into another cascade of curse words, several I had not yet heard.
“Don’t ever sneak up on a guy like that for crying out loud Kid!”
“You about gave me a heart clutcher!!!” he exclaimed as he rubbed the back of his head with his one free hand.
“Well don’t just stand there looking dumb, go into the work bench and grab me a pair of vise grips and be quick about it, I got a situation here!”
I turned and hurried into the workshop and looked around for a pair of vise grips. Lucky I knew what they were as I could see this was no time for tool identification questions. The shop and bench were cluttered with tools of every kind and shape. Hand chisels and planers crosscut and rip saws, wrenches and paintbrushes. There were welders and band saws, sanders and table saws strewn out across the floor and sawdust was everywhere.  I located the vise grips and was about to head back out to the Old Man when an old photo caught my eye. It was a picture of my Dad and Walt down at the Big River standing in Walt’s pram. Walt was quite a bit younger and I barely recognized my Dad he looked so young. Walt was holding an enormous salmon that looked to be close to 50 lbs. Both of them had what looked like fly rods not the gear rods that most people used in the Big River. I stared at the picture wondering what it must have been like to land that fish on a fly rod.  I must have lingered too long because the Old Man started yelling.
“What’s going on in there, did you get lost?”
“Move kid move, this line aint gonna clamp itself!“
I ran back out to the carport and handed him the vise grips, which he used to quickly clamp the ruptured line stopping the gas from leaking.
“Thanks kid, that’ll hold it until I get the right size line on there” he said as he crawled out from under the hood, still rubbing his head.
“I’m done for the day, I have no interest in fighting this old girl any more today,” he said, obviously beaten.
“It’s a neat old Jeep Mister McLeod” I said admiring the rugged tires and pickup bed still littered with old beer cans and bark from wood cutting.
“Call me Walt would ya, no need for the formalities here kid.”  “Or should I call ya Anders?”
“Anders is fine Walt” It felt funny calling him Walt maybe I would get used to it.
“Your Dad and I spent many a day in this thing over the years. I can’t tell ya how many deer and elk have been in that bed. Lots of salmon, steelhead, ducks and geese have been piled in there as well. Its a game getter, that’s much is sure. Been trying to get it working again the last few years but it needs a lot of work”
“ It was sure good talking to your Ma yesterday” He said
“She really seems to like you Walt, she told me how you used to all be pretty good friends when we were little, how come you never came around anymore after my Dad died?” I asked, thinking I may be probing a little too much.
He got real quiet and didn’t answer me instead he walked into the shop and told me to follow him. Through the maze of shop tools, duck decoys, and half finished projects we went. Endless shelves and cabinets full of canned vegetables and smoked fish lined the back wall. He went into the very rear of the shop and there was an interior door that led into a finished room.
I was not at all prepared for what I was about to see. I entered the room and felt immediately comfortable. A large wood stove was cranking in the corner, the wall lined with elk and deer mounts from successful hunts.  Across the ceiling and on the left side wall and mounted on various racks were fly rods, probably two or three- dozen all with reels and line on them.  Meticulously arranged according to length and size starting from trout rods all the way to salmon.  Paintings of outdoor river and woods scenes adorned the wall and there were framed pictures everywhere. Three Leather chairs and a huge leather couch draped with a Pendleton wool blanket sat arranged around the stove, a huge coffee table made of redwood burl sat in the middle. A desk was set up in the far corner, a tying vice with feathers, fur, materials and various spools of thread lay strewn about across the surface. A wooden gun case with glass front stood on the far wall loaded with lever action and bolt action rifles of every caliber and make. I saw at least three Winchester model 94 30-30’s.  Next to that in a special felt lined glass top case were a good dozen wheel guns and auto loaders of various calibers.
The smell of Hoppes #9 permeated the air near the table where an M1911 45 laid, field stripped and partially cleaned. That smell mixed with the wood smoke and fine leather was wonderful to the senses.


The Old Man went to a desk drawer and pulled out a bottle of some kind of whiskey and poured three fingers into a tin coffee cup and took a long swig.
“There’s pop in that refrigerator back there kid, go grab yourself a Coke if you want” he said taking another drink from the cup
“You have a refrigerator in here?”  “That’s neat!”
I went to the refrigerator and opened it. Inside were several cases of Rainier beer and a half dozen of bottles of Coke. I grabbed one and closed the door, using the mounted opener on the side of the fridge to pop the cap off. Oh man, this is the best garage ever I thought as I took a drink on the chilled Coke.
The Old Man had settled into one of the big leather chairs and had his feet up on the table. He pulled a pipe out of his vest pocket and packed it tight with tobacco. Grabbing a Diamond strike anywhere match off the side table, he flicked it along the underside of the pipe and it flamed to life.  He drew on the pipe long and hard until it was well lit. He puffed contentedly as he fiddled with a fly reel that had been lying on the table.  He was pulling old backing off the reel and the growl of the gear and pawl working in tandem had a certain draw to it.
Grrrrrrrrrr….. Grrrrrrrrrrrrr ……….Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! He was pulling line off in long smooth strokes, smoke rolling out of his pipe that was still clenched between his teeth.
“Hey Kid, have you ever seen a Hardy Perfect before?”


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