Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Early Trout Season 2019

Finally, last week, I went fishing.  This was after finishing enough of the yard work which accumulated during the cold, rainy weather. 

My friend Dennis Greninger and two friends were recently on the water, fishing Hot Creek in California’ eastern Sierras.

Dennis and his friends fished with both nymphs and dry flies.  They had good luck with both fly types.  The trout took the nymphs strongly and emphatically, rather than with those subtle hits that require a strike indicator.

The weather in the eastern Sierras was changeable.  It was nice for a time and then a deluge would chase the anglers undercover.  And across the valley from Hot Creek, it was snowing in the White Mountains. 

In my case, going fishing was not a sure thing.  The yard work did something to my back.  In the Introduction to The View From Rat Lake, John Gierach wrote about back pain and said his doctor advised him to “go fishing and if you catch one that hurts you to lift, break him off.  Now if you will excuse me, I have sick people to take care of.” 

Gierach “went fishing. Doctor’s orders.”  Being less tough than that, I was not eager to go fishing sore.

Then Dorothy suggested laying on a heating pad.  Like a Biblical miracle, the back pain receded, and it was off to the water! 

As you can see from the photograph above, it’s intermittently nice in the Northeast.  On this day, the skies were as blue as those that my daughter saw in a trip to remote New Mexico.  But there’s still lots of trees and other vegetation that needs to leaf out.

My first stop was a small stream where, some years ago, I watched with awe when the water came alive with trout hitting caddis flies on the surface.  Even though I was likely in view of these fish, they were recklessly rising, coming up out of the water and eating the fly from above, rather than a delicate, Downton Abbey sipping rise.

Since caddis hatches begin appearing in May, I returned to this stream.   No caddis. No rising flies.  In fact, it was almost no stream.  A beaver dam had blown out, leaving a confusing set of muddy flats, braided stream and mud on tree trunks showing the former depth of the pond.

A Woolly Bugger fly
After seeing no opportunities on this stream, it was on to another stream.  When I got there, it was windy, and the water was high and discolored.  On the first cast of a Woolly Bugger, the current caught the fly and shot it downstream.

When a wet fly rides high in the water, the angler must add weight to the leader, even though that makes it hard to cast smoothly. 

After adding a BB-sized split shot, on the second cast, the fly stopped moving.  When fishing weighted flies, this usually means the fly has snagged the bottom. 

But then, “the bottom” started moving.  A fish, and not a rock or twig, was on the end of the line. 

I got the fly line on the reel and played the fish from the reel, which led to anxious moments with a stubborn fish, strong current and light leader. 

When the fish came into the shallows, it was a fat brown trout, about 13 inches long.

After releasing the trout, I went upstream and fished awhile longer.  While it was great to cast and prospect for places where the fish would be, the fish were either not there or not interested in the way I was presenting the fly.

When fishing small streams, there is a seemingly inexhaustible supply of places where the fly gets hooked on a back cast.  Also, a weighted line makes it harder to cast.  If anyone has any advice on that, please write in. 

Mid-spring angling can be windy but having the extra weight on the line seemed to offset the fly blowing off target from the wind.

This wonderful trip is yet another reminder that it takes a village to catch fish.  Dorothy had the genius idea of the heating pad.  Carl and my former co-workers got me the Beaverkill Angler gift certificate that enabled me to wade safely and dryly. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Fish, Golf Balls, Chocolate and Other Subjects: John McPhee's "The Patch"

In The Patch, John McPhee lights out for a literary territory that will be unexpected for his regular readers.

McPhee, a New Yorker staff writer and author of 33 books, may be most known as an author of longer, non-fiction essays.
John McPhee, (c) Yolanda Whitman
Part I of The Patch, titled “The Sporting Scene,” includes such essays.  In them, McPhee explores pickerel fishing, college football, recovering abandoned golf balls, golf at St. Andrews in Scotland, college lacrosse and encounters with bears.

Part II of the book, titled “An Album Quilt,” however, is where McPhee changes course.  “In an album quilt,” he observes, “the blocks differ, each from all the others.”  The passages in Part II, he concludes, “seem to call for such a title.”

These pieces have “not previously appeared in any book.”  They are shorter than McPhee’s other works and come from the New Yorker, stories from other magazines and work from Time magazine, where the author worked before coming to The New Yorker.

The book’s title comes from the first essay, which is about pickerel fishing.  In addition to providing an essay and book title, “The Patch” is a quarter mile square of lily pads in Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire.  In The Patch, McPhee and his friend George Hackl found some of the best pickerel fishing on the Lake.

McPhee and Hackl pursue pickerel for the breakfast table: “A sautéed young pickerel is more delicious than most fish.”

“The Patch” and McPhee’s subsequent essay, “The Orange Trapper,” illustrate why his writing is appealing.  McPhee shares many interests with his readers.  For example, both he and I are intrigued by pickerel fishing and we both are drawn to retrieving golf balls, the subject of “The Orange Trapper.”

But McPhee takes a subject that a reader already likes and offers new and unexpected information. “The Orange Trapper,” goes beyond retrieving golf balls.  He describes The Orange Trapper, a collapsible device that can retrieve golf balls that are underwater or are inconveniently fenced off. 

He offers a history of golf ball design.  He reveals that, worldwide, golfers lose 300 million golf balls a year. 
After I found these golf balls in the water of Gardiners Bay, perhaps
in 2018  there were only 299,999,994 lost golf balls
In decluttering his life of golf balls, he discovered The First Tee and Swing 2 Tee, two charities that have taught golf to many children, primarily in inner cities, and he has donated thousands of retrieved balls to them.

Once McPhee and a reader connect about a mutual interest, the reader is then receptive to new subjects.  Following “The Orange Trapper” are essays about St. Andrews and college lacrosse.  I never was interested in either topic.  But I was happy to follow an author who can enliven pickerel and golf balls into these subjects.

This ability to draw people in on one subject and bring them to other subjects continues in “An Album Quilt.”  He opens this section with a profile of Carey Grant, which has many positive and negative facts and impressions about the debonair actor that readers may not know.

One of my favorite “Album Quilt” pieces is about Hershey’s chocolate.  In it, McPhee introduces Bill Wagner, a Hershey’s taster, who makes sure Kisses, semi-sweet morsels and Hershey bars always taste the same.  He offers an outstanding description of how cocoa beans are transformed into the chocolate products that the world loves.

Pieces in “An Album Quilt” are undated.  But this piece about Hershey’s and Wagner may foreshadow McPhee’s work on his magisterial geology series.   Making chocolate has a step with a granite roller and granite bed and “Infinitesimal granitic particles have nowhere to go but into the chocolate.”

Before McPhee wrote The Patch, he wrote Draft No. 4, about writing.  If you have time, it’s worth reading Draft No. 4 before or concurrently with The Patch. 
You can see how McPhee’s ideas about structure and openings are in practice in The Patch.  For example, in Draft No. 4, McPhee describes the blind opening, where a writer describes a person before revealing their name.  In The Patch, several profiles have blind openings, surprising the reader when McPhee reveals his subject’s identity.

McPhee’s wit come from the situation; it is dry and self-deprecating.  A piece about computerizing The New York Times’ newsroom has all the banter and arguments between computer experts and users found in contemporary offices.  In “Phi Beta Football,” he relates how his father, the Princeton football team’s doctor, developed an unflavored mix of electrolytes for his players. Later, the Florida College of Medicine developed Gatorade.  Of that discovery, McPhee observes, “The difference between Gatorade and the solution in my father’s buckets was sugar and fruit flavoring - - healthless components that were evidently of no interest to my father or I would be writing this from one of my seasonal villas.”

This book is available for purchase from the publisher , at bookstores or in libraries.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Richard Frisbie: An Appreciation

In 1970, on the new books display at Susan E. Wagner High School’s Library, I found Richard Frisbie’s It’s a Wise Woodsman Who Knows What’s Biting Him: Advice for the Weekend Outdoorsman. 

Richard introduced the concept of “red blood density . . . describing a man’s awareness of himself as red-blooded and alive.” 

In a recent conversation, Margery Frisbie, Richard’s wife, recalled that, after he developed the concept of “red blood density,” that Richard had an appealingly subjective way of calculating red blood density points, as follows: “Suppose you drive to a state park, pitch your tent, and cook on your camp stove a supper of canned stew and coffee with butter, store bread, and cookies.  You gain points for sleeping in the tent and eating outdoors, but the meal itself is neutral and you lose points for using your car.”

He also introduced the miniaturized adventure.  A person might not be able to sail across the Atlantic, he observed, “but you can rig a sail on your canoe or rowboat and leave the shore astern.”
Richard Frisbie's author photograph on the back cover
of "It's A Wise Woodsman Who Knows What's Biting Him"
It’s A Wise Woodsman bowled me over.  It made being outdoors seem fun and something a person could learn to do.  The writing was funny and insightful.  When my father took me and my sister camping at Rudd Pond, he trailered a small, Frisbie-esque sailboat.  He also tried to convince us that hamburgers were a breakfast food; my sister persuaded him to get cereal instead.

Since high school, I’ve taken many excursions, made mistakes, learned things and enjoyed it all.  The spirit of Richard’s writing went on all these trips.
With retirement approaching, I wanted to re-read this book.  My daughter found a copy of it and gave it to me for Father’s Day, 2017.

Writing styles and reader interests change.  Books can be different when re-read.
Yet, It’s A Wise Woodsman reads as well in the 21st century as it did when I was in high school.  Despite 50 years of changes in outdoor technology and practices, it remains relevant and indispensable.  Part of the reason for this is that Richard concentrated on basics rather than on products.  For example, he focused on staying dry while hiking or camping, instead of whether the materials should be Gore-Tex, nylon, plastic or rubber.

One of my most vivid memories of It’s A Wise Woodsman was the witty and irreverent way that Richard dispensed his advice.  “All campsites,” he observed, “include a ridge of granite, virtually invisible in the afternoon, that rises during the night in the middle of your back.”
Richard related many canoeing adventures.  He and Margery vacationed on Cape Hatteras and Richard wanted to sail his canoe on the Atlantic.  “When I mentioned this to my wife,” he recalled, “she held up the book she was reading so I could see the title, Graveyard of the Atlantic.”

Considering Margery’s advice and chastened by the sight of big waves every day, Richard discovered Currituck Sound.
Because the Sound was shallow, few boaters used it.  In his sail-rigged canoe, Richard discovered that “Afloat on the sound I was highly conscious that one shore was the mainland of North America and the other . . . was an island out to sea.  Currituck provided a classic miniaturized adventure - - an ocean crossing between lunch and the cocktail hour.”

After writing "It's a Wise Woodsman" and sailing a canoe,
Richard built his own sailboat and wrote a how-to book about building sailboats.
This painting of Richard's sailboat, Dawn Treader, was done by Richard's daughter, Felicity.

After re-reading It’s A Wise Woodsman, I wondered what had happened to Richard.  A Google search revealed his e-mail and I wrote him a fan letter.

Richard, who was 90 at the time, wrote back.  He explained that he no longer roamed as far afield as he had in the book.  But he continued having miniature adventures nearby, along the Des Plaines River and in the Cook County Forest Preserve.

In July 2018, Richard sent me a copy of a memoir he wrote for Write AcrossChicago.  It detailed how he came to see himself as a writer in eighth grade, when Sister Florence O.P. looked up from a story he wrote and said, “Richard, this is really funny.”

Richard Frisbie reading his memoir.  Photograph by Thomas Frisbie

Richard and Margery, who was a college press officer at Mundelein College (since absorbed by Loyola University) met when Richard was covering a press conference at the College that introduced a new faculty member.  That faculty member was Elizabeth Bentley, a courier for Soviet spies who renounced that life and converted to Catholicism.

Margery is the author of six books, the first co-written with Richard, and a newspaper and magazine writer.  It was she who wrote me this past summer with the sad news that Richard died.

With Richard’s departure, we have lost a great nature writer.

But Richard and Margery have passed on their love of nature and writing.  Their son Thomas observed, "We all still feel his presence every time we put on a backpack or a pair of hiking boots and head out the door."  And all eight Frisbie children are writers. 
Margery told me that she and Richard took their children, “a bag of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a gallon of milk and hied ourselves to the Field Museum.”  “We would,” she continued, “eat lunch on the picnic tables in the basement and then spend the day in the museum.”

This family lore inspired one of the family’s grandsons, to rent the Museum’s Stanley Field Hall for his wedding.  “Will they,” Margery wondered, “serve peanut butter and jelly in honor of our early glorious visits?”

Author's note: Richard had a witty and informative website on writing.  As of now, it is operational and well worth the read. The site also includes Richard's memoir on writing, mentioned above.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Next Up: Two Authors

In a week or two, there will be a new post.  It will be about either the late Richard Frisbie or a new book by John McPhee.
In the meantime, we got two large lemons from a friend.  The photograph of the lemons is below and has standard water bottles in it for a reference. 

If a bartender had these lemons to make twists for cocktails and if a person ordered a martini, the bartender would likely say, "Would you like a little bit of a martini with that twist?"

These glasses, which my mother gave us a few years ago, hold eight ounces of liquid, which is a pretty good size.  But even with that larger size, notice how the lemons extend over the side of each glass. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

St. Patricks Days: Past, Present and Future

My friend Joe Freda recently posted photographs on his Facebook page of Rafter’s Tavern, his favorite saloon in his Catskill village.  Rafter’s, named after the men who navigated long log rafts down the Delaware River, has a bartender who makes a great martini. Its lounge has an appealing fireplace and a well-stocked bookcase. 
Seeing Joe’s photographs got me thinking about my favorite watering holes, the ones that are open and those that have closed.    

Farnham’s Larkin, on Albany’s Lark Street, is the most noteworthy of shuttered watering holes.
For 10 years, the Larkin served Dorothy and me outstanding meals and cocktails.  Alfie Macri owned the restaurant.  His son Paul managed the dining room, with waitresses, Mary, Josie, Lee and others - - and Mitch the bartender.   Mitch made the world’s best Manhattan.  He took the recipe with him when he left, and it remains, if this is a word, unduplicable.
These Manhattans look nice, but taste nowhere near as good as Mitch's
Joe’s photos of Rafter’s reminded me of the wellbeing we experienced when walking through the Larkin’s door.

I also write about the Larkin because we hosted a 1988 St. Patrick’s Day dinner there and it was among the best ever. 

After visiting Ireland in 1987, I was crazed about all things Irish.  When St. Patrick’s Day, 1988 loomed, I started planning how to celebrate what I like to call The Day. 
I was taken by the “Tipperary Hill” neighborhood in Syracuse which has an upside-down traffic light.  My friend in Syracuse, John Sexton, led me to the origin of this light. 

The upside down traffic light on Tipperary Hill Syracuse with a sculpture of
the "Rock Throwers" in the background. Photo courtesy of John Sexton
According to Syracuse’s Parks Department, in 1925, the Stone Throwers, a group of young Irish patriots, “refused to allow the green to hang below the red . . . as a sign of their loyalty to Ireland. After repeatedly refitting the broken glass, the City finally gave up and permanently put the green on top, for the world’s only green-over-red signal light.”

Albany may not have that traffic light. 
However, its residents celebrate The Day in outstanding fashion, with family activities, Irish foods, music and beer.  Albanians can also participate in two parades, in 2019: one in North Albany and a city-wide parade after that one.  My friend Steve Jaffe has attended many of the city-wide parades.  Of all of them he most remembers a past parade where “a large group of marchers carried crosses and other memorial items in remembrance of Bobby Sands," the young Irishman who died after a hunger strike protesting the British presence in Northern Ireland.    

In 1988, St. Patrick’s Day was on a Thursday, the same night the Larkin served a corn beef and cabbage dinner special.  With the holiday and dinner special falling on the same day, I made a reservation.  Our favorite people were there.  We had the only St. Patrick’s Day party with two guests named “Peter Douglas.”  Two kids contributed by crawling under the table and tying shoe laces together. 

Yet no guests tripped.  Everyone loved the corn beef, cabbage, new potatoes and carrots.  There were armadas of beverage for every taste. 
Alfie and Paul hosted many of our family events.  At a birthday party for my father, the cake was larger than the dinner party and my father shared it with fellow diners.

Once, a fellow diner gestured to a woman at nearby booth and described how she would be caught up in the excitement of Reagan Republicans.  He was deflated when we told him that the woman in question was Eleanor Billmyer, the neighborhood’s Democratic County Legislator. 
Stephen Dobyns, the mystery writer, had a night cap at the Larkin with Dorothy and me after he spoke at a Friends of the Albany Public Library Annual Meeting. 

The Larkin has been closed for over two decades.  It’s a loss but we have since celebrated The Day by hosting St. Patrick’s Day parties, going out to dinner, attending sing-a-longs or having an early lunch before the bars fill up. 


Our friend MaryEllen Papin gave us a sample of Irish whiskey last year.  In the photo above, it is displayed in better weather earlier in the year and in the photo to the right, another sample is displayed in the present weather on the one of the coasts. 
Whatever you are and whatever the weather, hope you have a great 2019 St. Patrick's Day! 
To my readers: if any of you were at the Larkin Dinner in 1988 and remember anything, or remember anything different, please write and I will update the historical record!

Friday, March 1, 2019

Los Angeles: Rails, Art and Lunch

Despite its car culture, Los Angeles offers escapes from stop and go traffic.

Our family recently took an enjoyable trip on Metrolink, from the suburbs to downtown LA - - and back.  Metrolink is the regional commuter railroad serving the Los Angeles area.  In addition to LA County service, it’s seven lines and 534 miles of track extend into Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura Counties.

Photograph courtesy of Metrolink
A Metrolink consist, “consist” is the term for the locomotive and railroad cars in a train, includes a front and rear locomotive with up to six double-decker passenger coaches in between.  Passenger seating is basic but comfortable.  Coaches are accessible to people with disabilities.  Each train has a quiet car and a car whose lower level is configured to carry bicycles.  Some coaches even have space for surfboards - - but not on the roof.

A Metrolink train ride is usually smooth and quick.  The ride feels even quicker if the train is traveling next to a freeway at rush hour. 

Photograph courtesy of Metrolink
When you purchase a Metrolink ticket, that ticket allows you to transfer from Metrolink to buses in other transit system or Los Angeles’ subway or light rail lines.  Before you go, check if the transfer is free or requires added payment.  For example, a Metrolink/subway transfer is free; a Metrolink/express Metro Bus transfer requires an added fare.

We took Metrolink on the way to the Broad, a contemporary art museum in downtown LA.  According to the museum’s website, it has over 2,000 works of art, comprising “one of the world’s most prominent collections of postwar and contemporary art.”

Admission to the Broad is free.  However, it’s best to make reservations in advance.   The Broad also has a standby line for walk-up museum admission on a first-come, first-served basis. However, I do not know how soon a standby visitor can enter the museum. 

We went to the Broad to see a vivid and different work of art, Infinity Mirrored Room, The Souls of Millions of Light Years, by Yayoi Kusama.  This Room is one of two at the Broad. 
This “work of art” is a small room that holds up to three adults.  Its walls are lined with mirrors; small colored lights, the size of those on Christmas trees, are suspended in the room. 

Once inside the room, the lights come on and, for several seconds, flash and then stop.  Time in the room is limited to 45 seconds per group. 

The combination of lights and mirrors is amazing.  It appears that a person is landing at an airport near a big city at night with the lights beneath or it appears that a person is standing on a summit and seeing an infinite number of galaxies and stars. 

The museum website cautions, “If you are uncomfortable with flashing lights and/or enclosed, dark spaces, please bypass this experience.” 
After seeing this installation and other works of art, we went down the street to lunch.  We chose Lemonade, a chain of 28 restaurants throughout California, which sells an appealing variety of foods, lemonades and other beverages.  Lemonade's menu has something for everyone, for omnivores, vegetarians and vegans.
Photo courtesy of Lemonade Restaurants
Lemonade has a cafeteria-like serving layout.  Diners take a tray and walk down the line choosing from a great variety of salads, “bowls,” hot entrees, sandwiches, desserts and many lemonade flavors.  

Lemonade Restaurant on Flower Street, Los Angeles.  Photograph courtesy of Lemonade
Food at Lemonade is fresh, appealing and served quickly.  The menu includes traditional food, such as macaroni and cheese or barbeque brisket, and newer recipes such as red quinoa and Fuji apples or kale and faro. 
A Lemonade bowl and, a lemonade.  Photograph courtesy of Lemonade
At the Lemonade on South Flower in downtown LA, manager Rockey Dominguez and his staff were efficient, welcoming and happily answered questions about the food on offer.

A person dining at Lemonade can order as large or small of a meal as they want.  One is not compelled to order one of those super-sized meals that will leave you stuffed until bed-time. 

The ride home on Metrolink was smooth, fast and on time.  As an added bonus, our seats on the upper level of a coach offered a great view of the San Gabriel Mountains and the big weather that they generate.
Thanks to Paul Gonzales, Scott Johnson, Rockey Dominguez and Kelly Hansen for their help in preparing this post!