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Thursday, July 07, 2005

Everyone should get a life

A long holiday weekend; vacation, really. I took Thursday and Friday off and drove into the mountains to visit one of my old haunts, a forty-acre lake in a Wilderness Area. I had not yet even used my Annual Pass for this year; three years ago I would have been up here four times by now. But at least I remembered the route.

Aside from my activism, which kept me from many things that I enjoy, I had become reticent about my old enthusiasm for chasing fish in mountain lakes, for fear of stereotyping.

I had told a counselor (not my present one; he's great) that I still liked to do this, and her facial expression and body language said, "Aha! NOT A GIRL." The same thing happened when I used an analogy from baseball.

It's very sad. If I've been constrained to certain pursuits by expectations, and gone to the trouble to learn and enjoy the skills involved, why am I suddenly supposed to not like them, or even know anything about them? I feel as though I'm being held to a narrower standard of womanliness than any other woman would be.

A similar thing happened with gestures. I was told that some other women said: "Risa's behavior is exaggerated; a caricature. Real Women don't act like that." Yet I know women who do -- more so than I was doing at that time (I've since, apparently, toned it down without conscious effort). And they don't have to hear this ... the implication in the phrase "real women" is, of course, that I'm not one. I would note that the critics have a reputation as men-haters. Shades of Janice Raymond.

Sorry! Can't help you there. I'm not doing this for them, but for me. It's to get a life. Everyone should get a life.

Some "femme" things I am going to do badly, because it was a mode denied me for over fifty years. Some "masculine" things I will continue to do well, through long practice. And some of those I may no longer enjoy, and some I may.

I was talking with Daughter's boyfriend about U-boats, and she said, "Busted."


"Girls don't talk about World War Two."

"Well, this girl does."

The boyfriend thought it was funny -- in a good way -- and we finished our talk.

So, about fishing in the mountains: this girl does. 'K?

Before I left, I rolled out my tent and tent fly, checked to see that the folded fiberglass tent poles were the right ones, and laid out on top of the tent a double-a size flashlight, a plastic bag containing a candle stub, space blanket, matchsafe and lighter, compass, vial of Bag Balm, ace bandage, compact mirror, vial of meds (used to be aspirin and multivitamins, now it's those plus calcium, estradiol, and Spiro), Wilderness map, and a tiny sewing kit. Next to this I placed a small tube of sunblock, a landing net, a fly reel pre-loaded with sinking line and leader, and another plastic bag with a container of flies, spoons and the like, another of 4-pound-test line to make new leaders, and a tiny snap-lid box of number 10 and 12 hooks, split shot, and swivels. Next to this I placed a rolled up canvas tote bag. Next to this I put, from the refrigerator, a small styrofoam container filled with moss and several nightcrawlers. I added a two-liter bottle of vegetable juice and a container of milk powder. Last, I added a pair of kayaker's deck shoes, which also make good slippers and camp shoes.

I collected my driver's license, VISA card (for emergencies) and insurance cards and added these to a tiny slipcase that came with my new fishing license and slipped this into my -- gasp -- hip pocket. Pants! I haven't worn pants more than a couple of times in months. I can only say in my own defense that these jeans are size 14, not 38/30. in one front pocket, I put a vial of DEET, and in the other I put a folded multitool. From a belt loop dangled a keychain -size pepper spray and a whistle. Over my cami, I put on a blue shirt, conscious that it buttoned the "wrong" way for me now, but grateful for its long sleeves, and I selected a visor cap, of the kind that has no crown. My earrings I reluctantly set aside in favor of a pair of garnet studs.

I dismantled my fly rod, put it between the halves of my kayak paddle and duct-taped the paddle halves together. The tape could be re-used if necessary, and could serve as a vital part of my skimpy first-aid kit as well. This bundle I stashed in the bottom of the Poke Boat. I then folded my sleeping bag, an old Gerry mummy, and laid it across the treasures on my outspread tent, and rolled up the whole business, tying it off with the guy lines from the rain fly. This much larger bundle I stuffed into the boat, and it pretty much filled it. I added a water bottle (where I was going there is a clean spring, so I didn't need more than enough to get me to it), a headnet (there are huge mosquito swarms up there) and a hoodie for keeping warm at night. Last of all, I slipped the pack frame onto the boat, braced against the gunnels, with a strap from a dog leash wrapped around the stern. The whole business weighs, believe it or not, less than forty pounds, an important consideration as the muscle mass continues to melt from my increasingly feminine frame.

My ride is a 1996 Saturn wagon, and by sliding the passenger seat forward I can make just enough room, with the back seat down, to lift my entire boat-pack into the back, close the back door, climb in, buckle up, turn the key in the ignition and depart for another world.

There were no other vehicles at the trailhead, which was what I had hoped and why I left on a Thursday. I parked, opened the back, slipped into the pack straps and was gone, a turtle with a seven-foot shell, before the mosquitoes quite got it that fresh meat had arrived. The hike-in is two miles, with a drop in elevation of 450 feet. The first part is through an old clear-cut, which has grown considerably since I first went this way, replanted with a variety of true-firs. Then one signs in at the rustic trail kiosk and descends gently though a hemlock forest with an understory of blue huckleberries --won't be any this year -- and then drops over the edge of a precipice by switchbacking sharply down through Douglas firs and hemlocks up to six feet in diameter. The lake is in a bowl between this slope and a mountain over six thousand feet in height, with a historic fire-spotting cabin on its peak that is now gaily maintained by volunteers -- mostly retired rangers.

I found my favored campsite unoccupied -- in fact, the entire area showed no sign of recent human activity -- and unshipped the boat between two young trees that conveniently serve as a boat rack. I dragged out the tent, unrolled it in the level spot (possibly the only level spot for miles), threw everything boat-related back in the boat, and everything tent-related into the tent, zipped up the door, spread the tent-poles, popped up the tent, tied on the fly, and went back over to the boat. Camp, when done this way, can be established in under three minutes, a blessing in mosquito country!

Assembling the rod and reel takes longer. One has a opportunity to fuss over lines, make sure there there are no entanglements, see to the bait and the flies, to check conditions on the water and plan the campaign. It's a form of meditation, known to many men and some women. Like many obsessions, it's difficult to justify to the uninitiated. Some of my friends believe it's inappropriate to kill fish. Some of these even back up their claim by actually not eating fish. Those I truly respect, the others I pay a little less heed to. I believe that what I'm doing has an element of cruelty and I believe that that's part of the natural world. We eat; we are eaten -- or should be. There was a time when we were the proper province of lions, jackals, and vultures. A fish may be taken by an osprey -- there are two of them at this lake -- or by an otter -- I've seen one here -- or by another fish -- the rainbows eat the fry of the brook trout, as do the brook trout themselves, and either of the adults may eat the other if there's enough size difference. Or they may be taken by me.

Beloved and I come from farming families. We have raised ducks, geese, chickens, rabbits, sheep, and one steer, and we know the anatomies of these. I have often thought, while looking down at my work in the barn, how much my own insides must look like this, and felt my kinship with these creatures most strongly at these times. If we have souls, I concluded, then so do they. But I did not conclude from this not to eat them. The sun rises, the sun sets, and it has done so for millions of years. The same flesh returns in many forms as we feed on one another. Somewhere, sometime, there must have been a first self-replicating cell. It wasn't all that long before the children, so to speak, discovered in one another the sustenance they sought.

I do not buy meat in supermarkets.

At this lake there are only stocked fish, the two kinds of trout mentioned above. There were, prior to this century, no fish here at all. The brook trout were brought in in the 1930s by rangers, on pack mules (!!), while the rainbows, who cannot reproduce here, are periodically unceremoniously dumped from a bucket underneath a low-flying helicopter.

I take the ones that offer themselves to me and place them in the canvas tote. At camp, I clean them, roll them up in the tote bag, and place it in the lake underneath a heavy stone. It's a very heavy stone; at one time I used a lighter one, but I once watched a raven walk into the water, disappear beneath the surface, appear onshore dragging the tote bag, untie and unroll the bag, pilfer a cleaned trout, and fly heavily away with it to the trees on the north shore.

You are allowed five trout per day, two daily limits in possession. If a trout was not badly hooked, I took it as a sign to let the fish go. One holds them gently under the belly in a few inches of lake, until they realize they are free and swim away. The others I kept. Five for each day, to be rolled up and kept, cooled by evaporation, till they could be brought home, washed, bagged, and frozen, two by two.

I have never seen the water this clear. Boulders and logs were clearly visible at twenty feet, and I could see trout loitering beneath the logs. Looking down among the fish and features of the blue-green world, then up at the sun-scorched mountain, produced a kind of cognitive dissonance that I found bewildering.

Between times on the lake, finding there was enough breeze to keep off the mosquitoes, I dressed down to my cami top and sat on a boulder a few feet out from shore, brushing my hair. I watched trout jumping at damsel flies, or sipping down carpenter ants that dropped from overhanging brush around the shoreline. I watched the ospreys glide among the trees. I watched shadows lengthen across the water, and a wisp of mist rising. I watched the mountain turn golden, then red. And I watched the stars come out.

The last time I was here, I paddled out onto the lake by moonlight, treated to aerobatics by a good two dozen bats. As I sat there taking it all in, something whacked my paddle blade and fell in the water. A small grey bird flew from the water onto the front deck of the kayak, flapped itself dry enough to fly, blessed me out thoroughly and flew away. I had never seen or heard of such a thing. There's something different every time.

I climbed into the tent, drank my veggie juice, took my meds, crawled into the sleeping bag, and slept for eleven hours. It would take all of that to get me and my forty pound load back up that trail.

-- risa b


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