Monday, October 27, 2008

Looking For Signs on an Uncertain Trail

One thing that's different about the Colorado Trail from other trails that I've hiked is the markings. Or should I say, lack of markings. The CT can go for miles and miles without a single mark to confirm that you're on the right trail.

I will admit to you that I tend to obsess. Here's how things play out in my head: First you get that little seed of doubt - "Hmm... it's been a while since I've seen a trail marker". Then you start to get a little upset - "why in the world don't they put more marks on this trail"; I'm sure we're right, but uggg... if I have to climb this hill, I'm going to freak". This is usually followed by full blown gnashing of teeth - "This can't be right. A major trail like the CT would have better markings than this. If this is wrong - we won't make it to our camp before dark. We could freeze out here. Did I just hear a bear?"

Today I was thinking about all the bad economic news that's out there right now. It seems like we're all feeling a little like I did on the Colorado Trail. We're asking ourselves "Where's that next trail marker?" Nothing seems solid anymore - and it's easy to second guess whether you're on the right trail or not. And right when the trail is the roughest - you guessed it: No trail markers!

I don't have an answer to the current downturn in the economy. The same can be said for other problems in life. I find that time in the wilderness teaches lessons, and the lessons I took home with me from the Colorado trail are these: Walk in clear and aware consciousness. Pay attention at every cross trail and think through each decision at these crossings carefully. Then in between, walk with purpose. Hold my head up and trust my skills. Know that if somehow I did go wrong, that I'll have the strength and competence to get back on the right trail. Like all good lessons - these are things that are easier to say than they are to live.

Obsessing over the next trail marker makes us miss out on the fun, surprises and joy that life has for us (even in rough times). So - my condolences for your 401K. It's time to lace up our boots (or water sandals) and get out there. Take some risks and push yourself out the door. Winter in Louisiana is the best time to enjoy the wilderness and the lessons it brings in its quiet way.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Clear Creeks, Small Boats, Big Fish

The cool clear waters of the Ouiska Chitto slid silently by the sand beach as we prepped our kayaks. This was a trip that I had been wanting to take since I met Jeshua Smith at Pack & Paddle. He had told me about his passion for fishing creeks that were "small and tight" in kayaks. Jeshua reinforced his talk (and my desire to go) by emailing be photos of stringers of bass they pulled out of these little clear running creeks.

I met Jeshua and his friend Cory at the Calcasieu River Bridge over Hwy 190 near Elton, LA at 6:15 sharp. Jeshua, I could tell, was serious about his fishing and I knew that I didn't want to be late. We left my car at the bridge and shuttled up to Carpenters bridge in his truck with 3 Redfish 10's in the bed. We arrived 20 minutes later at Carpenters bridge to a beautiful scene.

The water was crystal clear, gliding over the sand bottom. There was a light mist rising as we paddled down past the bridge. The light was still very low as we started down the creek. Jeshua and Cory explained to me the technique for fishing these small clear running streams. "There's two ways to fish this. The Buzz Bait is what I call the No-Brainer way of catching fish here. That's what I put on your rod." Jeshua had read me right. I will take the no-brainer way of fishing every time. "The other way is to fish plastics like you would for bass in a lake. We like to give the lure a more movement - and swim it off the bottom instead of bouncing it off the bottom like you would fishing bass in a lake". I threw the buzz bait with the ultra-light rod Jeshua had loaned me for the day. This seemed like something I could handle.

We floated quietly down the creek - looking for deeper "holes" that had a darker look to them - usually around fallen logs and other obstructions. It didn't take long for the action to begin. Jeshua and Cory had fish in the boat within minutes. My first fish came when a Spotted Bass took my buzz bait off the surface in a slow spot on the creek. I missed a couple of strikes and then landed a largemouth bass. As I fished, I could hear Cory and Jeshua exclaiming everytime they caught a bass (which was often!). The banter back and forth covered lots of topics but always came back to fishing. There was trash talking on both sides for beating their personal creek record fish of 3 pounds.

After a couple of hours, I wanted to switch to fishing the plastic creations that Jeshua was using. It took a little while to get used to the technique: Fish the same dark holes, but throw it in, then work the plastic by raising your rod tip to "swim" the bait. I wasn't catching, and started thinking about switching back to the buzz bait. That's when a largemouth bass hit my bait and the fight was on. Same result on the very next cast. Two fish in two casts had me hooked on fishing the sub-surface plastic.

As we fished, we glided past a mixed hardwood and pine forest that was often more than 10 feet above our heads on small bluffs that had been carved out by the creek. White sandbars dotted almost every bend. The water was in constant motion - with no slack pools, making it easy for us to drift without lots of paddling.

Just after lunch (on an inviting sandbar), I was watching Jeshua fish. He would flip his plastic out - sometimes only 5 or 6 feet as he worked the logs and obstructions. I was half watching, half daydreaming when I saw a splash and heard a whoop. I snapped to attention to watch Jeshua's ultralight pole bend almost in half. He worked at controlling something big that was swimming under his boat towards the brush. A few minutes later, Jeshua was holding a HUGE largemouth bass - grinning from ear to ear. You could tell - he was proud to have bragging rights between him and Cory for their personal record. The fish would later weigh out at 5 pounds 1 ounce.

We caught fish all day long - keeping our limit and throwing back lots of fish. What I think I liked most about this type of kayak fishing was the adventure of it. The creek demanded constant attention to your paddling. Boat control was of paramount importance to be able to work the baits correctly. The clear running stream water was wonderful to fish in. We didn't see another soul all day long. It felt as if we were the only fishermen that had ever fished this creek. When we were done, we had that good feeling of having worked hard and played hard. And we each had 10 of the most sweet tasting bass I've ever tried.

In summary, I wanted to say thanks to Jeshua and Cory for a wonderful fishing experience I would like to repeat very soon!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Seeing Clearly in an Election Year

Time spent in the wilderness has a way of making things a little clearer. Becky and I just returned from 37 days on the trail, hiking from Denver to Durango on the Colorado trail. Clear running streams, muscular peaks, Elk bugling through the night, Aspen trees slowly moving from green to gold to red.
While on the trail, I thought about how lucky we are that we live in a country that has a legacy of preserving places like these - not just for Becky and I, but for our son, Matt - and his future children and grandchildren. We as citizens of this great land can access and experience the wonders of these public areas. Lands available from right here in Louisiana all the way to the Artic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
As we hiked the Colorado Trail, we walked through areas in which thousands of cattle were being grazed within the national forest. Miles of trail were torn up by hooves (as well as thousands of 'gifts' being left for us on the trail by this livestock). While I still felt lucky to be hiking these areas, I was disappointed that the government was renting my public land to ranchers raising cattle. Land use issues like grazing, logging and drilling directly affect the quality of these lands now and on into the future.
I, like many of you am inundated daily with the upcoming election. Iraq, the bailout of our economy, education, health care and many other issues dominate the headlines. We all live in a malestrom of billboards, 30 second commercials, biased radio and TV personalities spewing their opinions as facts and media soundbites.
I would not pretend to be qualified to tell anyone how to vote. As a person who treasures the outdoors, I would like however, to bring forward a thought. As people who value the outdoors and the environment, we should put into consideration which candidate we feel would uphold the integrity of our public lands and will govern best for the environment. Factor this in along with the other concerns you have for the new leadership of our country. Then on November 4th, get out and vote!
Native Americans had a concept known as "seventh generation". The Seventh Generation accoring to WikiPedia is an ecological concept that admonishes the current generation of humans to be working for the benefit of the seventh generation into the future. After living in the (nearly) pristine wilderness of Colorado for the last 5 weeks, I feel that I have some clarity that our environment and the use of our public lands should be an election day issue - not just for
me, but for seven generations down the line.

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