Life at the Lake

a diary of living at a small lowland lake


Early moonrise over Lake Ketchum

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Holdover rainbow trout, probably about three pounds or better, caught off my dock recently

Twenty-five years or so ago I took up running. Oh, I was never very good at it; it was mostly jogging, and the distances were not great. But I ran, almost daily. (I recorded some of this in my 1998 book, A Year At The River, also called Country/City.) There is a nice rhythm that comes with the territory of being a runner, even a casual runner, and that person soon learns to enjoy some of it byproducts. I hope there are similar benefits from rowing.

Rowing? A boat?

I dream of a scull, and the lonely rower out on his lake, pulling on those beautiful long-handed oars. They have a single-scull competition in the International Olympics, don't they? I know a store in Seattle's Ballard District where they sell them, but haven't asked the price because I fear I am not serious about it, and they are expensive. It is mostly a dream. But I do have a twelve-foot aluminum rowboat. It will have to do. Yesterday I took it out for the second time this spring. Ostensibly I was rowing, but I was really . . . fishing. Yes, I was trolling for one of the very few holdover trout we have this year. Not a bump, though the previous day I caught a nice one, right off my dock. So I rowed, or rather I trolled. A troller doesn't row fast--which is much to my liking; a troller tries to move at a predetermined speed, regardless of the wind and waves. It is a speed that brings out the best action in his lure. 

That speed is just right for me, most of the time, though there are moments when a sprint may be called for. Usually it is on the way back to my dock, when dinner calls, for this is my favorite time in the day to put out on the lake in my boat. There are similarities, I suppose, between the sprint that a runner makes, as he nears his starting/finishing-up point (and wants to break out into a sweat, breathing hard) and the rower, as he heads for home and dinner. Hadn't thought of it before. Not much of a similarity, on second thought, for I don't want to breathe hard or sweat. But I like a corresponding pull on my shoulders and back, and the way the palms of my hands tingle with effort.
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A writer's dream: To find lying around the house in copious quantities dozens of newly sharpened #2 pencils, with huge red rubber erasers rising from their obverse ends like frost-aroused nipples. - - Comments ()

Yellow Tulips, a sign of spring advancing

The American coot is easy to overlook. It's not truly a duck, only a common marsh bird. Its family is Rallidae, its species-- Fulica americanus, the latter, I guess, to set it off from its cousins in other countries. But ours is distinctly American--common, nondescript, gray as a Northwest day in early spring, a day such as this one.

We have a number of them in residence on the lake. They are probably busily breeding in small nests tucked in among the rushes and cattails. There they will be hard to see and prey upon.
They eat weed, primarily. They either nibble it on the surface, floating or attached to the bottom, or else dive for it; they don't dive deeply and my bird book tells me they disdain small fishes, though I suspect they won't pass up a macroinvertibrate or two. The lake abounds in snails and if I were a coot (and thank God I'm not) I might eat a few slimy Chironomidae larvae.
Mostly they swim around in small droves, or else fly awkwardly, with a lot of excess motion in terms of accomplishing distances in a relatively short period of time. Dark as they are, they have brilliant beaks--short, curved, slightly hooked. And when they swim they have a telltale bobbing motion by which they can be told from a sizable distance. Only the wood ducks bobs like this, and they in no other manner resemble that wonderful, brilliantly colored bird. 

So, what about the coot? Why is it important? Well, it isn't, and I'm not about to make a case. When flushed, they tend to skitter across the lake's surface, wings flapping, rather than take cleanly to the air and flight. They flee, rather than fly away. Often I see them bottoms-up, feeding on the shallow lake bottom.

Occasionally they come up and walk across our dock. Their walk is awkward and their thick bodies that float so well are first seen with surprise. They are seemingly pot-bellied. And their walk is rather a waddle. 

My wife says, "They walk as though they've had knee-replacement surgery." - - Comments ()
From the Penguin Classics, LiPo and Tu Fu, preface:

"The romanization in this book is the still most generally used "Wade-Giles" system:

The apostrophe after a consonant, as in p'ing, represents a strong breath. It is best to pronounce such consonant like an English 'p' (etc.) but to pronounce those without the apostrophe as 'b' (etc.): for example t'ing as 'ting' but ting as 'ding'; ch'ing as 'ching' but ching as 'jing'.

The romanized letter j is pronounced in Pekinese (which this romanization otherwise represents) like an English unrolled 'r'; for example ju as the English word 'rue'. (The supposed Chinese inability to say 'r' applies to other dialects.) Hs- at the beginning of a word is between the sound in 'hew' and the sound in 'sue': hsu."

Got it!
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I always need to place myself chronologically with a writer when I read his book, or a book about him, for what is life if it isn't a mutual race toward death, and whomever gets there last is the clear winner.

Norman Mailer, who just published The Ghostly Art, is eight years older than I, and Jim Harrison's memoir, Off To The Side, is eight years younger than I. I am keenly aware of our ages.I respond more strongly to Harrison's book than to Mailer's. Much of Mailer I've read or listened to elsewhere, since it is drawn from interviews, articles, and book prefaces. As I inch through it, I have the feeling I've heard it all before. There is nothing new here, yet Mailer is one of the leading writer/intellectuals of our time, and his piercing opinions ring true time after time on such writers as Henry Miller, D. H. Lawrence, Faulkner, and many of his contemporaries, most of whom he speaks respectfully of but has minor quarrels with.

Harrison, on the other hand, has led a life more ordinary than I suspected from having read his spicey books as they came out over several decades. A memoir is where you tell all, or as much of it as you can handle, or think your audience can tolerate and still respect you. In his books, and in his articles, Harrison gives the impression he is a big doper, and gives credulous to the idea that it is a viable way of life. And sex in his books is constant, weird, and convoluted. But in real life I am surprised to learn he is still married to his high school sweetheart and, in spite of difficulties, seems not to have strayed much, or else doesn't talk about it in this kind of memoir--which is not to bare all.

As for dope, he never liked marijuana. Qualudes are for women, he maintains. Now, cocaine is more his thing, but most of his life he hasn't had the money for it, and it wasn't until Hollywood bought his novels for the movies that he could afford it. He overindulged, he says, as he does with food and booze. But then he has tapered off all such things lately, due to deteriorating health and infirmities.

He spends two months out of the year fishing or hunting birds. Tom McGuane is a close friend for several decades and Harrison now is moving from Upper Michigan to Montana--that Mecca of all serious trout fishers and claustrophobes--and has another home in Arizona. He is bad with money, he admits proudly, and when he started making a lot of it, it simply disappeared because of carelessness and generosity to his strapped friends. Friends with big names get mentioned frequently, such as Jack Nicholson, who seems to be a friend to many entities, but not to those who have TV programs. And while the parade of big names and things they have done together gets a bit tiresome, it is hard to take Harrison to task over this, since it is all obviously true, and these people now are an essential part of how he lives. Still, his married children and grandchildren, he says, are an important part of his life, and he plans on keeping writing. He is about 65.
Harrison's, in my opinion, is a better book, but Mailer's mind is a superior one, and even though he hasn't much to say that is new, whatever he says is penetrating and gives food for much further thought. - - Comments ()
When we have a bit of sunlight on the fields--rare, this spring--the hawks come out and take up positions on the telephone and powerlines along Pioneer Highway and Fir Island Road. These are northern harriers, formerly called marsh hawks. They are waiting, I take it, for the sunlight to draw out voles and field mice. The hawks spot them, take wing, soar, and dive for the kill. But mostly the hawks (like the rest of us) sit and wait. There are other predatory birds, such as eagles, herons, red-tailed hawks, and a few peregrine falcons.

I remember years ago, fishing the famed Picnic Tables drift on the North Fork of the Stilly, and watching a bright bird fly by overhead; across from me was a closed summer cabin, its front window shades drawn across the large glass expanse that faced the riprapped riverfront.
The large bird flung itself at the glass, bounced off noisily, took up position in a nearby tree, then attacked the window once again. I surmised that it could see something I could not inside the deserted house. Brush and trees obscured my vision and I guessed the hawk could see inside through a narrow slit in the drapes. I guessed wrong. Years later, when I had read some about birds, including birds of prey, I realized that the bird was attacking itself--the reflection of itself. 
It was a matter of territoriality. The hawk--a peregrine--saw itself as the intruder. It was defending itself, its stake in the territory, from itself.

I shall draw no human parallel.
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I hate library books. You got to drop everything else and read them immediately, or else they are suddenly overdue and Circulation begins dunning you. So I usually buy them.

An exception is Jim Harrison's new Off To The Side. Atlantic Monthly Press, 2002, $25. I'd heard it was bad, but since I've read most of Harrison's poetry and fiction, I thought I owed it to myself (and perhaps to him) to read it. But I'd try the library. After all my wife is a retired librarian, and keeps telling me the system "works." Well, maybe--for some.

So I ordered out the book about November of last year, and sure enough the library told me I had reached the top of the waiting list at last. This was early April. So I fetched the book and immediately felt the onus of an overdue notice. I started reading immediately, dropping whatever I was on.

Pretty good and honest. A lot of solid info about what it is like to be a writer like he is. And his life is much more ordinary (read: like my own) than I'd thought. I'd heard the charge that he indulged in a lot of name dropping. After mid-point, when he was a successful novelist and Hollywood was after him with big money, he did indeed indulge in such onerous behavior, but it seems justified. Yes, Jack Nicholson is mentioned frequently, but then Nicholson helped him out and gave him shelter and friendship. Is one suppose to forget about this in a memoir?

Harrison drops a lot of other famous and near-famous names as well, but it is only natural, given the kind of life he was forced to write about in literary honesty. There is a kind of forced humility that often comes to the fore, too, but then there is genuine humility that arises at the same time. For most of his adult life, and for his life as a hand-to-mouth writer, he didn't make more than $12k a year. When, suddenly, Hollywood laid so much money on him, all at once, the contrast is large and affecting. And it was a huge amount.

He spent it, or gave it away, in much the same manner as newly rich athletes do, and couldn't account for where it had gone afterwards, only in general terms. The book stops when Harrison is about sixty-five. With a little good luck, he ought to be able to write for many more years.

I think that the charge of name-dropping is true, but the people who make it are probably name-droppers in their own essential selves, but find themselves without any names to drop. - - Comments ()