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Another poem… this one inspired by my return to the office after a week-long vacation…

Day Dreamer

And all the while as I speed

toward the city and find a spot

to park and cross the busy street

and watch for cars turning left and right

(the drivers not watching for me)

and as I enter the building

muttering hellos and rushing

to catch the elevator

then navigating a network

of corridors toward an office

where voice mail and email await

replies and meetings

are scheduled and grants

are due and letters need writing

and funds must be raised and

all the while –– somewhere else ––

royal        blue        skies

billow with clouds massaging

the crests of grateful

mountains that shelter

secret streams that eddy

and pool and hold

a rainbow of trout.

Being a hat collector, I cannot explain why I waited so long to purchase a Tilley hat.  My hat collection includes a red fez, a jester’s hat complete with little bells, a black bowler, a Stetson and other cowboy hats, straw hats, Filson hats, a squirrel fur hat, a really weird hat made from human hair (no, not a wig), watch caps, a Greek fisherman’s hat, a white “dixie cup” sailor’s cap, hats with ear-warming flaps (these are particularly unflattering), wool, cotton and velvet berets, fedoras, and straw hats.

 

Paper Hat

Paper Hat

 

Also on my shelves are a Salvation Army hat, a German trenker hat with feather, numerous caps suitable for speeding along a country lane in a sports car, Confederate Infantry officer’s hat, a hat for one of Santa’s elves and one for Santa himself, Peter Pan’s hat with a long pheasant feather, two Sombreros,  an official Boy Scouts campaign hat, a WWII women’s Garrison cap, rain hats with floppy brims, a Musketeer hat with a fluffy white feather, a tall white chef’s hat, and countless ball caps – some with logos, some without. Oh yes, and now a Tilley hat.

 

About two weeks before I bought the Tilley, I was shopping in a trendy consignment shop and spotted a saucy little straw Fedora with a blue straw hat band woven right into the crown. The hat had no label, in fact nothing inside except sweat stains. I picked it up and tried it on and lo and behold, it fit. Finding hats – especially vintage hats – in my size, which is six and seven-eighths or sometimes seven, is rare. Let’s just say that one size does NOT fit all. I paid the clerk eight bucks, put the hat on my head and sashayed out the door.

 

I had convinced myself that the straw hat I purchased would be my last. After all, my collection was not as important to me as it once was. I had moved on and hats were, well, passe. Then on Saturday, as I was shopping for .410 shotgun shells at Mark’s Outdoors (having used the last one on the big copperhead in the front yard), I saw it: the Tilley hat collection. Being a hat pundit, I was already familiar with the brand. I knew these hats were built to last a lifetime. I also had a vague sense that Tilleys were somewhat nerdish and being somewhat nerdish myself, I was drawn to the display.

 

I selected a Tilley hat from the rack. It was light creme color with a not-too-wide brim, which I hoped would not rest mid-ear. Before placing the hat on my head, I looked inside the hat to determine front and back. A large label sewn into the hat’s crown described the hat.

 

The Label

The Label

THE FINEST IN ALL THE WORLD

INSURED AGAINST LOSS, GUARANTEED FOR LIFE

(REPLACED FREE IF IT EVER WEARS OUT)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The label went on to describe other virtues of this seemingly miraculous hat – features like UV protection, water repellent, wind cord, et cetera. Then I saw a small brochure tucked under the label. It was the hat’s Owner’s Manual and included the warning to remove before fitting hat. The four-page manual was tremendously informative, providing important details such as “which is the front” and revealing the secret of the secret pocket where one might stow emergency cash or a fishing license. As if this altogether was not enough to convince me to buy, a small sticker on the hat indicated it was a size seven!  

 

I located a mirror in a deserted part of the store and tried on the Tilley. “Not bad, rather handsome,” I lied to myself. (Although I love hats I do not love how they look on my head.) Then, I turned up both sides of the brim using the brass snaps, which “develop a sought-after permanent patina when exposed to salt air”, and swore I would never wear the hat in that fashion unless I was touring overseas.

 

I cannot recall the exact price I paid for my Tilley. It was several times more than the $8 purchase price of the pre-owned straw Fedora and appreciably less than the Panama hats I recently came across online, which go for up to $25,000. I know. $25,000! So, I paid the clerk a reasonable sum, put the hat on my head and sauntered out the door.

 

The Airflow Tilley Hat

The Airflow Tilley Hat

 

After the shopping trek, I arrived home along the beautiful shore of the Black Warrior River and did what any self-respecting nerd would do: with indelible ink, I wrote my name, telephone number and date on the label inside my new Tilley hat. I tucked my fishing license into the secret pocket, put the hat on my head, adjusted the wind cord, grabbed my fly rod and went fishing.

 

Now, here’s the part where I explain how my Tilley hat became holy. That day, wearing my new hat and fishing from my kayak, I caught so many bream I stopped counting AND two large-mouth bass, each in the two-to-three-pound range. Yes, that’s right, two bass in one outing – a feat never before accomplished by this bush league yet unapologetic fly fisher.

Largemouth Bass

Largemouth Bass

Inasmuch as I believe that God and spirits dwell in rivers, I also believe in my Tilley hat to be the finest fishing hat I’ve ever owned. And though I may never become a master fly fisher, I will always have a deep appreciation for the magic that lives in the art of the fly and just below the surface of water. Oh yes, and also in my new fishing hat.

 

 

 

 

I found the following quote on an online fishing forum I visit from time to time and it reminded me of a poem I wrote a couple of years ago.

 

“If you fish hard and the fishing becomes your life, sooner or later you fish with ghosts; eventually you become one.” ~  Bob White

 

Lepomis macrochirus aka bluegill

Lepomis macrochirus aka bluegill

 

 

Rivalry

 

Near day’s end I sat  on the stone bench 

and watched my shadow spill into the narrow 

valley then spread halfway up the hillside.

 

It wasn’t too late to go fishing. Looking down

the footpath leading to the river I 

noticed my shadow was already there. 

 

Soon I stood in the shallow water with my back 

to the sun and saw my silhouette waving from 

the opposite bank, over where the fish would surely be 

 

drawn to whatever tiny talisman she had tied to her line.

I lifted my old Sage rod and false cast once or twice

before allowing the fly to light upon the darkening water. 

 

A strike! My standard response: Beginner’s luck

and  glanced to the other side of the stream 

to see if my shade had caught a fish. 

 

Her leader stretched tight and she mimicked my rhythm

as I stripped in the line to retrieve my small prize. A bluegill 

flashed into the air, glistening orange in the setting sun. 

 

I looked up and watched my shadow gently remove 

the swallowed hook then hold up the fish for me to admire,

not for its bright underbelly, or quick black eye,

 

but for its wide girth, its heft and length, 

for its large size made record-breaking by the angle 

of the sun and a lifetime of fish tales and lies.

If there’s only one attribute to ascribe to the Great Blue Heron, perhaps it is perseverance. I’ve watched solitary herons stand in shallow water  for long stretches of time as if turned to stone – waiting, watching for the next small vertebrate to flow within reach. Then, the strike! In a heartbeat a fish is caught and gulped down the heron’s long sinewy throat. The process is repeated many times until the sated heron folds her neck into an S, spreads her wings, lifts her feet from the river’s edge and with an emphatic squawk and extended legs trailing, sets sail for her roost in the highest boughs of a longleaf pine.

One of Aubudon's favorite subjects

One of Audubon's favorite subjects

The heron is an accomplished fisher and hunter. When small fry and other aquatic life are not at hand, the heron stalks mice, insects, snakes and other terrestrials for its sustenance. During breeding season, this is especially beneficial as both heron parents must consume up to four times as much food as normal when building nests, mating and feeding their young chicks. In fact, in all things, the heron excels. And why shouldn’t she? With ancestry dating back to dinosaurs, herons have had plenty of time to hone their skills.

I admire the dogged heron’s stick-to-it-iveness. She has learned the best methods for nest building, mating (herons are monogamous), rearing her young and of course, fishing. The heron doesn’t lay around in the nest and thus be late for choice fishing time. She does not need to decide which type tackle she’ll use on any particular excursion… fly rod or spinning reel, light weight or heavy, live bait or plastics? The fact of the matter is that the heron has no use for thousands of dollars worth of boats, rods, tackle, bait, etc. She knows ONE WAY to catch fish, she’s done it THAT WAY for a lifetime and it’s KISS.

Ah, the simple heron – paragon of determination. Had I followed her example of single-mindedness, I might have actually excelled at doing one thing very well. As a business woman, I could have been blue-chip. I could have stood out as a prize-winning writer, an exemplary parent, an exceptional artist, a blue-ribbon gardener, a fantastic lover, a television chef, and without a doubt a splendiferous bass master. 

With extraordinary conceit, I have considered myself a Renaissance woman. I am an idle poet. I’ve written three unfinished novels; owned, operated and abandoned two successful businesses; embarked upon innumerable careers including used car sales, cabinet-maker, artist, insurance clerk, special events maven, and charity fund-raiser. I am a half-fast boat skipper, have single-parented one adultescent, lost and gained hundreds of pounds, and of course, own all the fishing tackle Bass World has to sell.

My latest project, which has recently been supplanted by the writing of this blog, is hand-painting renderings of fishing fly patterns. I am beginning to believe if not for my unending impatience (aka Adult ADHD) to move on to the next big thing,  by now I could have  reached the apogee of achievement. Or at least been able to retire with  my sweetie and a comfortable little nest egg.

As my mother (G-d rest her soul) admonished: be happy with what you have. The heron is.  And today, I am too.