“… stars In the southern sky…”
Dateline: LaGrange, GA
Polaris, shines on Georgia tonight.
The North Star, has followed me south.
Whenever I’m on the road, at night, before I go inside, I always hit the Google Sky App on my ‘droid, and point it upwards.
To the Universe.
To the Heavens.
To find the North Star … the 48th brightest star in the sky … and when I find it, I smile, and say silently to myself, “Goodnight … Love Ya,” to my family who lives below it.
“… southward as you go …”
… as you go.
To what has become my second home.
And The North Star, shines on both.
Shines on all of us, cradles us, sees not states of red, states of blue, just, our state of being.
To the stars in the Northern or Southern skies, we are all one.
Bathed in the same light from above.
It has been 2 months since I walked among the rows of wrapped bass boats, been 8 weeks since I have heard of flippin’, pitchin’, large and smallmouths.
Back at the 2013 Bassmaster Classic, I was hobbled by a bad knee and on Monday, Feb. 25, on the way home from it, somewhere in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport while making the trek from Gate C-20-something to Gate F-something … the knee blew up.
I used my rolling luggage bag as a crutch to get to the plane. Back home an MRI revealed, two stress fractures in the knee, my doc said, “Dude … it’s like you have been walking on a fractured leg.”
I was given a choice, 8 or so weeks in a cast, or several weeks stuck in bed, no weight bearing on the knee.
I chose, bed, and from my bed I went to sleep at night with only a distant view of the southern sky.
“…there is moonlight…”
Back 6 or so years ago when I was at ESPN, frankly, I didn’t want to be there, after 15 years of some of the good, but mostly the bad, of sports, I was done.
These past 2 months I thought a lot about back then, had I been at ESPN and gone through the year I just went through, Prostate Cancer, Brain Tumor, blowed up knee … would I have fought as hard as I did to get up and out of the bed I was confined to.
To be honest, I had been with ESPN long enough, had enough benefits and insurance, to just stay there in bed … filed for permanent disability … and been done with it.
A golden handshake ends the career.
But lying there in the guestroom so as to not bother Barb with the crutches and braces and the every 4-6 hour dosages, I was in another part of the house, the part that faced,
the southern sky.
And it was that sky, that got me out of bed.
Now many of you, especially the guys, would think I would be out of my mind to care less if I ever went back to what I used to call, The-All-Guy-Double-Boner-Network.
But it became a job.
A job not unlike bolting bumpers on trucks in some factory.
Just a job … a great paycheck … worked with a few people who have become lifelong friends … free tickets to Disney,
but, just another chrome bumper coming down the line.
“… and moss in the trees …”
I had always told Barb, that I was happy that my career was working out at the end of it, instead of in the beginning.
The beginning pretty much sucked.
I was different when different got you 13 weeks of unemployment.
But, if you just happen to be able to survive it for long enough, normal becomes bad and different becomes good.
And so it only took me a decade to become an instant success. But with that success, came unhappiness.
Confined to bed.
You don’t get up if you are unhappy … not the kind of get up you need to do this … follow those who chase dreams lake to lake across this country.
I now know in my heart, the universe knew what it was about to put on my plate, knew that if I was ever to get up out of bed from the body blows, I needed to be happy … successful made no never mind.
So … it sent me here, to learn that the only true success … is happiness.
So … it sent me here, for the knockdown that was coming my way.
So … it sent me here, knowing that HERE, would be what would help me get back up.
And it showed me so, when it stuck me in a bed,
the southern stars.
“…down the seven bridges road.”
Seven Bridges Road
Happy to be back,
“I’ve been knocked down…”
This story, is not the story, I told Wired2Fish,
I was going to send in.
The story, I told them, would be funny, the lyrics would be, “He Is Not Dead Yet” from Monte Python’s Broadway Play, Spamalot.
That’s what it was supposed to be.
‘cept for one small thing,
it has taken me THREE WEEKS,
to write one sentence,
three weeks to figure it out,
three weeks before I could get it to go from my brain, to the keyboard,
this sentence here,
The bell rang, but I couldn’t answer.
And in my soul, I just couldn’t find a way, to make that,
“…and get back up…”
For the first time, EVER, in my career, the bell rang, and I wasn’t there.
I cry when I write that.
It is 5:47am, Friday morning, darkness is all around me, I’m writing this on a MacBook Pro, the keyboard lights up so I can work in the dark, I’m alone in a the guest bedroom down the hall, I don’t want Barb to see me writing, I don’t want her to see the tears.
I don’t want her to ask me what I’m writing, because, because I can’t even get the words out, been married 39 years, me and her, she has this thing she does, she will comment on a story of mine under the name Lois Lane, because for 30 plus years in this business I have managed to be, Superman.
To me, and I’m going to be brutally honest with you here, this is how I rank things in my life: Family … Story … Faith … Everything Else.
And some, I hate to say, would move Story, to the front position.
To Barb, to my children, I apologize for that, but I think Barbie knows, the life
force inside of me, what it is that is me, is,
“… I hit the ground …”
I breathe when I write.
My brain smiles, when I write.
Why, would The Story, how, could it possibly be so important, to me, so important to me, how could that be. You ask.
Here’s how, when I write a story, it is the story I become, the thing of the story, the person within the story engulfs me within them.
It’s like I leave me, and become free.
It is the story, that is my escape.
Because me … hurts.
Brutally honest once again: Family, Story, Faith, Everything Else and PAIN.
No one on this planet knows that, but Barb … and maybe a doc or two.
To put it mildly, I was born pretty screwed up, born with me insides sort of messed up, born with hips and legs that weren’t attached.
Born into pain.
From when I was a child, to today, everything I do in life is based on one simple thought in my mind.
I am better than my body.
My body will not define me.
I will beat the pain, the pain, or my body, will never beat me.
Me inside it all.
Three weeks ago though,
“… and dust myself off …”
Three weeks ago I was about to begin my 6th year on the road covering the Elites, and all things B.A.S.S., and both the Elites, and the dots between the letters in B.A.S.S., YOU, are very important to me.
As is being a working stiff, punch in, punch out, do your job, shut up. Take care of your family, don’t be yapping to your kids about values, show them values by your actions, not your words.
And inside the me of me … never let the body win, the pain.
From last May, seven, maybe eight months ago, I have gone through surgery to have radioactive seeds implanted in me, to in December, brain surgery for a tumor in my head, through all that, never missed a story or event.
Answered, all those bells.
Until three weeks ago, when my fishing buddy doc, Mac, said this to me, “No you can’t go anywhere with that crazy job of yours, you have two stress fractures in your right knee, Don I’m telling you, your knee is…breaking…apart.”
And in my head, this is what I said to Dr. Mac.
“What if you cut it off.”
“…I’m taking some chances…”
Dr. Mac being a long time member of B.A.S.S. knows exactly what it is that I go through out on the road, the travel, the dawn to past dusk days, the weather, all of it.
To my other docs I say this, “I just cover guys fishing, I should be able to do that, right.”
I leave them to in their own minds thinks about that, how tough could it be to cover some guy sitting on a bank, or dock, with a ham sandwich and a worm, “Yeah go ahead, that should be alright,” they all said.
Been reading about it for 30 years.
Worse though, been reading me, and what I go through.
“Don’t make me cast BOTH of your legs to keep you at home, but I’m telling you dude, I’ll do that if I have to…and I have Barb’s phone number too you know.”
I just looked at him as he strapped my right leg into an immobilizer, watched as his assistant fitted the crutches to my height, didn’t say much, paid my co-payment, and crutched it through the hospital up to my 4Runner, opened the tailgate, threw the crutches inside, threw the brace in with them, walked around to the driver’s side, climbed in and went home.
At 7:36pm that night as I laid in bed I got this text, “You okay.”
It was from Mac.
I never answered it.
And the worst, was about to come.
“...and not known
I’m taking a whole lot more…”
“Hey guys I just want to take a second here to give a shout out to Don Barone …he’s home watching this, couldn’t make it to the event, please give him a big hand.”
My good buddy on the B.A.S.S. stage, Dave Mercer … thinking of … reaching out to me … if you know him and know his heart you wouldn’t be surprised by what he did, I was watching the B.A.S.S weigh-in on the Sabine River, upstairs in my office … alone.
Barb was watching it downstairs.
The moment I saw Dave look into the camera, being good friends, I knew it was coming and I love him for it,
but it damn near killed me.
I just sat there, crutches up against the desk, knee strapped into a huge brace, and I didn’t cry, couldn’t, cried out, I just sat in silence and watched.
Watched as one by one, the anglers, the people who I owe it to, owe it to be there to tell their story, watched as they crossed the stage, didn’t hear much of what was going on, just focused on the point where they left the stage, watched as they walked behind the backdrop,
to the stairs that are back there,
the stairs where I’m usually standing at the bottom.
Focused only, on the backdrop, the stairs.
Until I reached up, and closed the cover of the laptop.
Just sat there.
“…before I’m done…”
I didn’t watch too much after that, did some stories from my bed, was sort of at the event.
After awhile, just kind of let it go.
Went to see Dr. Mac yesterday, took some X-rays, bottom line now, going to miss the Bull Shoals event too.
The fractures are healing, but just not there yet.
Going to be another stinky few weeks for me.
Mirrors get tougher every day.
Body 2, db 0.
As it stands right now, I will be back on the tour for the Elite event at West Point Lake in Georgia getting there on Sunday April 28th.
With or without stress fractures.
“… now some people think
I’m a little crazy
and all my life
I try to deny it …”
I’m sorry, I tried to be funny, wanted to be funny,
but I couldn’t find it in my heart.
Humor, can hide sadness, can hide hurt, but in my head, all I hear is the ringing of the bell.
The empty bell.
Chased by the rings.
Wired2Fish dudes, I apologize to you for stringing you on for these past three weeks, twenty some days, phone calls, dodges.
Seems the injury, wasn’t my leg my friends, it was up here, here where the story hangs out.
Where me lives.
I understand now, where the pain lives. Where the pain of all those stuck in a body that’s not them, lives.
Here … in the heart.
But for them, I say this, it is not our brain that makes us me, it is not our heart that makes us me.
Me, is our soul.
Maybe, learning that, is what this was all about.
Not the cancer.
Not the brain tumor.
Took a broken knee for me to find the soul, of me.
Found the soul of me, not in a mirror.
Found the soul of me, not at the bottom of the Elite stairs.
Found the soul of me … in exam room No. 1.
As I’m strapping on the huge knee brace and reaching for the crutches, Mac sits on a stool and watches me.
Can’t lie to my friend, doctor or not, he’s not helping, he’s sitting watching. I’m not saying much, actually nothing.
I look over at him.
“I’m going fly fishing in Puerto Rico for 50 different species of fish, both in and off-shore…”
I’m just looking at him.
“Going to go when I think the best time to catch the most fish…”
“Yeah, have fun.”
“Wanna go…come with me.”
“When you going.”
“May…the 22nd I think.”
I’m strapped in, big brace all locked up, almost looking at Mac through the silver metal crutches…I have the look on my face that translates to this…you crazy SOB you.
And all that Mac does, is smile.
And all I do is look at him and say,
“Yes. I’ll go.”
Go, for all of us stuck in bodies that ain’t me,
is our soul.
“… but the lines get a little hazy.”
Been Knocked Down
“Maybe I'm a man…”
Dateline: Star Stuff
If you’ve got cigars, light them.
If you’ve got beer, pop the top.
Pull the cork on your wine bottle, get into your after-work sweats, ‘cause I’m going to tell you a true story that happened to me … one that even I don’t understand.
It’s about a moment in time, two moments in time that may have changed the rest of my life.
…the rest of my life.
If I somehow get my mind around it.
Going to be a lot of people out there who will believe it and know why it happened.
Going to be many out there who won’t.
I’m just freakin’ amazed …
Back this puppy up a bit, give ya’ll some insight into what I’m fixin' to write.
This was supposed to be a story, a funny story of all that I’ve been through in the last 5 weeks post-brain surgery.
Me and my friends at Wired2Fish.com discussed a story that would tell you folks that I’m ok, and I’m baaaack!
With some funny stuffed throwed in. Like this:
W2F: “db you on a lot of pills…”
Me: “Dude I’m on so many hormone pills that I was reading the Victoria Secret Catalog, FOR MYSELF…been looking sort of lovingly at Barb’s Purple Pump shoes as well…”
W2F: “db has your sense of taste come back yet…”
Me: “Dude, not even close. I can’t taste a thing so I started eating fruit and yogurt and other healthy stuff while it won’t hurt. Trust me, not going to waste a donut now.”
That’s what you were supposed to get, but in-between me talking to W2F, and writing this, something happened.
Something that shook me to my core.
Something that has made me question, everything.
And that’s the story you’re goin’ get.
“…maybe I'm a lonely man…”
Five weeks ago a team of surgeons went about removing a brain tumor that had formed around my Pituitary Gland. The team consisted of a Neurosurgeon, An Ear, Nose and Throat Doctor and an Endocrinologist.
Highly trained folks who have done this stuff many times before.
To get to the tumor they went up through my nose, my sinuses and up to the base of my skull, which they bored through to get “to the promised land” as my ENT Doc told me.
The surgery, done on 12/12/12, took about 3 hours and according to the brain doc, “went perfect.”
I had surgery on Wednesday and went home on Friday…a total of 55 hours in the hospital for Brain Surgery.
Because some of the tumor had grown into my optic nerve and surrounded my carotid artery, they left some of the tumor in, not wanting to risk taking it out manually, rather instead using radiation to get at it.
Before I left the hospital they took a CAT scan of my head to see just exactly where the tumor left behind was, and from that they proceeded to tell me that I would need treatment from something called a “CyberKnife.”
Last week my wife, Barb, and I met with the Radiological Oncologist who told us about what was being planned…I was to have an MRI with contrast stuff shot into my arms, then he would meet with the Neurosurgeon they would map out the “plan of attack” and on February 6th I would begin the radiation treatment.
I was assured it would be done one week before I have to leave to cover the Bassmaster Classic.
Making the Classic was all I cared about, so I signed the papers and the process began.
Then came last Tuesday (2/15/13) night…the absolute worst night since surgery, maybe my worst night EVER.
Ever since surgery up my nose, my nose has been massively stuffed up, brutally stuffed up, and Tuesday night I woke up barely able to breathe through it.
As I laid in bed my head felt like it was about to split open…my eyes hurt, my temples hurt…I can take a lot of pain, but this was beyond reason.
Tears ran down my cheeks, it actually hurt so much I starting quietly sobbing, and then I did something I never thought I would ever do.
Prayed for myself.
And here’s the exact prayer I said:
“Please stop … please stop this … don’t know if there is a God … don’t know who runs this universe thing, but please stop this pain … if you want me to keep writing about how Love is the secret of the universe, I can’t do it like this … please, please stop it, I can’t take it anymore.”
Then I reached over to the nightstand and took a handful of pain pills and basically knocked myself out (don’t do that at home).
“…who's in the middle of something…”
Most wouldn’t call that much of a prayer.
As a writer looking at it, I think it borders more on a pleading or bargaining with the heavens.
But from a person who hasn’t said a prayer, hasn’t recognized a God since First Communion, all those above who might have heard it would be shocked enough to give it prayerhood.
Wednesday morning, while still pretty groggy from the several pain meds still floating through my system, I had pretty much forgot my nighttime coming to Jesus moment, mainly just happy Barb was home for the day, a “snow day” as her school was closed due to a storm.
I was sitting in the living room, Barb was in the kitchen when the phone rang…she was closest to it so she answered it: “Don…it’s for you…”
As I came into the kitchen to get it Barb told me, “It’s your Neurosurgeon…” and watched as in front of my eyes the color drained out of her face.
Normally his office staff calls me, this time the doc himself was on the phone … it wasn’t going to be good news.
“Don ... I have something amazing to tell you. I’ve cancelled the CyberKnife treatment.”
“Why what’s wrong…”
“Nothing is wrong, surprisingly when we looked at the MRI, when we looked at where the tumors were left from surgery … they … they weren’t there.”
I didn’t say anything.
“The tumors in your head are gone. there’s no need for the CyberKnife. Come see me in 6 months, and we’ll do another MRI to make sure they don’t come back, but right now, you are tumor free.”
“How could that be; how do you think it happened?”
“I have no idea, they were there, and now they are not.”
“…that he doesn't really understand…”
So as I write this, the tumors that were left in my head, are gone.
Gone without treatment.
There is a CAT scan taken the day after surgery that showed them.
There is an MRI taken 5 weeks after surgery that doesn’t show them.
I’m sure there are any number of scientific answers to where and why.
But to me, there will always be only one answer, the prayer I said through my tears.
But to me there will always be only one answer, the prayers you said for me.
But to me there will always be only one answer, all the positive energy that came my way was more powerful than any CyberKnife.
What if FAITH … is actually matter, particles of something, like light. And those particles did come my way.
And why … would they.
I will never forget that moment on the phone when the doc told me I was “tumor free” and the first thought that came into my mind was exactly this, “Thank you for listening to my prayer.”
Folks, right this moment I am tumor free and no one can really explain why, it was there and now it is not.
I’m sure the docs will someday explain it to me, and I will sit there and graciously listen, but I already know the answer,
and I hope you do as well,
the answer is in the prayer I said that night,
the answer, is Love.
And if I didn’t wholly believe that before, if I was only playing lip service to the universe before,
the universe proved its point,
when it kissed my forehead,
and the tumors disappeared.
“…maybe I'm amazed at the way
I really need you.”
Maybe I’m Amazed
“I found in myself, and still find, an instinct toward a higher, or, as it is named, spiritual life, as do most men, and another toward a primitive rank and savage one, and I reverence them both.”
Dateline: The Colonial Inn
It was late afternoon.
Both of us, Dr. Mac and me, were cold, and hungry.
“Dude, you want to do the interview outside in the cold, or can when space shift this to another spot where it is warm … and has food ... journalistically, I’ll just say we did that and I won’t be kicked out of the 5th, 6th or 7th Estate … whatever it is that they call the thing.”
So we did, and consider yourself, informed.
The Colonial Inn dates back to 1889, but the building was built in 1716, in fact in 1775 it was used to store arms, and it was to this place that the British troops came to seize the weapons … and started the whole thing rolling which lead to the shot heard round the world.
Dr. Mac and I went there for the double burger with special sauce … and hot coffee.
We grabbed a table away from the couple other people in the bar area, sat across from the fireplace and talked.
Talked about what it is that drives Dr. Mac to fishing, what it is that drives so many to fishing.
Here’s the scene, low beamed ceiling, dark bar area, creaky uneven floors dating to the early 1700’s, fireplace, cloth napkins, fancy colonial style plates, small pewter creamer pitcher, two orders of fries.
Dr. Mac: “I have been looking forward to this day for months.”
Me: “Even though you knew the chance of catching fish was about nil.”
“It interrupts my hectic life, being out there in the open … dude it is just so calm and restful.”
“No thanks,” not to Dr. Mac but to the waitress who suddenly showed up asking if I wanted ketchup with my fries. Dr. Mac said yes.
I have done stories with KVD trying to seek, to drill down to the essence of the competitive nature, I’m not saying that Kevin VanDam is the greatest angler of all time. What I am saying is that in more than 20 years of covering sports, he may be the most competitive professional athlete I have ever been around. And because Kevin and I are good friends, I can ask him questions that an athlete not as close to me, wouldn’t bother to answer, truthfully.
The same hold true with Dr. Mac.
He is a man, who loves fishing, who when you ask “do you want to go fishing,” has only one answer, “yes.”
Dr. Mac: “Just the simple action of throwing a line in water calms me.”
“It is life near the bone where it is sweetest.”
As I travel this country, and meet all of you out there, and we have time to talk, I ask, over and over, not HOW you do what you do outside, but WHY you do it in the first place.
To me, the why is what being Inside The Outside is all about.
You don’t have to go out there as much as you do, yet you do, and that fascinates me.
And between the two of us, me and you talking, if we can make the WHY accessible, we will make the outside accessible to so many more people.
It is the WHY that will get them out there.
The HOW will keep them there.
Me: “So dude, why do you like fishing so much…”
Dr Mac: “I think, for me, it is as it should be, the physical connection, the being part of the whole system.”
As beings, on this planet, it is in our genes to be outside. Our primordial roots, it is where when we all started, where we were born, where we lived, worked, played, shopped.
I think, it is when we disconnect from that part of our being, we feel as if we are missing something, because we are.
Dr. Mac: “It is strange but when I’m out there, when many people are out there, it is like some part of you knows you should be standing right here at the water's edge.”
It reminds us of where it is we come from.
For some, like Dr. Mac, it is home.
“There is no remedy for love but to love more.”
There is one question I ask many of the people that come up to me to talk.
Sometimes they answer it before I’m even done askin’.
That’s because wherever your brain stores memories, this one is up front and center.
Here’s what I ask, get ready and start counting and my guess is you will be shocked how quick your answer could fly out of your mouth. Here it is:
“Who did you catch your first fish with.”
See, I told you.
Dr. Mac: “There is a whole generational aspect to fishing as well, it connects me with my past, it connects me with my future. I can tell you the exact moment, where exactly I was and who I was with when I hooked my first fish…”
And then …
“… can especially tell you about when my children caught their first fish. Remember it as if it was yesterday, where we were, what tackle we used, what the weather was like, what …”
Then came silence, silence given as I knew Dr. Mac was now not Dr., not Bob, but now was … daddy … and I gave him and his young children who are now grown men, I gave him his time to once again be in the boat with his kids.
“The true harvest of my life is intangible, a little star dust caught, a portion of the rainbow I have clutched.”
We are all,
And when, and only then, when we get that fact, will we truly become,
Until then we are just advanced primates swinging from bigger trees.
We are star stuff.
From the stars we came, and to the stars we will return.
The universe, she’s a wonderful, mysterious thing, the grandparent of Mother Earth.
Dr. Mac and I have been planning this buddy trip for some time, while on it we promised each other, that with our hectic schedule we would make time, take time to once a quarter, get away from it all, go back to simple, in honor of Mr. Henry David Thoreau, and take a buddy fishing trip somewhere.
I hope it is a promise we both can keep.
But the universe kept getting in the way of this story, until last week, and I smile as I write this, because I think I know why …
… last week as we buddied up once again, turns out to have been one week almost exactly to the day that I have to have brain surgery to remove a tumor in my brain.
Six months ago I went through seed implant for Prostate Cancer … and recently got the good news that the procedure seems to have been very successful, and the prognosis looks sweet.
My brain tumor is a Pituitary Tumor that is sitting on my optic nerve with a slight twist near my carotid artery. It is causing my pituitary gland to fail which is affecting my thyroid gland which in turn affects my adrenal gland.
As you read this surgeons are, or have gone up through my nose and cracked open the bottom of my skull to get to the tumor.
I’m sure everything will work out just fine, but complications have happened, could lose my sight, could lose much more.
So here I sit, across from a good friend, a good friend who is a doctor, a man of science, and I ask him this:
“Do prayers work.”
Lots of you have been praying for me, and I appreciate each and every one of them, ask that you don’t stop, but to a friend who has held life and death in his hands, someone who would tell me the truth I ask:
“Do prayers work.”
Dr. Mac looks up from his French Fries, takes a hit of coffee, adds more sugar and says, “Everything is connected, and I believe that science and spirituality are connected as well.”
I do not ask him if there is a God, because I believe that each and every one of us has inside of us, God.
“db … do I think that there is life after death, yes I do, I don’t know what it is, we are all made of energy, maybe it is positive energy, but do I believe there is something more, something bigger (Dr. Mac pauses for a few beats) … yeah … yes I do.”
Whatever “positive energy” is, I think it has many names.
As it should.
I think, water, to be one name.
I think, outside, to be another name.
I know for me, a tiny wooden bridge, is another name.
For Thoreau, simple, was its name.
I believe this, the universe, leaves it up to us.
We, who are all, each other.
And the star stuff within everything on this blue rock floating through space.
I thank you for all the “positive energy” you have been sending my way.
Thank you for your prayers, and the goodness they seem to bring.
With your help, your love and hope, I will see you on the other side of this surgery.
Keep zest in your life.
Turn goodness into greatness.
And BTW, I now believe the answer to the question I asked Dr. Mac,
“do prayers work,”
the answer is,
“Be not simply good; be good for something.”
This and all other quotes in italic are attributed to:
Henry David Thoreau
“A lake is the landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.”
Dateline: Thoreau’s Cove, Walden Pond
What is it with water,
that draws us to it.
Is it, because that is from where we came.
Is it, because we are mostly made of the same stuff.
What is it with an ocean.
What is it with a lake.
What is it with a pond.
That calls us.
Whispers from, Mother Earth.
Whispers from, Father Water.
Dr. Mac however, talks a bit louder. “It’s a kettle hole,” he tells me as we walk a path we shouldn’t be on. We would have known that had we been able to read the sign on the fence … but you have to be on the print side of the fence to read it.
We were down by the water, down walking along in the footsteps of wild turkeys and deer…
…and Henry David Thoreau.
Dr. Mac said, “Ten-thousand years ago there was a huge chunk of glacial ice sitting right here, when it retreated it dug a 102 foot hole all the way down to the aquifer.”
I mumble back, “Any colder and the glacier will be back.”
Dr. Mac somehow manages to hear it … and pulls the hood of his sweatshirt up to cover his head.
The pond covers 61 acres and is 1.7 miles around, we are what seems to be like 14 miles in on the path, what with the non-magic knee shot, and we are heading straight to a small cove called … Thoreau’s Cove.
It is the cove his cabin overlooked. His front yard.
Had we been walking here, where we shouldn’t have been, back there in time from July of 1845 through September of 1847 we would have walked in his footsteps, maybe even met the man…the man who preached simpleness but who in his death has created "business-ness."
It is an area that has not followed Thoreau’s lead. Walden Pond is just down the road from the intersection of Thoreau & Walden Street. Concord, Mass. is a beautiful little New England town that dates back to 1635 and is filled with history and quaint shops featuring some sort of Thoreau inspired merchandise.
Think EPCOT but with shopkeeper facial hair allowed.
It is one of my favorite places anywhere, but I’m sure Thoreau – who is buried there in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery on “Author’s Ridge” along with Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott and Ralph Waldo Emerson – is twisting and turning in the family plot.
This from Thoreau: “Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion.”
Thoreau, if anything, has not been reduced here.
Walden Pond is located right next to the Route 2 turnpike…a very busy road, and is in fact only 20 miles from downtown Boston. Nothing within 20 miles of downtown Boston … is simple.
Commuter trains speed by every few minutes, airplanes making coming or going from the very busy Boston Airport scream into the sky, cars honk, 18-wheelers chug, police sirens shout … this ain’t 1845 anymore dudes.
Except, EXCEPT, when you stand in Thoreau’s Cove and look out on the water, look through the eyes of Henry David … and all is quiet, and all is still, and all is … perfect.
Cold, but damn near perfect.
As Dr. Mac and I stood there, it took a few moments for us to get it, but we got it:
“db you hear that…”
“That’s just it, nothing…it’s tranquil.”
Yep, right dab smack surrounded by all that is the greater Boston area, 10th largest in the USA with over 4.6 million people, dumped right into all that noise this is what I heard in Thoreau’s Cove,
Amidst all the noise.
All I heard where the whispers, of Henry David Thoreau.
Magic dudes, just flat out freakin’ magic.
“As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.”
Dr. Mac fished some on the banks of Thoreau Cove, according to the Massachusetts Department of the Outside: Fish Stuff in Walden Pond you can fish for both large and smallmouth bass, bluegill, pickerel and some other things but as Dr. Mac said….
“This isn’t about fishing, if you asked me if I would catch a bass here in December my answer would be no … sometimes fishing isn’t about the catching, it’s about the being … being fishing.”
After about an hour and a half of nothing, no bites, no chance of bites, and what looked like to be ice forming on the line, and what looked for sure to be Dr. Mac … and myself … shivering … Dr. Mac and I had an in-depth discussion…
Me: “You done.”
Dr. Mac: “Yep.”
Me: “We’re out of here.”
Dr. Mac: “Yep.”
And we were.
“We are constantly invited to be who we are.”
Back in the 4Runner I tell Dr. Mac, two things:
“I’m freezing, lets do the interview in some warm restaurant with a fireplace and hot coffee.”
“Before we do that I want to take you someplace else.”
Dr. Mac being a buddy on a buddy trip shakes his head yes, and goes back to shivering.
I reach over and tweak the heating system all the way to the right … HIGH.
And we leave Walden Pond.
We drive through Concord, Mass. back by the beautiful Hogworts library, around the never ending Massachusetts designed rotary system (think circle in the middle of the road where basically everyone it seems has the right of way) head down a road a piece and then pull into a parking lot.
Dr. Mac looks at me.
I turn and look at him and say exactly this, “Old North Bridge dude…this…this is my Walden Pond.”
“What people say you cannot do, you try and find that you can.”
I shouldn’t be here.
I shouldn’t have any of this.
Shouldn’t be writing this thing.
Shouldn’t have Dr. Mac as a buddy.
Shouldn’t have people who read me.
None of it should be mine.
The class dummy never has stuff like this.
I spent years in high school being told I was stupid…and yes flinch if you like, flinch as you damn well should, but educators with big degrees and skinny ties called me STUPID all the time.
I was told in front of a class once exactly this, “Mr. Barone you came from nothing and nothing is what you will be.”
I was in 10th grade.
Maybe 15 years old.
And had already zeroed out.
To me, Old North Bridge is hallowed freakin’ ground.
For four of the past five years, before the start of the season of B.A.S.S, I have driven the couple of hours from my house, to this bridge, and walked the bridge.
I have, as a grown man, stood on that bridge with tears running down my cheeks.
It is that exact spot where nothing stood up to something.
Where regular folks who came from nothing, stood up to an invading army that came with everything.
And nothing won.
I come here to get jazzed by the energy of the long gone nothings.
I come here to thank the nothings.
Thank them for showing me the way. Even back when the “educators” where calling me stupid, saying I would be nothing, even back then I secretly read everything I could about the American Revolutionary War, even while being stupid I knew of the doings of Old North Bridge.
So while being called stupid really hurt a 15-year-old child.
So while being told that I had a value of nothing by the somethings, I knew this, knew in my mind what Old North Bridge taught me.
Knew, that someday, me, the nothing child, was going to come back to the somethings…and kick their ass.
“Things do not change, we change.”
Dr. Mac, it seems, was also a young nitwit.
I believe that is why, at our core, we get along so well. We are both blue collar dudes, come from blue collar neighborhoods, blue collar parents.
Don’t know how he did in high school with grades, but I do know he also had issues with school and “educators.”
Many of his issues, like mine, were self made, but it is my heartfelt belief that the role of a teacher is to “educate” not “indoctrinate.”
When the main goal is testing and testing numbers…folks don’t let them kid you, that’s indoctrination. Everybody learning the same thing. The role of the masses.
Education on the other hand, is growing the individual. The self within us.
Dr. Mac is not going to be happy when he reads the following, but the dude is the embodiment of a hero. In Afghanistan, at the foremost front MASH unit he saved the lives of shot up special forces military guys while operating on them in a GOAT BARN.
At the hospital he works at, St. Frances in Hartford, Conn., he gets the cases, the tough orthopedic case that others can’t handle.
I know that for an absolute fact because I WAS ONE OF THEM.
For years my orthopedic dude was this other doctor there, but when it came down to the nitty-gritty of doing a hip replacement on me, and when he saw how bad everything was in there, my doctor back then called me into his office and told me that he would “try” to do my surgery but that it really was a bit much for him, “so I’m going to send you to one of the best, a guy who can do it and do it well.”
That guy was Dr. Mac.
This day, when I brought Dr. Mac to Old North Bridge, I knew it was his first time there, I know this guy well, we normally just joke around with each other or throw buddy jabs back and forth, but at Old North Bridge, Dr. Mac…left.
And on the bridge stood only a guy named, Bob.
Bob, who right out of high school joined the Navy, then after that tour, years later, joined the Army. Bob, who told me that if he had to do it all over again, would follow his dream and would have become a Navy Seal.
Bob, who has held the cost of freedom in his surgical gloved hands.
Bob…who walked the bridge in silence.
At one point I wanted to take his photo on the bridge and as I told him to turn and look at me, I saw through the lens that when he had taken his heavy winter coat off, underneath it was a sweatshirt that had printed on it, this “Army.”
I took the photo then walked up to him and said this, “You know dude I don’t know where the US Army really started, but to me that lettering on that sweatshirt…that word…ARMY…started right here…right here when common dudes like us put down their ploughs, their pitchforks, their blacksmithing stuff, and picked up their rifles and went out and stood up to an invading army…to me, in that moment…America had it’s own Army.”
Dr. Mac just looked at me, and then I said, “…and what happened here stretches all the way…to you.”
Dr. Mac put his hand on the wooden rail and walked down the bridge some…and I gave him his time, his space, his moment…to be…Bob.
And after a bit, we drove back into the town of Concord, Mass.
About the spirituality of …
“Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”
Click here to read Part Three
“The perch swallows the grub-worm, the pickerel swallows the perch, and the fisherman swallows the pickerel; and so all the chinks in the scale of being are filled.”
Dateline: Concord, Mass.
This, being, here.
Not the grub-worm, not the perch, not the pickerel, not the,
There is no escaping.
Move around all you want. Hide. Change your name, your looks, your clothes, your nooks.
But you will still be the grub-worm.
Think about this for a second, every breath you take has in it molecules from every breath ever taken…on earth.
In your lungs, molecules from the last breath of Caesar.
In your lungs, molecules from the Gettysburg Address.
And if you believe in Adam.
And if you believe in Eve.
Yep, in there too.
As is the roar of the tiger.
As is the screech of the owl.
As you are in the last gasp,
of the pickerel.
“The universe is wider than our views of it.”
In high school, I thought Henry David Thoreau’s Walden was on the same par as the books, Animal Farm, or Lord of The Flies.
And that par was simply this … stupid.
Now that I have a much higher degree that was all Magna Cum Laude upped, I can remember re-reading the books in the smoke filled haze of a coffee house while sipping coffee from countries I can’t spell, and realizing this,
two of those books still suck.
If you want me to dance half naked around a fire you better be the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders doing the askin’.
And if Pigs start ruling, I’m just going to start eatin’ more bacon.
But Henry David Thoreau – now Hank – was onto something
And the something that Hank was onto was … nothing.
Now I’m not going to get into some kind of English 101 literary lecture here, you want to really know about Thoreau and his book Walden, Google it, and you’ll find 15,900,000 results in 0.26 seconds.
But I’ll cut to the chase here, H.D. was all about this … More, Less.
We all need more of less stuff.
Having yourself an iPod, iPhone and iPad would pretty much get H.D. screaming again.
Pick one dudes, and sit down.
Back on that Wednesday, the ninth day of August, 1854, the day Walden, or, Life In The Woods was first published Thoreau had pretty much had it with everything even though back then, those around him had far more less stuff then most of us could even fathom.
Walden, or, Life In The Woods, is Thoreau’s tale of going back to live with nature even though most of the America around him was still pretty much … nature.
I went back to nature like Thoreau last Saturday when I turned off my smart phone and left it in the car. Little steps man, little steps.
Dr. Mac, my butt-replacement doc, and I have been planning this trip for months now, maybe longer, possibly even back when I did this story with him last year: http://www.bassmaster.com/blog/91101
Me: “Dude, you up for fishing Walden Pond.”
Dr. Mac: “Yep.”
Thoreau would love that, much more, less planning.
“Our life is frittered away…”
So as to not be sued here for any number of things, slander leading the list, I’m going to use an age old literary tradition called, Literary License (meaning pretty much…lying) and not be real specific with names for the following: If you want to have a job where being wrong isn’t a fireable offense … be a weather dude.
Last Tuesday’s weather report: Sunny, high 55-60 degrees, which convinces me to get on Facebook and announce exactly this to the world:
Today is the day we walk within the footsteps of Thoreau on the banks of Walden Pond ... plus I have one surprise thrown in for Dr. Mac ... and the universe is cooperating ... it is Dec. 4 ... New England ... and the temp today could hit near 60 degrees and sunny ...
Then I walked outside.
Cloudy, misty rain that sneaks up on your face and dribbles down to gathering in your shorts … temp … 36 degrees.
I am very more less happy with the weather dudes.
I throw in the back of the 4Runner – rain gear, snow gear, slip on rain clogs, pull on snow boots, my gloves for fluffy snow, my gloves for snowblowing, my Army hooded sweatshirt, and the Bosnia Army Peace Keeping jacket I bought at the Army Surplus store over on the turnpike.
Should at least get me through the morning.
Head the few miles up the road to Dr. Mac’s "house/sort of farm" he and his wife Lee Ann live on. I pull in his driveway, and because of the cold, I do the db version of beeping the horn. I text him, and this is exactly what I text: “Knock, knock.”
A moment later Dr. Mac walks out carrying an armful of basically the same stuff I have plus a fishing pole or two and some tackle stuff.
“Lee Ann is in the kitchen…”
So I sort of open the door of the 4Runner and just slide out because of all the clothes I have on, go give Lee Ann a hug. She tells me Bob (what she calls Dr. Mac which she can since she is married to him and me and him are just good friends, when the two of us are just alone I pretty much just call him Mac … or other names) has been looking forward to this for a long time.
When I go back outside Dr. Mac is sitting, waiting in the 4Runner, with the heat on.
Dr. Mac: “You ready”
Me: Yes head shake … I have no idea if you can quote a head shake or not so I won’t, but my head shook "Yes" so my mouth didn’t need to back that up much.
And off we go.
It’s a two hour drive, two hours of buddy talk. Talk about our wives, our children, dogs, trucks, snorkeling?, Bigfoot, UFOs, taxes, three pee stops because I still have that prostate cancer stuff going on, a jerk driving too fast, a jerk driving too slow, Bob Dylan, The Judds, penny slots, whether we are going to do the fishing trip to Puerto Rico, and the fact that the magic shot he gave me in my knee three weeks ago wasn’t working…
Dr. Mac: “If it was magic it would have fixed both knees.”
Me: “Quit with the medical talk, what’s it mean that it didn’t work.”
Dr. Mac: Takes a break from sipping coffee, looks at me and says, “MRI.”
I’m pretty much hospitaled-out which means I’m going be limping for awhile.
Zoom through the EzayPass lane exit, two lefts, one right, one left, one U-turn (my bad), stop in parking lot. Open door, get out, and right there is…
…Walden Pond, its ownself.
Off to our right is a modern reconstruction of the cabin Thoreau lived in, I hope the dude wasn’t a big guy.
It is a very simple cabin, sort of like the very base model of the Home Depot backyard sheds, two windows, one door, Thoreau did not choose the high end back yard shed.
You can read all about it by going here: http://www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/walden/
After walking around the cabin and reading all the information plaques put there by the state, we go into the park office to get a fishing license…
Can’t get a fishing license at the park, nor it seems anywhere in the town of Concord…you can buy one on-line but you need to print the thing out to “have on your person.”
Dr. Mac looks at me.
I look at Dr. Mac.
We say nothing outside our brains, but this is what our brains are saying to each other, “Dude did you bring a printer.”
Because both our brains know the answer…it tells our mouths to shut up, better to protect the whole body that way in front of strangers.
But one of us does say this, “The must have a library in town, they probably have a computer and a printer…”
I’m not saying who came up with that idea because one of us has 14 years of higher education and is a freakin’ doctor, and one of us is not but who may or may not have mumbled something about a library.
GPS lady takes us right smack dab to the Concord Free Public Library.
Dr Mac goes in first, walks around a counter, up some stairs, which I have to take one step at a time because of that non-magical shot, and then he comes to a dead stop, turns to me and says, “Dude we’re in Hogwarts.”
It is like the coolest library I’ve ever been in, sort of like a rotunda thing, ‘cept it isn’t round, is 3 levels tall with a dome up top. It is like standing in a leather and wood whirlpool of books.
Why we are standing in the middle of this place, the head librarian comes up to us, me actually since Dr. Mac is still wearing the hood of his sweatshirt up and looks kind of like the more nasty looking one to have to deal with, and asks me this, “Can I help answer any questions for you.”
Me: “Yeah, do you know if all those marble busts of people talk and have smokes at night when no one is around.”
Head Librarian: “Possibly, but I think they are real quick to go quiet when I hit the lights.”
Cool answer lady, we’re going to get along just fine.
After some more talk, by whom and what said I forget, and some picture taking of Hogwarts…Concord style…the lady says we can use the computer “over there,” to get the fishing license.
“Over There” turns out to be the Thoreau Room.
The universe sometimes just works that way, and it is better just to shut up and let it do its own thing without getting in the way.
Dr. Mac does the fishing license thing, head to the printer, find out that the Concord Free Public Library needs a nickel to print anything…find out neither one of us has a nickel…find a buck…couple clicks here and there and we become legal to fish in the state of Massachusetts.
GPS lady takes us back to Walden Pond.
And we go fishing …
In a life filled with junk,
how do we see the jewels.
Click here to read Part Two.
“Then the traveller in the dark…”
this one is for your child.
is for all those who giggle while chasing bubbles.
is for all of those to small for big hats but to big for baby teeth.
is for tiny hands.
“…thanks you for your tiny spark…”
I had no idea, none, that a child would read me. That a child would care for a busted up gray haired old guy.
A busted up old gray haired stranger at that. But then into my Inbox, came this:
My 11-year-old daughter has read some of your work and found out about TTS (Tackle The Storm), and she loves the idea. Her class has prayer time every morning, and her teacher says she asks for prayer for DB every day. She says, "I haven't met him yet, but he's my dad's friend." From the mouths of babes huh?
this one is for the children,
and especially for an 11-year-old who prays for busted up old gray haired strangers.
Stay you, hold out as long as you can before becoming us.
Chase bubbles, find the faces in the clouds, eat with your fingers, giggle, feed the peas to the dog, color outside the lines, skip.
Dress up in momma’s high heels.
Dress up in daddy’s tie.
Just don’t become them to quick. Slow down this time you are in, get ice cream on your nose, chase the cat, cuddle.
But don’t worry about old busted up gray haired strangers.
“…he could not see which way to go…”
Here’s a secret mommy and daddy may not have told you yet, but someday, as you cuddle together, as you do chores together, as you fish together, or as you sit next to their hospital bed and hold their hand here’s a secret they will whisper to you…
…we still see faces in the clouds.
I still chase bubbles that float in the breeze.
We still cuddle.
We still get ice cream on our nose.
I don’t chase cats though, don’t like cats, but I still scratch behind the puppy’s ear.
If I could run, I would still run through leaves.
If I could still jump, I would jump into ocean waves.
I don’t eat peas.
I giggle so hard that sometimes soda comes out my nose.
I cry so hard that sometimes I even get the cold side of the pillow wet.
I miss my mommy.
I miss my daddy.
I still name goldfish.
I have given the parakeet bits of pepperoni.
I don’t make my bed.
“…if you did not twinkle so…”
We live on a rock that floats through space.
And we call the rock, Earth.
We have pretty things on the rock called Earth.
We have brand new snow that coats the trees.
We have rainbows and roses, ladybugs and peacocks, the smell of rain, red leaves next to green trees.
We have, you.
I believe in magic because I see it in every crowd, every event I’m at, don’t matter none where the event is, at every event, there is magic.
And the magic, is you.
When I see you, I see the future.
When I see you, I see the past.
On the prettiest rock floating in space.
On the most magical rock floating in space.
It is the child, most beautiful.
It is the child, most magical.
“…as your bright and tiny spark…”
Honey, think young as long as you can.
See this world as the magical place it is, put down the TV remote, put down the game controller…and step outside.
Feel the grass between your toes, I was three years old before I could go outside in bare feet, and to this day I still remember looking at my white toes on the green carpet of grass.
the world tickles.
And you know what,
Let the world tickle you.
Snort apple juice out your nose.
Feel mud on your face.
Hold grass stained elbows up to the mirror.
Lay on your side and roll down hills.
Skip rocks, jump with frogs, catch fireflies in jars,
but always let them go.
‘…lights the traveller in the dark…”
Honey, know this,
this magic rock that floats through space, is your rock, we are just holding your place in line.
Pray for the strangers, but pray also for the rock.
Pray for all those who stand on it.
The old, like me.
The young, like you.
Pray for us all.
Pray for the miracle of all life on the rock.
Pray for the creatures who share this rock with us.
Honey, here’s another secret, it’s what the universe whispers to the rock floating in space.
It whispers…Love…what you don’t like.
Respect differences, but love all, alike.
Pray for “db,” but say a prayer for us all.
For your teacher.
For the kids in your class.
For the children you know, and don’t know.
And for yourself.
“…though I know not what you are…”
My 11 y/o daughter has read some of your work and found out about TTS (Tackle The Storm) and she loves the idea. Her class has prayer time every morning and her teacher says she asks for prayer for DB everyday. She says I haven't met him yet but he's my dads friend. From the mouths of babes huh
When I read this to Barb, she cried.
As did I.
I cried, not because I’m getting busted up health wise and now have children praying for me … not why I cried.
I cried for joy … flat out snot through your nose happiness.
I cried because no matter how much we complain about what happens on this rock floating in space, about how screwed up the government may be, about how bad the economy may be, all those daily gripes …
… I cried, because, in spite of all of that, we have somehow managed to raise children who pray for strangers.
And that is truly,
stuff of the stars.
“… twinkle, twinkle, little star.”
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
From the poem
“Clouds in the sky keeping the sun away
doesn't mean the sun is not shining today…”
Have you ever been held,
by the universe.
Bathed in the moon, have the stars ever comforted you.
Have you ever stood outside at night, and looked up, saw nothing but points of light from horizon to horizon.
We live under so much sky.
It is the sky that cradles us.
Born, we, of the stars above.
I have held the sky; I have had stars dance on my finger tips, watched the moon light my palm.
While standing on the prairie of Illinois.
“…seems something is always in your way…”
Day two of the B.A.S.S. All Star launch, I never made takeoff that morning in Shelbyville, made it halfway, planned to be there until I came to a dirt road, and turned on to it.
Drove to the stars.
Drove to the moon.
On the Illinois prairie, I found outer space. Found it when I parked the 4Runner in the dirt and got out.
And looked up.
Whole lot of sky up there when you stand on the prairie and look straight up.
I was in space, on earth. The stars were all around me, from the tips of my left hand fingers, all the way over to the tips of my right hand.
On a dirt road in Illinois, I held the universe in the palms of my outstretched hands.
And the universe, held me back.
“…you've got a wide, wide array of insurmountable problems every day…”
He reached across the table, and he held my hand.
Both his hands around my hand. And tears came into his eyes. Mine too, right there amongst the free continental breakfast in the Hampton Inn.
Right there with the smell of bacon and eggs.
Right there with the smell of a burnt waffle.
Right there, I told him, simply this: “The doctors have found a tumor in my head.”
“Will you be alright.”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you scared.”
And then he reached across the table, and held my hand.
“…In your own private place of dreams
I hope you'll find a place where it seems…”
I knew the growth was in my head before the last Elite event at Oneida shores, didn’t say anything except to tell my great friends Kevin & Kerry Short, told them back then that a bunch of tests had to be run first before we really knew anything.
The tests have been run, now we know.
I have a tumor on my Pituitary gland, it is bleeding in on itself. According to the tests my Pituitary gland is failing and is having a cascading effect, my Thyroid Gland is not working very well, as is my Adrenal Gland.
A neurosurgeon is going to perform surgery by going up through my nose, drilling through a couple bones at the base of my skull, and hopefully then will be able to remove the growth.
I may, or may not, need radiation treatment, that will be determined when they biopsy the tumor.
The reason for the surgery is the growth is sitting on my Optic Nerve, and tests last week showed that I have begun to lose sight, peripheral sight.
I was asked if I lost my sight if I could still be able to write.
I said, “yes.”
I hope so.
But it was that question that made me park the 4Runner on the prairie of Illinois, and step out to look up at the stars.
And hope the stars were looking back at me.
“…the road is always straight and true
I believe, that fundamentally, at our core, in our core being, we are all the same.
That every person on this planet, is the same.
That every person on this planet is connected to each other.
Through the Star Stuff inside us.
We came from the stars, and we brought the stars with us, in our code, in our DNA.
That’s what I believe, every one of us, from the richest, to the poorest, has Star Stuff inside.
We are much more fundamentally the same, than we are different.
A year ago I took this photo with Ott Defoe. It was at the B.A.S.S. All Star event in Montgomery, Alabama in 2011.
It was about 10 minutes after this photo was taken when my doctor called and told me tests have come back and it looked like I possibly had Prostate Cancer.
Turns out I did.
Ten minutes from the moment this photo was taken, my life changed forever.
Ott and I had a chance to talk at this year’s All Star event. Ott won the event last year, made 2011 Rookie Of The Year…came in second place this year for Angler Of The Year…
“… so Ott, bud, tell me about the year you have had…the year from when we took that picture together …”
And in his answer came the proof that we are all made of the stuff from the stars … all made from the same stuff …
“db … my daughter Abbey is now in school, I can’t believe that, and the twins … the twins are walking … I can’t believe how quickly they are growing, how quickly time goes by.”
He never mentioned fishing.
He only talked about family.
He only talked about, love.
Love, which is the matter the stars are made of.
“…wherever you walk is bright for you…”
I believe that one day, the sooner the better, that science will show that we are all so much more connected than we could ever imagine.
That all those who live under the stars, have the stars living inside of them, and that is what attracts us to each other.
It is why Skeet reached out and held my hand.
It is why Ott only spoke of his children, love and family.
It is why sight lives not in your eyes, but in your soul.
I’m sure that when the surgery is done, when the medicine takes hold, I will be fine. Almost as good as normal, just with a really sore nose.
But I also believe in the stars.
And how they cradle us.
And how we cradle each other.
Need to someday cradle us all.
You can’t help believe that when you step out onto the dark Illinois prairie,
and look up.
“…hey, slip away, slide away
into dreamland, dreamland.”
“I am holding half an acre…”
Dateline: PO Box 892
At the foot of Niagara Street, he was the only one fishing with a peanut butter & jelly sandwich.
And he was the only one catching fish.
He told me, “Donnie, Perch love peanut butter & jelly,” then he looked silently around as he was about to tell me the Holy Grail secret of fishing and didn’t want anyone else fishing over the steel rail to hear, “Donnie (whispered) Donnie…but you’ve got to use Grape Jelly…don’t matter none the peanut butter but it has to be Grape Jelly.”
Then Grampa would take a bite of his sandwich, crust and all which amazed me because I never ate the crust part, then from just off to the side of his bit he would pick off a piece, roll it up between his finger, stick it on his hook, and gently lower the magic bait into the Niagara River.
I remember he would hand me his cigar as he readied to set the hook, I would hold it away from me so as to not sneak a cigar smoke, being all of 5 years old and “not quite old enough to have smokes” yet.
I would watch the smoke curl up to the clear blue Buffalo sky, if the wind turned I would sneak the smoke, and the smell would be one of tobacco at the front end, and grape jelly at the wet end.
In the 54 years since, no matter how expensive the cigar, no matter what the occasion, whenever I have smoked a cigar, mixed with the taste of the tobacco leaves…was always the taste of grape jelly.
Grampa Robbins, Clayton Robbins born in Canada in 1885, left in 1900 on a train to Chicago…by himself. Rode in the back, back with the other hobos.
Was a cigar smoking, beer drinking, sometime brawler, steel working, iron riveting man. Scared hands, scared face, bull of a man to most, but to me, the gentlest man I have ever known.
It was Grampa who brought me to water, and it was also Grampa who broke the news to me that my Grandmother, Tess, was not a mermaid, as I was convinced she was.
Tess would come with us sometimes as we feed peanut butter & jelly to the perch, and as we stood on the breakwall in the Niagara River she would point to the river and tell me, “that’s my home Donnie, that’s where I came from.”
Being 5 years old, I thought she was pointing to the water, hence the mermaid heritage. It was my Grampa who when I asked if he “caught Gram in the river here too,” in a cloud of quickly expelled smoke told me she didn’t come from the river, “but Canada…over there…the land you see over there…not from in the river.”
Tess, the lady who basically raised me, to me was always magical, and I remember the last time I saw her alive, she wasn’t doing very well in the hospital, and I had to catch a flight back to work in California. Before I left I bent over her hospital bed and kissed her cheek, and quietly told her so the lady in the next bed wouldn’t hear, “I’ll miss you…mermaid.”
It was the last time I saw her smile.
June 15th, 1957, my 5th birthday. Tess told me years later that Grampa told my mother that, “since it is the kid’s birthday I’m going to take him out for his first shot and beer,” then picked me up, loaded me into the rusted black Dodge and told Tess as he backed out of the gravel driveway, “won’t be long at the gin-mill.”
Tess saw the fishing pole in the backseat, knew where we were really heading. Had in fact just made his bait and wrapped it in wax paper.
Five months later, Grampa was dead.
I think of Grampa a lot, but never more so than when I’m at the Farmington, CT Post Office and standing in front of PO Box 892.
It is the PO box of the LLC company I started to freelance through. Whenever I am paid to write about fishing, the check is not made out to me, but to the LLC.
Our accountant suggested it for some kind of IRS legal mumbo-jumbo.
As I turn the PO box key I think of Grampa, for this reason, it has long been rumored, long been family lore, that Gampa was First Nations Canadian.
Here, on this side of the Niagara River we refer to the heritage as, Native American.
I have found some proof that the claim that Grampa was First Nations is true with his linkage going back to the Ontario, Canada Mohawk peoples.
In the Mohawk language the word, Water, was spoken as, “Ohne:ka.”
I see Grampa every day at the Post Office when I get the mail for the LLC I write under.
That LLC is called Oneka…for Grampa…the man who first took me to the water.
“…Torn from the map of Michigan…”
And it was in that PO Box that I found a single letter, a handwritten letter addressed to: Don Barone, c/o Oneka LLC, PO Box 892, Farmington, CT, 06034.
It didn’t look like a bill.
Or a card of any kind.
But it took two First Class stamps to get to me, felt a little heavy and thick.
Normally when I pick up the mail I just toss it onto the passenger seat of the 4Runner, and go on to my other errands…don’t open the stuff until I get home.
But a two stamp handwritten letter gets opened in the post office parking lot.
“Don, thank you, thank you, thank you,” is how it began. And on the paper next to the thank yous was a photograph of a young man next to an old man, and they were fishing.
The young man it turns out is a guy named, John.
The older man, is his Grandfather, William.
Alone in the 4Runner, I smell cigar smoke tinged with grape jelly.
Back in the beginning of the year on the Elite tour, my roommates, Paul Elias & Shaw Grigsby and I rented a house in Florida for one of the first events.
It was the owner of that house that sent me the letter.
The letter was handwritten on two pages, front and back, and also contained in the envelope were some photographs. Photos of a framed picture now hanging on the wall of the house we rented.
The photo is of two young boys holding fishing poles…and the fish they caught. The photo is matted, and the mat is signed by Paul, Shaw, and myself.
In John’s handwriting he says, “When you signed that picture with my brother and I you touched the soul of a family.”
I will let John, set the scene:
“My dad helped my brother reel that Bass in, it was our dad who got us those poles, the bait, and while he was working we were fishing, and it was him who took the picture.”
“My future wife Noreen her birthday is April 20th. She was in school that Friday and my dad gave me $20, he would always give me something when I was going to see Noreen. When I left my mom took dad to the hospital. I visited him the next day and told him that I loved him as I left to go back to school. He died April 21.”
“The picture of me and my Grandfather is the only time I ever fished with him, it was during a break in my father’s funeral. That blue jacket that I’m wearing was my dad’s. It’s a McGregor jacket, the zipper is broken and I still wear it today on occasion.”
Thirty four years later, “on occasion” John wears the jacket of the man who first took him fishing.
Later, when his grandfather died he was told he could take anything he wanted from his estate, “the only thing I wanted was his tackle box,” and he still has it.
John talks about how, “precious our time is on earth,” and pretty much ends the letter with this:
“Don, it was always my dream to get the place that those who know how to fish would want to come…you started at my place and I feel that I have won life’s lotto. I may not have caught a fish but I’ve shared in someone else catching that fish, and I’m so at peace with that.”
And then a PS: “The key will always be under the mat for you.”
As it will be for you, John, once I find, Last Camp.
“…and folded in this scrap of paper…”
I sat in the 4Runner, stunned.
I don’t believe in coincidence, have read all about random theory but not sure I buy in to it.
I do believe that we live in a spiritual universe full of mystery and magic, be that God, or particle physics, I believe strongly we are all made of the same star stuff.
At our core, we are the universe.
This letter came to me on the day I was about to write The Search For Last Camp: Western New York…the verdict. The follow up to the first story I did about Last Camp.
It was a printed letter, small precise printing, neither my father, nor my Grandpa ever wrote the words out…all their letters I have are printed…just like this one.
It was a letter about a son who’s father did not fish, but bought him the stuff to fish with, and a Grandfather who fished with a grandson.
Just like my father, just like my Grandpa.
To tell you the truth, I was about to ELIMINATE WNY as the setting for Last Camp. After spending 2 weeks there looking around both Lake Erie and Lake Ontario I didn’t think it would be the best place…the more I talked to athletes and pro anglers they more I heard that the big lakes, inland oceans actually, while teaming with fish would also be tough to fish.
More for big boats in the big pond…downrigging…trolling for fish off the back of the boat…nothing wrong with that way…but the guys I talked to want to hold the rod, cast the line, feel the bite.
The big lakes didn’t interest them.
But as I read the letter from John, I knew I was getting a message…a message about cigars and peanut butter & jelly.
And the Niagara River.
In the Lower Niagara River.
Where huge Steelhead swim…along with Salmon…Large & Smallmouth Bass, Muskie and Grape Jelly loving Perch.
A river in WNY that you can basically fish year round.
A river in a canyon downstream from Niagara Falls at one end, Lake Ontario at the other end.
The river, of my mermaid.
The Search For, Last Camp…continues…the Lower Niagara River is topping the list right now…but I want to hear of where your Last Camp would be, and maybe I can visit your dream as well.
You can email me your spot for Last Camp at firstname.lastname@example.org….
…you can send me a letter like John did.
Send it to:
c/o Oneka LLC
PO Box 892
Farmington, CT 06034
And for Grampa, here’s a message back.
When Last Camp is found.
When Last Camp is built.
The name on the Last Camp gate will read,
In honor of the man who first brought me to—the water.
And where there will always be—grape jelly.
“…is the land I grew in.”
“People say I'm crazy doing what I'm doing
well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin…”
DATELINE: LAST CAMP…WNY
Reality and me, have never been friends.
What if you saw things not as they are, but what they could be.
What if your brain doesn’t grasp, can’t.
What if…if was the starting point of your thoughts.
If that is your brain…you know of what John Lennon sings,
people say you’re crazy.
Most of my life I have been told…no…can’t…that won’t work. And to be honest, most times those yelling at me have been right. They have all went on to have big homes, big cars, big bank accounts.
And I have not.
I was once told by one of my several thousand bosses, “It’s up to you, what would you rather have, big money, or big dreams, you pick.”
I took dreams,
“People say I'm lazy dreaming my life away
well they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me
when I tell them that I'm doing fine watching shadows on the wall…”
Turns out, he was right, and I was wrong … that dream led to foreclosure…damn near bankruptcy … several years of dealing with court cases and expensive lawyers.
In the end, we won in court, got a big settlement that pretty much went to all the attorneys, but for years after … I kept my dreams to myself.
I was a dream hider, afraid to dream out loud.
So in truth, no matter what the court papers said … said I won … in truth, I lost.
“… ah, people asking questions lost in confusion
well I tell them there's no problem, only solutions …
well they shake their heads and they look at me as if I've lost my mind …”
For the past almost 20 years now, I have spent more than 100 days a year on the road.
This year, 161 days, last year, 140 days, the year before, 150 days,
In the last three years I have spent more than an entire year on the road … plus 80-some days.
Time lost to my family that I will never get back. Travel time that beats you up mentally, physically, emotionally.
Time I hate.
Time I love.
I love doing stories, but coming off the road, ends that.
But while doing all that driving, doing all that flying … I been dreaming again. And if you are going to dream, dream big, if you are going to win, win big, if you are going to fail, fail big.
Life is big.
And this is the dream…Last Camp.
Stories done not one the road … but on my front porch … my dock … around my fireplace.
Bring the stories to me, not the other way around.
Barb calls it, “Writing Camp,” which I like, but for me, it will be my final story, final stories.
My Last Camp.
“…well they shake their heads and they look at me as if I've lost my mind…”
And possibly my Last Camp, will be where my First Camp began…Buffalo, New York
Western New York.
Last Camp: WNY
Could be going back home, and here’s why.
Western New York sits on two inland oceans, with a magical river in-between.
When I bring some of the best anglers in the world to Last Camp to tell me their stories, to tell me about their adventures, to tell me about the romance for being inside the outside … you want to offer them some of the best fishing in the world.
And forget what you hear about Buffalo, about WNY … hear this, remember this … it is an outdoor paradise here … ESPECIALLY… if you fish.
Don’t believe me … check this out:
Buffalo sits on the shores of the 10th LARGEST LAKE ON THE PLANET…9,940 Sq miles of sweetwater. It is 241 miles long, 57 miles wide at its biggest bulge with an average depth of 62 feet.
Almost 4,000 years old it is filled with Steelhead (what some call Rainbow Trout), Walleye, Bass both Large and Small of mouths, Trout and Salmon.
Lake Ontario, north of Buffalo, but still in WNY is the 14TH LARGEST LAKE ON THE PLANET…7,340 Sq. miles…average depth 283 feet with a max depth over 800 feet. And like its big sister lake to the south it’s filled with Bass, Salmon and Walleye.
But for me, the magic is in the water between the lakes.
The sweetwater below Niagara Falls … the Lower Niagara River.
Don’t believe me…here’s how the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation describes the Lower Niagara River, “Truly one of NYS finest trout, salmon, fisheries, also offering tremendous overall fishing diversity.”
The lower Niagara is 14 miles long, from the bottom of the falls to Lake Ontario and can be fished 12 months a year. That’s right, ALL YEAR LONG.
And you can fish for … Chinook Salmon, Walleye, Lake Trout, Brown Trout, Steelhead, Large/Smallmouth Bass, Muskie.
So it is at home, where we will begin The Search, For Last Camp.
With the lower Niagara … Lake Ontario being a focal point.
After this search we will move to the Finger Lakes area of New York State … and then … to what has become my second home … The South … specifically Alabama … and the lakes of the great Alabama Lakes Trail.
And the stories of adventure, zest, and love of being inside the outside told at,
“…no longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go
I just had to let it go.”
Watching The Wheels