“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.
“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.”
“Sometimes I sit in my backyard, I kick back and drink iced tea…”
Dateline: Onondaga Ocean
Knock, knock little basses.
Knock, knock little Smallmouths
Knock, knock little Largemouths.
Ahab is here.
And the Captain has brought,
his dropshot … thingy.
“… I stare all the way to the ocean and dream of how it would be …”
I am rigged, and ready.
To catch me some basses.
On Onondaga Lake, right there where the New York State Thruway zips by the upstate town of Syracuse, N.Y.
The land of ‘Cuse.
Call me, Ahab.
You see, up until a moment ago, I had nothing against bass fishes. Then my wife and I got invited to fish a BASS TOURNAMENT.
FISH A TOURNAMENT!!!!
And suddenly, something inside me clicks, and… and I begin thinking … er not thinking … OBSESSING about “greenies” and “brownies” even though I’m not sure I could identify a “greenie” or “brownie” if they jumped out of the lake and slid down the new fishing pants with the zipper at my knees that I suddenly also became obsessed with.
I bought six pairs.
I’ll be on the water, all of 4 hours.
I’m suddenly going to bed reading the Bass Pro Shop catalog.
I’M FISHING A TOURNAMENT.
Four of my shirts now have Epilates.
My sunscreen SPF factor is so high, I’m almost invisible.
I asked the old guy at Walmart, the dude typing out my N.Y.S. Fishing License stuff one finger at a time, I asked him exactly this, “So, how ‘dey bitin’.”
I did so smiling standing in my new fishing pants, boat shoes and shirt with an epilate on my shoulder while holding a package of the stinkiest worm things, which frankly I think the EPA needs to be looking at …
… ”So, how ‘dey bitin’”
“Date of Birth”
“Of the basses.”
“Date of birth.”
“How old do the basses I’m about rip lips and crank blast out of the lake, how old do they have to be …”
Now picture this … I’m standing in Walmart, back there in the corner where they stick the fishing stuff, I have on brand new, pressed with a crease, fishing pants, new shoes I bought that came with the holes already in them, a shirt with a flap so my back can breathe, SPF factor in the thousands, a backwards baseball cap and holding a package of fake worms that smells like pretty much how you would think the Middle Ages smelled like and I have just asked the one-finger-at-a-time-typing NYS fishing license Walmart guy if I have to basically card the basses before I put them in the live-well.
He’s just looking at me.
My wife Barb has walked away pretending we suddenly needed Walmart towels in our house.
Come on … don’t be thinking that … I’m well aware I’m in a “blue state” one with all them rules … who’s to say someone in the fish regulatin’ biz in Albany didn’t come up with this rule, “before you start throwing all them basses in your livewell they have to be at least 12 inches long and a teenager."
“Sir … YOUR date of birth.”
“Oh … my bad.”
“…If I were a ship captain somewhere…”
And with several apologies … and 15-bucks … I become a legit Bass Tournament Angler.
Knock, knock basses.
On the way out of the store, I bought this singing Bass wall thing.
Just had to have it.
So in the parking lot Barb, now also a fully licensed Bass Tournament Angler, looks at me and says exactly this, “I just don’t want to come in last.”
And I comfort my wife, soul mate, and loved one of either 37 or 38 years by saying exactly this, “Hon … we are going to kick their butts.”
I’m flexing my chest and my now able to breathe back, and to make the point even louder, I walk with my new shoes with holes in them right through a Walmart puddle.
In the 4runner with the A/C now blowing on my cold wet socks Barb says, “But we are fishing against the best in the world, and quite possibly, we may be the worst in the world.”
And shiver as my now fresh air back, meets air conditioning.
“…or an old fashioned sailor at sea…”
Here’s the deal, Barb and I have been invited to fish a couples tournament.
Barb and I being a couple.
As will be all the other people.
‘Cept one small detail.
At least half of every other couple will have an ELITE SERIES angler fishing.
Not us though.
So when I said we would be happy to be in the tournament, I should have ended my sentence right there, instead of where I did which was, “… and we will kick your butt.”
Not something you want to tell Kevin Short, John Murray, J. Todd Tucker, Randy Howell, Steve Kennedy or Cliff Crochet.
But I did.
I now know how bait fish feel in a sea of sharks.
The tournament … actually the secondannual one except we don’t actually do it every year … will be a fundraiser for Tackle The Storm Foundation. Each Elite couple will donate some cash to the foundation to help the kids who have lost everything to storms … and also for the pleasure of handing me my you know what.
I also got donations of fishing stuff … Darin Dohi the head dude at Seeker Rods sent Barb and I a rod each to use in the tournament. Mark “Skippy” Copley at Strike King sent us two reel things to put on the Seeker rods and a whole bunch of bait stuff … things I’m told are crankbaits and plastics.
All of the donated fishing stuff will be auctioned off after the tourney with all the money going to Tackle The Storm Foundation. In fact one of the Seeker rods was bought right at the boat ramp … thanks Uncle Buff.
It is 10am … a way better “Safe Light” if you ask me … since I’m the Tournament Director, I give them the rules, “You know what you are doing and I don’t so it is a five fish limit and the fish have to be 12 inches long … ready … set … GO!”
No mention of how old the bass should be.
Left that point out.
“…maybe I'd sail from Nantucket chasing the great white whale…”
K-Pink baits the hook and hands me the rod, “Don’t kill anyone on board please.”
Barb and I are fishing from behind the seats in the pink boat. K-Pink and his wife, Kerry (K2 as I call her) are fishing up in the front part.
Barb whispers to me, “I don’t want to be in last place.”
I tell her there is no chance of that since we have driven at 70mph across the lake to get to this spot, “…and all the basses are still swimming to catch up to us so they are coming right at the backside of the boat…we got this babe…we’ll get all the pooped-out-from-swimming-to-catch-us bass.”
Piece of cake.
Two hours later, we have no pooped out bass.
K-Pink and K2 … have a limit.
They are throwing fish back.
Even when I drop my bait stuff right into the bubbles where they just plopped a bass back … I still have nothing.
I’m thinking, we might not even make last place, but as a loving husband I don’t mention it to my couples tournament partner.
So I do what I know every great angler does … I start talking to the fish.
I’m back behind the boat seats and I’m saying, “Please fishing god ruler of the lake, please just have one blind stupid hungry bass not know I have some fake food out there and just bite the damn thing.”
I see a kid on the bank roll up a piece of bread on a shoe lace and safety pin and catch a five pounder.
And me … all I have is a dragon fly sitting on my supposedly invisible line.
“Kevin…how deep is it here.”
I am not a patient man.
I’m starting to take my shoes with holes in them off when Barb says, “Don’t you even think of jumping in.”
Being the Tournament Director, as I am, I know full well I never mentioned EXACTLY how to catch the fish … CrankBait, DropShot, by Hand … never actually came up.
Suddenly, the rod snaps in my hand, I look at it in amazement, vaguely aware of some yelling from the front of the boat.
I watch as the tip bends this way and that way, I see a big flash of white just below the surface, while noticing that the yelling is getting louder…and closer…
“Reel…REEL…reel it in db…” Kevin says as he is bounding from the front of the boat.
Oops..forgot the object of the game isn’t actually to catch the fish…the object is to move the fish from the lake to the livewell.
So I start reeling, while looking at Kevin with the look that said, “Would you get your arse back here and do something after all you are the Elite guy and I’m just the dummy guy who just caught the secondfish OF HIS FREAKIN’ LIFE.”
“…oh without a sound, I'd run him aground then I'd bring old Ahab the tail…”
Somehow based on mainly luck that a real dumb fish swam by my hook, I caught the fish … maybe a 2-pounder with a low IQ … and 3 other bass. Barb also caught a bass, she had to fight it a while, so she caught the smart one.
K-Pink and K2 had a limit long ago. They boated a little over 12 pounds of basses.
Barb and I managed to get a little under 9 pounds of fish into the livewell.
We did not come in last place.
First place went to the Cajun Baby … Cliff Crochet and his girlfriend, Sara … they caught 17 1/2 pounds of what should have been my basses.
But to be honest, I knew this on the shore, I knew this on the lake, I knew this back in the parking lot as we weighed in the fish..
…it ain’t about the fish.
It’s about your friends.
It’s about the yucks and the stories told in the boat.
It’s about sportsmanship.
But above all … it is about talent.
For those of you who read me, and don’t fish … please try it … please … because only then will you understand the challenge it is …o nly then will you understand how much time and effort goes into the art, the science of fishing.
And once you get that, you will understand the joy of fishing.
The magic of the treasure under the water.
I have now fished twice in my life, and each time I have come away with a deep respect for the planet we live on.
And the balance this planet demands of us.
Catch the fish, but be gentle with this living creature…and put it back. Respect life whether it has legs or fins.
And then there is this … I am blessed to be able to cover a sport where the athletes are doing exactly what they were put on this planet to do.
They are called Elites because they are elite.
A special thanks to Kevin and Kerry Short, John and Amy Murray, Steve and Julia Kennedy, Robin and Randy Howell, JTodd and Uncle Buff, Cliff and Sara…and also to Ott and Jenny Defoe who showed up and launched but who had babysitting issues for their infant twins and daughter Abbey and who had to leave early.
Thanks to those folks the tournament has raised so far … $400 for Tackle The Storm Foundation … and that alone will put rods and reels into the hands of 55 children.
No basses were harmed in the making of this story …
… but my ego was crushed.
“…yeah I'd bring old Ahab his tail.”
“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
"Roll up, roll up for the magical mystery tour,
step right this way…"
Dateline: Due East of Nowhere
"Yeah, I used to live in a commune once…"
Shaw Grigsby is driving.
I'm in the passenger seat.
Shaw slowly turns and looks at me, I look at him with the universal sign of "Huh," and then Shaw glances up to the rearview mirror, and stares.
I turn as far around in the passenger seat as I possibly can, and shake my head like … "What!"
"… yeah Mid '70's, in Michigan, it was going to have one big dome in the middle and a bunch of little dome homes around it …"
Shaw is still looking into the rearview mirror, both his eyebrows go up, and stay up.
I start to turn around to the front, but quickly once again look back.
"… what's wrong, I thought it was a great idea, the commune and the domes part."
And with that, on a food run to Walmart, both Shaw and I learned something new about our, other roommate …
… Paul Elias.
"…roll up got everything you need,
roll up satisfaction guaranteed…"
Right now, according to my Garmin GPS thing, my 4Runner is parked …
… on a lake.
I mean, ON THE WATER, on the lake.
Earth, is behind me. Several blocks.
The end of the planet seems to be several a half mile behind me, back where I turned right at the nuclear plant.
Somehow, Shaw, Paul and I have booked a two bedroom house, in Nowhere.
"Welcome to Nowhere," I said when Shaw came out to greet me.
I have "1G" on my 4G phone.
But that is only when I stand on Shaw's bed and hold the phone up to the ceiling.
Most of yesterday, Paul had a "0G" phone. Didn't matter none what bed he stood on. The over/under on how long Paul and the "0G" phone will be together … is Thursday.
"… the magical mystery tour is hoping to take you away,
hoping to take you away …"
All this season, I will be rooming with Paul and Shaw, sometimes we will be staying in a house during the Elite event, sometimes a hotel, sometimes, actually RIGHT OF THIS SECOND, MOST times we don't know where we will be staying … since of the 8 events, we have managed to fully reserve ourselves a place to stay at …
This one, here in North of Nowhere, somewhere around Palatka, and the next Elite Series event at Lake Okeechobee.
"Yeah, we have got to, kind of, work on that," Shaw is telling me over his "1.5G" phone as I'm driving and watching my GPS display exactly this "?"
over the symbol for my car while the lady in the GPS box is strongly advising me to "make a U-Turn" since me and the question mark have now driven about a mile or so into the lake.
"So we're homeless…"
"Well … you know … not exactly … well …"
"We have no other places to stay, right."
"Ah … hum … ahh … yeah."
Last night, the three of us had dinner in a diner, or diner in a dinner (I always mess up spelling the meal you eat with the place you eat it in so I'm just putting both up, you figure it out) then we went food shopping at Walmart.
This is the exact list of the foodstuffs that I brought back to North of Nowhere:
3 Gallons of water.
1 Gallon of Sweet Tea.
1 bunch of bananas.
1 Can of ArmorAll Auto Clean & Protectant
1 Bottle of Bailey's Caramel Irish Cream.
6 POUND bag of Whey Protein
100 straws (multicolored).
1 can of Turtle Wax Wet'n Black Tire Foam.
1 Block of Cabot 50% Reduced Fat Pepper Jack Cheese
1 _ gallon of milk made somehow from Almonds and not cows.
As you can see, I plan to stay on my diet, even brought my weigh-in Weight Watchers/Swearers scale and will be weighing myself again soon. I have to wait until the neighbors leave, however, before I can weigh myself since you have to "place the scale on the level floor," but there isn't any level floors in the house. So I'm thinking it may work just as well on the level earth outside but since the neighbors don't know me that well, I think it best that I wait to they leave before I walk out in the backyard in my boxers and commence to weighing.
I haven't discussed this with Paul and Shaw, but I'm guessing they would agree.
Out of respecting my roommates privacy, I will not reveal what they had in their shopping carts other than to say that Paul … well Paul has a very serious addiction to …
Yep, caught him going down that Walmart Easter Stuff aisle several times and on more than one occasion, four actually, he remarked to me, "Man I love those little yellow Marshmallow chickens."
"…a mystery trip."
Magical Mystery Tour
My next story will begin simply.
Will begin with three words.
Will begin with just four words.
It can be no other way.
Simple. Straightforward. To the point.
It will begin like this:
I have cancer.
I don't have cancer.
In the next few days, one word will change my life. In all the words I have written, one word will make all the difference.
And that word is …
"…I'm not half the man I used to be…"
It was in the rainy mist of the B.A.S.S. Northern Open last week on Oneida Lake where I learned I was focusing on the wrong word – cancer – and not the word I needed to be focused on – Love.
As I stood on the beach in the morning fog waiting for launch, I watched as a figure also started walking along the sand.
Watched as the figure walked past the docks.
Watched as the figure walked past the B.A.S.S. workers.
Watched as the figure walked up to me.
The figure was covered head to toe in rain gear, it was only when the figured pulled the rain hood back, that I knew it was a woman.
Middle aged maybe, hard to tell.
Makeup on maybe, hard to tell.
Tears on her cheeks, not so hard to tell.
And when she pulled he hood down, she looked up, and straight into my eyes, and this is exactly what she said, "Don Barone, I love you."
Then she pulled the hood back on and started to walk away. When she did I reached out and gently touched the yellow rubber slicker, and the arm underneath.
"Excuse me, do I know you, who are you."
"Doesn't matter, but I came here to tell you I Love You because you saved my husbands life. He reads you, and he read about your health problems. When he went to his doc to get checked, they found four blocked arteries in his heart …"
I just stood there, not know what to say. I didn't know if I could say anything IF I had something to say.
"… you saved his life."
And with that she walked away back into the mist of Oneida Lake.
And I stood staring at her footsteps in the sand.
And then I walked over to my 4Runner and climbed inside, out of the mist.
And fell apart.
"…there's a shadow hanging over me…"
It is the thought of death, that has brought me life. I do not have a death wish, and I do not have a life wish.
I have a NOW wish. Today. This moment. Now.
And so I write this not for me, not so much for you, not for the stranger who came to me in the mist.
But for the husband of the lady who stood in the cold wet sand and told me of her heart, while fearing for his.
We as stupid old guys need to know this, our health is not just ours, it's their health too.
Mainly THEIR health. For that moment in the sand, I saw that it wasn't only you that had a blocked heart, the woman in the mist had some heart blockage too, from you.
When we don't take care of ourselves, we don't take care of our loved ones either.
I know my wife Barb lies awake nights worrying about me, at some point that will affect her health as well.
And I caused that. Plain and simple.
My NOW wish for the husband of the lady of the mist is this, do not let her walk alone on the sand, take care of yourself, take care of her.
Walk together on the sand, look not at the footsteps of where you have been, but at the sand waiting for you to leave your mark.
I don't know, after tomorrow, what the next beginning sentence it is that I will write. Be it one of three words, or one of four words.
But a sentence, and a story there shall come.
And it will come out of the mist.
And it will be about love.
And it will be about the beach in front of me.
Not the beach I've come from.
But the beach I'm going to.
Where this time my footprints in the sand …
… will not be there alone.
"… oh, yesterday came suddenly …"
It is not the footprints in the sand already left by Elite Angler, Nate Wellman that I care about, it is the footprints facing him, facing the sport, facing us, that worry me.
I've read some stuff about the alleged incident.
I've been asked some stuff about the alleged incident.
As a crime reporter/investigative reporter for over two decades, this is my opinion – I HAVE NONE.
I don't know the facts. Facts are all I care about. Never let emotion into it. Never ask a question I don't know the answer to. Never assume anything. Never buy a shadow of a doubt theory because there is never a shadow of facts theory.
Not going to get into the alleged incident.
Can't, don't know much about it.
But here is what I do know.
"Shoeless" Joe Jackson.
1919 World Series. Chicago Black Sox.
Nate Wellman if you do not know about the above…you need to do some heavy google reading right away.
Especially about "Shoeless" Joe.
Because he, young man, is you.
He did it.
Some said yes.
Some said no.
He said no.
He was kicked out of the sport he loved.
He spent the next 30 years, THIRTY years of his life trying to prove his innocence.
After being banned from baseball, "Shoeless" Joe opened a liquor store down south, and one day one of the most famous outfielders of all time came into his store, but Mr. Jackson never said a word to him.
Finally the outfielder said something like "you don't know who I am," and Shoeless Joe is said to have said back to Ty Cobb, "yeah I know who you are but I didn't think you wanted to know me, most don't …" or something to that effect.
That's your future right now. That's your precedence.
If you don't think so, you are only fooling yourself.
You need to do something, and then we and the sport need to do something as well.
You need to tell the truth.
And then we, with that truth, need to begin to forgive.
That's right, forgive.
The Chicago Black Sox made baseball a better game.
Once the truth comes out on the Steroid Era of MLB … it will be a better game.
And once we forgive, we will be better fans; we will be better people.
Nate, I'm going to give you a little piece of advice after covering the theory of sports for two decades now, especially all the bad parts of sports. I'm going to echo what dozens and dozens of fans have told me over the years, what they scream at the TV sets newscast after newscast …
… JUST TELL THE TRUTH … SAY YOU SCREWED UP … YOU’RE SORRY.
And then move on.
And in time we will.
There is one rule I have never seen quoted. You can throw all the rule books you want at me, count all the pages, and look for all the loopholes, but this rule remains quote less.
Forgive each other.
Nate, the footprints you leave in the sand can be ones filled with questions that will follow you for the rest of your life.
Only with truth, will come forgiveness, and only forgiveness will wash away the doubt you leave in your footsteps.
You only need to look to "Shoeless" Joe…to know that.
"…oh, I believe in yesterday."
"Music was his life, it was not his livelihood…"
Dateline: Buffalo, N.Y.
From the song of the Rag Man, I learned of passion.
I never knew his name, I never will. But I will never forget his song, the song of the man selling rags.
For many on my street he was just the old guy selling rags out of the back of his horse drawn cart, but for me, he was the first virtuoso of my life.
This man selling rags, who sang from his soul.
Every Wednesday in summer came the song of the rags as his horse turned the corner and pranced down our cobblestone street…
“… Rags for you…beautiful rags for you …"
And no matter where I was I would run to the sidewalk in front of our house and watch, and listen…
"… the best of rags … for the best of you …"
Then one day my Grandmother handed me some change and told me to go buy rags. As I ran down our gravel driveway the song of the Rag Man, was about me…
"… young rags for the young boy … new rags for you …"
And I stopped where our gravel stopped, and the horse slowed and turned to look at me as the song of the rags echoed up and down the street …
"… new rags for the newest of you …"
All I could do was hold out my hand as the rag man climbed down from his cart, and he took the change out of my hand, and handed me a bundle of freshly washed cotton rags.
And he never stopped humming the song of the Rag Man.
And as it turned out that was the last summer of the Rag man. As it was also the last summer of our cobblestone street.
I never heard the Rag Man sing in person again.
Except when I meet people with a passion for what they do, and then when they tell me of their love, I hear hooves on cobblestones.
And my soul hums the song of the Rag Man.
"… the best of rags … for the best of you."
"… and it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good …"
I have a friend who is an honest to God billionaire. He's on that Forbes list thing, ranks in the top 500 richest dudes in the world.
I don't rank in the top 500 OF ANYTHING.
I don't even make the top half of the richest dudes on my block.
I think the reason my friend and I get along so well, finish each other thoughts, laugh at each other and ourselves, I think we get along so well because I could care less about how much money he has. Period.
What matters, is his cheesecake.
And his cream puffs.
And his ice cream cakes.
My friend is Bob Rich, Jr. His father, the Sr. of his Jr., pretty much invented non-dairy creamer or something like that. You ever pour Coffee Rich in your coffee. The key word there is not COFFEE, but the RICH, as in his last name.
I could care less what the Forbes dudes get off on….Bob has warehouses FULL OF DESSERTS all over the planet.
Not a bad friend to have.
Bob also has a PR guy, and I think from walking around his corporate joint, a bunch of PR people, but I only know one – Dwight.
When Dwight calls me this is what he says, "db. Hey. The PR guy here … blah blah blah"
I don't normally talk to PR people, but I talk to the PR guy mainly because I saw him turn green once. Did a story with Bob where we went out fishing on Lake Erie in a Bass Boat and it got sort of wavy.
The PR guy pretty much turned into the color of the green frosting on the ice cream cakes. I figured if you are comfortable enough to hurl in front of me, you ain't that bad of a PR guy … so we became friends as well.
A couple of weeks ago, I get a call from the PR guy asking me if I would be interested in doing a story about the new book that Bob wrote, and so being professional like I am, I said this, "Is it about cheesecake?"
"Ahhh … no," Bob said. “It's about being a sportsman.”
Or something like that as my attention span wanders if I'm thinking about pastry.
"but is there like a coupon for cheesecake in the book?" I asked.
" … all the proceeds from it goes to the Boys and Girls Club of Buffalo."
Oh, the secret weapon … I'm a Buffalo guy, Bob is a Buffalo guy and doing something for a Buffalo, N.Y. charity works on me.
"I'll be there; give me a couple of weeks.” I said.
"Great, I'll send you the book,” Bob said.
AUTHOR'S NOTE … unless you are on Forbes Billionaire list and are writing a book where all the proceeds go to a Buffalo, N.Y. charity … DO NOT SEND ME YOUR BOOK TO REVIEW … I don't do book reviews.
And honestly I'm not doing one here other than to say the book is pretty cool, especially the fishing stuff in it – Bob is in the South Florida Fishing Hall Of Fame and is Vice Chairman of the International Game Fish Association, the hockey stuff in it – he played goalie in college and went on to be part owner of the Buffalo Sabres, the Minor League Baseball stuff in it – he owns the Buffalo Bisons and two other minor league teams, and the Lord Bubba stuff – he is some sort of lordship and owns a lordship type town soccer team over in a country with lordships but you need to buy the book to believe this part.
The book is called The Right Angle, Tales From A Sporting Life and you can get it on Amazon (I looked it's there) or in bookstores (I didn't look but I'm hoping it’s there as well). It's a cool read and the money goes to benefit the Boys & Girls Club of Buffalo.
But it doesn't come with a coupon for cheesecake.
Bob has written some other books as well … type his name in Amazon search and you will find all three or four of them. One of them about fishing is being made into a movie. Just buy 'em; it's not going to hurt you to read them. But enough of this, back to the cool part of Bob.
He's a Rag Man.
And in his soul, is the passion of the rags.
"…and he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul…"
Yeah, I just called a freakin' billionaire a Rag Man.
But I'm pretty sure his wife, Mindy, won't be launching a cheesecake in my face after that because I know she knows exactly about what I'm speaking.
In his book, The Fishing Club, he went on a search for why people fish, pretty much like my The Quest, except he can fly all over the place and I have to drive.
And he found one commonality among all those he interviewed …
Always hope for the chase, for the catch and for the camaraderie.
The other day, I spent three hours with him, saw the video wall of the sea he has in his office, rode with him in his 4-year-old Volvo station wagon to lunch where he, the angler, ordered a Reuben, and me the non-angler ordered a Tuna Wrap. We spoke of fishing, and when we spoke, in my heart I sang the song of the Rag Man.
Bob Rich started fishing as a little boy at the Crystal Beach Amusement Park in Canada.
"They gave you this little wood dowel with a string that had a hook on the end and you would drop it in a water trough in front of you and hook a plastic fish as it floated by,” he said. “The fish had a number on it, and that number corresponded to a prize on the shelf inside the tent."
An amusement park side show game launched a life long passion for the sport of fishing – a passion that has taken him all over the world fishing for various species of fish. He has fished with the rich, and the poor (me), with Presidents, and those who vote for Presidents (me).
But I have to tell you, from knowing him, that right now he is fishing with the most important people on the planet that he has ever fished with …
His eight grandchildren.
"It gives me a sense of immortality,” Rich said. “Every angler remembers that first fish they ever caught, and when my grandchildren grow up and remember catching their first fish … I will be the one sitting next to them, even if I'm not here anymore."
When Bob speaks of the great adventures he's had in life, he speaks from that of a rich guy, and I listen to some of it, mainly for the cheesecake.
In all the tales he's told me of the great adventures, I hear the thrill, I hear the hope he believes ties all anglers together.
But I never heard the passion.
I never heard the Buffalo guy.
Until we sat at a dockside restaurant, him of the Reuben, me of the Tuna Wrap, and he talked about immortality. The one thing money doesn't buy.
Immortality comes only, through love.
For the universe to remember us.
We must love.
For our friends to remember us.
We must love.
For our family to remember us.
We must love.
And when we love, we become immortal.
We live in our children, and their children, and all that follow because they all came of love.
So in years of knowing and talking to my friend Bob, I knew he was good at what he did. I knew he spoke of loving what he did, but I still wondered.
And if he did, where was the passion.
Then I found it.
Of all the things he talked about fishing wise with me, he only spoke of fishing with his grandchildren. From the man who has caught pretty much everything catchable in the water, I have never seen him light up as much as he did as when he talked about catching sunfish.
With his grandchildren.
And of all the fish he has ever landed, the sunfish will be the most important one of all.
Because it is there where his passion lies.
As I left, he handed me a 96-OUNCE cheesecake, my biggest catch of the year.
Walking out of his building, I rounded the corner to where my 4Runner was parked, and as I walked down the brick and cobblestone street by his office, in my soul I once again heard the Rag Man sing.
Sat in the 4Runner and listened to the sound of long lost street.
Hummed the song of passion.
And hope that some day I come back.
For the cheesecake.
And for the one book that I hope Bob will write and the only one I will review.
The book filled with passion.
The book about how to be immortal.
By catching sunfish.
"…and he did not know how well he sang, it just made him whole."
Thank you Rag Man, for the hymn in my soul,
"There was a dream and one day I could see it
like a bird in a cage I broke in and demanded that somebody free it…"
I ran book.
I was a kid then, I'm not now, but now I have attorneys and I'm standing on the favorable side of the Statute of Limitations.
Ran mostly numbers, some horse race stuff, some NFL stuff back when it was just the AFL.
You would pick four or five numbers, tell the local dude for your block or avenue, he would write down your name in some sort of mob code, you'd give him 50¢ or a buck, he'd move it on up the line.
Some weeks the numbers were based on the circulation of the local newspaper. Sometimes it was keyed to some stock market thing.
It was a random number thing that anyone could look up. All above board, or no one would give up their four bits. Four bits was something back then in Buffalo, NY.
As a kid, I could get the two bit rate, buy a handful of stuff for just a quarter.
So you hand your block or avenue guy your four bits, or your buck if you made overtime the week before, he scratched you in the game, then brought the money up to the neighborhood guy, who took 3% off the top, his "Vig," and passed the bag, or the box off.
I then took all the stuff inside, drove (guess I was a numbers driver not so much a runner) it downtown to the bus station, handed it to the driver who would drive it somewhere to someone bigger.
Next day I'd be standing there waiting as the payoff came back down the chain, drive it back to the neighborhood guy, who divided it up amongst the block and avenue dudes.
And then, if you picked the right number, you got your prize. Tax free, which is really what the problem was.
Did it for three or so years, up the chain, down the chain. All "legit."
Except the last couple days of the month.
When the widow's checks tended to run out.
And they started buying cat food.
And no cats in their house.
That's when I saw big, rough, dangerous men reach in the bag, pull out Mrs. T of Apt C's slip of paper, and change her numbers, to the wining numbers.
So she was, "good for the rest of the month. You say nothing."
It was the worst secret of the neighborhood. One block guy once told me that come the end of the month some people would lay down (bet) with money but wouldn't give him any numbers to bet on.
Community chest covering the "vig."
The neighborhood looking out for each other…no questions asked. No forms to fill out. No hoops. No fine print.
Just folks having each others back. Granted, the mob was involved, but so were just the regular working stiffs. The plumbers, the meat cutters, Johnnie the cop, Petey the fireman, Sal the muffler guy, Mr. D the bricklayer, Tony the bartender.
And so from my neighborhood I learned this, "you make them good, you ask them nothing, you say nothing, you just make them good."
I thought of all of this when a reporter recently asked me why does Tackle The Storm do what it does, "What's in it for you," was the exact question.
I've been asked that a lot.
And I always give the same answer, not in such detail about my running book stuff, figure that might hurt donations some if they don't tell the whole story, but I do tell them the same two answers, "It's the neighborhood's job, and America is one big neighborhood, it's just being neighborly and making are neighbors good."
And it's also because, "In my house we have mirrors."
They never print those answers.
"…and there was a kid with a head full of doubt…"
The Tackle The Storm: Joplin event takes place in a few days, this upcoming Saturday, August 6th.
It's the nervous period of time for those on the ground there doing all the work.
We've got a bunch of neighbors working real hard there. Got the B.A.S.S Fed Nation club, The Joplin Backlashers handling the heavy lifting, I mean HEAVY lifting, boxes and boxes of stuff arriving daily.
And the neighborhood is growing the Missouri B.A.S.S. Federation Nation along with the KC Jr. Bassmasters will arrive in town in force to pitch in, and they are bringing donations with them as well.
It's not the mom and pop pizza joints and barbershops of my youth, but companies, big companies…corporations of neighbors are shipping to Joplin as well. Wright & McGill donated over 100 BRAND NEW Kids combos, Costa del Mar tons of new tee shirts, Strike King…Vicious Fishing…Yamaha bunches of fishing stuff.
I got a donation in Yen.
I got a donation in Francs.
Money from Australia…Italy…Brooklyn…Iowa…California…Buffalo.
Thanks to all of you, if the expected FOUR-HUNDRED children show up, every one of them, EVERY ONE will get a brand new rod and reel, and a bunch of other new fishing stuff.
And know this, the only instructions to those on the ground is this, "You make them good, you ask them nothing…"
No fine print.
Today I was told a quick story by Braden McBride, the Director of the Joplin Backlashers Bass Club, one of the guys on the ground doing the heaviest of lifting.
Braden called to tell me how things were going, which turns out to be great which is good, and then he tells me this, "I just got off the phone with a lady who called about the event for her son, she wants to bring him down because he lost his fishing stuff, but she wanted to know what gives…how much…what does she have to sign…what does she have to join or donate to."
I say nothing I'm just listening for the answer I hope is coming.
And it does.
"I told her, there is none. They don't have to join anything, donate anything, sign any papers, even give their names…"
No Fine Print.
"…and db, when I told her that she got emotional, she couldn't believe it that we are just going to hand her child something with no questions asked…it was very special db, very special."
And at that point, for just a second Braden's voice cracked, and on my end of the phone tears hit the dinning room table I was sitting at.
No Ma'am, who ever you are, your neighbors are just taking the numbers and once again, making sure you're good.
Not Tackle The Storm.
From all over the planet.
Guys like Braden…the kids from KC Jr. Bassmasters…Jim Zieger the President of MoBass…the men and women behind Wright & McGill…Terri at Costa…Skippy at Strike King, Chris and Jeff at Vicious. Elite Angler Skeet Reese who personally paid for and donated over 200 kids rod and reel combos to the children of both Cullman, AL and now Joplin, Missouri.
And Ma'am, on Saturday when your child is handed his new fishing stuff, as well as the children in line, this is what they will be told, this and only this, they will be told the stuff was given to them, "By anglers who care, and who love you."
Which I know to be the God's Honest Truth.
Because the neighborhood has told me so.
With, no fine print.
"…so I'll scream until I die and the last of those bad thoughts are finally out."
Head Full Of Doubt/Road Full of Promise
The Avett Brothers
The event happens tomorrow Saturday, August 6th, at the North Park Mall, in front of the Macy's store, from 1:00-3:00, if you know of a child who lost everything to the tornado, please tell them about this event.
Dateline: Behind my eyes
Normally, I'd have thrown a song lyric at you above that "Dateline" thing up there, but not today.
Been up all night.
Normally I begin these things with three or four words, don't want to be wasting your time, figure if I ain't got you in half-dozen or so words, I won't get you in 15-hundred of them so why waste your time.
I try to give you an escape plan right up front.
Been up all night.
Don't know how you don't sleep but this is how I don't get no shut-eye. I go to bed with earphones stuck in ears, mine, and the Droid on the night stand, turned right side up, and on.
And when the green light of email goes on, I pick it up, and read the message. On and off all night. Forty-five minutes of wife annoying snoring, 15 minutes of wife annoying late night emailing.
Don't believe me … email me.
Don't believe me … the start of this Word document time stamp says 4:12 a.m.
Been up all night.
Normally I sleep some, but for awhile now, I've had not so good stuff going on both inside and outside of me.
If I was a hard working man in a hard working job, I'd be thinking of filing some papers that would end up with a long future of sitting in a leather recliner.
But writing its own self is pretty much a disability, and I can't honestly go up to the disability police and tell them I can't work no more because I can't think.
Seeing that I'd have to think that one up and they would know I'd be lying that I can't think no more, because my asking is proof that I still had a thought or two left.
So, I figure I'll be here until I won't.
Then disability won't matter none.
Been up all night.
Here's the lyrics just in case you are wondering if this is really db, or if this is really my neighbor Jack who I may have slipped a Benjamin to write almost disjointed stuff and hit send…
"I grew up in a small American town, and every time we get knocked down, we'd get back up, off the mat, fighting mad I'd like to believe in that."
Those lyrics were written by a friend of mine, Rodney Clawson, so if I didn't get the punctuation right he'll just be yelling at me through email, instead of the court system.
I have three friends who are songwriters, Rodney of the lyrics up above, Walt Aldrige and Donny Lowery. All of these guys have put words together that will forever bounce around your head in song. Famous songs.
All three of these songwriters write words with calloused hands. Working men who came to the pen and pencil by the way of a variety of other tools.
Rodney came to song through the crops in the field.
I came to words through the streets of Buffalo.
Rodney knows how to farm. I don't, I do know where there are farms though.
Yet I know this for a fact, Rodney's "small American town," is the same as my "small American town."
Even though I don't know where his town is, or, whether he has ever been in my small town, someday I'd like to take him to mine, and then visit his because I'm coming to see that whether we are children of the fields, or children of the concrete.
We are the same.
America between the exits, been knocked down.
America between the exits, getting back up.
America far from the new paved interstates, you coming back.
Been up all night.
"…everything I've been through
everything I've done…"
If your parts of America are those you see from the new interstates, or from the chunks of pavement around the potholes up here in the Northeast that we call interstates, you’d be missing something.
If your parts of America are only those 15 minutes of fame the media shows you, you need to know we got more people out here than just a Prince and Princess out there in Las Angeles.
Out here between the exits, we done been busted up.
So get this, I'm laying in bed, thinking about how I'd like to be sleeping, but actually having a huge meeting going on in my head, my wife Barb calls it her 3 a.m. conference call.
My conference calls tend to last all night.
So I'm laying there thinking about all the things I should do but probably won't, I've got Rodney singing in my right ear, the left earphone has fallen out and is either under my pillow, or under Riley, the dog who is now sharing my pillow, and suddenly the green light of email lights up the nightstand.
I reach over Riley, who snorts in my face, and turn the droid on which lights up the bedroom, and my wife who snorts in my face, and I read this, once I find my Costco 12 for $12 reading glasses:
"We are anticipating 400 kids to attend our event."
Since I'm not on the Snooty Housewives of Snootysomething … I know this isn't an over the top birthday party … and then it dawns on me who it is from.
And I'm up.
Up for the night.
Because the email is from the Missouri Bass Federation Nation Bass Club … the Backlashers.
The Backlashers of Joplin, Mo.
And the "400 kids" are children who have lost everything in the tornado that struck Joplin. Could you sleep after getting that email?
If you can, I'm going to personally drag you off the interstate.
"…yeah I like to believe
the best is yet to come…"
Been busted up, we.
But all you young anglers of Joplin, you need to know this.
Even you middle young anglers, even you old young anglers, and even you cranky old guys, need to know this.
America is at it's strongest as we are getting up off the mat.
You can knock us down, but you better not be in our way when we start to get back up.
America has been built between the busted ups.
This past 4th of America weekend, the busted up children of the Cullman, Ala., came together at a small town pond.
They came empty handed.
They left with the magic wands of childhood.
Fishing rods and reels.
I'm not going to get into to many details, not wanting to be accused of using the media, me, of promoting my own personal crusade of giving children who have lost everything to a violent storm, give them back the peace and serenity of fishing, but if you do say something negative about it, I will drag you out to your own interstate and run over you a few times until you get the point.
In Cullman, there came this young boy who lost everything to the storm.
He came, but he didn't want anything.
Except, daddy back.
Storms can be anything, can come from anywhere. This storm was coming from Afghanistan where his daddy was stationed.
The young boy told the man about to hand him a brand new fishing rod, "Nope, ain't going to fish again until I can fish with my daddy."
And the child walked away.
As the Cullman volunteer is telling me this story, I'm on Delta.com seeing if there are flights to Afghanistan so I can get there, grab this kid's daddy, and bring him back right now.
"So db I'm watching this child walk around the pond and watch all the other children fish, and I'm about balling."
I see Delta doesn't fly into a war zone, but I say nothing. Can't.
"… and then I see the boy standing next to one of the BASS Elite guys, he's watching the Elite guy show some other child how to pitch to some log or something."
"… and all three of them are laughing and smiling, and then, then the young man turns around and walks up to me …"
And ALL the children went home with magic wands.
Been busted up.
But coming back.
Best when we are getting up of the mat.
Young anglers of Joplin, we know you have been knocked down.
Young anglers of Joplin, people all over America, all over the world, they got your back.
They can't replace everything you lost.
They can't get your daddy back home.
But they can give you a lake.
But they can give you some big fish.
But they can give you some peace from the storm.
Your magic wands of childhood, are on their way.
From anglers who care about you.
Who love you.
"…and that the good times
won't fly by to fast…"
Out here between the exits, out here where the national media only do drive-bys, out here is where America starts, and ends.
You may be on Wall Street.
You may be on Rodeo Drive.
But all roads, all interstates lead here.
If these folks don't get up off the mat, dust themselves off … neither will you.
There are farmers out here with crops that were sucked out of the ground.
There are holes in the ground where small towns used to be.
Small business signs still fall out of trees. A friend of mine handed me a twisted up and mangled artificial Christmas Tree branch she found in the middle of a road.
Forget these people, might as well forget about your own future.
The Prince and Princess will leave.
The trial of the century will blend into the next trial of the century.
Someone will always race for space, blast for the stars.
But back down on earth, back here between the exits, people are still dusting themselves off.
Don't forget them.
Don't forget, America has been built out of the dust.
Don't ever forget, you could be them. You are them.
And if you want someone to come for you, you need to come for them.
Out here between the exits, in Northern Alabama, there is a young 22 year old man, his name is Elliott Malone from Tanner, Ala., who got busted up pretty bad in a car wreck.
Lost both his legs.
The car wreck, his personal storm.
Won't show you him in his hospital room. Won't show you his busted up car. Will show you the bracelets his friends made for him, cost something like 3 bucks a piece … money that will go to help pay his medical bills.
Elliott Malone loves to fish.
Another angler on his back.
Another angler dusting himself off, going to be coming back.
Elliott buddy, I know you don't know me, but I know of busted up legs, I know what it is like to try and pick yourself up off the ground when your wheels don't work.
But Elliott, there is a magic wand with your name on it.
Next time I'm in Alabama, for the B.A.S.S. All Star week in Wetumpka and Montgomery … I'm going to bring it to you.
Half of it at least.
The other half, you have to come get for yourself.
The other half will be waiting for you on the deck of an Elite angler's boat.
You dust yourself off.
You get up on those new magic legs they will fit you for.
You get your arse over to a dock where we will be waiting for you – an Elite angler and me. And I'll hand you the other half of the magic wand, and I'll then get off the Bass boat.
And son, you'll go fishing again with one of the best in the world.
You'll get away from your own personal storm.
I promise you that.
Because that's what we do…
… out here …
…between the exits.
"…I like to believe in that."
I Like To Believe In That