Doug Bruns

10.16.2016

In Adventure, Fishing, Memoir, Nature on October 16, 2016 at 8:00 pm

All That is Solid Melts into Air

Last Tuesday, three days after my 61st birthday, I was thigh-high in the Blue, just outside Silverthorne, Colorado. The water was cold, in the low fifties. The air was about the same. I had been fishing the bend in the river for an hour to no avail. I know there is a trough to the freestone bottom at this spot, holding nice trout. I worked it with a prince nymph. But nothing.

The wind picked up and I looked upriver, to the north, over the mountains. A front was moving in. Dark clouds were approaching. The air temperature dropped and the sky opened. Big juicy drops of rain began to fall, then snow, then sleet, roiling the river surface. Suddenly, around me in every direction trout began to rise. Big fish, thick as your forearm, rising to sip from the river’s surface insects, midges and such, that were being knocked out of the sky. Flashes of pink and red and steel grey, these fish. My heart raced.

I drew in my line and breathed into my cupped hands. My fingers were stiff and half-frozen. The fish continued to rise, in front, behind (I could hear them), up and down stream. I switched flies, struggled to tie on a dry fly. The river around me boiled with rising fish, rolling like porpoises against the surface. I flipped my fly upstream. Fish on! I pulled in a nice rainbow and released it. I tossed my fly into the river again. The sleet-rain continued to pock the river surface. Another fish. Then another. Then the rain stopped. The sky opened. The sun came out. The river grew quiet, the door closing. The fish disappeared, becoming liquid and melting into the invisible. I was, again, thigh-high in moving water. But everything, though the same, was now different.

8.20.2016

In Uncategorized on August 20, 2016 at 8:22 pm

It is reported that the last words of John Stuart Mill were, “My work is done.” I have a minor obsession regarding last words. Perhaps, if there is to be a summary of one’s life, it is  best captured in the last words, assuming the dying is cogent and a degree of ambition still evident. As I mentioned elsewhere, Hegel’s last words were, “Only one man understood me and he didn’t understand me.” And Henry Thoreau’s were, “Moose…Indian.” My advice to the dying is: Know what you’re going to say before you expire. We’re interested.

Mill’s utterance, “My work is done” crossed my radar this week. It came on the heels of a friend making the comment, “If you wrote a book, I’d read it.” You cannot imagine the import of these two phrases colliding as they did in space and time. I expressed appreciation to my friend and told him that growing up I was under the self-inflicted impression that I was to be a writer. I said this and smiled, shrugging my shoulders, as if to say, Oh well. But inside, I wanted to cry out, “Do Over!” Not that I would be up for a trade or a barter. I have loved the life I’ve lived (so far), the family, the marriage, the travel, books read, people met, and so on. But if I could have more that would be good. Greed is not an emotion I’m susceptible to, except when it falls into the category of living: let me live more, larger, richer, deeper. (Note, I didn’t say, Let me live longer.)

At this place in life I am still waiting, as silly as it sounds, to Mill’s point, waiting for my work to begin. When is that going to commence, I wonder? Soon is good, later not so much. And what if it doesn’t come? Herein lies the problem: It is not a thing that is self-starting. It is not a thermostat that will kick in when some pre-set trigger is pulled. It is, to be vague about it, a thing that one must begin with effort and discipline and purpose. Waiting for Godot is still waiting, yet Beckett wrote the play. And still I wait.

 
What exactly is my work? What am I waiting for? Good questions. Good questions without good responses. “Let us do something, while we have the chance,” writes Beckett in Godot. Indeed, let us do something.

8.7.2016

In Memoir, The Examined Life, Wisdom on August 7, 2016 at 8:18 pm

It is commonly accepted that one should strive to “live in the now,” to “be present.” I don’t dispute this wisdom. There is a great deal of distraction in life and given enough rein, distraction will eventually snuff out the vibrancy that is life itself. Memories, it seems to me, are often put into the category of distraction. “Oh, she’s living the in past.” Or, “All he has left are his memories.” I am probably universally wrong on this, but it seems to me that we have been trained to keep our memories at arm’s length, that in some fashion memories are guilty pleasures that we are wrong to enjoy. The Proustian in me says, that is bull shit.

I sit this evening in the mountains of Colorado. The air is chill, even though it is August. Indeed, it is growing cold. I am outside and remembering summers past. I look through old notes and read old blog posts to jog my memory. Sometimes I feed memory like sometimes I pour myself a second bourbon. I know I shouldn’t–there’s that guilty pleasure–but I do because I want to. Tonight I am thinking of Maine on a summer evening and I miss it, even though this afternoon I photographed an elk with a five foot antler span.

I dreamt of my father last night and that is a form of memory, I think. I suspect experts know better, but I’ll not be dissuaded. Regardless, I have dreamt of my parents more often than not these days, certainly more than when they were alive. I have no idea what that means. But again, if that is a fashion of memory, then I embrace it. Is part of growing old the breaking down of resistance to reflect on the past with nostalgia? Nostalgia comes from the Greek nostos, for return home. That seems at the core of many things.

No doubt these thoughts are sparked by four months on the road with no prospect of returning home any time soon. My father used to say that a certain place felt like home. He never said, as best as I can recall, that such and such a place was home. He desired to return to his roots, though he did not have a complete understanding as to what such a place was. He was eternally restless in such matters and I am restless too. To use a word my mother used, He was discombobulated. I am somewhat discombobulated too.

I was reading Seneca today. “The fool with all his other faults is always getting ready to live.” A bit further on he continues: “…you will think of old men who are preparing themselves at that very hour for a political career, or for travel, or for business. And what is baser than getting ready to live when you are already old?” What is baser than getting ready to live when you are already old? I’ve read through this section repeatedly and cannot fully parse where he’s coming from. Yet, it seems to address this business of growing older and the attendant restlessness that I’ve noted. The wisdom of Seneca has withstood the ages so I’m going to give him the nod on this one. Yet it seems contrary, don’t you think? I suspect the old stoic would accept the fact in the mirror: You’re old. Face it. You’re not going to start getting ready to live.

It seems a curse of modern times that we are prompted to embrace eternal youth. Surgery, drugs, yoga, trophy spouses, fast cars, money, whatever–all seem to be evidence toward this notion. You’re not old, sixty is the new forty. I am sixty. I am not young, yet, with deference to Seneca,  I still occasionally throw out a scheme or plan to do something new. Today, in fact, Carole and I discussed living in a foreign country and learning its language. We went down to Boulder, a college town, and I talked about getting more education, or perhaps teaching something or other. What is baser than getting ready to live when you are already old? Tomorrow I am going to spend the morning fishing the Big Thompson, here in the high Rockies. That is not getting ready to live; that is living. Seneca would give me a wink, I think. Maybe I get it after all.