Dad would have turned 63 on Saturday.
It’s not something I dwell on, so it doesn’t wreck me when he makes his way into my thoughts. Our last words to each other were appropriate, loving and final. Still, the finality is something I will never fully get over. There’s so much I wanted him to see and wanted us to do.
To welcome unsolicited thoughts, I shut down communication for my weekend trip to the Upper Sacramento river and quieted the noise — work, grad school (I pulled an ‘A’ in my research methods class), posts of fish, texts of fish, texts of deer and texts of ice cream.
I walked the train tracks adjacent the Upper Sacramento in the warm morning, after yet another night sleeping in the bed of my truck because my sleeping pad and tent are still en route from the homeland. (I had plenty of coffee and peanut butter though).
I didn’t think about all dad has missed in my life since the last time I talked to him, instead the thoughts I stayed with were memories — good ones. That’s usually the case. He’d be pretty upset if I was sitting around despondent and whiney. Well, I do whine a lot, to which he’d respond with the vein in his forehead bulging, “suck it up”.
The month before he left home for good, he saw my first magazine byline. He saw me published in this space for almost a year before cancer got him. In the hospital with weeks to live, he’d go on the doctor’s computer, pull up my column and print it at the nurses’ station. I know he’d tell me he’s very proud of what I’ve done in the past four years but that there’s much more for me, especially with writing.
I write with more heart now that he’s gone. I’m a little more candid and trusting with what I think, though it doesn’t make it easy to share, especially if it is raw and unedited. Revealing frail thoughts scares me more than bears. I tell my students I once killed a bear with a stapler, but that didn’t happen.
Dad was always a good storyteller and had a penchant for over-thinking everything. He’d sit on the couch and stew over how to fix the deck, how to best attack the moss that inevitably takes over lawns in southeast Alaska, or who’d play what instrument in the spring concert.
I played the trumpet, but he had me play the timpani once. Ironically, the only class I was ever tossed from was his, the year before, when someone sat on the timpani. He had laryngitis, which was typical around concert time, and he screamed.
It was a hellish, high-pitched shriek that Lars and I thought was hilarious. Dad didn’t think so. Lars and I were … excused early. Dad probably had me play the timpani in my last spring concert as a way to tell me he remembered the day he gave me the boot. Redeemed.
Just as I finished recalling that episode, I saw a pair of bucks. In the ten years I’ve lived and fished in California, I can count on one hand the amount of bucks I’ve seen. In the last nine days I’ve seen seven. Seven.
And the days between buck sightings I was teaching 15 and 16-year olds that conflict drives plot (it does in real life, too). The deer reminded me of one of my favorite summer images.
After Tonya had efficiently dispatched her first deer that day on the mountain, her dad was taking a photo with his iPhone, which in and of itself is quite a sight. I took a picture of him taking a picture of her and the blacktail. They didn’t know I had my lens fixed on their moment.
She’s smiling and he’s smiling, the deer isn’t, but nevermind that. It’s a moment between father and daughter which I later gave them on a flashdrive.
Dad and I had plenty of moments together, but they are mostly in the big lake of my memory and float ashore on days like Saturday.
I finished my walk back to camp, paid for another night then headed south toward Lake Shasta. The reports have been that the further you are from Shasta the better thanks to low water and high temperature. With fish still needing food and all the fishermen up by Dunsmuir, I’d go where the fly shops recommended avoiding.
A total Fred Lund move.
It was miserably hot, even wet wading after a vanilla chocolate peanut butter ice cream bar, and I caught nothing. I thought about some of dad’s grand schemes. Some were successful, some failed miserably. But the mark of a great man is to fail with grace and to not be afraid to fail again, because in the meantime, flaws and all, you’re probably doing plenty right.
This column appeared in the August 21 edition of the Manteca Bulletin