Thursday, November 10, 2011


Basho said, "Do not follow in the footsteps of the masters. Seek what they sought."

When Basho talks, I listen. As does another of my favorite poets, the late Olav H. Hauge.


Not by car,
not by plane--
by neither haysled
nor rickety cart
--or even by Elijah's fiery chariot!

You'll never get farther than Basho.
He got there by foot.

In October, my wife takes an annual business trip to Monterey. I tag along on this trip, treat it as an opportunity to walk in the literal footsteps of two artists I consider modern masters, artists who continue to have a profound effect on the way I write and think about writing.

The lives of these two artists became intertwined in the early years of the twentieth century, at what was then an artists colony in Carmel. And at the rock and cypress landscape of nearby Point Lobos.

Photographer Edward Weston captured the iconic, black & white images that define Point Lobos in most people's minds. Years (decades, I suppose) ago, I trudged the dry river beds of my hometown with a 4 x 5 view camera, mounted to a proportionately heavy tripod, on my shoulder, trying to figure out what it was he sought; to catch a glimpse of it on my camera's ground glass.

As art historian Nancy Newhall wrote, "Deliberately he stripped his technique, his living, and seeing of unessentials and tried to concentrate on the objective and eternal--only to find that he could not and would not be bound even by his own dogma. How could he tell what he would see on his ground glass tomorrow?"

Weston described it as a search "to present clearly my feeling for life with photographic beauty ... without subterfuge or evasion in spirit or technique."

This was true whether his subject was a lithic landscape, a still life of peppers brought home from the market, or the unretouched portraits of a woman singing or a man shooting. He also made portraits of his neighbor, the other modern master I'd come to the coast to acknowledge, poet Robinson Jeffers.

It's difficult to take a photograph of Jeffers' home, Tor House, without the modern mansions that have surrounded it encroaching in the frame. Beautiful homes, to be sure, but in such contrast to the rock structures Jeffers built by his own manual labor.

Reversing the angle, though, one still sees what Jeffers saw, as he described it in his poem, "Carmel Point."

Meanwhile the image of pristine beauty
Lives in the very grain of granite.
Safe as the endless ocean that climbs our cliff.

Tonight, I'm reading from my new chapbook of poems, Standing in the River, in Midtown Sacramento. Reflecting on Weston and Jeffers, I'm finding a sense of satisfaction and an artistic peace of mind in the fact that we share a common thought.

In the forward to his 1938 Selected Poems, Jeffers wrote that he'd come to the point where he was "writing verse that seemed to be--whether good or bad--at least in my own voice."

Friday, October 28, 2011


Friday, October 7, 2011


My second chapbook of poems, Standing in the River, is hot off the press from Tebot Bach and available on-line at Standing in the River was the winner of their 2010 Clockwise Chapbook Competition and Tebot Bach did a wonderful job producing the book. I couldn't be more satisfied.

That's my friend Adrian Psuty in the cover photo, swinging the Lower American on a winter morning. He and his wife Teresa taught me how to spey cast and continue to fuel my obsession with wild steelhead and home-brewed beer. Good friends, indeed.

I'll be reading from my new book at the Sacramento Poetry Center -- with Kathleen Winter -- on Monday, 10/10; at Angar Mora's Salons for Wooing Our Imagination! in San Rafael on Monday, 10/17; at the Urban Hive in Sacramento -- as part of the Color, Words & Rhythm event with Clemon Charles -- on Thursday, 11/10:
and at The Other Voice in Davis -- with Danyen Powell -- on Friday, 11/18. Shoot a message to me if you're interested in more details.

A special thanks, too, to Toni Wilkes for including Standing in the River -- and me -- in the Sonoma Book Festival on 9/24.


“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”
― John Muir

Friday, September 16, 2011


Standing in the river, we become boys again.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


"... my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion ..." From Anatomy of a Fisherman by Robert Traver.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Mick Lovett shows us how it's done.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Sunday, June 19, 2011


Kurt Vonnegut passed along some sage advice -- advice his Uncle Alex had given him -- in his last published work, A Man Without a Country (Seven Stories Press 2005).

"I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'"

Friday, June 10, 2011


The March Browns are hatching in June this year.

On Saturday, I watched two trout feasting on emergers just below the surface film. Newly emerged adult mayflies, however, drifted safely by on the surface overhead. As their cohorts were being eaten right below them, they raised their elegant wings to dry so they could fly away and mate.

When I got home I watched Ralph and Lisa Cutter's amazing DVD, Bugs of the Underworld, for the who-knows-how-many-ith time. If you look at it a certain way, it's an existential masterpiece.

For most of their lives, these bugs crawl around on the bottom of the river. Then one day they go through a kind of puberty completely beyond their control. They fill with gas and float toward the surface.

To best of my knowledge, insects don't panic the way people do. But some of these bugs are clearly freaked out by the change and swim back toward the bottom and the life they knew down among the rocks. Those days are over, like it or not.

Eventually, the nymphs that resist the change exhaust themselves swimming against their new buoyancy. They float flaccidly to the surface where they're trapped below the film. Which is where those trout I watched were feasting.

Some mayflies embrace the change and swim toward the surface. Go with the change. These bugs generate enough momentum to penetrate the surface film. Floating downstream on the water's surface, their wings break through their husks and are raised like sails to dry in the air. On Saturday, those were the March Browns that survived the trout gauntlet.

Once I got thinking about the existential aspect of the March Brown hatch, I couldn't help but remember the Tibetan Book of Living and the Dying. It was extremely popular when I was going to college and gave us the famously popularized admonition to "go to the light."

Today, a book of poems arrived in my mailbox. The Pulitzer Prize winning collection, Alive Together: New and Selected Poems by Lisel Mueller. Her poem, "In Passing," was the final link in my chain of thought.


How swiftly the strained honey
of afternoon light
flows into darkness

and the closed bud shrugs off
its special mystery
in order to break into blossom:

as if what exists, exists
so that it can be lost
and become precious

Sunday, June 5, 2011


Brian Slusser and his avalanche rescue dog, Shooter, wade the Truckee River during spring conditions on the first Saturday in June.

Monday, May 30, 2011


Rain. Sleet. Hail. Snow. Even some sunshine. The last days of May in the Sierra.

During an ambling Sunday drive, my friend June and I checked in on the Silver Fork of the South Fork of the American. It was a good day to leave the fly rod in the truck.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Jim Harrison and Gary Snyder are old friends and especially good ruminators. The bit of rumination below is taken from the transcript of an outstanding documentary film, The Practice of the Wild: A Conversation with Gary Snyder and Jim Harrison (San Simeon Films 2010). The DVD is included in the companion book, The Etiquette of Freedom (Counterpoint 2010).

I found it especially delightful to watch Jim Harrison in motion. He is an intellectual force of nature. Watching and listening to him was like encountering a loquacious forest creature. Here's a snippet of their conversation about nature, the wild, and wilderness that resonated with me today.

GARY SNYDER: You know, to go back a bit for a second to The Practice of the Wild, I find that it's hard to--people, including environmentalists, have not taken well to the distinctions I tried to make there between nature, the wild, and wilderness. You know, I want to say again, the way I want to use the word "nature" would mean the whole physical universe.


GARY SNYDER: Like in physics.

JIM HARRISON: Yeah, right, exactly.

GARY SNYDER: So not the outdoors.

JIM HARRISON: No. That's a false dichotomy--


JIM HARRISON: --or a dualism.

GARY SNYDER: Yeah. Nature is what we're in. If you want to try to figure out what's supernatural, you can do that, too.


GARY SNYDER: But you don't have to. And then the wild really simply refers to process, a process that's been going on. And wilderness is simply topos--it's areas where the process is dominant.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


"The depths of mind, the unconscious, are our inner wilderness areas, and that is where a bobcat is right now."
--Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild, "The Etiquette of Freedom"

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Sunday, April 10, 2011


Wednesday, March 30, 2011


That's Mick Lovett, owner of Marble Canyon Outfitters, waving a "Hi, Mom" to my mother down in Chandler, Arizona.

When I snapped the photo, Mick and I were heading upstream for what was about to become an epic day of fly fishing. Epic not only for the number and size of the fish Mick guided me to but also for what Mick taught me about fly fishing. Another thing, fishing with Mick is plain fun. Mick is as enthusiastic as he is capable. Quite a combo.

Before we rigged, Mick asked what I wanted to get out of the day and I said I wanted to catch fish in as many ways as possible, that numbers didn't matter as much as the variety of methods employed, and I said I hoped he'd be willing to teach me throughout the day -- i.e., put up with lots of questions.

This request was right up Mick's alley and I learned about fly tying, knot tying, the coloration of different trout at different places in the river, the steelheadiness of these Lees Ferry fish, and how to use my own damn fly rods effectively.

Most of the day we switched between a midging rig and a rod rigged with a dry-dropper; I'd brought along two rods, a rod for nymphing and a rod for casting dries. Mick taught me how to use the comparative stiffness and softness of the two rods to cast and mend effectively, and to use them to do what they were designed to do. As a result, I am on my way to being capable of fishing up to the level of my highest-quality fly rod, the rod my wife and parents chipped in on as a 50th birthday gift to me. I had no idea it was that good a rod.

This was my third trip out with Marble Canyon Outfitters. My father and I went out on the river with M.C.O founder Dave Foster a couple of years ago and had a great day. We enjoyed our first foray up Glen Canyon so much that we went out again in October of last year with my mother and brother, too, and with M.C.O.'s new owner, long-time guide Jon "Rocky" Lovett. (I wrote about that trip in a previous post.

Rocky gave the four of us the trip of a lifetime; a trip my mother had been wanting to take for decades. The trip was so satisfying and complete that when I asked my mother if she'd like to go again sometime, she said, no, our trip was perfect, and that's exactly how she wants to remember Lees Ferry and the Colorado River. Our only regret was that my sister Lisa wasn't there to share the day.

Rocky's good nature was a big part of what made that trip perfect. His good nature and the way he ran that river. My mother loves thrill rides. She loves motorcycles and roller coasters so Rocky had his hands full getting a response out of her but he managed.

Throughout the day I could see how much satisfaction he got from making my parents happy. Something he knew was important to my brother and I, too. As a result, our dad caught twice as many fish as my brother and I combined.

You can imagine the sorrow we all felt when we learned Rocky passed away in January of this year. And you can imagine how heartening it was to learn that Rocky's son, M.C.O. guide Mick Lovett, is carrying on the family business. I am pleased to report M.C.O. is still going strong, as Mick reports on their blog.

There's an old saying that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. In the case of Mick Lovett, that's a good thing. A damn good thing. Go fishing with Mick Lovett. I recommend him.

Monday, March 7, 2011


rowing through
out of the mist
the wide sea

This haiku, written by Masaoka Shiki (1867 - 1902), came to mind when a friend told me she was taking her father's ashes to the sea. To me, this poem is both mournful and transcendent.

Shiki suffered from spinal tuberculosis most of his adult life and he wrote an especially poignant poem, a tanka, from his sick bed. It seems like an appropriate companion to the poem above.

stuck in a vase
clusters of wisteria
blossoms hanging,
in the sick-bed
spring begins to darken

Shiki is the last of the Four Great Masters of Haiku. Others in the pantheon may be more familiar names: Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, Kobayashi Issa.

These two poems were translated from the Japanese by William J. Higginson and are from his book (with Penny Harter) The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku (Kodansha International 1985).

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


The steelhead season has been frustrating for me this year. First, the river was blown out. Then, when it was finally fishable, I blew out my ankle wading in the river my first day out.

These things seem to happen more frequently as I wade deeper into middle age but, as is usually the case, there was a silver lining to the dark cloud that descended on my spey rod and I that morning.

Between applications of ice and heat, my friend James Den Boer and I explored the iMovie software. We'd been talking about doing so for quite a while. Jim is the managing editor for Swan Scythe Press and a poet, translator, independent scholar, and rare books dealer. In other words, a good guy to go exploring with.

The result of our iMovie explorations is a promotional video, about a minute and half long, for a new book from Swan Scythe Press. The book is the winner of the 2010 chapbook contest. It's by Hmong Poet Burlee Vang and the title is, The Dead I Know: Incantation for Rebirth. His poems are wonderful.

"After Our Honeymoon in Laos" genuinely captures my imagination. Fortunately, Jim had captured some footage of Burlee reading that poem at the Sacramento Poetry Center and we included it in the video.

The poem is written in the voice of the wife. She tries to assure her husband there's nothing to be concerned about when he says he's turned into a tiger and "the jungle is calling my name." I know exactly how he feels.

Thursday, February 17, 2011



Raceway ponds teem with salmon fingerlings.
Emerald scales

flash when they rise, break my shadow
on the luminous surface.

Day and night the young fish
nose the artificial current.

Do they sense winter coming?

Great canal gates will open,
flood the ladder, link the river

to cement holding ponds where fish,
returned home from the sea, rest

and ripen. There, the crowder’s metal grip
lifts them to the stainless kill room

where skilled hands work fluid knives,
slice ripe bellies of red females, spill new life—

in orange roe—over shining steel;
egg by glistening egg.

"Thinking About My Death at the Nimbus Hatchery" was first published in Susurrus: The Sacramento City College Literary Journal, and appears in These Rivers, a chapbook of poems from Rattlesnake Press.

Monday, January 31, 2011


The river is finally fishable. Flows are steady at around 2,500 cfs. It's steelhead season, the season of morning fog and a metal travel mug filled with hot coffee tucked inside my waders' bib.

This winter, thanks to an intervention by my friend Adrian and my wife, I'm wearing waders that don't leak and boots with traction. My feet are enjoying the luxury of wool-lined booties. I'm warmer and drier than I was at this time last year. And a year older, I'm reminded, as my birthday falls in January.

A year older, I am better outfitted and a better spey caster. I am not any better, though, at connecting with steelhead. Or at keeping my mind from rambling when I'm feeling skunked. This morning, my mind rambled to a haiku Issa wrote on his fiftieth birthday:

From now on,
it's all clear profit,
every sky.

I suppose I feel that way. I want to. Raymond Carver called Issa's "clear profit" by another word. He called it "gravy."


No other word will do. For that's what it was. Gravy.
Gravy, these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving and
being loved by a good woman. Eleven years
ago he was told he had six months to live
at the rate he was going. And he was going
nowhere but down. So he changed his ways
somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?
After that it was all gravy, every minute
of it, up to and including when he was told about,
well, some things that were breaking down and
building up inside his head. "Don't weep for me,"
he said to his friends. "I'm a lucky man.
I've had ten years longer than I or anyone
expected. Pure gravy. And don't forget it."

Maybe I'm imagining things, but the fog seems to be colder this year, clings longer to the day. This year, though, the merganzers and mallards seem more comfortable with my presence. I move slowly and deliberately downstream between casts. Even my casting stroke is slower. Maybe the ducks are more comfortable with my presence this year because ...

Another of Issa's haiku comes to mind, written after looking at a portrait of himself.

Even considered
in the most favorable light,
he looks cold.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


The premiere issues of Rise Forms: Fly Fishing's Literary Voice is up and running on the web and I highly recommend you visit the site.

This "magazine for anglers" provides a perfectly balanced offering of fly-fishing-inspired arts: fiction by Dave Moats; narrative by Sydney Lea; three poems, one each by Cameron Scott, Anthony Naples, and myself; Justin Cober-Lake reviews Savage Gods, Silver Ghosts: In the Wild with Ted Hughes by Ehor Boyanowsky (the poet, Ted Hughes, was a fly fisherman!); and an especially-interesting interview with painter Rod Crossman that includes a slideshow of his work.

In his Editor's Note, Editor-in-Chief Scott Carles writes about his aspirations for Rise Forms. While there are a substantial number of on-line and print publications that focus on gear, travel, photography, and methods ... well, he says it best himself:

"Fly fishing has a long history, and a long and rich literary history as well. Although it has spanned changes in publishing methods, from illuminated texts to the digital age, what hasn’t changed is the passion with which anglers write about their piscatorial pursuits. And because sometimes it’s not just about what is said, but rather how it is said, that Rise Forms exists."

Take a minute and give Rise Forms a look; check out the menu. If you're like me, that minute will turn into an hour, as each offering makes the reader hungry for the next. Which brings me to something else I really like about this magazine. It is just the right size. The entire magazine can be enjoyed in one leisurely sitting.

I consider it a real honor that the editors chose to publish one of my poems in their premiere issue. It's nice to find myself among such good company.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


There were days I wondered if the river was going to swallow the footbridge below the Sunrise crossing.

Downstream, closer to home, my river-height benchmark, Duckshit Island, was completely submerged.

In the mornings, though, when I'd step out onto the porch to fetch the paper, the air was cold and wet in the way that says: The steelhead are back; grab your spey rod.

Since my home waters were blown out and unfishable, I turned to The River Never Sleeps for consolation. I listened to Roderick L. Haig-Brown talk to me again about fly fishing for winter steelhead on his home waters.

“And now, if all goes well and the Campbell, on whose bank I live, does not rise in full freshet, I know January for the best of all winter steelhead months. The fish have come in in good numbers by that time, but they are still fresh and silver and clean. There may be snow on the ground, two feet of it or more; and if so, the river will be flowing darkly and slowly, the running water below freezing but not ice, just flowing more slowly, as though it meant to thicken into ice--which it never does. steelhead fishing can be good then, and there is a strange satisfaction in the life of the river flowing through the quiet, dead world. On the bank the maples and alders are stark and bare, drawn into themselves against the cold. The swamp robin moves among them, tame and almost bold for once, and perhaps an arctic owl hunts through them in heavy flight whose softness presses the air until the ear almost feels it. On the open water of the river are mergansers and mallards, bluebills, butterballs, perhaps even geese and teal. Under it and under the gravel, the eggs of the salmon are eyed now; the earliest of the cutthroat trout are beginning their spawning, and the lives of a thousand other creatures--May flies, stone flies, deer flies, dragonflies, sedges, gnats, water snails and all the myriad forms of plankton--are slowly stirring and growing and multiplying. But the steelhead, with the brightness of the sea still on him, is livest of all the river’s life. When you have made your cast for him, you are no longer a careless observer. As you mend the cast and work your fly well down to him through the cold water, your whole mind is with it, picturing its drift, guiding its swing, holding where you know he will be. And when the shock of his take jars through to your forearms and you lift the rod to its bend, you know that in a moment the strength of his leaping body will shatter the water to brilliance, however dark the day.”

I've heard poetry described as a conversation with the past, the present, and the future; between the living and the dead. So, too, the conversation among steelhead flyfishers.