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.