On My Way

June 2021

I decide to spend the weekend in New York City, on my way back to my permanent home Back East, in East Hampton. Before going out to Long Island, I want to take in the air of a city that has just begun to awaken post pandemic.

The ride in from Westchester Airport is long and tedious with heavy traffic going toward Manhattan and across the George Washington Bridge. On a Thursday afternoon traffic swells with commercial trucks and vacationers getting a jump start on a long weekend at the beach. It is an unseasonably hot and stifling day for early June. What a difference from when I was last here, during the darker days of covid, when Manhattan resembled a high-rise ghost town. Things are bustling again. Passing through the Bronx, I see Yankee Stadium and my level of anticipation escalates automatically. It is good to be back in New York. Onto the Major Deegan and the Second Avenue Bridge at 130th Street. The bodegas are thriving; the streets are alive with people—workers, school kids on their way home. South on 2nd Avenue and the neighborhood changes. From Spanish markets to posh boutiques. I see far fewer vacant storefronts. Restaurants have spilled out onto the sidewalks everywhere, with lively tables full of customers, causing even more car congestion on the streets. Reaching our home on 68th Street, the doormen are at the ready. Lots of hugs and “good to see you” and “welcome back.” All nice and homey until we go for the elevators. They are out of service as is seems the recent increase in demand has shortened their lifespans a bit. Or maybe they missed a few rounds of maintenance during lockdown. Undaunted we take the service elevator up to the 31st floor, with our luggage and packages from the front desk. Later, a quiet dinner at Da Umberto, our favorite local Italian restaurant, is the perfect balm after a long day of travel. In Florida, we usually dine outdoors but this time we are inside. The waiter is courteous and welcoming, and we are thrilled to be there, happy that the place survived the long restaurant shutdown period. Afterward, a stroll back to the apartment. The air is cooler and I notice the streets are back to their uneven cleanliness. We don’t see any homeless folks and hope it means the shelters a safely up and running now. Last year the sidewalks were filled with homeless men and women, staying out in the open air where presumably it was safer. The commercial rental market is still dismal and despite the uptick there are still more stores closed than open. Certain areas have recovered more robustly than others. Second Avenue closed for years while the new subway line was installed and now it is now open for business. Lexington Avenue is missing many of the mom-and-pop shops that dotted the streetscape—the shoe repair, the dry cleaner, the small dress shops, and the like. I see a lot of young people everywhere and they will be the force that really turns the economy around, back in their apartments and waiting to return to their offices. Theater will reopen in the fall. Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall. Eventually people will return from their quarantine escapes and summer homes to enjoy the city again. They say it is the greatest city in the world. The pandemic will be a dark chapter in its history, but the pages have already turned, and the glorious story of New York continues.

Salmon Season

June 2021

The intriguing thing about fishing for landlocked salmon in Maine as opposed to trawling from a canoe or river fishing is that it is the closest one gets to Western-style trout fly-fishing. Though we are on a closed freshwater stream – a dam farther downstream forms East Grand Lake—we use the same lightweight tackle and similar small lures. I am no expert but from my experience in Maine, this May was the best trout-like fishing for salmon I have had since building my Maine camp retreat.

Our first time out, the guide, Mark, took me and Ted–all of us in waders– down to Forest City, to a stream that separates the U.S. from Canada. Homeland Security monitors a small, “international” bridge that links the two countries, with a single guard booth on either side. It is not a heavily trafficked port of entry or departure. Fewer than seven cars a day use the crossing. When we showed up it must have been a welcome interruption for the security guard. She came out of her enclosure to inquire of our business near the bridge. We were wearing waders and carrying fishing rods, so it may have been obvious, but her expression stayed firm until a bit of flirting from Mark convinced her our intentions were pure fishing and nothing else. Mind you I said fishing, not catching.

Ted decided to hang back and take photos and make a business call on shore while Mark and I carefully descended the steep bank to enter the stream. Pieces of the foundation of the old tannery that once stood there were evident through the clear, swiftly running water. With the sun over my shoulder, I was ready for anything. A few clouds for cover for the fish were perfect. Mark tied a small, wet fly to my line and instructed me to cast upstream; it would allow a light drift with the current. After a few unsuccessful casts I moved to my right to take advantage of a wider drift. Mark was behind me watching the bobbing fly like a hawk. “Strike!” he shouted into my ear. Clueless me. I never saw the salmon take my fly. Blame it on the sun’s glare. My hand—eye coordination kicked in once I recovered from the ringing eardrum. I lifted the rod and felt the tug. It was a fish, though I could not see it. It dove for the deepest part of the pool area, some 10 to 12 feet down. Mark cautioned me. “Go easy and give it line when it pulls,” he said. I felt like Mark was sitting on my shoulder. I played the fish like I have always done. Tight line and rod high but not too high and not too tight. Figure that one out. Anyway, I maneuvered the line and brought the fish to within a couple of feet from where I stood. The fish pulled hard, and I let out the line to give him the play he wanted. Spooked after eyeing us from the water the fish sprang forward with a jolt of adrenaline, and I feared it was game over. I was determined not to lose him. Unlike the dainty brook trout I had caught earlier that day this was a grand fish and I wanted a picture of it to show my gal Patti. I was intent on proving to her that the long trip from Florida to Maine was worth it. Mark was now whispering in my ear. “This fish is huge. Give him line. Don’t pull back. Don’t lose him!” He was as desperate as I was to hang on to it. At any moment I expected him to dive into the water to catch it with his bare hands. “The rocks!” he yelled. The salmon was pulling me toward some huge boulders upstream. Mark saw the jeopardy before I did. “It will break off once it gets behind that boulder!” All this was playing out in seconds. I was not comfortably situated in the stern seat of the Pilar leisurely bringing in a marlin. “C’mon,” I muttered to the fish. “Enough already. Let’s finish this. I’ll take your picture and release you back to the wild to rejoin all your friends.” It was not to be. Maybe he heard me though because he gave me one terrific jump out of the water. He wanted me to see his size and color. My god, he was a beauty—too beautiful to be caught. For a split second the sun bounced off his silvery spots. He must have been a foot and a half long – maybe three or four pounds in weight. For a moment I relaxed my grip on the fly rod to take in this stunning example of creation. It was all he needed to break off the line with the fly still in his mouth. I was fine. I was fortunate to see him out of the water. I did not need a photo–the image would stay with me. I had Mark and Ted as witnesses to verify that I had that amazing specimen on my line. The exhilarating feeling of catching a landlocked salmon was fulfilled. I was content. Mark was not. He wanted to bring a trophy salmon to the net. Not today. As we made our way out of the water, we heard clapping from up above on the bridge. The Homeland Security officer had emerged from the guard station and watched the whole episode from her overhead position. “That was an American salmon!” she said cheerily from her perch.

Day Two: Back at Camp

June 2021

Noon comes surprisingly fast, even when you are up at 5:30am. Ross, Billy and I returned from our early morning trout fishing expedition in Greenwood Cove feeling invigorated but famished. Thankfully Ted, my old friend and next-door neighbor, whipped up a hearty pancake lunch, which we devoured outside at the picnic table. After that there was no stopping us from an afternoon adventure.

Greg, an experienced local fishing guide, had been talking about a backwoods trout pond that he had discovered off River Road. Our interest was stoked, and everyone was eager to go; the only hesitancy was in knowing that we would be irresistible bait for the backwoods black flies. May is a terrible time for flies in Maine and spray with deet just isn’t enough. On the water they are not as bothersome, but in the woods, we had to wear bandanas saturated with bug spray to keep them off our faces. Arms and legs were food enough for these little pests. No point in dwelling on it. I pulled on my waders, and we all jumped into Greg’s truck in search of the mythical trout pond. I wade for a longer cast of my 5-weight rod. The kids were to fish with Ted from shore.

No sooner did we get going when the laments from the back seat commenced. “How much longer?” asked Billy. “It’s hot – are we almost there?” “Soon, soon,” Greg said, glancing at me with a bit of a wink. The turn off from River Road was an unmarked logging trail. After a mile or so through the brush and mud, Greg suddenly stopped the truck in a somewhat dramatic fashion and after a loud exhale of breath turned to Ted. “Where are we Ted? I don’t remember this. How did we get on the wrong track here?” If this was true, the afternoon would be lost. Billy groaned. “Aw c’mon,” Ted said, getting out of the truck. Greg got out and I wasn’t sure where things were going. Then they both grinned and started gathering their gear like nothing was wrong. That’s dry old Maine humor for you. Ted and Greg grew up together in Maine during summer vacations. Greg is a native and Ted’s father would bring the family north every year. Of course, Greg knew where we were and had pulled over near an obscure trail only he could see. We took a few moments to further shower ourselves with deet before we made our way through the buzzing thicket to the pond. Billy was the first one into the woods. “Wait up!” his dad, Ross, called out to him. Eventually Greg led the way and we clambered and climbed over brush and fallen logs. There were considerable moose droppings and Billy expressed some concern that we might fall victim to an attack. “Not a chance,” said Greg. “Moose only come out during hunting season.” More Maine humor–and a bit of wishful thinking.

The ground became very muddy as we drew closer to the pond. We passed through dense patches of towering young trees that surrounded the pond, edging right into the pond shallows. They were the last obstacle. The gangly boughs and trunks bent easily enough, and Ted took Ross and Billy around to an open area where they could cast from shore. I waded into the pond with Greg still pushing aside these amphibious trees, toward an area open enough to cast. No waders for Greg of course. He wore his usual sneakers and wranglers to fish, in or out of the water–and always with the extra can of beer in his permanently stretched out back pocket. Before I knew it, I was in chest high water without a wading stick—not too smart. I held on to Greg for balance, casting as I waded. We were fishing with dry flies. After a few back casts I was able to get some distance into the middle of the pond. “Strike!” Greg shouted. I could see the swirl in the water where my fly had landed. I recast quickly to the same spot and a fish hit my fly. I lifted my rod but could not set the hook. Fish toying with me is a familiar experience. I need to catch something before my reflexes are secure enough to finish the job. A catch- 22—pun intended–but it seems the connection between hand and eye are blessed after the first hook up. At least in my case. It took a few more casts before I brought a trout into the net. Brook trout are splendidly colored, and I marvel at nature’s way of camouflaging the fish with their iridescent scales. These native fish make the sport of fishing so captivating. Standing in fresh water, when the only sound is the wind and an occasional bird cry, or a can of beer being opened—that’s okay too. I settle in and continue to cast. Heavenly.