Fishing With Paul

December 2021

The morning was rainy in Palm Beach.  My thoughts drifted to fishing in Wales with my friend Paul Reddish, who had been in touch recently on my 82nd birthday.  Paul and I first crossed paths in 2007 while fishing in Alaska.  We met by chance while staying at Mission Lodge in Bristol Bay. He was with his longtime fishing companion Phelam, and I was with my nephew Richard.  We began a conversation that has lasted 14 years and continues to this day, usually in connection with a special event, like a birthday, or the fishing calendar.  I thought of all the fishing trips we took together after that initial meeting – to Wales, Scotland, Austria, Ireland, England, Spain, Slovenia and Iceland. Fishing companions are a special kind of person.  In my case as some of you know from previous columns, I am easy at striking up a conversation.  Paul is quieter and does not let on his extraordinary depth of knowledge of the outdoors, particularly about wildlife from around the world.  His background is fascinating and diverse.  He has been a professional photographer for the BBC in England, a professor of film arts, an author, he is an extraordinary flytier and, of course, one of the best fishermen imaginable.  His bucket list includes catching every type of trout that exists in the world.  With Paul I have fished for Coho salmon, Rainbow trout, Arctic char and grayling, exotic Iceland brown trout, Zebra trout and Marbled trout.  Fishing the mornings were never lonely with Paul.  Always anxious to get on the water and dressed well before breakfast, Paul was always the first in the car on the way to the stream.  His flies tied in anticipation of the day’s fishing were aligned in his little pouch.  His fishing boots were usually tattered as were his waders.  Not one for new Orvis duds he was all about the basics—catching fish!  Most importantly for me, Paul was my solace and escape during periods in my life when I needed quiet time to catch up from a hectic career. Paul provided that and more.  Our fishing trips were marvelous journeys not just destinations.  In 2007 and 2010 my family joined me on the trips to Scotland and England. My late wife Judie, was there, along with my daughter Kara and her husband Peter.  Those trips were wonderful intervals for me and my family that we cherish.  Paul made it all happen and for that and more I will be eternally grateful.  So on this rainy Palm Beach day, I look through the pictures on Shutterfly online of our fishing in Wales and elsewhere.  With friends, fishing the morning is never lonely.  

Florida Snow

December 2021

I had a most interesting morning this week. I went hunting-that is quail shooting with my buddy Chris and my old friend from college, Gerry. This was my third trip to the rural country west of Palm Beach, in Indiantown, Florida. Walking through the palmettos with the dogs searching out the birds is exciting. However, the best part of this morning was Bennett, our new guide and dog trainer. Bennett is a mother to a 2 1/2-year-old son and is a true local, born and bred in the area. She was raised hunting and fishing and letting things roll off her back like a light rain. As we ambled along, the ground dry from temps in the 80s, she chatted about the local history in her distinctive southern dialect. It was a new cultural experience for me and called to mind a classic book I recently read for the first time– The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. In it, the author movingly captures the authentic voices of Cross Creek, Florida in phonetic dialogue, so I thought I might try to capture the charm of Bennett’s “native tongue”.

On meeting her, I noticed her hand was bandaged with duct tape. I asked her what had happened and if she was okay.

“Dog bite my hand thus morn,” she replied. “And my kid don’t sleep and fell ot bed. My early morn client shot a cow instead of a hog. Not good day sofr.”

I asked, “Did you see a doctor about your hand?”

“Naw-1 thraw some iodine stuff on my hand and use packing tip step bleeding.”

“Okay but you should go to Urgent Care after the hunt.”

“Yah, I guess.”

I had the feeling my advice was not relevant. Urgent Care is for the weak.

We all got into the bush truck to drive out to the hunting grounds. I sat in front with Bennett and peppered her with questions about her dog training and the hunting odds. When we arrived, things got off to a slow start. Hunting is a lot like fishing-the guides always have excuses for no action. “You should have been here yesterday” or “it is too hot” or “too cold” or “too wet” or “not wet enough.” When! remarked on the lack of action, Bennett had this to say:

“Well, Mr. Len, the dogs are too cited.”

“Should we let them run around a bit before we take them out into the fields?” I asked.

“Well Mr. Len this dog Melvin, he simple minded and can’t stay lert more than few minutes anyway.”
“It seems to me that if the dogs were exercised more before the hunt they would be calmer.” I added helpfully.

She paused. “Well Mr. Len, that’s good maybe we try sum time.” She was just being polite.

There are usually two dogs when we hunt. One dog circles the palmettos seeking out the scent of the covey. Once he is on the scent, he points his tail straight up and his nose is frozen in the direction of the covey. The other dog stays by Bennett’s side, waiting for his cue from her to go flush the birds out of the bushes.

“Go Melvin!” Bennett commanded and both dogs bounded toward the covey, flushing out the birds.

Suddenly there was confusion. Quail were in the air and flying away fast. Chris fired his double barrel and I raised my shotgun to follow the direction of flight, shooting somewhat wildly in the commotion.

“Mr. Len yus need not panic shoot!” Bennett shouted.

I looked at Bennett soaked with sweat and her taped up hand. After several more attempts, I shot exactly one bird. Gerry fired and hit a bird. Chris as usual came back with the most. I was ready to call it a day.
“Yup Mr. Len yuv had your shot. Made Florida snow with one bird. Pretty good for a panic shooter.”

“Florida snow?” I asked.

“Feathers Mr. Len. Come up like a cloud of snow after a hit. I hear Angle the Cook back at camp got pork chops for lunch. Boy am I hungry!”

Thanksgiving Reflections

December 2021

Thanksgiving lunch-dinner in Florida this year was a bit different than traditional family dinner up north.  At home in East Hampton, the long wait for the turkey to reach a certain temperature and for the side dishes to be ready is alleviated only by the distraction of the football game on t.v., and the pumpkin pie which, though intended for dessert, is my favorite appetizer.  This year, it was a restaurant Thanksgiving, family and friends gathered together, all unmasked except for the wait staff.  Rather than the usual cold northern winds, we enjoyed a sunny 70-degree day, typical of Florida this time of year.  Perfect for a Kennedy-esque football game in the backyard, and indeed a swim in the pool.  

The waiter said they were serving 400 plus Thanksgiving dinners this year – almost back to their regular numbers.  They were short-staffed of course, but our waiter kept things moving.  During dinner, conversation turned to a recent article in the Washington Post about the Pilgrims, and how they were saved by the Native American Wampanoag people.  One of our Thanksgiving dinner guests talked about her own Cherokee ancestry and how she was three generations removed from the Trail of Tears, President Jackson’s forced removal plan for Native Americans from the southeast to Oklahoma.  She was raised as a “Wasp” and was unaware of her family history until she was a young adult.  Her great-grandmother described what it was like when her family and fellow tribe members were uprooted from their homes for the long march to Oklahoma, during which some 4,000 Cherokee and other native peoples died from exhaustion and starvation.  The great-grandmother also reflected on the strange looks her family endured when later they travelled from Oklahoma to Texas, though they had no idea why at the time and thought they were no different than the people they passed along the way. 

The Post article paints a somber picture of the first Thanksgiving and provides some much-needed perspective.  Though the Pilgrims were saved by the Wampanoag, the United States continued to take from them and other tribes and has done very little in return for Native Americans in the centuries since.  Thanksgiving is a day of gratitude for the bounty in our lives, but it is also a day of reflection and remembrance, of our histories, both personal and as Americans, and of the losses and sacrifices made by the very people who were the original inspiration for this holiday.  

Beach Reads

November 2021

I went to the beach this morning.  After 24 hours of chills and aches from Friday’s booster shot, I needed the sun and ocean breezes to recover.  Setting the clocks back allowed for some extra reading time, so I dug into John LeCarre’s new book, Silverview–for the second time.  The first pass left me feeling less than secure in responding to friends’ requests for my opinion.  The beginning and the end were clear but how one led to other was not.  I read it in spurts and LeCarre requires focus.  The book was one of many I received for my birthday- a surprise 82nd birthday party with more than 100 people.  The gifts in their own way told me something about what people think of me or how well they know me, and everyone must know I’m an avid reader.  So aside from the current best sellers, of which there were many, the books of special interest mainly fell into two categories—car porn and fishing.  The car books, of course, were about Jaguar and Land Rover—histories and coffee table books.  Most people in my immediate circle know I have been restoring two classics: a 1971 Series III Land Rover Defender and a 1962 Mark II Jaguar, as I have enthusiastically shared many photos of the painstaking progress with friends and family. The new paint job on the Jag took almost a year, and though have been out in the car a few times around the neighborhood, it now refuses to respond to reverse gear.  Trouble backing out of parking spaces sure limits drivability.  I would have been better off with a standard transmission.  The Defender—an Out of Africa beauty, is being restored in Washington state and is destined to be my camp car in Maine.  

And the fishing books I received – so many terrific ones.  Of course, everyone in my orbit as well as any reader of this column knows I am passionate about fishing.  From memoirs to one special book of Hemingway excerpts on fishing, I have a whole new library to choose from now.  Though I am grateful for the generous and thoughtful presents, the gifts that meant the most were the accompanying cards and notes.  One that stands out, “I trust you Lenny” was most touching, from a long-term client whom I have guided in business for some 35 years.  

After my 80th birthday two years ago, I swore off birthday parties.  Enough already!  No one expects a huge birthday party for turning 82, which compounded the surprise quotient at this one.  It was given by a new friend, Heath, who had no idea about my “no more parties” vow and in hindsight I am glad he didn’t. It was the type of event I never would have held for myself, or for that matter have supported had I known about it. Yet it was one I will never forget. In one evening, I was surrounded by family, friends and colleagues spanning some 65 years.  

Getting back to today’s outing.  The surf was up and the boards were out en masse. Black clad surfers bobbed in the rough water trying to catch rides to shore.  The sun gleamed.  Seagulls feasted on mollusks at the water’s edge.  Another great beach day in Florida. Now back to my book.