Fishing with Jay

January 2022

After our inaugural fishing expedition to Beaver Kill in 1990, Jay and I embarked on a fishing romance spanning 24 years until our trip to Iceland in 2014.  I returned to Iceland again in 2017 but that time as a loner.  Jay was not fit to travel after a bout of illness and I, suffering from a back injury, plowed through the trip with a distressing inflamed something or other.  Leading up to that last trip alone, was a wonderful series of travels with Jay and a few other friends, some now gone.  Our first real expedition together was deep sea fishing in Gardiner’s Bay off of East Hampton, with Captain Paul Dixon, on the hunt for bluefish and stripers.  Eventually, Jay surpassed me in his collecting of flies and gear as he had a number of friends and work colleagues in the dental profession who regularly went to the Catskills to fish on the Delaware.  Jay, being a surgeon, was into the technical intricacies of fishing.  I was more interested in finding sources for English country fishing attire, and of course I was into the travel. 

Our next outing together was trout fishing on the Connetquot River on Long Island.  More like fishing in a bathtub, with assigned beats where fish waited for meals.  The fish dined on a schedule, and as long as you were on their timetable you caught plenty.  Like shooting in a barrel.  After that, we were ready to explore beyond the shores of Long Island.  Thus began our European adventures and over the years we went to Scotland and Ireland, and to Iceland twice.  We often took local trips in between–during economic recessions and off times in the real estate practice, Jay and I would do the three-hour drive to Al Caucci’s fishing establishment called Riverfront Lodge, on the West Branch of the Delaware River in the Catskills, near Hancock, New York.  Caucci was an interesting fellow– a fishing guide, entrepreneur and hotelier, who wrote the basic treatise on fishing entomology or, for us simpletons, the guide to flies that attract fish.  Interestingly, with Al it was technical fishing but rarely catching. It seems there just weren’t many fish.  It was with Al that I first heard all the immortal fishing guide sayings that begin with “should have.”  “Should have been here last week.”  “Should’ve been drier—the water’s too high.”  “Should’ve rained—the water is too low.” Once there was a dam release issue on that branch of the Delaware.  Al must have been a bit amused watching us beginners wade in so far over our heads we had to swim back to shore.  

The best part of a trip to Al’s–aside from the exceptional motel décor–was the dining.   Always outdoors, weather permitting, the meals were first rate.   Al would bring in talented up-and-coming chefs on the weekends, one of whom was Tom Colicchio.  Later on, we would see Colicchio’s name in print in restaurant reviews, as he gained fame from his many restaurants in New York and beyond.  Al knew beginner fishermen faced a lot of frustration on the water, and casting all day was tiring, so in the evening a special dinner put everything right again.  There were always stories from the day’s events to tell over a meal, and it was always a happy exhaustion, from casting away for those supposed fish in the dark waters of the Delaware. 

Ice Fishing with Katie

January 2022

Katie was sick with Covid for a month, quarantined with Greg in their cozy family home in Drew Plantation, Maine.  After gaining some weight back as well as her appetite for fishing, Katie pronounced that she was about crazy from being cooped up and wanted to ice fish—her favorite sport after fall moose hunting.  The stretch of East Grand Lake where Katie and Greg have their summer camp was not yet frozen over.   They would go to the Cove on the lake instead–their sweet spot for ice fishing.  In a secluded area north, off Route 1 in Danforth, the Cove provides easy access and 5 feet of ice.  

The preparation for ice fishing began the day before.  Greg assembled the deer blind tent for transport while Katie organized all the essentials:  an ice drill, a “Mister Heater” portable unit that runs on propane, as well as rods and bait. Then, the provisions for the long hours out on the ice:  a small, metal barrel with a grill attached to serve as a fire pit for hot dogs, plus water and beer.  Finally, the attire: heat-lined camo snow jackets, long underwear, flannels, wool sweaters, hats, gloves with hand warmers, wool socks, foot warmers and rubber boots.

The next morning, Greg and Katie left at daybreak–5:00am– in below freezing temperatures, for their day of ice fishing. On the way, an unexpected snowstorm blew up.  Typical Maine couple dream date.  On arrival, Greg set up the tent with the heater then drilled through the ice so Katie could jig the fishing line to her heart’s delight. After being Covid sick for a month, Katie was now happy and energized by the outdoors.  Then Katie started catching.  A 17” salmon for starters followed by a 13” salmon, then a 13” trout before lunch.  Lunch was Greg’s special “red hots” cooked over the coals in the fire pit.  The only mishap was when Greg dropped his dog in the snow, which he rinsed off in the fishing hole.  Katie said it was the best ice-fishing holiday she has had in years.  A true Maine vacation day… and the best antidote to a bout of Maine Covid. 

A Letter from the Publisher of the Mountain Messenger

When I made the decision to keep The Mountain Messenger in business at the beginning of 2020, I did not anticipate the action receiving attention by anyone other than the few hundred remaining subscribers. However, on the first morning after I’d given a check to the owner, I took a call from a reporter from SFGate who was following up on a Los Angeles Times story she had read about the paper’s demise. Within seconds she had her lead: 71-year-old retired widower saves local newspaper in northeastern California. The good-news story was quickly picked up by AP, so news outlets across the US and a few in Europe ran it. Within a week, I received a call from Tim Arango, a national correspondent for the New York Times based in Los Angeles. He wanted to visit Downieville for a couple of days, interview me and the local community. Would the paper really become recognized by the nation’s “newspaper of record”? Indeed it did, appearing as the only story on page A12 of the February 10, 2020 edition, and it generated a wave of public recognition. Months later, I learned how a woman in Dartmouth, New Hampshire, having reached page A12, rushed into her husband’s studio to share the news. Christian Wolff, caught in the midst of writing a concerto commissioned by a Swiss symphony (Basel Sinfonietta), a composer whose modern classical work has been likened to a spirited walk through a forested park with a friend, very pleased with the news, decided to name his concerto “The Mountain Messengers” in order to honor my action.

But it didn’t take nearly as long for me to be connected with Lenny Ackerman. No, when the man wants to do something good he acts. On the morning he first learned about the existence of The Mountain Messenger, through the article in the New York Times, Lenny sent a letter of support for my efforts. Not only did the note express encouragement, Lenny immediately purchased a subscription. Indeed, over the course of the following month he gave gift subscriptions to around 30 different members of his family and friends. Yes, Lenny was personally responsible for close to 10 percent of all the new subscribers generated by the publicity wave in early 2020. Moreover, Lenny dives in deep with something he believes in. Through his connection with the paper, Lenny has supported not just the newsroom, but his giving has extended to the local community.

Most telling of all about Lenny’s spirit and generosity is his weekly contribution to the newspaper, his “Here Back East” column. I absolutely love publishing his essays. They are well written descriptions of his experiences, both present and past, that I find consistently endearing. Yes, if his pieces make the journal read more like The Atlantic than what is usually found in a small, local paper, well, so be it.

Carl Butz

One of the very best things coming out of my decision to “save the paper” has been the fact I, along with the readers of The Mountain Messenger, have been introduced to Lenny’s realm, a place of boundless positive energy, compassion, sharp observational and communication skills, and gratitude for what the world has to offer us.

-Carl Butz
Another lover of reading obituaries
Publisher of the Mountain Messenger

Couples Meet

January 2022

I sat across from a lovely couple last week at a friend’s birthday party, in a private room at a local club.  The couple were acquaintances, having met them on several previous occasions socially, but this was our first opportunity to get to know each other more personally.  In the course of our conversation—the usual background enquiries and more–I casually asked how they met.  Their story made me realize how fortuitous it is when couples meet and truly live happily ever after.

Harry and Miriam had met at Purdue University where they both were teaching in the mathematics department.  A mixer for single faculty members was planned, and they were each prompted by colleagues to attend.  At the event, the two met and seemed to click right away, to the point that Harry, the senior professor, was comfortable enough in asking Miriam, the young associate professor and future lovely wife, “Do you plan on having children?’  She laughed and responded, “Of course and many!”  That sealed the deal and shortly thereafter they became a couple.  They have been calculating the algorithms of their large family and careers ever since.  

After hearing their story, I was intrigued enough to ask the question of other couples Patti and I know.  Their answers have been wide ranging, yet all the stories seemed to share the element of fate in common.  Meets early on in childhood, high school, Hebrew School, holidays, family events, college and more currently on  Especially interesting meets included one at a camp in the Adirondacks, where families went in the 1940’s to escape New York summer heat, while another was a beach romance in the south of France, where two families reconnected after the War.  Then there was reunion of two 80-year-olds prompted by the obituary column in the local paper.  Both lost their spouses at around the same time and saw each other’s name, as survivors of the deceased, in print on the same day.  They connected for the first time since graduating high school together in Palm Beach 60 years earlier.  Many of the meets are instant attraction, even as youngsters, yet it is what emerges afterward that creates the connection.  Words like “open” “friendly” “easy to talk to” and “always laughing” are often used to describe the attributes that draw two people closer together.   

I met my late wife when I was in the 9th grade and she was in the 8th.  I originally had a crush on her sister, Harriet, who was in my grade, but Harriet was more interested in older boys. She wisely offered to introduce me to her younger sister, Judie, whose locker happened to be across from my own.  And that is where we first met, Judie and I, a bit awkwardly, in the halls of Benjamin Franklin High School.  The awkwardness very quickly gave way to a mutual attraction that sustained our relationship for the next 63 years, until her passing in 2017.   

Recently, there was another meet in my life, but this time it was a gradual one.  There were no claps of thunder or love at first sight moments, but a somewhat distant friendship of 30 years turned into something more meaningful two years ago.  It happened over a few shared meals and through the encouragement of mutual friends, and now Patti is my new partner in life.  

It was touching to see the academic couple who, when sharing their story, spoke to each other – not over each other- while she lovingly lay her head on his shoulder.  Meets that lead to lifelong relationships are like that star forever in the sky that lights up every cloudless night.  

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!”


December 2021

I recently had my Mountain Messenger columns assembled into book form, which I have shared with my friends and colleagues.  In return, I have received a number of responses from people which, perhaps inspired by my own personal musings, often include reflections on their own lives.   My life-long friend Jerry, who I grew up with in Rochester, New York, sent me profiles he had written some time ago of his parents.  Fathers were the toughs in our lives.  Jer’s father was tethered to the TV, which was a new invention at the time.  Because of his fragile health, he was home all day, which was unusual for us since most of our fathers worked during the day and in most cases evenings as well.  When we visited Jer, we tiptoed around the house so as not to disturb Jer’s dad. Any noise prompted a serious shushing from Jer’s mother.  Ron’s dad was the owner of a men’s clothing store in a predominantly Black neighborhood of Rochester, around Kelly Street and Joseph Avenue.  In the winter he would drive a few of us –Ron, Jer and myself– to school some mornings, sparing us the wait at the bus stop.  The trouble was that he was a chain smoker.   Because of the below freezing weather outside, he wouldn’t let us open the car windows, which always led to a fight between Ron and his dad, and which Ron always lost.  Ron’s dad was typical, in that all the men in our lives were heavy smokers during this era.  Secondhand smoke was unavoidable and probably contributed to health issues for many of us later in life.  I stayed away from smoking until I was introduced to the habit in college and stayed addicted for the next seven years, finally quitting when my father became ill with emphysema.   

Mothers were the main influencers in our lives.  My late wife Judie’s mother was a single parent living in a cottage behind the grandparents’ main house on Rauber Street, with two beautiful teenage girls– both sought after by young, thirsty University of Rochester college students.  My high school prom date was Sharon.  Her mother was another single parent of four– three boys and beautiful Sharon.  When Sharon and I dated, I was never far from the watchful eye of Murph, her brother who was just a couple of years older than myself and who was a linebacker on our high school football team.  When he wasn’t around, her older brother, home from attending law school at Syracuse, was never far.   Sharon and Judie’s moms worked outside the home since they were supporting families on their own.  The other moms were mostly stay-at-home housewives, although I recall Jer’s mom was a saleswoman for Encyclopedia Brittanica and we all bought a set from her.   The stay-at-home moms were there in the morning to prepare school lunches and in the evening to make dinner.  

My mother didn’t work outside the home, but her hands were always full, and I often helped her.  Sometimes it took the form of protecting her from my father’s harsh words, because of the tough fathers, mine seemed the toughest.  Whether he was dissatisfied with his dinner, or furious from the disrespect he felt from my older brother or sister, his temper was easily triggered.  My mother was always defending the conduct of my brother and sister, however insignificant it was in my mind and it led to constant flare ups.  My sister refused to go to college and married young, which caused tension in our family, as education was ingrained in us as paramount.  My brother left for college in his senior year of high school to get out of the house and away from my father.  With my brother and sister gone, my father had only me and my mother as targets for his anger.   I learned early on to stand between him and my mother when she started to cry, a sure sign of an escalation in hostilities.  Standing face to face with him, he zeroed in on me as a target for his anger.  I would lure him away from her until he physically chased me around and outside until we both collapsed from exhaustion. I was always proud that I could outrun him. Even at the end of his life my father was tough on my mother.  By then, she was suffering from dementia, and unable to perform the usual familial duties–such as putting dinner on the table every night– that he expected throughout 60 plus years of marriage.  

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.  

Camp Therapy

November 2021

During my last visit to camp this year, I was joined by a small group of my high school buddies and their wives.  What a pleasure it was to spend evenings before the fire, lounging in pajamas and reminiscing about upstate Rochester in the 1950s.  Missing from the group was our friend Jerry, a retired psychiatrist.  Shortly following our return from camp, we had a zoom call to catch up with Jerry and, to add an interesting dimension to our conversation, to talk about his new book, Addressing Challenging Moments in Psychotherapy. I had obtained an early copy of it which, though written for supervisory doctors, is understandable by the layman. Jer read a chapter aloud to us, which was a case study of one of his therapy sessions, examining the interaction between doctor and patient. He explained the purpose of the study and we peppered him with questions, which he thoughtfully answered.  Before long were each opening up about our personal histories and our catch-up call became an impromptu group therapy session.  No wonder Jerry had such a successful practice—he was a great listener.  Very healthy for a bunch of 80-year-olds to talk about our parents and their impact on our lives—it was cathartic. Even though we have known each other for 70 years, I learned new things about these old friends.  Each of us offered our thoughts on who we were back in the day versus who we became, despite family background and the many hurdles, false starts and mistakes we made. Looking back to our youth, how did we miss some of the obvious signs about where our futures were headed?  How many dead-end roads might well have been avoided had we simply opened our eyes?  In hindsight, perhaps there was a missing subject in the Benjamin Franklin High School 1956 curriculum: “Therapy for Teenagers.”  Yet here we all are living our lives in 2021 America and things turned out okay.  We are mostly settled into lifestyles of our choosing and our mental health seems intact.  Perhaps our parents and the teachers at Ben Franklin knew what they were doing.  To my buddies, Harv, Bobbie, Arnie and Jer, let’s keep zooming and learning from each other.