WINTER SPORTS


 

WORD COUNT: 1004                                        WINTER SPORTS

It’s that time of the year when the days are in perpetual twilight. The fields around my house are burned brown by winter frost, and patches of snow lay where the Sun’s rays never shine. Hunched over my tying vise, I sip coffee and listen to the wind batter the canvass cover on my swamp cooler. I hear snow pelting against the window above the desk; I can’t tell if it’s blowing snow or if it’s snowing again. It doesn’t matter and I don’t care enough to get up to see. Shadows creep from the corners of the room toward the puddle of light thrown from the lamp on my desk. My dog Touch is lying by my feet under the desk; I slip my foot under her for the warmth, and to keep the shack willies away.

The phone hasn’t rang now for a couple of weeks and nobody has been by to visit for even longer. I worry that Touch could starve if I was to tip-over, but I suppose she would eventually start eating on me and happily washing me down with toilet water. I pull my foot out from under her.

I don’t think I would eat Touch, but once when I was reading about a mountain man who purportedly ate the livers of Indians, I got so hungry for liver that I went to town to get some for supper. Touch doesn’t know about that.

Except for that time we were both trying to lap up spilt beer, Touch has never been aggressive. We get along, overlooking the little things that irritate, like that nasty scooting thing she does on the rug; a maneuver that is difficult to execute, but one that I highly recommend for building upper-body strength.

I refill my coffee cup, this time adding a splash of Irish cream; not the imitation stuff you get at the grocery store, but the real thing. Using imitation Irish cream is like going to a topless bar, or watching people eat when you’re hungry. I’m in for the day now.

I look at the hook clamped in my vise and draw a blank. My boxes are full and the patterns that I like to play with have all been played with. I look through my journal for descriptions of flies that I wrote down last summer and find one that I had forgotten about; an olive bodied, brown headed, light winged Caddis that I noticed crawling on my boot one day. I tie up a dozen and stuff them into my box. The phone rings but I don’t recognize the number so I don’t answer it. I ask Touch if she wants to go for a walk, the wind slams the cooler cover and the furnace kicks on and she looks at me like I’m nuts.

I look over my list of things to do this winter: inspect and repair rods, clean and oil reels, wipe down lines and rebuild leaders, tie leaders and flies. Everything is done and there’s still two months of hard winter left. It’s too early to start Jonesing, coming down with the winter blues. Cabin fever actually has a clinical name, SAD (seasonal affective Disorder), which means they could come and take you away for shock therapy if they found out that you’ve, out of curiosity, been scooting your ass on the carpet.

I build another pot of coffee and call my fishing buddy Pete to let him know I haven’t winter killed. We make small talk about the mountain snowpack and next year’s probable stream conditions and he invites me to have Christmas dinner with him and his family. I thank him for the invite, but we both know I won’t go. I don’t know why I won’t go; it would take too much self-examination to figure that out, but it’s nice to know there is some place where I would be welcome. By the time I get off the phone it’s time to walk down to the road and check the mailbox, and I need to take Touch for a walk before she lays an egg.

I get nothing but bills and stuff them in my jacket pocket, hoping I won’t forget where I put them. We walk back to the creek. It’s frozen hard enough to walk on now. I’ll take Touch for a hike down the creek tomorrow. It’ll be good for us to get out and blow the stink off—one of us is starting to smell like an old buffalo. My spirits lift as I start planning for the hike. I’ll make a fire and build a pot of coffee. Touch will roam around identifying scat, and I’ll sit by the fire trying to figure out where I went wrong. I’ll pull out my old ruck when we get back to the house and pack it for winter hiking, with camp stove, dry socks, dog biscuits, and power bars. Even a day hike can turn into a life threatening event around here in the winter.

A couple of years ago we both broke through the ice. I went in up to my waist and Touch went in up to her nose. The temperature was ten below. We were lucky, as there was no wind that day. There was about a foot of new snow on the ground and I rolled Touch around in it to dry her off. I thought about starting a fire, but we had enough daylight left to get back to the house before dark if we left the creek and headed across country. We made it back in good shape, but it could have easily went much differently.

It’s getting dark by the time we get back to the house. I pour another cup of coffee and settle back in at the desk. Touch plops down at my feet and lets out a huge sigh. I reach down and pat her on the head and say, “You can say that again girl.”

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