The Fall Run: Let October Begin

Surf Fishing
Taking a wave in the Long Island surf.

As we wind down the last days of September, you’ll hear and read a lot about the beauty of fall in New England, and it’s all true. The changing leaves paint a stunning landscape, albeit for a short period of time, from Maine to Rhode Island.

There are those few nights in October, those sit-by-the-fire-in-a-sweatshirt nights, where the stars seem so bright that it’s as if there’s a blanket of darkness covering another one of infinite light, and the blanket is full of tiny holes.

But coastal anglers have a bit of a different relationship with October: They see it as the month when the fall run of striped bass shifts into full gear.

Don’t get me wrong, there’ll be fish starting to move in late September, especially up in Maine, and there’ll still be migratory fish headed south in November, but for all intents and purposes… October’s THE month.

Northeast anglers will debate whether the fall run has diminished in recent decades, and there’s sufficient evidence to suggest that it’s not what it used to be. Many will tell you that the months of May and June provide better fishing these days, and that’s likely the case.

But in the fall, and in October especially: There’s an urgency that’s not there in the spring. There’s the “Let’s do this while we still can” sentiment that’s driven home every morning with the dropping temperatures.

Every breath of crisp, tingling autumn air that you inhale reminds you that the days are winding down.

In May and June, you might walk to the water with a kind of carefree optimism about the season ahead.

But in October, you’re just grateful to be out there, seeing the sun pull itself from the ocean one more time, launching one more bucktail into the surf. Like most of the important and beautiful parts of life, it’s perfectly bittersweet.

And if you’re a fisherman haven’t read On The Run, by David DiBenedetto, trust me when I tell you that he articulates the beauty of the fall run better than I ever might, and buy the book.

Hemingway on Springsteen’s Birthday

screen-shot-2016-09-23-at-9-08-49-pmAs part of a class assignment today, I visited the JFK Library in Boston, which if you’ve never been, is an incredible place to go. The view of the city, alone, from outside the museum is worth the trip.

Inside the museum, through December, they have a section dedicated in memory of Ernest Hemingway, an author whose impact on my life, and the lives of many, cannot be overstated.

As you wander through the exhibit you’ll see handwritten letters and notes from Hemingway, a man whose memory and legend have far surpassed anything one might attain in a mere, mortal existence.

I was lucky, earlier this month, to see a Springsteen concert in Gillette Stadium, and with four-plus hours of music, it was incredible. (I’ve gone to 13 Springsteen shows in the past with friends, girlfriends, and even one solo, but this time I took my Mom, who I blame wholeheartedly for turning me into a Bruce nut in the first place).

But between visiting the memories of Hemingway and seeing Springsteen on stage, I was reminded of something important, and perhaps even necessary for any of us pursuing a career in any artistic field.

If we are able, no matter the sum, to earn some amount of money doing this — this thing, or these things, that we love, that’s fantastic.

But if money were the motivation, we’d never have reason to write at all. Exactly no one, in the history of humanity, has ever said: “You know what I’ll do? I’ll get rich writing!”

But perhaps there’s another kind of wealth to be sought. If we can impact, inspire, or move someone with words or images… if we can affect a life in a positive way with something we create… maybe that’s a reward that has a greater value, or higher purpose.

As I wandered through the JFK museum today looking at handwritten letters from Hemingway, I began to wonder…

And in Gillette Stadium sharing more than 30 songs with my mom, a Springsteen fan from the get-go, I began to wonder…

What is this… “worth?” What is the value of what these men have created, shared and left behind for us?

I will never be so bold or confident to think that I, or any writer, might articulate that value in question.

The music, the words, the books and the albums and the concerts and the novels that we share, that we savor, that become part of our fabric as a human being, are of greater value than any material thing we might exchange here.

Both Hemingway and Springsteen, early in their careers, were faced with critics, doubt and rejection. I can only really, for a moment, begin to imagine their “worth,” as human beings when I consider what my life might be like without their influence.

And if we each take a moment to consider what our lives might be like without our favorite author, without our favorite band… we can almost grasp how important these things are to each of us, and to all of us as a whole.

And how important it is, then, for each of us to continue to strive in our own way to make what contribution we can.

The Last Summer Night

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The Sun sets on summer on Jekyll Island, Georgia.

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” ~ John Steinbeck

There are any number of opinions on summer’s end, it’s transition into fall, and in New England we have more than most. Some relish the cooler temperatures, changing leaves and sweatshirt weather. Others can’t help but mourn summer’s passing.

I’ll tell you that as a fisherman I look forward to the fall, the migration of striped bass that it brings, and the promise of bluefish and stripers pushing bait right onto the beach.

But it’s certainly not the case that I’m “sick of summer.” Summer to me is trips to the Adirondack Mountains where my aunt has had a camp for decades, open windows and nights spent on my parents’ back deck, taking the top off the Jeep and watching fireworks with family.

I think looking forward to the fall has more to do with a mindset, an idea, or an ideology: Change is a positive thing.

I think life has a way of sorting people into two camps: Those who embrace change, and those who fear it. There are things that some of us, some of my friends and family, have experienced that have given them every right and reason to fear change and to fear the unknown. Life can be a terribly unfair process.

Change in of its very nature is uncertain, and uncertainty can be terrifying. Whatever our current circumstance, our location or our position… even if it’s not ideal, it’s at least familiar. And with familiarity comes comfort.

And you’ll hear these reasons, and I’ll not discount them, but for me it’s not “changing leaves,” “pumpkins,” or cooler temperatures that make me look forward to, embrace the beginning of a new season.

I’m hoping that I’ll run into a blitz of bluefish that I’ll be rehashing with friends for decades. I’m hoping the Red Sox will make an improbable run to the World Series and I’ll share that moment with all of the Boston fans cheering along, and friends and family too.

But I’m looking forward to the fall because the summer has passed, because I lived it and loved it and it was amazing, but now it’s over.

I’m looking forward to the fall, yes because striped bass and bluefish will be running, campfires will be a little more comforting, the scenery throughout New England and New York will, for however short a time, be stunning…

But mostly I’m looking forward to the fall because it’s in the future, and the future always holds the promise of being the most rewarding and fulfilling period of your existence. And although that optimism requires faith, or some of it at least, which means investing yourself emotionally in in something uncertain… I still believe that the investment is worth it.

A Day to Remember

DSC_0009 47.jpgI thought for a long time about what I might even say, share or write on this date. It’s impossible not to think about the senseless tragedy, about those who woke up one morning, expecting to go to work and return home, and never did.

All of us Americans take a moment on this day to remember, to mourn, to think about one of the most horrific events to ever take place on American soil.

And I thought about 9/11 more this year than I have in the past.

I thought about the people who were doing something as simple as going to work, and how the insane and brutal events of that day altered their lives forever.

And I couldn’t help but come away with one constant and repeating idea: Thank God I’m still here. Thank God I have today, and maybe tomorrow… to reach out, to make someone laugh, to dream something, attempt something, write something, to go to church, to text a loved one, to write, to study, to be me.

And I think that’s something that most of us take for granted every day. We go to sleep assuming we’ll wake up, we cross the street assuming we’ll get to the other side and we call someone we care about assuming they’ll answer.

For me, I guess, and I hope for some of you, today was a day to perhaps appreciate, be grateful for, and to absorb all the little things we can do, all the things we still have the chance to do, all the things we can plan on doing in the future.

September 11, 2001 was a heartbreaking and terrible day in our nation’s, and the world’s, history.

And perhaps we can honor those who lost their lives that day by not taking a single moment that we have for granted. Not a single moment.

Suicide Prevention Day

Blitzing Striped Bass
A nervous bird eyes a school of blitzing striped bass in Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.

It seems that every day, thanks to social media, now has some significance, and some are more serious than others.

Yesterday, I discussed “celebrating your weirdness,” but today seems to bring a more pressing and difficult issue to the forefront: suicide.

Whenever I think about loving the water, the outdoors and fishing, I can’t help but think that part of it, even if we don’t realize it, is that it connects us to something ancient, instinctual, and animal.

Thousands of years ago men pulled fish from the ocean, not for sport or recreation, but to survive. To survive.

That is at the heart of our love for the outdoors: An ingrained, ancient need for survival.

D.H. Lawrence wrote: “I have never seen a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.”

Lawrence, I think, was speaking in admiration of an animal’s singular focus on staying alive, no matter how it went about that process.

Human beings are more complicated. We explore deeper questions, asking “What is my purpose here? What am I meant to do, or be? Am I succeeding to that end?”

Lawrence’s bird, I think it’s fair to assume, never questioned its purpose. From the moment it was born, to the moment it took to the air, searched for its first meal, and right up until the moment it fell frozen from the branch, it knew, instinctively and without hesitation, what it was and for what it was meant.

We can posit that the bird never wished that it were a fish, or wondered why it weren’t a giraffe. We can guess that the bird, until its death, accepted its bird-ness and did its best to stay alive, care for its young, and, perhaps, if animals can be said to experience these things, it enjoyed soaring over some beautiful country.

My point is this: perhaps it merits consideration that you are not supposed to be anything that you’re not, you’re not supposed to want more than you have, you’re not supposed to be taller, smarter, richer, skinnier, bigger, more tan (certainly not), more popular, better looking, worse looking, you’re not supposed to be able to play two instruments, or speak three languages…

Perhaps is merits consideration, that you are supposed to be… exactly the way that you are, even if the reasons for that have yet to be revealed to you. Maybe, like the bird’s destiny to live its life as a bird…

Your destiny is to be you, and you are in the process of shaping that future.

I think it’s worth considering that all of the great and terrible, beautiful and difficult, wonderful and heartbreaking things that happen to us are supposed to happen so that we can be created to be, exactly who we’re meant to be.

And that you, through everything you’ve experienced, endured, suffered, enjoyed, loved, hated, and dreamt of…

Are meant to be… you. And that our most singular focus, our one job, mission or goal… should be to become that, stay that, embrace that and be grateful for that, even if we don’t always understand it.

And since the you that you are is here, reading my blog… I just want to say thank you, and please, keep being you.

Happy Wonderful Weirdos Day

weird
I’ve been told that I look weird in most photos, but in this one especially. 

Yep, it’s a thing. You can be guaranteed with the growth of social media that every single day will hold some significance or have some reason to celebrate, and today, it turns out, is “Wonderful Weirdos Day.”

I’ll not attempt to describe the day or its purpose, I’ll leave that to Daysoftheyear.com, where you can find a purpose or reason or significance for every single day. Here’s their definition:

“Nothing’s quite as dull as being normal, boring and average. Celebrate being weird, and celebrate the weirdos in your life on Wonderful Weirdos Day. Make an effort to be weird by dressing weirdly, doing weird things and encouraging weirdness with your friends and in the workplace!” 

For those of you who would have used this reason to behave oddly, and are disappointed that there are only four hours left to take action, I apologize. Feel free, after reading this, to behave weirdly throughout the weekend, and even on Monday should you feel so inclined. Just have this blog ready to pull up on your phone for justification.

I’ll confess that for most of my life, I’ve been fairly normal. I followed the rules and got pretty good grades in high school, went to my fathers alma mater, Syracuse University, because they offered the most in scholarship money and had a great journalism program, took an internship and then a job as a copy editor out of college, was paid to create content for a website full-time for a few years, and am now working on my Master’s Degree at Emerson College.

There are, however, seven months of my life that I think would fit the description “weird,” by most any standard.

In 2010 I did a project for Outdoor Life called Fish America, where I attempted to fish the entire country, sleeping in a Jeep.

That, I can testify, is a weird experience. You’ll never see as many double takes in your life as you will when you wake up in a Walmart parking lot, open the door, and strangers stop and stare for a second, trying to figure out just how long you’ve been in there.

You will never find an answer to the question: “Where are you staying?” that’s addressed to you by guides you’re hoping to fish with, or people that you meet along the way, that doesn’t have people scratching their heads. Eventually you’ll just point to your Jeep and wait for it to sink in.

Sleeping in a Jeep takes some practice and getting used to, like anything new and foreign. At first you will find all the sharp objects that you packed for the trip by sleeping on them. Eventually you will move said objects to the opposite side of the Jeep, and sleep only on one side.

You will learn what areas are, and are definitely not safe to sleep in. I’d suggest, to anyone crazy… er… weird enough to try this to… just be careful around the Texas/Mexico border and tell your story to restaurant owners where you might grab a snack. Many are more accommodating than you’d imagine, although some are not.

In theory, and I say this only from reading and from a few nights of experience, your body should shiver itself awake before you freeze to death in your sleep… if you’re say… in Idaho in December and the temperature drops to -17. And, while again I’d not recommend this, in my experience you will awake to the sound of your teeth chattering, you’ll crank the heat until the convulsive shaking stops, and you should be able to get a few more hours sleep. Again, I’d not suggest testing this theory, but it worked for me.

Lying on top of that Jeep, in places like the Carolinas, Texas, and California, can be a spectacular way to take in some breathtaking stars. If, however, you misplace your phone… look on top of the Jeep FIRST… before driving to places you’d been the day prior. You might be incredibly lucky and your phone might stay on top of the Jeep while you drive around beneath it looking for it… but “prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.”

The weirdest thing of all that you will encounter if you attempt such a thing is fairly simple, and maybe something many of you have already discovered.

We’re raised to keep our doors locked, not to trust strangers and be sure of where we are at all times. We’re taught from an early age to fear the unknown.

So the weirdest part about the entire experience… is just seeing firsthand how incredibly kind, outgoing, genuine, honest and helpful almost everyone that you meet is.

Weird, right?

 

A Labor Day Blog

DSC_0066 20I remember, distinctly, the moment that I knew for sure that I wanted to go into journalism. It was about 95 degrees in August and I was working with my Uncle’s brother, who builds houses and log cabins in Upstate New York.

We were putting shingles on top of the roof, and I was carrying them up the latter. During the first week of the job, which I took for some summer spending money between semesters at Syracuse, I loved it. You could work outside, have a radio playing rock and roll, and you weren’t confined to a desk. This was great.

About a month in, by the time I got dropped off back home, I fell almost immediately asleep until waking at dawn the next morning. There were muscles in my body that hurt that I hadn’t known existed prior to taking the job.

While I was at Syracuse I worked two jobs. I was a student caller, and then manager at the Fund for Syracuse, where we solicited contributions for the school. About every fifth call you’d get as a caller would be someone willing to contribute, someone who wanted to talk about the football team and great memories that they had while at the school. The other four calls usually went something like: “We’re in the middle of dinner, please don’t call back.”

As a manager at the Fund for Syracuse we were tasked with inspiring, motivating, monitoring and reviewing the callers based on their performance. I’d use what budget we had to bring in snacks, prizes that callers could win, and I walked the floor throughout the shift trying to boost morale. However, we were in the basement of a gymnasium, a place where sunlight couldn’t reach, and there were only about a thousand places every caller at a desk would have rather been… even if they could have won a Syracuse T-shirt for soliciting the most contributions. We had to be there early to set the place up, and stay late to clean everything up and prepare for the next shift. This meant that if you grabbed a double on a Sunday (the only day where two shifts existed), you’d not see the sunlight between the hours of 11 a.m. and 9:30 p.m.

I also worked as a reporter for Rivals.com, covering both Syracuse football and basketball. During my first game in the press box, I was incredibly nervous, wearing a shirt and tie with a notepad in hand. Without thinking, I started clapping as the team prepared to kick off. I was looked at by every reporter in the box as though I’d set myself on fire.

I’ve been lucky to work a host of jobs since then, and I’ve tried to take something away from each one. And what I’ve learned is fairly simple, but I think, important. No matter what you’re doing, work is work, and it requires devoting time and energy to something that isn’t exactly relaxing or fun.

But if it inspires you, makes you feel alive and useful in some capacity that is unique to who you are, you’re lucky.

Finding words to wrap around a place, a person or a fishery… finding photos that tell that story in a way that is visually compelling to the reader, and that fit with those words… is work. Editing and improving those words and images when they come from others can be even more challenging.

But… if you’re doing something that makes you feel as though it’s a culmination of your life’s purpose and experience to that point, I don’t think that there’s anything more that you can ask.