A strange sort of crazy settles in as winter comes to an end and spring begins. It is never a smooth transition, weatherwise or otherwise, and sometimes I think I’ve made it through the dark time without succumbing to a bad case of the Shack Nasties when it turns out I only repressed them.
The thaw came on early and strong this year, turning lake ice to slush and frozen dirt roads to pudding. The string of calm, sunny days felt like it would never end. Winter was done, or so I thought when, as I watched the ice disappear a month ago, a mosquito bit me hard, just below the right eyebrow. Being the first bite of the year, it promptly swelled to the size of a plum in celebration.
With open water spreading, right before my very eye (the one I could see with), the evening air at 72° F (that’s 22.2222222° C to my metric friends), and mosquito venom coursing through my veins, I became delusional, choosing to ignore the weather forecasts (as well as past experience) and headed to the house to commence my yearly Shearing of the Beard.
With one eye swollen shut and a belly full of celebratory spirits, my depth perception was off a bit but I managed to hack a full winter’s growth down to mostly bare skin, with just a few patchy tufts here and there and surprisingly little blood. I reckon my moustache will look just fine once it grows out a bit. My friend, Eugene, begged me to keep the beard, boil it down, and recover five months worth of dribbled maple syrup, but I gave it to the birds, for their nests, instead. (Last year Eugene got nearly a quart of Grade B Dark from his pal Purly’s beard. I think Purly wishes he had shaved first.).
The weather forecast I ignored turned out to be spot on, and within 72 hours a cold gale was blowing from the north. Temperatures dropped into the teens F (well below zero C), and the patchy tufts of whiskers remaining on my cheeks and neck offered no protection at all. I took to walking hunched over, tucking my face down into my coat as best I could, with my head cocked at an angle so I could see where I was going with my one good eye. After misjudging my own front porch step and twisting my right ankle, I took to walking hunched over, with a limp.
Misery means nothing in late March and early April because Opening Day at Fish in a Barrel Pond comes fast, and that means work to do. I soldiered on, thinking only of the anglers depending on me to have the place up and running when they arrive. I don’t tell little kids there is no Santa Claus so if some anglers choose to believe six old fishing camps come back to life in the spring with nothing more than a wave of my magic wand, well, who am I to shatter their illusions? What is important to them is that the lights work, the stoves are warm, the toilets flush, and they can fish. Nothing to it.
Winter and spring duked it out, throwing every imaginable type of precipitation at each other with constantly shifting winds. My eye itched like the dickens so of course I scratched it and made it worse. The limp I’d acquired became a stutter step, embellished with a wild flinging of elbows as I shifted my weight, but I made progress. Woodland creatures were evicted from beneath the beds, floors were swept, and cast iron stoves roared to life, forcing the cold to retreat outside, where the mud of our road had re-frozen into a tangle of hardened ruts.
One drive to the hardware store became a bone-jarring thrill ride as I bounced from dip to rise and the wheel was torn from my hands when I hit the frozen furrows left behind by a fuel truck. I was afraid my teeth would shatter as my jaws clacked together but they were padded by my tongue, which bled and puffed up to where it protruded from between my lips like a sausage. Being the resourceful guy I am, I was able to use a system of grunts, squeaks and hand-written notes to get what I needed from those chuckleheads at the store, who seemed to feel much better about themselves, having seen me.
Restoring water to the camps is probably the hardest part of getting them open for another season. Buildings shift, old water lines sag or explode, and no matter how diligent I am in November, draining them and purging them with compressed air, it is a certainty that I will be crawling under buildings, chasing leaks, come spring. Copper is expensive, and an attractive target for thieves, so there ain’t much of it here. It’s also a time-consuming pain (and a fire hazard) to repair so, thanks to my predecessors, I can sometimes get by with a knife, nylon fittings, hose clamps, and a large set of slip-joint pliers, the flat sides of which are used as a hammer.
I should mention here that the knife is part of a folding multi-tool, and the tip of said knife was broken off two years ago, when it was jerked suddenly sideways from an electrical outlet. The edge is nice and sharp, but getting a cut started in hard plastic takes some doing. Even with its tip broken off, though, it does a bang up job of penetrating flesh, particularly the flesh between my left thumb and forefinger. Watching helplessly as it happened once again, I did not swear; with my badly swollen tongue, what I cried out was, “Roffle! Ob mebo wub wub!”
A handful of dusty cobwebs from the floor joist above my head stopped the bleeding so I could crawl out backwards from beneath our smallest camp, the Cahill, and make my way to the truck for the tube of first aid cream I keep in the glove compartment. I don’t keep gloves in that glove compartment but I do keep other things, like tubes of hand sanitizer — which, by the way, look an awful lot like tubes of first aid cream when one of your eyes is swollen shut, which is how I know that, applied directly to an open stab wound, hand sanitizer stings like a wub wub.
Confident that no micro-organism could survive such pain, I crawled back under the Cahill to finish my work, even as my wounded hand contracted into something more like a palsied claw. Fixing one leak often leads to the discovery of another, which means crawling out to shut the water off, crawling back under for the repair, and crawling out again to turn the water back on. It is dirty, muddy, cold, frustrating work, but it is done in the name of fly fishing, which puts it into the category of “higher calling,” making every dirty, muddy, cold, frustrating minute something to be cherished.
Once the last of the leaks had been stopped, I did a little happy dance as I packed up my tools for the next job. My crippled hand clutched the collar of my coat as I hopped in a circle on my one good leg. I tried to whistle but my badly bruised tongue only allowed slobber to pass my lips. The song I tried to sing came out as grunts, but I danced all the same, swinging my good arm for balance as I hopped. The dancing stopped, though, when I heard a truck pull up along the road, down by the dock, next to a series of signs with words like “Private Property” and “No Trespassing” on them.
Two nice-looking young men got out and grabbed fishing poles from the bed of the truck. I felt sorry for the young men immediately, for they were obviously illiterate, so I hollered to them from where I stood, “Oo! Oo! Pflurg goompha! Nee po po! Nee po po!”
The poor fellows were evidently also hard of hearing so I moved toward them a bit, smacking my right shin into the truck’s trailer hitch, which I did not see with my mosquito-bitten eye. “Wub!” I drooled. “Wubba mumphy oowa!”
My leg went numb below the knee so I dragged it along as I lurched down the hill to talk to the nice young men. Clutching my collar with one hand, swinging the other wildly for balance, I advanced on them with one eye swollen shut, my tongue sticking out like an old pepperoni and cobwebs in my hair. “Nee po po,” I said. “Nee po po.”
The men stared as I approached, as if they hadn’t understood, so I repeated myself louder, enunciating very clearly, “Pflurg goompha! Nee po po!”
The hand at my collar gripped tighter and I nearly strangled myself as I continued down the drive, toward the illiterate young men. I stumbled and fell but was in no condition to pick myself up so I let gravity take over and I rolled the rest of the way down the drive, crying, “pflurg (oomph) goompha (oomph)! Nee (oomph) po po (oomph)!”
I reached the bottom of the hill, landing in a heap just across the road from where the illiterate young men stood. I tried to stand, flailing wildly, but my head was still spinning and I wound up in the ditch, on my back. “Nee po po,” I yelled at the sky, “nee po po!”
On the other side of the road, the young men looked confused, as if unsure of what to do when confronted by what must have appeared to be a crippled sasquatch suffering from sarcoptic mange. I regained my feet and, in an attempt to clear up the matter, tried to explain myself and my condition. Gesturing toward my swollen eye, I said, “Wubba mumfeebo boomy wimrow!” I shook my deformed hand, still firmly attached to my collar, and said, “Ee shlabbo noo hun!” and then, to explain my inability to keep my feet, I hopped on one foot, shouting, “Ee shmicky woo bindo mug, mummo foo wubba!”
Hunched over and breathing hard, with slobber running down the front of my coat, I watched the young men drop their poles and high-tail it to their truck, which disappeared down the road in a cloud of dust.
“Blurpa fumfum wubbas,” I muttered.
Our local Game Warden stopped by later that day, for a little chat. So did two State Troopers and, for the fifth time in as many years, I assured them there were no launatics running loose on the property. Later in the week, the crew from Animal Planet’s “Finding Bigfoot” showed up but would not leave until one of them had spent the day hollering in the woods while the others filmed from a helicopter. I tried to convince them there are no bigfoots with terrible skin conditions nearby, but they are serious cryptozoologists and, with no firm evidence to disprove the existence of the creature they were calling “Nee Po Po, the Nonesuch Mountain Howler,” their case file remains open and they promised to return for a more comprehensive search, later this summer.
Strange things happen all the time in these parts, and most have a perfectly logical explanation so, if you’re in the neighborhood during late March or early April, and find yourself confronted by a large, dirty creature with a patchy beard and cobwebs in its hair, spouting gibberish and brandishing a large set of slip-joint pliers, there is no need to call the cops or summon a team of paranormal investigators; it’s just Quill Gordon, getting ready for Opening Day.
Tight lines, you wubbas.