Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 New Year Resolution Report

My 2011 New Year’s Resolution Results

Back at the end of September I posted about my New Year’s resolution and how I was failing at it.  My resolution was that I was going to remember and name one person each day of the year who has had an important positive impact on my life.  I would write their name in my pocket calendar, one each day.  By the end of July, and until the end of September, I had stalled.  But then I got a renewed perspective on my resolution and thought I might actually be able to complete it, identify three hundred sixty-five different people who have had an important positive impact on my life.  I said, at the end of September, that no matter how it turned out, I would, in my first post of January 2012, list all the names I have.  Here they are, month-by-month.  If I missed your name, you will have to let me know about it.  Please don’t be offended if your name is not in January or February, but doesn’t appear until October or November.  Instead, you might be flattered that I realized late the important role you have had in my life.  On the other hand, since I said that I was expanding my criteria to include those who had a positive impact by being an example of the kind of person I did not want to become, you might be left guessing where you stand.  I hope you know.  If you don’t, you can ask me.

January: Eric Snider Sr., Mildred Snider, Beth Snider, Kevin Snider, Jayne Snider, Jim Riccitelli, Dick Eddy, Dave Lankey, Charlie Burggraf, Tony Ibarra, Biz Hus, Kevin Thomas, Karen Larabel, Ryan Lankey, Tom Veltkamp, Tom Fraser, Dan Snider, Karol Veltkamp, Steve Taylor, Rich Mouw, Paul Reasoner, John Sarnecki, Jon Whitman, Jim Howe, Steve Pennington, Craig Black, Marissa Perez, Carl Snider, Richard Swinburne, Alasdair MacIntyre, John Hare.

February: George Bevins, Kathi Grifhorst, Tom Snider, Chris Snider, Katie Snider, Mark Armstrong, Mike Faehnle, Jon Brinkman, Al Plantinga, Nick Smith, Gregory Vlastos, Mark McPherran, Henry Teloh, Matt Kelly, Matt VanCleave, Jeff Stoudt, Ashley Fernandez, Jean Bird, Henry Bird, Brian Diemer, Phil Cumings, Jayne Fettig, Cindy DeVries, Vicki Cumings, Jerry Lockhard, Dan Schutter, Carol Smoes, Sherry Terry.

March: Clark Stiles, Duane Watson, Kurt Busman, Ron Reimink, Ray VanArragon, Rich Sherry, Kathy Nevins, Dan Yim, Neal Dutton, Ken Steinbach, Chris Gehrz, AnneMarie Kooistra, Sam Mulberry, Bernon Lee, Herb Johnson, Brian Lepel, John Kieger, Chris Franks, Peter Anderson, Alicia Graf, Marilou Bowers, John Bowers, Gerald Wright, Georgina Wright, Charles Wright, Darlene Wright, Duane Babcock, Ben Levitz, Jon Veenker, Dan Graf, Judd Halvorsen.

April: Doug Sjoquist, Bill Hodges, Kristy Cumings, Bob Cumings, Mack Cumings, Vanessa Cumings, Dan Klein, Noah Veltkamp, Levi Veltkamp, Grace Veltkamp, Aubrey Veltkamp Volmar, Erica Van Koevering, Neil Van Koevering, Frank Opocensky, Joe Opocensky, Julian Davies, Rick Brunner, Dave Komives, Mark Thompson, Sean Smith, Andy Schoonover, Bill Sibrel, David Schoonover, Corey Rees, Larry Olson, Kevin Carmody, Jeff Sessions, Donald Miller, Philip Yancey, David James Duncan.

May: Flannery O’Connor, R.M. Hare, David Burchett, C.S. Lewis, Jamie Shivers, Francis Schaeffer, Fred Miller Jr., Robert Turnbull, Wilbur Eifert, Ken Konyndyk, Greg Mellema, Del Ratzsch, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Al Hoekstra, Jim Bellamy, Nancy Nottingham, Louise VanKampen, Brian Thompson, Mr. Reimink, Mr. Norm Romanski, Mr. Bylsma, Miss Boer, Mr. Holmes, Mr. DeGuess, Bertrand Russell, Rene Descartes, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Ludwig Wittgenstein.

June: G.E.M. Anscombe, Donald Davidson, Saul Kripke, Martha Nussbaum, Julia Annas, J.L. Austin, Anthony Flew, Richard Wright, Tom Mayberry, Allen Cumings, Jason Mayland, Tom Kiever, Molly Cryderman Weber, Donna Clingersmith, Jayne Taylor, Lynn Hagen, Tom Hagen, Josiah in shipping and receiving, Lucy Starr, Joanna Wilson, Amy Jeffers, Jim Campbell, Linda Campbell, Rick Gaillardetz, Brad Crowell, Al Mele, John Heil, Linda Smith, Roger Lamrock, Michael Nealon.

July: Sara Shady, Dan Taylor, Tom Becknell, Joey Horstman, Mark Reasoner, Jim Bielby, Michael Jakobson, Rich Edwards, Al Cave, Steve the Aldringham UPS man, Ralph Popma, Rolf Dietrich, Gordy Hankinson, Marilyn Hankinson, Roy Wright, Mike Sessions Sr., Vera Sessions, Vernon Cumings, Mary Cumings, George Blum, Chester Amburgey, Don White, Rupert Loyd, Ed Dobson, Rob Bell, Dave Cumings, J.O. Urmson, A.J. Ayer, Gilbert Ryle, Immanuel Kant, Soren Kierkegaard.

August: Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Homer, Virgil, John Calvin, Roger Olson, Ian Hacking, 80 year old Aldringham Drive mailman, Stod Johnson, Leonore Johnson, Ed our 90 year old Southwood Drive neighbor, Steve Thatcher, Don Fothergill, Ray Befus, Grandpa Carl Snider, Grandma Clara Snider, Aunt Joyce Horne, Aunt Kathy Youngs, Uncle Jerry Youngs, Mark Youngs, Mike Tolhurst, Mark Tolhurst, Donald Sherburne, Charles Scott, Mike Hodges, Clyde the waiter at Marino’s, Tim the waiter at Marino’s, Albert Spiegel, Wendy Snider, Lydia Erickson, Ben at Japanese Auto.

September: John at Japanese Auto, John Drake, Paul at Now Bikes, Mike at Now Bikes, Dr. William Facey, Dr. David Mallory, Dr. Deborah Guntsch, Dr. Michael Weisbrod, Rod Kalajainen, Kelvin Frizzell, Chris Klein, Rex Sims, David Cleary, Watson Fong, Mark Wolowiec, Mark Cahn, Larry Bohnsack, Loren Simons, Frankie Andreu, Brian Rafalski, Rachel Steele, Jaime Galambos, Aaron Grier, Andrea Fisher, Keith Marston, Cathy Simons, Luke Gruber, Rick Erickson, Bono, Aaron Gephardt.

October: Belinda Lankey, Dr. Joseph Lentini, Socrates, Craig Webb, Michael Stipe, Natalie Merchant, Nanci Griffith, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Lucinda Williams, Jim Harrison, Norman Maclean, Ernest Hemingway, Peter Buck, Perry Farrell, Kurt Cobain, Billy Corgan, Eddie Vedder, Johnny Cash, Sting, The Edge, Uncle Bill Russell, Aunt Nancy Russell, Uncle Carl Snider, Brian Snider, Daryl Snider, Doug Larabel, Rich Mullins, Michael Card, Michael W. Smith, Matt Hammitt, Chris Rohman.

November: David Crowder, Matt Redman, Rebecca St. James, Chris Tomlin, Sophocles, William Shakespeare, Ludwig von Beethoven, J. S. Bach, Amadeus Mozart, Jennifer Knapp, Toni Glascoe, “Chicken” Brown, Todd Troutman, Mike Iannone, Shauntey James, Tom Kirchen, Paul Jurczak, Tammy Phinney, Mary Speiser, Anne Lamott, Miroslav Volf, Uncle Bud Horne, G.F. Handel, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Puccini, Billie Holiday, Edie Brickell, Norah Jones

December: Jewel, Alanis Morissette, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young, Ellen Handler Spitz, Shawn Colvin, Suzanne Vega, Twila Paris, Elizabeth Hunnicutt, Sara Groves, Sergei Rachmoninoff, Garrison Keillor, Stefan van Voorst, Cathy Davison, Martin Luther, Menno Simons, Michael Sattler, Andy Cling, Paul Moser, Dave Barnes, Karen McGee, Steve Clark, Tony Gwinn, Tony Dungy, F.M. Cornford, Lewis Smedes, Mark VanVugt, Tim O’Brien, Mildred Walker, Harry Middleton.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas 2011 Letter

This one is NOT fiction:

Merry Christmas Friends,                                                                                             Christmas 2011

My New Year resolution was to remember one person every day who has made an impact on my life.  I started with the obvious.  I expanded to those who never met me but had an impact.  I expanded to those who had an impact in a negative way.  Then I expanded to authors and musicians who never could have known me.  Since you are getting this you are in the obvious group.  Positive impact, living, knew me a bit.  I made it to almost 365 names.  It wasn’t easy.

Last winter I enjoyed cross-country skiing on the golf course ½ mile behind our house, ice fishing on Muskrat Lake ten miles north, and playing hockey in a Sunday night league 70 miles west in Walker, MI with my brother, nephew, and a bunch of 19-29 year olds.  Spring through fall I rode 40 miles Tuesday evenings with a group out of Mason, MI, getting 70-85 miles in on Tuesdays riding from home to my office, down for the group ride, back to my office and back home.  I rode my bike to work almost every day.  In the summer, I did some fishing on Muskrat Lake, rode bikes with Beth, went canoeing on the Looking Glass River with Beth, grew a vegetable garden.  Fall I planted three trees in our yard.  I continue to ride my bike as long as roads are not snow covered or icy.  I got over 6000 miles in this year.  Hockey has been going again for almost two months.

Beth got to know some women from church in small groups and work project groups.  We have never been connected to a church that gives so much to the community.  A church of 450 gives a week’s groceries for a family of four over 1500 times a year (in addition to 100 food baskets at Thanksgiving and another 100 at Christmas).  Another group knits hats, gloves, and makes other items to supply needs.  Beth is involved in a daytime women’s group that has a wide range of ages.  She rode her bike a lot this year, probably the most miles ever.  Now that it is cold, she’d rather walk that try to fight the wind chill of cycling.  Beth likes living only 70 miles from her mom.  She visits her mom a day almost every week.  She and my sister who lives 70 miles north of us get together every other week.

We love our home, neighborhood, and church.  I like my job a lot.  I have meaningful and rewarding work.  Some people complain that a few people have too much wealth.  Yes, if all the people in the world were in a line, with those having most and best access to clean water, healthful food, safe living conditions, good health, education, leisure, and resources to purchase whatever they think contributes to any of the above, almost everyone in the US would be in the front 1% of the line (and almost none would not be in the front 5%).  I know I am in the front 1%.

We love being nearer our family than we had been since 1980.  We like Michigan a lot, and enjoy vacationing in our state, especially up by Onekama and Frankfort.  In the summer we went to a handful of county fairs and festivals, free band shell community concerts.  We explored some parks.  We had a working vacation in Minnesota: our house there sold, we helped Kevin and Jayne move out and prepared the house for closing.

Jayne moved back in with us from Minnesota.  She has a BA from Bethel University in Phys Ed (non-teaching).  It is a hard economy for college grads trying to find meaningful work that pays a livable wage with benefits.  She had been working for a year as a personal care assistant for a young man who, after a serious auto accident, came out alive with severe brain trauma.  He was learning to walk and talk again.  She could get free tuition where I work until she is 25 (i.e. January 2012).  So she took advantage of that to enroll in a one-semester intense EMT program.  She graduated December 16, passed her licensing, and is now looking for work.

Kevin is a salesman living in Minneapolis.  He bought a house, a long process through HUD, closing December 12.  There is some work to be done before he can move in, hoping to be in before Christmas.  Other’s misfortune or bad decisions provided him with affordable housing.  He is looking forward to putting in sweat equity to nearly double the value of the house in half a year, given prices of comparable homes around him.  He has a great friend, Marissa, that he loves to spend time with.  I am hoping that soon they decide to get married and live together (in that order).  I think they’d be great for each other.  Beth and I like Marissa an awful lot.

Feel free to contact me or visit my blog of fictional stories, Hoxeyville North of Nirvana at

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Being One, conclusion

[Note: the previous post, first part, was revised.  This is the second part, second draft of the conclusion.  Comments are welcome.]

His clothes were dry.  He felt clean.  He felt cool.  Humidity was low.  So even at eighty degrees, wearing waders, vest, and a flannel shirt was comfortable, especially standing waist deep in the Aspen.  Mostly, he felt clean.

He got back to the task of fishing.  Just downstream from his bathing site, he crossed to the west side of the river and ascended the river to first pool.  In another hour, the river would be in the shade, except for a few of the sections were it flowed in a directly east-west direction.  Ephemerella and Baetis rose off the water and took wing.  He had fish biting in half the pools and small pockets as he moved up stream, and caught a fish from one-third of the bites.  He took time, fished slowly, not like when he was younger and would see how much of the river he could cover in an afternoon.  When he had to re-tie a hook, there was no urgency.  It wasn’t a contest.  He could rest the water while he unhurriedly re-tied the hook.

At a shady bend, with a breeze just enough to keep bugs off, he sat on a sandy bank.  Resting his rod in the grass, he removed his vest to get at the back pocket to retrieve the lunch he had prepared.  Crunchy peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwich, banana, and an apple.  The dense sandwich needed washing down with water.  He almost wished for a cold beer, except that for the evening fishing he wanted complete alertness.  The banana had mysteriously avoided getting bruised and mashed.  He must have luckily avoided crushing it the times he leaned against a tree re-tying a hook.  And a MacIntosh apple as dessert.

He saved a few sips of water for sundown.  He could look forward to some cold beer after fishing.  On his way from his camp after lunch to downstream from the beaver dam, he stopped along the bubbling spring two hundred yards downstream from Spruce Creek, near a big cedar, ten feet in from the river’s edge.  Water bubbled up from the sandy bottom of a tub-sized pool, four feet in diameter and three feet to the bubbling sand. The spring water was a consistent fifty-two degrees, ideal for keeping beer cool.  Sometimes he’d use the spring to cool a bottle of Spumante.  From that spring a six-inch wide knife-thick stream flowed, rather oozed, into the Aspen.  The consistently cool water of the Aspen was due to hundreds of similar springs in and near the river.

Patiently fishing, at sundown he reached the big pool downstream from Spruce Creek, not far from the bubbling spring.  He’d fish that pool until after dark, retrieve his cold pops, hike the narrow trail along the side of the river, and up the more visible trail to his campsite.  On the fourth cast he caught his best brown trout of the trip, big enough for a meal for one person.  But he wasn’t keeping and killing.  He kept trout in the morning for a noon cooked lunch.  In the afternoon and evening, he released any he caught.  With the clear sky and low humidity, the air cooled quickly in the river valley.  There was enough breeze to keep mosquitoes away, from the west, gentle into his face on the east side of the river.  There had been less rain than usual the past three weeks, which helped keep the mosquito numbers down.

He stood quietly in the river, water between his knees and crotch flowing left to right.  He’d cast to the upstream end of the pool, seeing the plop of his bait.  Having gotten his bait tangled on the bottom twice already in the pool in the past fifteen minutes, he learned where to cast to get his bait on the bottom and to avoid the snags. When it was near the time that he could no longer see his bait plop, but would have to judge by sound where it landed and by feel when it came off the bottom and the end of the drift, he saw a dark object in the river ten feet in front of him, just past his rod tip, swimming from his right to left, upstream.  It was a yard long, and thick.  Since hydro-electric dams were built in the first quarter of the twentieth century, the big fish from the big lake couldn’t make it to the Aspen.  So it couldn’t be a large carp or northern pike or sturgeon or salmon.  Fifteen feet upstream it surfaced, a beaver.  It almost immediately noticed him, and dove, making a large splash smacking its tail on the surface as it disappeared into the depths of the pool.  It had appeared, silent.  It was gone.

He continued to drift his bait through the hole.  With the ambient light left, he could see the slack in his line as his bait ticked along the bottom, then straighten out as it came off the bottom at the end of the drift.  A raccoon across the river appeared out of the tall grass, waddling the three feet from the edge of grass to the water’s edge.  It reached into the water with its front paws, feeling among the rocks for crayfish, looking as if it were washing its paws.  It moved a foot to its right, upstream, feeling more, moved again, felt, grasped something and put it to its mouth.  It continued to move upstream, seemly oblivious to Kevin’s presence twenty-five feet across the river on the opposite bank.  With the river bending to the east forty feet upstream, Kevin watched it hunt, gather, and feed for a minute before it too was out of sight.

How did Kevin deserve this glimpse through a crack of reality to a world for which he was chief predator and enemy?  No.  He didn’t deserve it.  Nothing was owed him.  It was a gift to him.  At least it felt like a gift to him.  He thought, this is what it must be like to be all together, for all things to be together one.  For a moment he felt that.  If he cut and splice together his standing in the water, the beaver swimming and the raccoon feeding in such a way that even if they were aware of each others’ proximity, they were not afraid, he could recover that sense of being one.  He exhaled, inhaled, exhaled.  The world was a silent one.

It was now too late to fish.  He glanced at his watch, 11:35.  Even if he could continue with a few more casts, catch another fish, what would be the point?  He turned, headed up the river bank to the left to make the short downstream hike to the bubbling spring to retrieve the cold liquid he was so looking forward to popping open.  The silver tops of the cans shown brightly reflecting stars overhead, the Big Dipper high in the late June sky, unlike mid-November where it is just above the northern horizon.  He slipped the cans into his vest back pocket, about faced to follow the riverside trail to where it meets the more visible trail just before Spruce Creek to head up the hill.  At the top of the hill, across an open area compared to most of the woods, he connected to the two-track to take him, quarter mile later, to his campsite.

He leaned his rod against the tree he always did, where he’d be able to find it in the morning.  Removing his vest, he collected one of the cans, opened it, and after a first long draught, began to sip.  His vest went into the back seat of his car to keep from getting soaked from night dew.  He got the knee boots out from the floor of the back seat, removed his waders and put on the knee boots.  With night dew, they’d keep his feet dry.  His waders were hung feet up from a branch.  The damp insides wouldn’t dry overnight, and neither would they get more damp.  He got his matches and the newspaper.  He retrieved kindling he had stored under the car to keep dry.  He crumpled the newspaper and put it into the two-foot diameter fire ring made from a collection of softball-sized rocks.  He added some kindling, some finger-diameter branches, then a few arm-sized diameter ones.  He struck the match, and put it to the newspaper.  After an initial flash of brilliant light in the dark to which his eyes had become accustomed, the fire settled down to consume the branches he fed it.  He pulled up the five gallon bucket with a top on it, in which he carried matches, newspaper, and some kindling, for a seat.

He slowly fed the fire, not wanting it to be too bright.  He has seen good things in dim light.  He listened.  Barely a breeze, just enough to shush the spruce tree on the south edge of his campsite.  A crackle from a piece of pine in the fire.  The oak and maple was quiet.  He stared and sipped.  He felt like he belonged.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Being One

[NOTE: "Being One" is the tentative title.  This is the third draft of a first part of a short story, to be completed over subsequent installments.  Comments are welcome.]

It was getting late.  There was still enough light to see.  He could see the trajectory of his cast, and where the bait landed in the stream.  He could follow the drift of his bait ticking along the bottom.  Having fished that hole for the previous twenty minutes, he knew where the snags were.  He cast and drifted his bait to avoid the snags, still hoping that it was down where the brown trout were.  He knew the difference between the feel of the bait ticking on the bottom, and the two-beat jerk-jerk of a trout taking the bait.  By the pull at the tip of his rod, he sensed when the bait was coming off the bottom at the end of the drift.  Then he reeled up, and cast back to the head of the pool for another drift.  Each cast was bringing him closer to dark.

Kevin was on his usual mid- to late-June camping and fishing trip to the Aspen River.  He came up Tuesday morning.  He was now ending his second day on the river.  Tomorrow, depending on how the fishing would go, he’d leave either mid-day after the morning fishing, or if the fishing and weather was good, he’d stay until dark.

He made an annual trek to the Aspen for three days and two nights of camping, fishing, but mostly relaxing.  Back along the Aspen, two miles down a two-track, ten miles from the nearest state two-lane highway, the silence was loud.  Wind shushed through the pines, spruce, and cedars.  It tinkled as poplar leaves flicked right and left.  Downy woodpeckers drilled dying trunks and branches of hard maple and choke cherry trees.  Flickers as if on big lake waves careened through the woods up a crest and down a trough.  Bigger cousins, pileated woodpeckers, rode ocean-size waves.  He often heard their crescendoing scree-scree-scree well before he saw them, or their hammering a tree that sounding like a chain saw starting up.  Male partridges drummed their wings, signaling their location to females ready to breed.

Red squirrels squeaked, like a human sucking the inside of his cheek.  A doe would snort, blowing her nose to get a better gauge on his scent.  Fawns were dropped over the past few weeks.  Walking through the woods to the river, he would on rare occasion nearly step on one before it jumped and sprinted away.  Each time, Kevin felt more startled than the fawn.  Something reddish-colored flushing suddenly within a few feet of him caused his brain—his own species not that long ago having come down out of trees to roam and prey on the savannah—to think it was a predator, maybe a rabid fox or a more reddish rather than grayish coyote.  Half a second later, he realized it was a fawn.  But the first reaction was flight.  His brain directed his adrenal glands to mainline a large dose, and it took a few minutes to calm back down.

The quiet was a healthful deafening.  Kevin’s life was filled with so much noise.  To take a few days a few different times during the year to be surrounded by not exactly silence but quiet, helped Kevin hear more precisely.  This was one time.  Sitting in a deer blind for a few days mid-November, with nuthatches going beak-first down the dead cedar next to his blind and landing two feet away on the open window sill was another period of silence.  And in January there were several hours of silence, but usually no more than three hours at a time and often after dark, in an ice house lit by a kerosene lamp, looking through a hole in the ice to a silent world below.

Kevin travelled to the Aspen at this time of the year to clear his nostrils, ears, eyes, and finger tips after nine months in the classroom as a teacher.  School was rarely a quiet place.  Students arrive with boisterous chatter.  Bells ring. Assemblies and pep rallies demand ear plugs.  Who trained, or is it corrupted, those kids’ fashion sense?  The hair styles, the colors of their clothing, and patterns and prints.  Sometimes Kevin thought he should wear sunglasses in class.  Nay, sometimes he thought he should put on a welder’s helmet, through which only things nearly as bright as the sun were visible.  Then some of the sophomore boys had not yet realized that their glands were producing chemicals that made them positively stink.  Other sophomore boys thought they needed to imitate mid-twenty year old dandies from the movies and television commercials and wore perfume, otherwise known as men’s cologne.  And the girls were no better.  Well, they were a bit better.  Girls seemed to learn better from their mothers to wear deodorant.  Girls smelled fresh, mostly like Ivory soap.  He noticed that when they’d come up to his desk to ask a question or turn in an assignment.  Only a few girls overdid the perfume, not as bad as the blue-haired church ladies, however.  Besides the students, there were all the chemical smells of institutional cleaning supplies.  Schools, doctors’ offices, hospitals, nursing homes: they all have unique and distinctive odors.  Why did the school bathrooms smell so badly when they were freshly cleaned?  Which senseless chemist invented those cleaning chemicals?

September was always a shock to his senses, having been away from school for so long.  When he himself was in junior high, he helped a neighbor, for no pay but just for the experience, on a dairy.  He’d show up at 5 am in the barn, as would the cows into their stanchions.  The odor would smack his senses, and he’d breathe through his mouth.  But after five or ten minutes, he’d be breathing through his nose, and it didn’t seem offensive.  He especially liked the sweet smells of a dairy, much sweeter than a beef, chicken, or hog operation.  The sweetest smell was the silage, moist hay stuffed into a silo, slightly fermented, especially as you drew it out of the bottom of the silo to feed the cows as they were in their stanchions waiting to be milked.  Was it a cocktail for a cow?  Kevin wondered but never knew.  At school in September, it took only a week to get used to the smells again and cease the mouth breathing.  At the beginning of the school year, many of the students arrived with the latest fashions, or at least what they called fashions.  The principal arranged a few assemblies.  And as it was football season, Friday last period was often a raucous pep rally.

By June, when classes were out, Kevin’s senses needed therapy, recovery, rejuvenation.

He went to the Aspen mid-week for two reasons.  One is because he could.  Unlike the rest of the work force who had to work Monday through Friday, and maybe a weekend day too, now that school was out he had about ten weeks free.  He could pick his days and times to run errands, get groceries, go for a hike or jog or bike ride.  He could avoid the frustrations of having to be in busy traffic and busy stores.  He could be on the Aspen when most others, except retirees, were at work.  The second reason was because the Aspen was busy on weekends.  It was a popular canoeing river.  Back in the seventies when canoes were aluminum, it was called the silver hatch or the aluminum hatch.  Every Saturday and Sunday morning, from June through August, at 8 am, hundreds of canoes would appear on the water.  On the busiest weekends, a thousand canoes a day would put in up steam and take out down stream.  By noon, a tenth of the canoers were intoxicated, the river banks and bottoms strewn with empty cans.  By seven or eight in the evening, they were off the river to avoid the evening mosquitoes.  Starting in the late eighties, the state enacted restrictions, both for the number of canoes per day permitted on the river, and time regulations: no water craft on the river before 9 am, and all watercraft off the river by 6 pm.  The latter was to provide some peaceful conditions for those who wanted to fish, or at least to give the fish some peace and quiet.

Kevin went to the Aspen mid-week to pursue solitude.  Mid-week gave him great chances for that.  He rarely saw more than a dozen canoes or kayaks go by him mid-day mid-week.  And they tended to be canoers and kayakers, not partiers in canoes and kayaks.  They were quiet.  If he wasn’t looking, they could float past him unnoticed.

He also went mid-June because it was near summer solstice.  In northern Alaska, and anywhere near the Arctic Circle, those were the days of no night.  In northern Michigan, it meant visibility until after 10 pm on a clear night.  Sundown at 9:30 pm, civil twilight after 10 pm, nautical twilight almost 11 pm, astronomical twilight almost midnight.  On the years that moonrise was just before sunset, visibility could be adequate longer, especially if you were outside with no artificial lights from 9 pm until midnight as your eyes adjusted to the diminishing light.  It wasn’t as bright as a winter, snow-covered full moon night, but it was as bright as you could get in summer.  With so many nocturnal animals around the Aspen, chances of seeing them without artificial lights were good around solstice.  Too, the world seemed quieter at night.  Less road traffic and less airplane traffic.  Even ten miles from the state two-lane highway, if there was no wind in the trees you could hear the whine of semi-truck tires on pavement.  You’d have to get to a unique place in a wilderness to be out of the flight pattern of airlines.

That morning he was on the river at 5:30, half an hour before sunrise.  Fiddlehead ferns were soaked with dew as he hiked through the woods to the river.  Wearing waders, he didn’t get wet, and the dew prepared his waders for the river.  He went by dead reckoning.  He wanted to connect to the river just upstream from the beaver dam.

The beaver dam wasn’t a dam any more.  It was halfway between Spruce Creek and Daley Creek where some beavers had, in the late fifties, started a dam.  Then one spring in the early sixties after a winter of heavy snowfall, and with extra heavy spring rains, the river cut a new, shorter course, leaving an oxbow behind.  Over the years, blowdowns, leaves and other vegetation filled much of the oxbow, becoming a stagnant swamp.  The river lost a half mile of its course.

The course of the Aspen rarely went straight for more than fifty or a hundred yards.  It wound back and forth.  Occasionally Kevin took advantage of that to surprise canoers.  In a few places an upstream and downstream section of a half mile of the river were divided by only fifty yards over a small hill.  Kevin would wave to the canoers on the upstream side of the hill, traverse to the downstream side and wave to them again eight minutes later after they had floated the half mile of the river.

The beaver dam area was a favorite place for him to fish.  He’d get there either by camping near Spruce Creek and bushwacking through the woods downstream, or by camping near Daley Creek and bushwacking up stream.  There were several deep pools the half mile above and below the beaver dam, holding large brown trout.  He would fish the beaver dam early in the morning until early evening.  He never fished it late evening because it would be too easy to get lost in the woods after dark trying to find his way back to his campsite two miles away.  Dead reckoning works at dawn.  He could head out from his campsite in the right direction at the first hint of dawn.  Over the next fifteen minutes as it would begin to lighten, he could find his way rightly.  Too, he would be drawn to the sound of the river.  But there would be no sound to guide him back to his campsite in the dark.

Given the meandering course of the Aspen, Kevin would cut the course from pool to pool by crossing the river.  There were not many places to cross.  While it was a narrow river with no place you couldn’t cast from one bank to the opposite bank, it was often deep with a strong current.  He selected spots where the river did not rise to his waist.  Between Spruce and Daley Creeks, there were only three places to cross in water no deeper than mid-thigh.  What made the Aspen a popular canoe and kayak river was its strong current, which made it a challenge to wade and fish.  He had involuntarily swam with waders on a few times, having his feet driven out from underneath him in the currents.  He tried not to wade above his waist, except in the slowest sections of the river, to have less of the river tying to push him downstream.  Besides the strength of the current, several sections of the Aspen were carved through clay.  Clay ledges jutted into the river on a barely noticeable slope for ten feet, then dropped to a pool ten, fifteen, sometimes twenty feet deep, great holding spots for large brown trout.  But the clay ledges were treacherous to wade in the Aspen’s current.  You could be just knee deep, and the current would push you on the slick clay toward the drop-off.  You’d try to back pedal, hoping there was an over-hanging branch you could grab to regain solid footing and creep to safety.

Crossing one of the safe spots that morning, between his second and third trout, he came upon a common merganser hen, a rusty-headed dive bomber of a bird, with ten ducklings strung out in a line behind her.  Had it been just her, she would have jumped and flown.  But as protector of her offspring, she led them downstream close to the bank under the sweepers.  On the other side of the river, he cut off a section of the river to fish the next deep pool downstream.  While there, after catching his fourth trout, the second one he’d keep for his noon lunch, the merganser clan had continued downstream, saw him, and turned back upstream.  With the sun approaching the high point in the sky, Kevin turned back upstream to return to his campsite for lunch.

He cooked his lunch over a Coleman stove.  That brought him many of the best comforts of home.  He could brew coffee in the morning, and boil water to pour in a bowl for instant oatmeal.  He brought along instant rice, instant mashed potatoes, cans of vegetables, bread, peanut butter and jelly, apples, oranges, bananas.  The only cooking he did was of the trout he’d keep.  It was just too hard to cook rice or potatoes or oatmeal in the sauce pan and try to get it cleaned out after.  Thus all the instant foods.  He could put them in the bowl, pour the boiling water over them, and the bowl would be easier to clean.  In an old fry pan, he cooked the trout while he boiled water to pour in a bowl of instant rice.  When the trout were done, the skin peeled off and with a fork he could flake the meat off the bones to add to the rice.  Two small trout and a bowl of rice was his big meal of the day.  After eating, he poured some of the hot water into the fry pan, and gingerly carried it seventy yards up the two-track to scrape, clean, and dump out.  Raccoons would want the skin, head, and bones, and he didn’t want them too close to his camp.  After cleaning up, he made a sandwich, putting it and fruit into the back pocket of his fishing vest, together with a bottle full of water, for the afternoon and evening fishing.

Kevin carried caramels in his shirt pocket when he fished.  He rarely ate them otherwise.  But when he fished he like a caramel.  If he broke off his hook on a snag, as he’d begin to retie a new hook, he’d begin to salivate, a reaction developed from years of fishing, to lubricate the knot before he’d pull it tight.  Maybe the brown juice attracted fish, or maybe it repelled them.  It didn’t matter.

Back on the river, late afternoon was the warmest part of the day, and the time of the day when the river was warmest from the sun, maybe two or three degrees warmer than at day break.  With no one around and no one expected, having seen only five canoes that day, Kevin decided to take a swim.  The Aspen in even the hottest days of summer is not a swimming river.  It is a trout river.  In spite of extensive logging of white pine in the late 1800s, the river is still well-shaded.  Average daily high water temperature June through August is 62 degrees, and it would cool back into the upper 50s overnight. The summer record high one day was 70 degrees.  On a sunny day when air temperature reaches the upper eighties, it becomes bearable to wet wade to about mid thigh.  But it is still quite a shock to the system to get wet to the waist, and almost impossible to completely submerge without losing your breath.  If you do submerge, you pop up, head for shore, and stand in the sun to warm up and dry off.

Kevin went to a grassy area down stream from the beaver dam.  He had hiked two miles cross-country through the woods, an hour from his campsite, down to near Daley Creek.  He’d fish upstream through the evening until he was close enough to a well identified trail near Spruce Creek, a trail he could find even in the dark, to take him back to his campsite without the risk of getting lost.  But first, he’d bath in the river.  It was near a rare open field where, a hundred years ago, pine logs had been stacked in winter, ready to be rolled into the river to float down to the saw mills in spring.   He leaned his rod against a tree, and hung his fishing vest and creel on a branch.  His green felt wool hat hooked on a nub of a branch.  He exited his waders. He draped his sweaty blue flannel shirt over a bush to dry in the sun.  His damp socks went over the neighboring shrub.  He laid out the rest of his clothes in the grass.  Then he listened to make sure he could not hear the bang of paddles against the gunwales of canoes.  He slipped nakedly into the river.  Quickest is best, he went deep before he had a chance to think twice about it.  Dipping his head in, he scrubbed his scalp as if he were shampooing.  Was he scrubbing his body or trying to create warmth through friction?  His breath exited.  Shivering, he got to the bank, up the bank, into the grassy area, far enough up the bank to be seen from a canoer’s level only from the shoulders up.  He stood in the afternoon sun long enough to dry off, enough to sit on the grass until his feet were dry enough to re-robe without transferring sand inside his clothing.