story tarpThe Tarp, photo and all text © IreneO’Garden, 2014

To listen to this post, please click here:Caught and Released

I’ll explain this photo in a moment.

Before we set off on our rafting trip, my brother Jim gave me my first fly fishing lesson–in a parking lot, so as to narrow my focus.  A high point of the whole trip was the moment I physically understood the “ten and two” motion he described, whereupon I made two or three good casts. Both of us whooped with classic teacher-pupil joy: I caught it!

Jim said that we’d be fishing from the raft in places where the fish practically come up and shake your hand. But within the first ten minutes aboard, the Flathead River  practiced her own cast, hurling us toward a dead and deadly fallen pine. It hung low over the swirling water, its silver trunk spiked with broken branches. Given our velocity, there was nothing to do but duck as we mashed into it.

I got a honey of a scrape, but we made it through with eyes and limbs intact, only to notice when we finally dislodged ourselves that two of three fly rods had snapped in half.

As it happened, I never did get to fish —weather and other hazards intervened. I had to release the skill I’d caught for only a moment.

But such stories we netted on this trip! (More of them to come.) In the photo above, my sister Robin and nephew Don display a wonderful way to remember them. Don and his daughter Lauren invented The Story Tarp for their own camping trips. They wanted to make one for Jim, so they brought a blank tarp and a set of Sharpies and asked each of us to make a pictograph of an important incident every day. (In the upper left you can see Jim’s drawing of me learning to cast.)

Now I’m off again—this time to Canada for our beloved annual trip to the Shaw Festival where we feast on food, wine, friendship and great theatre–other people’s stories—a fascinating contrast to last week. But not as enduring, perhaps, as the stories etched in the iris of our own eyes, stories shot through fiber and marrow, bristled through fingertips, spreading over us like the massive quilt of stars. Stories swimming through us like fish–amazing to catch, a delight to release.

 

 

Safe and SoundSafe and Sound, photo © Robin O’Brien, all text © Irene O’Garden 2014

To listen to this post, please click here: Safe, Sound and Sobered

I’m back from Montana, safe and sound, but sobered both by the grandeur and the risk of the wilderness.

My younger brother Jim and his sons have trekked into the Montana backcountry for thirty years. My sister Robin and I decided to accompany them this year after the February death of our older brother John. The party was all family: three nephews, a grand nephew, grandniece and a nephew’s nephew by marriage. At 62, I was not only the eldest, but the least-experienced in the ways of the wilds.

Our trip was described as a day-long horseback ride into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, followed by a 5-day float on the South Fork of The Flathead River. I brought watercolors.

But Montanans speak a different language. The “float” was actually a rafting trip over Class 2 and 3 rapids, around spikey fallen trees, jutting logs, with portages over slippery rock “gardens.” The eleven-hour horseback ride was a piece of cake in comparison.

Many clichés sprung alive on this journey—“Between a rock and a hard place” is but one. Getting thrust off the raft was nothing compared to the panic of seeing loved ones topple into the swift chilly current. We all survived none the worse for wear, though my adrenals are exhausted.

I’ll eventually write more about this trip—either here or elsewhere. It was both the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and one of the most sublime. Experiencing the splendor of the most remote location in the Lower 48 was an exhilarating privilege, matched only by the beauty of human beings behaving at their best.

Had I known what lay ahead,  I never would have gone. But I’ll be forever grateful I did.

 

 

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