Just an update that I have started a personal blog about my first summer as a firefighter. You can find it here if you’re interested!
Just an update that I have started a personal blog about my first summer as a firefighter. You can find it here if you’re interested!
In December, I finally published a small children’s book I had been working on for nearly a year. With art by my uber-talented friend Kelly Peters, it’s a small and beautifully-illustrated little thing, made as a tribute to my stepmom, who passed away in 2014 from breast cancer. She and my dad had three young girls together — my sisters — and I wanted them to have a constant reminder of how incredible their mom was.
I’m writing you in regards to the land you just sold to a Canadian mining company.
While you have already awarded Graymont the 10,000 acres in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and I know I am speaking too late, I thought it important to tell you how disappointed I am in how this process was handled.
I understand that mining has its benefits. However unfortunate it is, our livelihood depends on the extraction of these materials. But I don’t need to tell you that. What I apparently do need to tell you is that Graymont’s purchase of Michigan’s public lands is an absolute affront to conservation, democratic values and all that is “Pure Michigan.” It is money in your pocket, and it is destruction of valuable Michigan habitat (by a Canadian company). It embodies the very reasons Michigan is anything but “pure,” and it’s a slippery slope into other corporate land grabs, the likes of which absolutely terrify me.
I live about 10 miles from the Pigeon River Country State Forest — one of the biggest tracts of state land in the Midwest — and spend countless hours there cross-country skiing, flyfishing, hiking, biking and generally just engaging in everything that makes northern Michigan such an incredible place. PRC is my muse, my meditation, a place where I can catch a 20-inch brown trout and then hear an elk bugle all in the same day. PRC is special to me, and it pains me to think that just an hour’s drive north of where I live and am able to enjoy Michigan’s public lands, someone just had their respective “place” taken from them. Their place was just sold off to a Canadian mining company on the promise that it would bring 50 (if that) short-term jobs to the region. Their place will soon be home to a huge hole in the ground. Their place will likely struggle with contaminated water and destroyed wetlands and countless other issues for years after Graymont has left. Graymont’s predictable public relations spiel (“Economic stimulus!” “Direct and indirect job creation!” “Improved sustainability!” “Supporting society’s infrastructure!”) aside, that scares the absolute crap out of me.
This is not the Pure Michigan seen in the marketing videos and Instagram photos. This is one of the countless reasons Michigan is becoming less and less the place I want to raise my future family. This deal embodies the backwards thinking that has forced me to loath my home state, but above all, this deal is an absolute insult to the very little remaining democratic standards of Michigan’s governance.
When this deal went through, I couldn’t help but think about PRC being sold off to whoever might bid highest on the natural gas beneath its blue-ribbon trout streams, expansive meadows and elk herds. I couldn’t help but think of the fracking that could take place there if we continue running the route we are. Making it all the more disturbing is the fact that the state of Michigan (well, not the state of Michigan because that would have included its residents) just sold 10,000 acres of land to a Canadian (let me just reiterate that one more time) company with almost nothing in the way of public input. Without a single consideration for the long-term well being of the Upper Peninsula, of its ecosystems and communities. Without a single consideration beyond the short-term benefits of a mine that was not wanted, of a mine that was an obvious “no” from the get-go. And here we are. Our greed will destroy us.
Thank you for your time, but please do better to consider the wants and needs of Michigan residents (the owners of those 10,000 acres) next time you make such significant decisions. Our livelihood depends on that more than the materials beneath our feet.
I spent the latter half of last summer working with Native Eyewear on their Locals Only Project, highlighting all the things that make Petoskey, Michigan a hidden cultural and recreational gem. The content our team created was just released. A teaser:
It might take a few hours of poring over maps, running careful fingers along the thin blue lines of rivers and creeks, trying to recall any possible details about the land from past encounters with it: childhood hunting trips, futile fishing expeditions, random day hikes. Conversations will veer from absolution to confusion to a desperate ‘well, maybe?’ But sooner or later something will catch our wandering eyes—perhaps a widening of the thin lines of creeks into the thick lines of rivers, or a rise in topography with an undoubtedly awesome view of the western sky, perfect for the golden hour. And where our fingers and eyes invariably stop is something to be investigated and explored; a canvas on which we can begin an illustration defined by exploration, but where a fish doesn’t have to be caught nor an awe-inspiring view discovered in order to feel triumph.
A few months ago, I asked a former professor of mine what I could do to continue bettering myself as a writer. I was stuck. Stagnant. Bored (could have been all the stories I was writing about high school football). But his suggestion was simple — keep writing, and pitch stories you would never imagine yourself writing to publications you would never imagine getting published in.
So, long story short, I reached out to an editor at a pre-teen girls magazine, and she had me write this gear review. It was published in February.
Next up, on my list of unexpected stories pitched to unexpected publications, I’ll be finishing an historical feature about the mining history of Negaunee in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, to be published in Michigan History Magazine.
Bohemia is far away no matter where you live (unless you’re one of the 2,000 people who live in the Keweenaw Peninsula during the winter), so if you have an opportunity to go, you take it. Even if that opportunity is with four guys you have known for an average of two weeks, four guys who are on spring break from college and are using a Bohemia ski weekend to do some bonding before they all go their separate ways again. Even then, you go. Even when the other girl who was supposed to go bailed, you go. Surrounded by farting boys for three days, I began to call this weekend the Brohemia Boys Weekend. here are some pictures…further words coming soon.
My well-intentioned mother bought me a pair of ‘Lady Hodgman’ orange neoprene waders — complete with attached rubber boots — for Christmas four years ago. My mom’s ineptitude regarding the requirements of wading (bless her heart) assured that they weren’t your everyday fishing waders, and were instead of the putting-in-docks or doing-aquatic-insect-research wader variety. I briefly considered how thankful I was that she didn’t go with pink, and then I went fishing.
In a matter of months, I ripped the seam between rubber boot and neoprene knee open while stepping over a log, catching the thick, rust-orange fabric on a rogue branch. With a wet sock and a bad attitude I tromped back to the car, slosh-slosh-sloshing all the while, knowing the Lady Hodgmans were goners and that I was, once again, wader-less.
I could admittedly take the blame for that one, though. The first time she asked me for a Christmas list — already plagued by end-of-the-semester chaos as a freshman in college — I forgot to email her back. Two weeks later, well past Black Friday deals and bordering dangerously on the possible no-shipping-before-Christmas zone, I finally got back to her — but it was too late. The local sporting goods store would have to do.
My lack of specification and punctuality had cursed me again, only this time my punishment was slogging around in big orange waders for two years, eliciting a healthy combination of pity and laughter from anyone who would come to witness the Lady Hodgmans in action — particularly when we got off the river and I emptied my rubber boots of the liters of sock water they’d been collecting all day.
However, at the inevitable (but long-awaited) retirement of the Hodgmans, my boyfriend’s old guiding setup was bestowed upon me, fresh from the floor of the basement. Secondhand waders are probably a familiar item for most girlfriends of guides out there — he gets a shiny new pair on pro deal and here we are, perhaps too new to the sport to justify dropping $200 on our own pair or otherwise broke enough to deal with some leaky, smelly waders for the time being. Still recovering from my breakup with my Lady Hodgmans, I was willing to take some worn and torn hand-me-downs in lieu of spending a paycheck on the fancy articulated knees and thoughtful seam placements of a new pair. What I got in return were waders that were worn about 170 days a year for four years and, as a result, were in a condition best described as ‘well-loved.’
I’ve since spent about two years in these things, long past their assumed expiration date, which I’m guessing was the day they were thrown on the basement floor, laid to rest in the graveyard of old and unfit gear. Between the swamp foot and wader butt that has defined my ‘new’ getup over the past two years, I’ve dreamt of the simple color schemes, fleece-lined pockets, Gore Tex fabrics and “designed for women, by women” curvature of those sparkly waders in the Patagonia/Simms/Orvis catalogs. Because, I mean, would you look at that model’s profoundly unbaggy butt? I’d go so far as to say it actually looks good. I wish my butt looked even marginally as feminine as hers does in waders. I bet I’d catch bigger fish if my butt looked that good, right?
Right. But not really.
For now, the smelly and leaky ones will have to do, and I’m only complaining a little bit. Because while they have a perpetual scent of having been left in the back of the car for too long, and have the strange habit of bunching up in the worst places because the material has since stiffened to an eternal “cardboard” stage, they’ve lived a long and beautiful life. They’ve fallen into and climbed out of beaver holes. They’ve fought through briar patches. They’ve been covered in mud and ice and fish juice. They’ve paid witness to countless lost and landed fish. They’ve been pitched from car to car, car to garage and river to car. They’ve been bunched up, hung to dry, left in the car to freeze overnight and even abandoned at times, namely on the basement floor before their resurrection. Still, I think it’s time they are eternally laid to rest alongside the ‘ole Lady Hodgmans. I just want to wade up to my waist without the devastating suspense of feeling what was once a small trickle turn slowly to a cascade of freezing river water. I want dry feet. I want a color scheme that doesn’t contain the words ‘rust orange.’ And yes, I want a more feminine fit — because maybe, just maybe, a better-looking butt will help me land more fish.
I spent an ungodly amount of time stumbling along river banks at night this summer. I tried and tried and tried to document this bizarre thing I was doing — standing in a knee-deep, fast-flowing river at 2:30 a.m., holding my tripod and camera for dear life while taking long exposures — and yet got only one decent image that accurately portrayed what we were experiencing on the river on those nights. That image shows Zack and Robbie sitting on a bridge overlooking the river — the stars poking through above them with a hint of orange from a far-off city. I entered that image into Hatch Magazine’s annual photo contest, and recently received a 10th place honor for it — which was truly humbling given my total lack of expectations regarding the contest. In fact, I totally forgot I had even entered. Since most of my images from those nights either came out super overexposed from my friends shining their headlights at me at the wrong time, or just totally black from not having my shutter speed right, I was happy just to have gotten something to help me remember the summer I spent fishing in the dark.
A brief respite from getting our lines stuck in the bushes.
Note: ‘Fight Club’ is at risk of being overfished — fated to end up like all the other has-been holes in Michigan rivers. The first rule, of course, is don’t talk about Fight Club, but since I am undeniably breaking that rule right now, let’s just say this: You won’t find Fight Club, Fight Club will find you. So don’t go looking for it.
There are waters — deep and wild and holy — that guides here refer to as Fight Club.
To understand Fight Club is to learn to embrace the raw hours of the early morning, the minutes and seconds and moments between bar close and the time when sensible people would be waking for their morning commute; the time reserved for insomniacs and murder mysteries. You don’t talk about Fight Club, that’s the number one rule (yes, I’m breaking the rule)— it’s a time and place defined by ethereal moments, buzzed back casts and emotions that can only be described as innate, instinctual. Raw.
Fireflies blink in your peripherals.
A friend upstream loses a fat brown, piecing an insult out of every obscene word he can come up with when the trout spits the fly and races downstream.
A pair of eyes radiate from the bushes under the glow of my headlamp.
Clouds roll in. Clouds roll out.
The Milky Way illuminates Ursa Major. An animal stalks us from behind a stand of ferns.
You aren’t alive anywhere like you’re alive at Fight Club.
I’ve had three family members pass away in a month and a half timeframe.
Two were within four days of each other — cancer. One was my stepmother.
I spent roughly 22 hours in a Catholic church in a matter of two weeks in April this year. By my estimations, 22 hours in a church over two weeks was a personal record, despite my Methodist upbringing. For 14 days, familiar latin hymns flowed over the deepest growls of an organ,
In Paradisum deducant angeli
In tuo adventu, suscipiat te martyres
Et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.
Chorus angelorum te suscipiat
Et cum Lazaro, quondam paupere
Aeternam habeas requiem.
In Paradisum deducant angeli — led to paradise by angels. In this I find peace, my life suddenly defined by holy water, minor harmonies and hymnal promises of angels and heaven. I hoped for her sake that it was all real.
Fight Club is so-called because you don’t talk about it. Local guides don’t bring clients here — this is where they go to remember why they do what they do, to experience the moments that define flyfishing at its most honest. They find in the beaver holes and tall brush and 29’’ browns something tangibly convincing. And when you’re first introduced to Fight Club it’s an experience not unlike a rite of passage, a holy communion defined by darkness, ceremonial in its inherent struggles; by 3 a.m., passing deer begin to resemble cougars, unseen obstacles have eaten all your flies, and you’re covered in ticks. Lots of ticks. Fight Club is notorious for ticks. And when you walk away, covered in said ticks, with not a take to show for it, it feels a little like apprehension — like maybe I won’t come back later this week. But also, a little like beauty, and a lot like perfection.
It’s been three months since Kim, my stepmom, passed away. I don’t remember her for the Latin hymns or Corinthians 5:6, though I do remember her in motion, which is both appropriate and important. I remember the way a humble smile would crease her suntanned cheeks. I remember that same smile despite dire circumstances, vibrancy amidst sorrow.
I’ve found the best way to handle the now wide-open issue of mortality is the motion that so defined my stepmom. Some find clarity in prayer, in worship, in congregation. My chapel changes frequently, sometimes with the weather, mostly with a whim — singletrack weaving through stands of hardwoods; hearing fish rising in front of me as the current hits my shins; the ethereal calmness of an inland lake from atop a borrowed paddleboard.
And yet, the location and lack of Latin hymnals doesn’t defeat the purpose of my devotions. I’m here to find coherence in moving water, in nights so dark I can only turn to my other senses for balance — I hear my cast and my fly hitting the water; I feel the turbulence of the river at my feet; I smell soil, wet brush, the telltale scent of waders left wet in the back of the car for too long. And I know that no church, no Catholic mass can fulfill a desire for things so lucid.
After a night in Fight Club, everything in the real world gets the volume turned down.
I want nothing more than to learn from my experience with death, to find a tangible lesson in witnessing suffering first hand. I want an epiphany, an a-ah moment, something to justify all the grief and unfamiliar emotions and unfair circumstances.
But the darkness is overwhelming. Days defined by tears. A whole life and beautiful existence, now a void to be filled with beer and cigarettes and compulsive lawn care and every other vice we can come up with; this inevitably becomes night fishing, an undertaking fueled largely by energy drinks, the sound of rising fish and the occasional meteor shower, brief as they may seem — coming and going, coming and going. Now you see it, now you don’t.
Fight Club is my vice.
Vicious takes followed by browns barreling just above the surface; that sky, those trees silhouetted by the sun rising on the horizon; the ticks and tears and falls and trips and everything I’ve experienced. The sound of a trout tail slapping upstream gives way to celebratory yells and a tight line, and I consider all the small, indefinite moments that brought me to this seemingly extraordinary one, this brief instance of clarity in a world so confusing and unfair. A moment is the most you can ever expect from perfection, and with that moment I had found my epiphany:
Without pain, without sacrifice, we are nothing.
Zack with a big ole, 29-inch Fight Club braud.