Archive for May, 2016

Connections…

Posted in Uncategorized on May 31, 2016 by stflyfisher

A recent comment on this blog came from someone I didn’t know. Its timing was prescient, appearing on a day of tremendous importance that I had forgotten in the fog of every day living. I have written here before about connections using the metaphor of dropping a pebble in a vast body of water – a seemingly simple act that can nonetheless touch distant shores. John Donne’s poem, For Whom the Bell Tolls, tells us that we are all one, interconnected, and not islands of mankind, even in death. This theme of connection also applies to my life as a fly fisherman, for the very act of fly fishing is fundamentally based on connections – the knots we tie, the line we use, the casts we make, the flies we use, and ultimately the act of enticing a fish to strike.

So out of the blue I was reminded by a former sailor, named Dan, that I had missed the anniversary of the attack on the USS Stark in the Persian Gulf in 1987. I felt bad that I had to be reminded, but grateful to hear from a sailor who shared my own loss.

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USS Stark FFG-31 heading out to sea while conducting training operations at US Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 1983. I was aboard her then…

It turns out Dan once worked for a Stark crewmember by the name of Bob Shippee, one of the 37 sailors who lost their lives as a result of the attack on the USS Stark. Dan’s email correspondence following his blog comment reinforced the importance of connection and celebrated the impact one life can have on another.

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Bob Shippee, FTCS, USN. “No greater love..”

Dan was fresh out of Fire Control Systems “C” school in 1977, an E4 (3rd class petty officer) and was assigned to serve at the Sperry plant in Ronkonkoma NY. Sperry was the maker of the MK92 fire control system used on all Oliver Hazzard Perry guided missile frigates, like the USS Stark. At the plant, the Navy ran a full scale mock-up of an Oliver Hazzard Perry class combat system. The detachment used the mock-up to develop preventive maintenance procedures, exercise the system software, and train new Combat System crews prior to reporting for duty to their newly commissioned ships. In total, over 20 sailors and 2 officers were on hand at the Sperry unit, all of them having to be the best in the fleet in order to get such a plum but vitally important assignment.

Bob Shippee was Dan’s lead petty officer, and in Dan’s own words, “the kind of person who commanded instant respect.” Shippee was “confident without being arrogant, had superb technical knowledge, and could easily hold his own with engineers who integrated the system equipment.” He did more for Dan as a man than any of his friends. Dan credits Shippee for lessons he still uses in his career as an engineer, including the values of continuous learning, integrity, respect, hard work and duty.

According to Shippee’s obituary in the Watertown Daily Times, Shippee grew up into a smart kid who preferred to keep a low profile in school. He wrestled in high school, hunted and fished as many kids do in upstate New York, and worked in the afternoons after school at a local horse ranch. With the draft on in 1969, Shippee decided to sign up, partly out of patriotism, and partly because he could take his pick of service. His father suggested the Navy. Although Shippee signed up at a time when the draft was still in force, he did not have to join the service. A boyhood operation had left him with only 10 percent of his hearing in one ear, but recruiters believed he was faking it. When tests proved otherwise, they told him he could obtain a deferment. Shippee refused and his stance of take it or leave it must have impressed the recruiters because the Navy took him on anyhow. And this would end up being one of life’s greatest blessings for my new friend, Dan.

 

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FTCS – the rate and rank Shippee attained…

 

In reverence for his former shipmate, Dan finds a quiet spot alone, every Memorial Day. There he thinks about the loss of his friend, Bob Shippee, and all the others throughout history who have given their lives for their country. I do much the same. As in past years, I returned to Balls Eddy on this past Memorial Day. On that day the river ran clear and cold, the birds were in full song, mayflies and caddis fluttered about in the spring air, and eagles soared effortlessly against bluebird skies. I arrived before 8 am, rigged up, put on my waders, and after a walk and wade downriver, was soon at the head of a long run I love to fish. The head of the run has fast water where the water bubbles and foams white. Behind the large rocks at the head of the run are eddies and good holding water for trout and it’s there I like to fish a nymph, dead drift.

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Bob Shippee’s run…

 

For the first hour of the morning’s fishing, I chose flies that matched what was hatching. Caddis rode the wind upriver, but my imitations were not getting any interest. 9 o’clock came around and I knew I would soon hear the volley of the three gun salute.

At 9:05 AM I heard the shots, the salute to the fallen, and their echo off the surrounding verdant hills. I paused, retrieved my flies, and got very quiet. I said a prayer for all of the fallen heroes of the Stark with whom I served; DeAngelis, Kiser, Foster, but I added one more name this time – that of Bob Shippee – because I now knew him through Dan. The rush of the river sang along and seemed to lift my prayers skyward. And I wondered if he listened.

Then I changed out my fly for a march brown soft hackle and cast upstream into the fast water. I watched my indicator, kept slack out of my line, and followed it as it passed in front of me. On that first drift my indicator shot like a rocket upstream. I lifted my rod on instinct and instantly felt that good spongy heaviness of a large trout. I saw the flash of the fish as it fought the fly in its mouth, slowly played it carefully out of the fast water, felt its powerful runs, and finally brought it to net. I removed the fly and cradled a beautiful brown trout gently, reverently, in my hands, set it down for a quick picture and then released it. The trout swam off and vanished back into the river. And I knew then, that Bob Shippee had heard me…

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The answer to my prayers…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Grumpy old men…

Posted in Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , , on May 19, 2016 by stflyfisher

In the midst of a typical day waging war on poor quality, a fellow quality engineer and I would often commiserate on our fate in the professional life. We would rehash the days when we were young buck QE’s, all bright eyed, bushy tailed and Ned Flanders-like, ready to save the world and perfect both process and product. We both observed back then that our older mentors – in their 50’s and early 60’s – had a similar disposition to ours now. They seemed at best “grumpy old men”, wise in years but railing out against all things as if there were nothing good left in the world, and we could not, in our inebriated state of youthful exuberance, figure out why.

Now, it seems, after wading deep into the half century mark, we are becoming them.

Hollywood makes much of growing old. You know, the geritol jokes of comedians, and the movies, a classic of which is “Grumpy Old Men”, starring the epitome of grumpiness, Walter Matthau. Burgess Meredith plays an interesting role as John Gustafson’s (Jack Lemmon) “grandpa” and counters all grumpiness with his own spirited comments, to wit…

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Grandpa: What the… what the hell is this?
John: That’s lite beer.
Grandpa: Gee, I weigh ninety goddamn pounds, and you bring me this sloppin’ foam?
John: Ariel’s got me on a diet because the doc said my cholestorol’s a little too high.
Grandpa: Well let me tell you something now, Johnny. Last Thursday, I turned 95 years old. And I never exercised a day in my life. Every morning, I wake up, and I smoke a cigarette. And then I eat five strips of bacon. And for lunch, I eat a bacon sandwich. And for a midday snack?
John: Bacon.
Grandpa: Bacon! A whole damn plate! And I usually drink my dinner. Now according to all of them flat-belly experts, I should’ve took a dirt nap like thirty years ago. But each year comes and goes, and I’m still here. Ha! And they keep dyin’. You know? Sometimes I wonder if God forgot about me. Just goes to show you, huh?
John: What?
Grandpa: Huh?
John: Goes to show you what?
Grandpa: Well it just goes… what the hell are you talkin’ about?
John: Well you said you drink beer, you eat bacon and you smoke cigarettes, and you outlive most of the experts.
Grandpa: Yeah?
John: I thought maybe there was a moral.
Grandpa: No, there ain’t no moral. I just like that story. That’s all. Like that story.

I tend to like Meredith’s spunk in the movie, and hope it too will rub off on me some day.

But why-oh-why, do we men get grumpy, anyhow…?

A book, recently reviewed in this blog reveals a good explanation. The book, Younger Next Year (YNY) – profiled here before – is written by an older but very fit 70 year old (Chris) and his 46 year old internal medicine doctor (Harry). The book’s thesis is that by following “Harry’s Rules”, one can live like they’re 50 well into their 80’s. The chapters of the book alternate between patient and doctor – giving a practical viewpoint of the patient and the “why” behind the rules. While much of the book is physiological in nature, sections also tackle the mental and emotional aspects of aging, and it is here where the topic of grumpiness is well-explained…

Doctor Harry Lodge’s theory is that as one ages, emotions get pared back and become more primitive, causing a quicker shift to Fight or Flight mode – a most Darwinian response. Old men, like old wolves or lions, are at mounting risk of being turned out by the pack and eaten by other predators. And as a response to this threat, they have to be quick to protect themselves from the inevitable for as long as possible.

Don’t turn me out…

Chris, the patient, opines in YNY; “Can’t you just see the mangey old wolf, snarling furiously at the slightest threat? The kind of threat which could turn fatally real at any time now? Of course they are quick to bare their teeth and snarl. Who wouldn’t be? I had a wonderful old pal in Aspen in the 1990’s who used to leave dinner parties most nights. Walk home, furious, in the snow after an argument about this or that. Great guy, too, but absolutely furious much of the time. People used to wait and speculate what it would be that would set him off tonight. I’m going to get just like him, I can see it. An old boy, snarling at the dinner table, sick with fear that I am going to be turned out into the fatal night. Dragged down on my deaf side by unheard predators. Or not invited back to dinner. Because I am becoming impossible.”

I find myself feeling that way at times – at work and even on the water. And YNY advises that most of us men, in the “Next Third” of life, will indeed become grumpy.

So what is Chris’s advice for us who march towards potential grumpiness? Fight it like a steer. Think about it every time you want to rise up in righteous wrath at someone. Think about the strong possibility that the seething injustice you are about to crush is nothing. Write the letter but don’t send it. Form the angry words in your head and count to ten.

And I will add for all the potentially grumpy fly fishers out there, to FISH MORE. Get out on the water, preferably with other potentially grumpy men. Connection, after all, in keeping with Harry’s rules, is SO important and social interaction pays huge dividends. But even if fellow fly fishers are having a bad day, too grumpy to flail the water, get out anyhow. Talk to people if they are on the water. Channel the energy to rant to proving your piscatorial prowess on the water. Remember that there will be young guns out there happy to flaunt their fish porn. But you, my aged friend, have years more on the water. You’ve seen more, experienced more, fished more. You are, essentially, the “Old Man and the Sea”, and perhaps, if lucky, even Santiago…

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Santiago, the main character in Ernest Hemingway’s Nobel Prize winning novel, The Old Man and the Sea, suffers terribly as an old fisherman of Cuba. In the opening pages of the book, he has gone eighty-four days without catching a fish  (talk about feeling the skunk!) and has become the laughingstock of his small village. Can you imagine how grumpy he could have been and had every right to be? But he fought it, and showed up day after long day, to fish. Santiago’s commitment to sailing out farther than any fisherman had before, to where the big fish could certainly be, was testament to his deep pride and showed his determination to change his luck.

And Santiago does go on to hook into the greatest marlin he’s ever had on the line and then endures a long and grueling struggle with the marlin only to see his trophy catch destroyed by sharks.

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While Santiago chastises himself for his hubris, claiming that it has ruined both the marlin and himself, his deep pride enables him to earn the deeper respect of the village fishermen and secures him a fishing companion in the boy named Manolin. Santiago knows that he will never have to endure such an epic struggle again and he wrests triumph and renewed life from his seeming defeat. And even though he is growing old and his life is drawing to a close, Santiago will persist through Manolin, who, like a disciple, awaits the old man’s teachings and will make use of those lessons long after his teacher has died. Santiago manages the most miraculous feat of all: he finds a way to prolong his life after death, the ultimate defeat to grumpiness.