Moments of grace through chicken hackle and bits of yarn

My mom says that my grandfather’s fly fishing and fly-tying hobby was “a pastime for men with exacting professions”, since it demanded precision, patience, and careful attention to detail. That care and patience would then be rewarded, at rare, fleeting, and magnificent intervals by the presence of the ineffable.

The rest of the time, you’re just trying to tie a piece of chicken hackle to a tiny hook with an invisible bit of plastic, and you can’t see any of it, and it’s all a huge pain in the ass.

But those moments of transcendence transform all the rest, retroactively filling them with grace. One of those moments makes a year of tying Royal Coachman flies that look like the cat barfed them up worth it. Well, almost. My Royal Coachmen were pretty bad.

I was talking to my friend and colleague Rem Reynolds a while ago about blogging in the Epic Mode — that is, when you write about your daily cavils as if you were a hero in a Frazetta painting. My contention is that normal life really is epic, at least most of the time, and that the epic is built from thousands of small, inconsequential details. Those details are baby steps on the way to rare, fleeting, and shining moments of transcendence. Which I will call, without sarcasm or irony, the “Dude, I ROCK!!!” moments. I’m completely and totally serious, and YES, I do make the air guitar motion.

Anyhow, Rem’s point was “Yes, John, but not everything is epic, when you get down to it. Some stuff, there’s no payoff at the end, and there’s no meaning behind it.” Which is an excellent, excellent point, and I suppose (here comes the Blinding Flash of the Obvious) that the hard part is to tell two kinds of things apart. Maybe that’s why we have hobbies that are like our jobs — like any job, a hobby can be filled with details, even with tedium, but a hobby rewards you more reliably with cathartic moments of grace. With fly fishing, the moment of getting a fish on the line is magical (not that I’d know too much about that.) Or the moment of stepping out from between the rhododendrons, into the stream, feeling the cold press of water on your waders, and seeing mist on the rocks.

Anyhow, this started out as a post about needlepoint, because needlepoint, like fly fishing, is a pastime for people with exacting professions. Plus, needlepoint is friggin’ PERFECT for computer artists, because it is both like computer art (tiny picture elements assembled into a coherent whole), and unlike computer art (the thing you make actually, you know, exists, has a pleasing, wooly texture, and has every chance of lasting longer than you do.) My big question is whether or not needlepoint is going to provide a big I ROCK moment after many hours invested in the details. Is needlepoint epic? I’m going to hope that it is, and the first time I slap down my finished mono canvas, throw a double deuce at the sky, and shout “YEAH! I ROCK!”, I will be sure to let you know.


Meanwhile, this seems like an excellent time to link to some pictures of the Pohoqualine Fishing Association that my mom took (and developed, and printed in her darkroom) in 1979. Pohoqualine is a private fishing club in Stroudsburg, PA that my great-grandfather and grandfather, and father all belonged to — a Fitzgeraldian bulwark where captains of industry would go to master tiny, niggling details in the hope of catching a moment of grace. Plus, there’s a sock wringer that I always thought was AWESOME.

More to come on the needlepoint later.


One response to “Moments of grace through chicken hackle and bits of yarn”

  1. “Some stuff, there’s no payoff at the end, and there’s no meaning behind it”
    The “reality” of it is, naturellement, that there’s no inherent meaning behind any of it, the thing (abstract or concrete) in and of itself. It’s the human grok that we project onto the thing that imbues it with meaning. We decide what makes the cut. And so, in directing our own epic, we can — should we so choose — to make it all epic.
    I am epic!


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