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Casting on a High River

Updated: May 22

This morning I planted pumpkins and tomatoes. The tomatoes were seedlings, gifted to me by my friend Katie. I set them into their prepped places in the kitchen garden, ever so gently. If I keep them safe and watered, tend the weeds and scare off the pests, in a few weeks they will be strong vines. I closed my eyes and tried to smell the leaves, hoping they’d have that oily-green musk that the adult plants have. It's intoxicating. They have the faintest whiff of it (I might have imagined it) but the hope of it swelled up like a first date in my chest. Tomato leaves smell more of summer to me than suntan lotion.

The pumpkins were carving ones, and seeds instead of plants. Katie had some spare ones, which she put in a small envelope for me when handing me the box of flowers and tomatoes. I planted three seeds in each of the four mounds I made for them. They have their own small garden near the pie pumpkins I planted last week. These seeds are a prayer for Autumn. For when I’m tucked under a blanket in October, holding hot cider in my hand and watching a ghost story with a cat on my lap. That grinning jack will glow in panicked candlelight and remind me of today. A day when I’m both exhausted and hopeful, starving and full.

This morning I did the things that I always do. I did the morning chores, made my coffee, walked the dogs through the woods. I checked in with everyone - feline to equine - about the latest news. I boxed and prepped soap orders for the mail. I worked on design clients and researched for freelance. I finished up pet portraits and slid them into their mailers. I cleaned and washed dishes. I paid towards the electricity. I followed up on sale leads, bothering people that will ignore me, but I need to try at 8Am or can't fall back asleep at 3AM.

I do all that most of the day. But by late afternoon I can not find the energy to do anything else with my thinking brain. (My days start at 5AM with water buckets and hay bales and emails open by 7) I need to power down. This is when I weed the garden to music, practice yoga, listen to an audiobook, or all of the above.

But lately, I've been needing the hard stuff. The kind of downtime the most dire of us lost souls need: fly fishing.

An hour ago I was standing in the river. The sun was on my shoulders and the cool water pooling around my sandals. The birdsong is all gossip and flirting. The sky blue. I am holding a ten-year-old Clearwater rod and reel, a wooden net on my belt. My hat, finally dry from Saturday night, feeling light again on my head. I can't lie, it felt good.

I’ve been fly fishing again, something I'm always drawn back to after long stretches of being alone. I think fly fishing is a beautiful way to be lonely.

Fishing comes and goes in my life like an intermittent fungus. And just like mushrooms, it takes me somewhere different. In the river I shift my brain into the same mode I use while hunting with hawks or stalking deer, but get this, it's summer. It's the thrill of hunting without the miserable weather! Out there in the sunlight, in the kind of clothes you wear to nap in a hammock! But darling, it's all smoke and mirrors! You look like you are ready for a bluegrass festival, but your mind is 10,000 years back in time. And you slide back into the kind of thinking that can only focus on one task, one goal, one animal at a time.

I can’t scan the calm spots with sunken logs for hiding trout and worry about the foreclosure warning on my dining room table at the same time. It's impossible on a body-system level, like how your heart can't beat during a sneeze.

I was going to buy an ice-cream cone before the letter came. I was going buy some soft serve and enjoy a country drive with my girl, Friday. It was the perfect excuse to break the twenty I had in my pocket for the laundromat tomorrow. But when the mail came and the tank on the Subaru was low, the idea of spending money on gas to drive somewhere to spend money on ice cream felt ruthlessly irresponsible. Especially after spending $65 this weekend on a tee shirt and snacks...

I was one of those insane people watching the Era's Tour in the pouring rain this past Saturday. I went with tickets I was lucky enough to get a pre-sale code for in the November lottery. A more financially-secure friend that didn't get a pre-sale code said If I could get her 2 tickets, she'd pay for mine. Her word was good. I ended up buying one ticket for a date I hadn't met yet, and I spent the winter half-heartedly trying to meet a woman on the dating apps I'd want to see Taylor with.

In the end, I didn't find a date, but my friend Jessie is a fan of Taylor so I offered her my second ticket and in return she offered to drive her newer car and cover the gas to get to Boston.

Shortly after that, a follower on IG offered to pay for my ticket as a thank you for introducing Taylor into her life through my relentless story campaign. (It really is a thing to behold, people.) So I had the tickets secured, paid for, and a way to get there and back. Two close friends, Miriam and Chris, offered to watch my farm overnight, and stay with my dogs. I paid them in eggs and flowers and soap. My friend that bought the tickets let us crash at her apartment after the show instead of worrying about a hotel or driving home at 5AM on no sleep. I swear to Brigit at the Anvil, every word of this is true.

Folks, it all worked out. It happened because of luck and circumstance and community - just like anything ever happens on this farm.

Seeing Taylor live for the first time, with friends beside me in the pouring rain... for FREE.... it felt like the same magic that's kept me here at Cold Antler. You try for something might just work might just pull it off. Oh, It won't be comfortable. You will need to endure the absolute worst of circumstances, but if you can see past the rain there's art happening. There's beauty and story and 60,000 singing women in a storm....

Full disclosure, I did by that tour shirt and snacks for the road, because I wanted a souvenir, damnit. I'd never seen her in concert before and I might never see her again. And that was all the slack I had left, because I wasn't going to spend more on a joy ride for ice-cream, not after that letter.

The ice cream, the tee shirt; those are things I would have done without thinking ten years ago, but am incapable of now. So I grabbed my fly rod instead. I knew I was out of sinking flies (and I knew the river was high from the Saturday rain) but I figured even if catching a fish was unlikely, it would be nice to have an excuse to stand in a river.

The peace the river gives me cost nothing. I can go there and get space from the anxiety of responsibility. I can become the same hunter I am with rifle or talon, because that’s what fly fishing is; hunting. You’re not waiting for the trout to discover your cast, you’re seeking them out and casting to them.

It’s all planned; the fly I chose to tie on my leader, the time of day I’m endeavoring to try, the location I haven’t been to yet that might be pooling with young trout like the one I found last week. Oh boy, I wish you could have seen me! Every cast last Thursday ended with a 6-11” fish on the end of it! I felt like a little kid, the absolute joy of it!

The brownies all red garnets and secrets, like the riverbed below. Did you know that? That just like the red spots on a brown trout’s flank there’s tiny garnets clinging to stones in the creeks and corners of the Battenkill?! I think that’s ancient and good. How red jewels catch the light from below water in so many ways.

If I panic and stop the forward progress, even while behind, the future doesn't happen. So I do what I always do, pay and pray as I go. I’m proud the lambs are paid for. I’m proud I figured that out. I’m proud that I'm only 2 months behind on the mortgage after the past 13 years of owning this house. That’s a lot of proof positive that I will continue figuring this out. Or, at least remain too stubborn to quit.

I need to be stubborn. Because while the peace from the river is free, so is the fear from the certified letters. If I focus on that, all I do is panic. It makes it impossible to write, or create, or make good soap, or tend properly to the garden and animals. Those warnings have been coming every month and I've dealt with every single one. As long as I send a payment this month, it turns back the clock, I get to be here another four weeks. My last decade has been fighting for the sigh of relief that is looking forward to making it another four weeks.

I am going to try and sell my truck. See if I can get what I paid into it, and use the money towards catching up. You have to sell things sometimes, I have learned. Things you sacrifice find a way back to you if you keep going, in one way or another.

You gotta have hope.

Hope is casting on a high river and planting pumpkins you may never carve. Hope is finding out the lawnmower’s beyond repair and instead of crying over it; figuring out how to turn the lawn into grazing for the horses and sheep with the fencing supplies you already have. Hope is picking up lambs people trusted you to raise for them with red envelopes on your table. Hope is friends repairing broken things by your side, and moving that tooth repair appointment another month down the road. Hope is having enough gas in your own tank to try again tomorrow. It's always remembering to look up.

It’s Cold Antler Farm.

Side Note: I wish I didn't feel so guilty about going to see that show. It meant so much to me and it didn't cost me anything but the souvenirs, but I am so worried people will see the pictures on Instagram, or hear I went, and think I am being frivolous when behind. And then hire someone else when they need a logo or choose a pork source...}

Another Side Note: I am going to keep writing here regardless if you support it or not, but if you'd like to encourage more frequent posts, you can venmo me a tip at jennawog. That's not a threat, or meant to imply I won't write if people don't contribute. It just takes time away from things that either aid in making a living or medicate in distressing from it. So I'm putting it out there you can contribute if you want to and it isn't a hindrance. And if people do, I'll write more, because I want to make money as a writer again.

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