Greetings and Departures

My nephew Matt and his fiancee Jen left yesterday morning for a return to St. Louis after spending a week’s vacation with us. I drove them to the airport and we said our goodbyes in the drop-off area.

There was a quiet but very apparent sadness as we hugged and bid farewell and I had a feeling of emptiness as I drove away. That contrasted to the anticipation and feelings of happiness as they arrived a week earlier – I hadn’t seen Matt in nine years and this was our first meeting with Jen.

And as I thought about all the things we had done and places we had taken them (as an aside, if you’ve not visited the Glass Museum in Tacoma – you should go and watch the glass blowing), I started to think that the week’s individual activities were a blur of events but the bookends of greeting and departure stood out.

I’ve often thought that airports are the best places to go when one has a dim view of the human race. In spite of the crowds, lines, and noise, if one looks, there is drama that can remind us of the best in people.

No matter who they are, what they’re wearing, or where they come from, watching the anticipation of arrival followed by the joy as family, friends, and lovers greet each other touches on the shared humanity we share with those strangers.

Similarly, watching the desperate hugs and last looks is a reminder of the losses we all experience. And in departure there is something more profound that haunts every goodbye – the uncertainty of seeing each other again. In that, there is the reminder of (hopefully) distant final loss that we all face.

We have dogs, and dogs may provide the best daily reminder of how we should all treat each other. As we prepare to leave the house, one of our dogs jumps on the couch, curls into a ball and takes on his sad contemplative look; one of the others watches out the window as we drive away. That same dog will maintain a watch out the window all day – both as a guard for the pack and waiting for us to return.

Then when we return – whether minutes, hours, or days – each greets us as if we had been gone for months. The sniffing, licking and jumping remind us that we are important to each of them – as they are to us.

Dogs take nothing for granted.

Maybe that’s a lesson we should all learn in our daily contacts with others. And the next time you need a reminder of the good in people – watch what happens around you the next time you’re in airport.

Fly Fishing and the Zen of Bathroom Fan Repair

Fly fishing and the repair of a bathroom exhaust fan may seem to be unrelated. But if fly fishing does present each of us with lessons for living a better life, then perhaps those same lessons can be applied to something as mundane as fixing a bathroom exhaust fan.

We have been having problems with the exhaust fan in our second floor hallway bath. First, the fan motor was replaced by an electrician as part of troubleshooting a problem with the timer that controls the fan’s operation; in addition to venting the bathroom, the fan operates on a daily cycle to ventilate the entire house (to reduce humidity and mold). Subsequent to the motor repair, we noticed the fan was running noticeably louder, to the point of increasing annoyance. This past weekend, I figured it was time to pull it out and see what was going on.

Of course, this would come after a morning trip down to the nearest beach (about 3 miles from my house) to fish for sea run cutthroat trout (SRC).

I got to the beach and started gearing up. I’ve gotten to where I understand this is part of the ritual and not something to be rushed. That putting on waders; stepping into wading boots; rigging up the rod; and finally tying on the fly – all are essential elements in reentering the world of fly and water.

Similarly, hours later when I was preparing to investigate the fan, I paused in the garage to assemble my tools. I first thought about what I was going to do. Then, I put the following into my tool bag: screwdrivers (both Phillips head and slot); needle-nose pliers; and some paper towels to wipe fan components. I also grabbed my small ladder that is handy for work inside the house.

When I got to the water, I started as always at the edge and made short casts. Nothing hit and after a few casts I made my way slowly into the water. With the falling tide, the tidal current was more like a river. Stepping carefully to maintain balance I continued blind casting, increasing the length of my casts to get to the seams out in the deeper water.

As I moved through the water I started to notice casting problems. Casts were falling short and my double hauls were not working as well as I would have liked. I stopped and took a deep breath. And it was clear: time to slow down and not rush my casts. That made all the difference.

After some work, I was on the ladder trying to put the fan into the box in the ceiling. The fan assembly is held in place by three screws and requires some careful work to hold the fan in place with one hand while trying to use the other hand to place the screw in a hole and tightening it. I was having problems and my body was tensing from frustration; with tight shoulders and sweat dripping into my eyes, the assembly dropped out several times.

And then I remembered how I slowed down and my casting improved. I set the assembly on top of the ladder, took a deep breath and stopped for a moment. I looked up toward the mounting holes. Rather than seeing than as problems I recognized they were just how the assembly mounted. I shook out my shoulders, took another deep breath, and mounted the assembly with only a few issues.

The day was getting warmer, the sun was shining on the falling water, and I wasn’t having much luck. I caught one sculpin, hooked one trout but it popped off the hook and saw what must have been a Coho jumping under the bridge. So I decided to call it a day.

I knew coming down to the beach it was probably not going to be a prolific day. August fishing is slow. Many fly fishers take the month off as the warmer water temperatures drive the fish off the beach into deeper waters. But I knew coming down it was more about getting into tidal water and watching the day start than about catching a dozen sea runs.

Similarly, after completing the repair on the fan, I realized the noise was caused by a dynamic imbalance in the plastic squirrel cage impeller. I did what I could and the noise had been reduced, but over time it will increase again, and that will mean having to go into the attic and replace the unit. But that will be after summer ends and the attic will be cooler.

And that in the end was the lesson for the day for both: acceptance of the situation.