The Rod Maker’s Journey

Tom Morgan is a custom rod builder, and is the former owner of Winston Fly Rods (1975-1981) where he built the reputation of Winston rods first in bamboo, then in fiberglass and graphite. But he is more than a good businessman; he is an artist of the highest order. To own a Tom Morgan rod, which I do not, is to hold an object of art that links one back to a tradition of master craftsmen.

Tom Morgan would be renowned as a fly rod maker alone, but what makes his life special transcends the mechanical aspects of rod building. For you see, Tom Morgan has Multiple Sclerosis and hasn’t touched one of the rods he builds in many, many years. The rod building is done by his wife Gerri Carlson and two other workers. She is now the master craftsman of Tom Morgan rods – a journey that started with her knowing nothing about rod building when she met Tom.

And in addition to demands of filling the orders that come in from around the world, Gerri takes care of her husband through the daily struggles of supporting someone unable to do even the simplest of things most of us take for granted. From shaving to the “poop wars”, she embodies unconditional love.

There is a remarkable article about Tom and Gerri on ESPN.COM. It is inspiring and touching. Read it and think about the tears in Tom’s eyes as he watches a friend cast, wishing he could pick up a fly rod and cast just one more time. And read about the remarkable woman who loves him and builds Tom Morgan rods.

The article is located here.

The Closing

I’ve made mention in previous posts about our move to Gig Harbor. The house was ours on the first of July.  We started hauling boxes over immediately. Movers brought over the big items (e.g., beds and furniture) the following weekend. Last week we cleared out the storage locker we used during the “decluttering and staging” we had done in preparation for selling our Kent house. That means our Gig Harbor house finally has everything we own in it. Plus, it seems for some period of time, storage boxes, as we adjust to new realities in closets and rooms.

This past Friday the buyers of our Kent house finally closed with the recording of the deed. They own the house and we now have only our new one. Everything has been closed.

Closing is a term used in the western of the United States to indicate when the parties in a real estate sale complete the transaction under the supervision of a trusted agent (escrow officer); documents are signed and any funds needed to complete the transaction are collected. Interestingly, as it was something I didn’t know, that in the eastern part of the U.S., it’s called settlement and is handled by a settlement agent.

But did we really close something?

In both a literal and figurative sense we did.  Obviously, we closed (completed) the financial transaction discussed above. And figuratively, we closed out a part of our lives in a place we no longer live.

A good many things will be missed, but not all.

We’ll miss our neighbors – some of whom I didn’t get to know as well as I should in all the years we lived there. The excellent arts program run by the city of Kent, which gave me a chance to see the East Village Opera Company and Roger McGuinn. The routes we developed to walk our dogs or for me to go running. A few very nice groceries and restaurants – specifically Paolo’s. QFC and Nature’s Market – both for their quality vegetables and fruits; the latter for an excellent variety of supplements. And the noise of children on their way to and from school buses – marking the end and the beginning of summer.

While many of the above are close enough for a visit, it’s never the same. Stepping away from a place even for a time means only coming back as a visitor. It’s like going back to the house you grew up in. It’s never quite the same.

Fewer words are needed for won’t be missed: one neighbor for the large numbers of cars in varying states of repair cycled between curb and driveway; the tedious routes endured on the daily drive to work; the tired and increasingly tiresome array of chain restaurants (mostly fast-food) that were close by; and the way in which the main floor of our Kent house became unbearble when outside temperatures reached even only the high seventies.

So this reflection is the final close of that chapter of life.

The new chapter has begun.  We live in a house we like in an area we’ve wanted to live. I can be standing in salt water casting my rod not more than three miles from where I live. Our new neighbors seem nice. I’ve started my list of things to be fixed or upgraded in the new house. And the drive to work – while long – isn’t as bad as I thought it’d be. As in all things, there will be the good, the bad, and the things to be endured.

But the last three months of moving are over. It’s time to get back to fly fishing.

 

House SOLD…The Clock’s Ticking

I had mentioned in an earlier post that we are moving to Gig Harbor, Washington. We are now in the seemingly interminable period between the initial flurry of activity (house hunting, offer making, and inspection) and the final closing coming at the beginning of next month.

A parallel activity has been underway – one that hasn’t involved writing big checks, only a lot of effort – and that has been to prepare and sell our current house. We had worked the last month to get it ready as I had noted in a previous post (read here).

Last week we signed the contract with our realtors and the game was afoot. The house was turned into a display case with new bed coverings in the bedrooms and color coordinated towels in the bathrooms. Dirty clothes and wet towels were stuffed into empty drawers and everything else was ready. The dogs, which typically have free run of the house, were kept sequestered in the family room in the basement to avoid spreading dirt and hair throughout.

Last weekend we held a two-day open house, which – by accounts from realtors and neighbors – was a success. We didn’t see it ourselves. We had spent the two days as gypsies: driving around town, at dog parks, beaches, and fast food locations.

Sunday night we got a call from the agent from one of the prospective buyers. She wanted to do a pre-inspection early Monday – all offers would be reviewed that evening. Monday morning, the house was still in in display-case mode, the dogs were loaded into the car, and another day was spent away with the inspection and other potential buyers coming by.

Our realtors came Monday evening. We were expecting three to four offers; we received five. That was very good.

Even nicer was the surprise that of the five offers, four were over the asking price. The offer selected was the high bid, and it came from the people who had done the pre-inspection. And that they wanted the house as-is. So no additional maintenance by us is required.

The bid was even higher by several thousand dollars higher than I thought we could get if the Seattle market was as hot as reported in the newspaper. At least from our experience it is.

Whether a hot housing market is good thing in the long run, time will tell.

For right now, I will say it worked out well for everyone in this parallel activity of buying and selling. We’re moving to the place we want to be. The family buying our house gets to move out of a cramped townhouse to a bigger house, and their children will go to good schools.

Now if all our remaining stuff would just appear in our Gig Harbor house without us having to pack and move it all; that would just about make me believe in magic.

Stuff

As I noted in my previous post, we are moving to Gig Harbor, Washington. The prerequisites to selling – decluttering and staging – have taken most of our time for the last month. The fly fishing gear has been boxed or put out of sight at least until after the open house and raft of offers (we hope), which is one reason I’ve had nothing to post regarding fly fishing in over one month.

Except for taking time out to see “Star Trek Into Darkness” (fun movie, by the way), life revolves around my day job and decluttering and staging.

The longer we do this the more I know George Carlin was right when he said that a house is a place for keeping your stuff. And as time goes on your stuff is everywhere.

We’ve rented a storage unit for keeping some of our stuff – not the stuff we use every day, but the stuff we want to keep but can live without for some period. This includes winter clothing, snow tires; storage racks that have been removed for staging purposes; bicycles; tools, some of our lesser used kitchen ware, etc., etc.

As we drive through the facility and see other people at storage units that are filled to the rafters with stuff, it’s obvious this is an industry that was inevitable in a consumer culture. I wish I would have been the one to see it as fortunes have been made in a society of too much stuff, divorce, moving out, and selling houses.

And the more I deal with our stuff, I find myself thinking about the transitory value of stuff.

It’s somewhat depressing to see things that once seemed urgent to buy and have, now placed under what we call the magic tree outside our house, waiting for some passerby to pick them up and to be added to their stuff. Or the pile on the side of the house of the broken and old, ready for the inevitable trip to the dump.

I’m not the first to talk about the problems of excess consumption and the loss of appreciation for a few valued things. It’s just this experience has made me realize how subtle the problem is.

Until forced to confront it in a situation like ours, individual items are purchased, kept and used for some time, and then sold, given away, or tossed in the trash and it’s often with little thought. Only when dealing with all the stuff in aggregate does it become obvious.

I had friend, now deceased, who held a garage sale when he turned 75. He said he spent the first 70 years of life accumulating things; then all he wanted was to get rid of most of it. I now understand what he meant. Stuff begins to weigh you down.

I’m very fond of the writings of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I particularly like his writing in Wind, Sand, and Stars where he wrote: “In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away, when a body has been stripped down to its nakedness.”
He was writing about an airplane wing, but the same sentiment could apply to stuff.

I’m a long way from perfection.

Movin’

For some time, my wife and I had been planning to move at some undetermined time in the future to a continually debated location. Earlier this year we decided that the Gig Harbor area, across the Narrows from Tacoma had everything we wanted. Then less than two months ago, we were sitting in the Tides Tavern in downtown Gig Harbor, and the decision seemed obvious. Why wait for some future time? Let’s move now. We are Gig Harbor bound this summer.

One Saturday in late April spent house hunting with our realtor led to a major disappointment as the prices were higher and the properties less desirable than we had hoped to find with the price range we had specified.

We went home that night and did some quick spreadsheet calculations for increasing the upper limit. Doing a quick search, we found three that looked promising. Next morning, we hit the first house. We liked it immediately even though it was at the far reaches of affordability and maybe a bit beyond.

The other houses did not impress us. Back home we talked for a long, long time, did more spreadsheet calculations, and decided we’d buy it.

The offer was made and accepted. The inspection revealed a few things the seller agreed to correct. The buying part was underway with closing at the end of June.

We then turned our attention to what has proved to be the harder activity. Buying a house is just a matter of writing checks – very big checks. Selling, on the other hand, brings with it the spawn of the Roman goddess of chaos, Discordia; namely, “decluttering” and “staging”.

For anyone who’s not been involved with real estate sales in recent years, selling is no longer a matter of just cleaning the carpets and hiding the dirty socks. Today’s seller now declutters, which is an effort to depersonalize your house so potential buyers can see themselves and their things in your soon to be former space. That means taking something between 50 and 75 percent of all things in your current house and doing one of four things.

The first option was putting things into storage, which necessitates renting a storage unit. The second alternative was to try to recoup some of the purchase cost by selling things on Craigslist. The next alternative was to donate things, for which there are many worthwhile and needy charities. Finally, there was tossing stuff out. We’ve done all four with the majority of things going into storage or to Goodwill.

Along with decluttering came staging. This is the process where a knowledgeable realtor has us moving things around to create a better first impression: no, the bookcase should be there; move that chair into the other room; buy new bedspreads and towels. The list goes on from there.

There was also the last minute maintenance and cleaning, and the hiring of a small army of specialists: lawn and tree service, window cleaners, deck washers and patio power washers, painters for key touch ups, and a maid service to perform a showcase cleaning.

And the key constraint in all the above has been time. Getting the house ready and sold is an imperative – no one wants to carry two mortgages for longer than absolutely necessary. And to attract families, it’s been important to get the house sold in early summer so children can be registered for class in the new location.

That’s why we’ve hired our army and why lately most of the things being evaluated moved from treasured household items to being given away or tossed on the junk pile to be hauled to the dump.

Now, back to decluttering. Only three rooms left.

Suffer the Children

I, as many others, seek in fly fishing an immersion in the natural world that offers peace and renewal. We, if I can generalize, look for retreat from the daily irritations – both large and small – as well as an escape from the increasingly dismal news that threatens our sanity.

But some days fly fishing offers no escape.

Monday, April 15th, 2013 was one such day. I shared in the horror of the images and accounts of the bombing at the Boston Marathon, I also felt a sense of admiration and wonder for those brave souls who ran toward, rather than away from, the explosions to assist those hurt.

And of all the images coming from that day and the ones that followed, the one that stays with me is that of eight-year-old Martin Richard; the image shared by a friend of his former teacher: a smiling little boy with the gap between his front teeth holding up a sign that said “No more hurting people. Peace”.

Martin Richard was at the finish line to watch his father finish his race. He had just gotten an ice cream when he was blown up by a bomb made out of pressure cooker. With him were his sister and his mother. His sister Jane, who loved to dance, lost a leg. His mother Denise suffered traumatic brain injury. Only his brother who was nearby and his father escaped physical injury; but one can only wonder at the depths of the grief and pain they must feel.

The monsters who did this took more than just his life; they took away his chance to kiss a girl (or boy); to fall in love and make love; to chase his dreams; to feel the highs and lows of a long life lived well; and to be a good son, brother, and friend to those who surrounded him.

That little boy haunts me. Perhaps it’s because there’s only one child to mourn.

Not many months ago, we all suffered the loss of 20 children (even younger than Martin) and six adults at the Sandy Hook School in Newton Connecticut.

There were so many lost at one time. It was difficult to keep them straight even with their individual stories and photos. Perhaps their faces have been lost to the majority of us, but their names should be remembered: Charlotte Bacon, Daniel Barden, Olivia Engel, Josephine Gay, Dylan Hockley, Madeleine Hsu, Catherine Hubbard, Chase Kowalski, Jesse Lewis, Ana Marquez-Greene, James Mattioli, Grace McDonnell, Emilie Parker, Jack Pinto, Noah Pozner, Caroline Previdi, Jessica Rekos, Avielle Richman, Benjamin Wheeler, and Allison Wyatt.

And the six women who died trying to protect them should never be forgotten – the word hero has been too cheapened by overuse to properly honor them: Rachel D’Avino, Dawn Hochsprung, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Rousseau, Mary Sherlach, and Victoria Leigh Soto.

There are other children who have been lost that will never be memorialized.

The ten Afghan children – along with two women – killed within the last month by a single NATO air strike in Shigal district, Kunar province. The air strike also killed eight members of the Taliban; those children were just “collateral” damage.

The children who go to bed hungry every night.

The children who live in fear of the violence outside, or inside, their doors.

The children who suffer abuse at the hands of those they trust the most.

Many of them suffer in silent shame. I knew one such child for he was my classmate in elementary school. He was beaten for years by his abusive father. We did not learn the truth until after he took his own life when he was in high school. Phil, I remember you.

And there are others we should think about.

The adults who commit mass murder in Boston or the destruction of Afghan children in an airstrike.

The man who brought Phil into this world and abused him.

A human society that cannot find ways to love and take care of all children – for they all are our children – will not survive. The next generation of heroes and terrorists are alive now; they are babies, the first graders of Sandy Hook, and Martin’s age.

What will we teach them? Is it their future to become a monster or a victim?

The choices are ours to make now. At some point it will be theirs.

No more hurting people. Peace.

Death of a Stranger

Yesterday I was at work in corporate cubeville when I heard sirens. That’s not unusual; the building where I work is near both an industrial area and a busy thoroughfare. The police and fire departments always seem to be going somewhere fast.

A few minutes later I took a break and got up to look out the window. Five floors below me in the driveway in front of the the lobby were two city fire trucks; one county emergency truck; one company emergency truck; and two company security vehicles. That’s an infrequent but not uncommon sight for we have a large population of older workers and some do have medical emergencies. I did think the response was larger than I typically see.

But then I looked to the left and noticed two parked city police cars. I knew something tragic had occurred as the police come on scene when there’s been a death.

Word soon spread that there’d been a death two floors below and that staff had been requested to leave the area.

At one point the company emergency truck dropped off a gurney and left; some late arriving workers coming into my area said the emergency truck was parked near the elevator in the parking garage. That seemed to confirm the rumor.

As the morning progressed most of the emergency vehicles left to continue with other calls both grave and minor.

As I was going into the cafeteria some time later there was a group of sober-faced people talking about notification of next of kin, and I understood that a number of people somewhere didn’t yet know that their worlds were about to crash down upon them.

I don’t know the name of the person who died. I’m not sure I’d recognize who it was if I heard it.

I don’t know if it was a man or a woman. I assume that he/she was someone I’d seen at some time in the hallways, elevators, or cafeteria.

I’m not sure if it’s important I know who that person was for you see that nameless/faceless person was a stranger.

We never worked together. We never were in meetings together. We never shared a table in the cafeteria. At this point if it was otherwise I would have known.

But that stranger had hopes and dreams, and hopefully loved and was loved.

That stranger had once been a baby with a life of potential and possibilities.

That stranger had passions and interests.

That stranger had worked for many years – hopefully doing something of value and personal meaning.

And now that stranger is dead.

So why do I care?

I care because someone’s death is a reminder that each day of life should be savored. Of course it’s trite to say it, but it’s an inescapable truth.

Rushing from crisis to crisis; taking no pleasure in the small things; much too soon they will all be gone.

As fly fishers we treasure time on the water. But do we take the time to enjoy the small things: rigging up the rod and line; putting on waders; the slow approach to the water while taking in the day, and the selection of fly for the first cast?

I care because that stranger is every one of us; we are all strangers to others – sometimes even to people with whom we share some part of our lives.

When we’re fishing do we see someone else as an intruder or as someone sharing the love for the same activity and the same special place?

The choices are still ours to make – for as long as we have.

Rest in peace.