Friday, December 7, 2012

Bob's Life

Painting by Bob White

Ketamine, vision quests, and the answers we're searching for... from artist and flyfisher Bob White

Two years ago I interviewed artist, writer, guide, husband, father, and all-around good dude, Bob White. If you read Scott Sadil’s piece in the Spring ’12 issue of The Drake you already know a little about Bob. But to this point, Bob is probably the most interesting person I’ve ever interviewed. I’m not sure why, but I’ve never really tried submitting that interview anywhere for publication—kind of like a fly tier purposely hanging on to his highest quality feathers. While going through a bunch of stuff I’ve written the other day, I came across that conversation and one answer really stuck with me.

So without further ado, here is small sample from what I consider a super-grade jungle cock cape.

Alex: What did you want to be when you grew up?

Bob: When I was a kid most books about the outdoors, the hunting and fishing magazines, were illustrated with artwork. I enjoyed the stories, but it was the art that intrigued and transported me. These images resonated because they were so familiar and important, and as a kid I endeavored to paint the same kinds of things, the countryside where I roamed, and the animals, birds and fish I pursued. I wanted to be an artist. I wanted to be the guy who did the paintings in the books and magazines.

I studied art in college but at the time found no support for my realistic and representational style. In those days (the mid-’70s) an art student might stake an enormous canvas to the ground, behead half a dozen chickens and let them run around on it while they bled out. Then he’d ride back and forth across the composition on a dirt bike to communicate society’s collective rejection of nature. Of course, this gave the work a sense of “timelessness” and the creation was considered high art.

With little or no belief that I’d ever be able to support myself with my art and the growing realization that I enjoyed eating on a regular basis, I switched majors in the middle of my senior year and took a degree in counseling and social work. Upon graduating, I moved to Minneapolis and took a job as an individual and group counselor in a day treatment facility in South Minneapolis. After a few years in the trenches, I began to burn out. I stopped painting.

A Native American friend saw my inner turmoil and suggested I visit a certain Ogallala Sioux medicine man and seek advice. After listening to my dreams, the shaman, whose name was Cletus, told me I’d gone as far as I could in my present level of life, and that I’d never be happy unless I moved on to the next. To do this, he explained, I had to have a “give-away”; a ceremony in which I’d invite all of those people and spirits who were important to me, and thank them for their many gifts by giving them all of my possessions. Only by doing this, Cletus assured me, would I be free to move on to my new life. I was terrified.

Near the end of our time together, Cletus’ eyes hooded over and he said, “You have been given a name, ‘Hawk who looks the wrong way.’”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Because, you have the ability to see with clarity at great distances… but you often look in the wrong direction.”

Months later, at the end of a particularly stressful day (in which I had to restrain a kid hopped up on horse tranquilizers) I decided to listen to my own advice about following one’s dreams, and I applied as a guide at a fishing lodge in Alaska, where a friend had worked the summer before. I fabricated a glowing resume that listed my “experiences” as a guide… and was hired.

When I resigned my position at the treatment facility, I was faced with the dilemma of what to do with everything I couldn’t take with me to Alaska, and it suddenly became apparent to me that I was meant to have my “give-away”. I’ve never felt as free and unencumbered as I did that spring night in
1984, when all I owned was what I could carry on my back.
I went to Alaska without any plans beyond the summer, and learned to guide on the fly. Near the end of that first season I had a couple of fishermen in my boat that owned a barge company on the Mississippi, and was offered a part-time job as a deckhand. The winter found me building tow in St. Louis harbor… one of the coldest and most dangerous things I’ve ever done. With a schedule of four days on, and four days off, I had enough time on my hands to paint again, and when I returned to the lodge the following spring I brought with me a collection of images from the summer before.

The owner of the lodge encouraged me to show my work to his guests, and by the end of that season, I’d sold the lot. Most importantly, by living frugally I was able to husband my funds and get through until the next season.

The following summer I was asked by the Fitzgerald family, who owned Frontiers International, if I’d be willing to travel to Argentina that winter and work with Patagonia Outfitters as a fishing guide and liaison… and I accepted.

For many years my life took on a rather wonderful and carefree pattern; guide four months in Alaska, return to Minnesota and paint until the New Year, then travel to Argentina to guide for four months, and then back to Minnesota where I’d paint until I left again for Alaska. Guiding provided me with the time to paint in the off-season, and also gave me access to a group of collectors who appreciated my work, and most importantly, the sales allowed me to continue as a guide. The circle was completed.

If you had asked me, when I was twelve, what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have told you about my life today… but I never really had a plan on how to get here. It just happened. This is a very meandering way of saying that I think I’m doing what I’m meant to do; that I am what I’m meant to be.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Oh Nuts

So I found a lump near one of my testicles last winter. I can assure you, that's a tough pill to swallow for a dude. And since it's breast cancer awareness month and my story might help a girl or a guy find a lump before it's too late, I'm going to tell you all about it.

When you find a lump, a million things race through your mind. The first three are four-letter-words that start with F. You automatically assume the worst. At first you're afraid to tell anyone. Maybe if you don't acknowledge it, it really isn't there. You tell your wife and see the fear in her eyes. Despite the fact that you're just as scared as she is, you look deep into her gorgeous eyes, smile, and tell her everything is going to be okay.

You are sure that when the doctor is finally able to fit you into his busy schedule (you'd think that when you tell them you found a lump, they would fit you right in) he is going to tell you that you didn't catch it soon enough, and at best, you have like three months to live. I had almost three weeks to think about my imminent death before finally getting in to see the doctor.

When you're sure you're about to die, three weeks is a very long time to wait. You start thinking about all of the things in life you did and didn't do. All of the things you're going to try and accomplish before you're gone.

When I first found the lump, I was a few pages into a new-to-me book The Rise by Paul Schullery. As funny as it sounds, one of the things that panicked me the most wasn't some bucket list of dream vacations or extreme adventures I wouldn't be able to experience, it was the possibility that I wouldn't get to utilize some of the things I was reading about. That led to a deep fear that I wouldn't have enough time to read all the books on my amazon wish list, or the 24 or so recently added to my bookshelf. I was prepping for a reading marathon of epic proportions. Three months to live, and all I wanted to do was read old flyfishing books....

Since it was January when I found my lump, I started thinking about the first places I was going to fish when spring came. When you haven't experienced a spring on your northern Michigan homewaters in over five years, and you're sure you're about to die, this is a really really tough decision. Do I go to that stretch I've been staring at from New York on Google Earth for the past three years? Or, do I go back to that bend with the beaver dam I've fished 100 times?

As the date of that doctor appointment approached, I'd accepted whatever the outcome might be. If it was cancer, I was going to kick its ass.

If you ever find a lump, when you finally make it to that day at the doctor's office, the nurse won't look at you funny when you tell her with a straight face that you’ve got an extra ball down there. The doctor will do a thorough examination, but he isn't going to handle your balls any more than he has to.

If you're as lucky as I am, he is going to smile, tell you it isn't cancer, make an alternate diagnosis that's really no big deal at all, and send you on your way. If you're as lucky as I am, you'll get to tell your wife that everything is going to be okay, and you'll get to take your time reading all of those books. You’ll get to fish the beaver dam and the new spot.

If that little lump was cancer, it could have killed me. Fortunately, it wasn’t. I found it while it was still very small, so had it really been cancer, I'd like to think my chances of kicking its ass would have been fairly decent. Whether you're a man or a woman, I can't urge you enough to perform occasional self-examinations of your parts (see links below). Hopefully you won't find anything. If you do, hopefully it's as it was with me, and no big deal. If you do find something out of the ordinary, it's probably going to be pretty scary. But with the help and support of your loved ones, you will make it to and through that first doctor appointment.

For the guys, Everything you ever wanted to know about a self testicular exam.
For the ladies, Everything you ever wanted to know about a self breast exam.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


It's October and that means three things: incredible fishing, purdy colors, and the veil between the world of the living and the dead is at its thinnest.

Some people who believe in ghosts have a theory for the presence of the paranormal. They call it "Recordings of Past Events." According to this theory, ghosts are basically recordings of past events in certain surroundings-- energy that is trapped somewhere in the space-time continuum and allowed to replay emotionally charged events again and again and again.

I really don't know if I believe in ghosts. But if I did, I'd have to ask a question. Who says that these recordings can only be of dead people? I've had some pretty emotionally charged experiences in my life. Maybe somewhere, right now, I'm haunting someone?


What if we leave a little energy behind here and there?

If I've left some energy anywhere, it would be a sharp bend on the South Branch of the Au Sable. Ever since the first time I fished this spot, I've had a strong emotional connection to it. I don't know how many times I've fished this stretch of water until the wee hours of the night during the drake hatches of summer, or during the mousing season. Almost every time, I've been creeped out by a strange sound in the bushes, disembodied splashes of water, or just an eerie feeling in general.
What if those sounds or splashes were me, haunting myself?

I wonder if its possible to purposely leave a little energy behind in certain places? That'd be a hell of a great way to keep people from fishing your favorite spots.

What if when you're daydreaming about a spot from the comfort of your tying desk, or from work, or wherever, you are actually transferring a little bit of emotionally charged energy to that location?

Sometimes, during my daydreams, it feels like I'm there.

What if I really am?

June Recap

And just like that, its July.  June 2018 was everything a northern Michigan trout angler could ask for.  The bugs showed up and the fish ...