Archive for the Observations Category

A White Guy Talks About Privilege

Posted in Observations, People on November 29, 2014 by Vince.Puzick

Back in the early 1990’s, I was teaching a night course at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.  After the 7:15 class, I was heading to my car along a dimly lit sidewalk that ran along the side of the library building parallel to the parking lot.  A young woman, maybe around 20 years old or so, was walking in the opposite direction.  As we approached each other, her eyes quickly darted up to meet mine, then she looked straight forward.  Her body seemed to tense up, she clutched her books and bag closer to her. I wanted to tell her nothing to fear here.  But of course she walked in a fear in that dark night that I did not experience.

I’m a white, straight male.  Because of those biologically determined facts, I have been privileged in social, economic, and professional ways. Privileged.

Coming to a level of consciousness of my privilege was a process for me.  It was an awakening rather than an epiphany.  As with other awakenings, it was in fits and starts, not a steady progression from unconsciousness to consciousness.    Don’t most awakenings — spiritual, ethical, moral — happen that way?  How many of us have a “burning bush” experience?

In my late adolescence and early adulthood, I was too caught up in protecting my own emotional security and physical survival to be aware of “privilege.”  After my father left when I was 12, my mother, a Registered Nurse at a local hospital, and I moved from our large Victorian house to a two-bedroom apartment.  Three years later, due to the economic challenges from being a single mother, we moved to a basement apartment.  Six months later, we moved again. It’s difficult to be conscious of privilege when you’re struggling to hold it together.  Perhaps, too, it was because of my last name which isn’t very American sounding.  I had to pronounce it repeatedly for teachers; I had to spell it out;  I had to explain its nationality.  It may be difficult to be aware of privilege when, as an adolescent, you are shaping and explaining your very identity.

But I do not offer that as an excuse or a justification for not being conscious of my own privilege.  I offer that to suggest that coming to consciousness is, more often than not, a process of accumulated experience, a dialogue with others, and an education which may come in a variety of forms.  In fact, William G. Perry’s work on intellectual and ethical development would support the idea that as people grow and mature, they pass through clear stages of moral, intellectual and emotional development.

On my journey to understand the privilege of my white maleness, I had to experience some degrees of “otherness.”  Of course, that in itself is quite a challenge.  In my early adulthood, though, I deliberately created opportunities to be in the minority for even the briefest of times.  I have been the only white male in a college course on Afro-American History. I have been the only male in a course on Women’s Literature and Literary Criticism.  I have been one of a handful of straight males at gay and lesbian events, the most remarkable being a poetry reading and subsequent discussion with feminist and lesbian poet, Adrienne Rich.  I have been the only white male in a bar, the Shadowglen Lounge, in the mid-1970s.

These experiences offered opportunities for discomfort — emotional and cognitive — that enabled me to reflect on my place in the world.  Granted, these singular experiences do not begin to replicate the day-to-day experiences that women, minority, and gay or lesbian people endure each day.  But they were an attempt for me to hear the experiences and perspectives of not being male.  Of not being white.  Of not being straight.  Hearing the life stories of others, or others’ responses to pieces of literature, or their non-white, non-male, non-straight perspectives on our own country’s history allowed me a new perspective on my own.  As Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, whom I read as a graduate student, writes, “No one is born fully-formed: it is through self-experience in the world that we become what we are.”

In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, I was engaged in a handful of conversations both online and face-to-face about privilege.  My contributions in those conversations were often shot-down.  I was misinterpreted as arguing that white males are victims.  I was accused of not taking responsibility for my own actions.  I was vehemently ridiculed for not acknowledging the benefits I have from my privileged position in society.  So I stopped talking and buried my interest in being in the conversation.

I am not a victim, certainly, of my white maleness, but I am a victim of a society that tolerates, fosters, and gains from a social, political, and economic system that privileges one over another.  Again, Friere, says “[The oppressor] cannot see that, in the egoistic pursuit of having as a possessing class, they suffocate in their own possessions and no longer are; they merely have.”  I inherited, was born into, a system that I can only work to change.

So my silence is not healthy for me individually.  The silence of any group is not healthy for us, societally, and in a larger context.  I cannot undo my white male straightness.  I’m “stuck” with what I was biologically dealt.  No biological solution, however, exists for a social, political, racial, and economic problem.  The solution isn’t found in silencing any group.  Yes, I need to listen more to hear.  I need to reflect more than respond or react.

Dialogue and conversation means that we are going to say the wrong thing.  It means we are going to be misunderstood.  I read somewhere recently that white people cannot understand or talk about race and racism.  I disagree.  Perhaps for too long we have had a monologue or disingenuous dialogue.  We all need to move toward gaining a new understanding.  How will new knowledge be gained if dialogue is denied?

Paulo Freire writes that “A word for so long a time attempted and never spoken, always stifled in inhibition, in the fear of being rejected — which as it implies a lack of confidence in ourselves — also means refusal to risk.”

The risk of any missteps in getting to a new and deeper level of understanding has to be taken, though, because the consequences of no dialogue, no conversation, are too great.  Those consequences get people shot, communities burned, countries fractured.

On Belay: Some Thoughts on Risk-Taking

Posted in Observations, People on October 21, 2014 by Vince.Puzick

I’ve been thinking about risk-taking a lot lately.  I’m not much of a risk-taker, it turns out, despite the fact that I am the youngest child in my family and according to some infographic I saw on Facebook (second only to Wikipedia for credible information), the last born child is a risk-taker just naturally.  But I had been thinking about this even before that contradictory chart appeared on my newsfeed the other day.

Risk-taking — taking a chance, a gamble — means working without a net.  Rock-climbing without a belay.  It means the mutual fund is made up more with your Aggressive Growth Portfolio instead of Money Market.

It seems there is this continuum of risk from low-level to high.  At the low-end, there is a certain confidence that “I won’t fail” which moves to “If I fail, I’ll be protected” (the belay rope will stop the fall) and then moves to high-level risk which is that “failure is not an option,” I’m operating with no protection or “If you don’t die, what’s the failure?”

But if you can’t fail or there is protection if you do, what sort of risk is that.  It’s rock climbing by walking on an undulating forest-service road.  It’s tight-rope walking on sidewalk cracks.  Low-risk is low-pay off.  Low-risk is low consequences.  Not much of an adrenaline rush if you’re tightroping the curb.

When I was younger, in my twenties and thirties and before parenthood, those seem to be the days for risk-taking.  Leave it all and backpack through Europe.  Move to the mountains and backpack, cross-country ski, write, go with the flow.  Work to live not live to work. The yearning was there but I couldn’t step out on that tightrope.  I couldn’t make that first move on the rock face.  It felt too freestyle.  You have to have two things to freestyle:  nerve and skills.  You need guts and at least the self-perception of enough skill to survive.  It takes some brashness.  It takes tip-toeing up on the side of rash, cavalier.  You can’t hesitate.  You can’t question.  “Do I dare to wear my pants rolled?”

Adulthood, parenthood, responsibilities and bills to be paid seem to sandpaper off the urge (or is it the opportunity) for risk-taking.  You can’t take unwilling — or even unknowing — hostages with you on that tightrope.  You can’t let them piggy back as you scale that rock face.  Can you?

So I look around at my comfortable home, my loved ones who share it, and the respectable professional life I have pursued.  It’s a nice life.  Fulfilling.  Pretty safe.  It won’t win any gold medal at the X-Games.  No Extreme sport, this life.

But just once I’d like to climb without a belay.

Lessons Learned from Aspen

Posted in Observations, People, Teaching on June 9, 2014 by Vince.Puzick

Aspen sat in Row 11, Seat 14 at the Dodgers vs. Rockies game on Sunday.  She captured our attention when she passed the row she was sitting in and her grandfather (we think it was her grandfather) started calling her name.  She was on the stairs about at row 3 when she heard him and made her way back, a little sheepishly, to her seat which was directly in front of mine.

I’m guessing Aspen is about ten or eleven years old.  Her multi-colored stocking hat was sort of sassy, distinctive and gave me the impression that Aspen may be a bit of a free spirit.  She had a little black bag with some sort of colorful images on it, too, that she kept her things in.

I’m always a bit intrigued by young children at ball games. Sometimes they just don’t have the patience to hang in there and watch a game for two or three hours.  Baseball is particularly challenging, at times, because the action can be so far away.  At other sports events, basketball and hockey, you can feel more intimately connected with the game because of proximity to the players and action. The extra-curricular activities, little shirt giveaways and contests, help keep spectators entertained at time-outs and slower moments of the games.  At Coors Field, they do a nice job with the big screen to keep us entertained.  And people watching at baseball games is fun.

As we settled in to the game this rainy Sunday, people huddling together to pretend it really wasn’t so damp and chilly in early June, Aspen and her grandfather also settled into the afternoon.  Aspen sat at the front of her seat, sort of on the edge of her seat, as the game picked up.  She never leaned back in the seat as she watched the game and did a little people watching of her own.

Every now and then as the game went on, Aspen and her grandfather would get into some conversations that appeared a little, for lack of a better word, “intense.”  And this is where I had my lesson from Aspen. Again, she did not sit all the way back in her seat.  She only sat about half way back. When her grandfather talked, she turned her torso one-quarter of a turn so she was facing him a little more directly.  I could not see her grandfather’s face or hear the content of the conversation.

As her grandfather spoke, Aspen’s eyes narrowed a little and stayed focused on his eyes. Sometimes they scanned his face.  But her eyes stayed attentive.  She’d nod.  Her nod reminded me of my own daughter’s action when she was about that age. A nod that said “I get it … keep telling me more. I’m with you.”  She would add a word or two in the conversation.  Then she would be attentive again, listening.

I was reminded, again, once more, of the power of listening.  Attentive listening.  Watching Aspen reminded me that active listening is done with more than ears.  It is a whole body act.  She listened with her ears, for sure, under that multicolored hat.  She listened with her body turned toward her grandfather.  She listened with her eyes, glued to his, scanning his face, attentive and engaged.

In many ways, I was glad I could not hear the content.  Aspen’s lesson was about listening behavior, the physical act of listening.  You can learn a lot from an eleven year old who is curious, inquisitive, engaged.

Oh, one last important lesson from Aspen on this cold, rainy day.  Start the day with Dippin’ Dots.  An inning later, make the move to cotton candy. (She had a great strategy: don’t take the plastic wrapper off;  instead, eat the cotton candy one finger-pinch at a time by reaching up under the packaging from the bottom.  It keeps the cotton candy undisturbed, and, if you get tired of eating it, you can then save it for later.  Aspen didn’t need to save any for later.)  And then to finish off the game, warm yourself back up with a hot chocolate.

After all, you only live once and you are eleven.

Treadmill Thoughts

Posted in Observations, People on June 6, 2014 by Vince.Puzick

So, in the 30 minutes of treadmilling today, where did my mind wander?  Here’ s a glimpse:

  • It has been a long time since I have sat “Indian style.”  Do we grow out of it or just not find ourselves sitting on the floor so much after a certain age?  Or maybe it is a flexibility thing.  Getting down there isn’t the issue.  Unfolding is.
  • I doubt that it’s even called “Indian style” anymore.  I’ll have to ask some of my friends who are elementary school teachers.
  • I forgot how much I enjoy many of the songs by the Cowboy Junkies.  My sister, Deb, turned me on to the Cowboy Junkies.  She also, back in 1977, introduced me to the album The Outlaws (Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser).  Oh, and Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou, and John Prine.  Damn.  34 years ago.  Or 37.  I can’t do math and treadmill at the same time.
  • I wonder what Jannetta would like for her half-birthday?  That’s coming up in a few weeks.  She has done a great job as summer school principal after a demanding school year as Master Teacher.  She’s one of the best in the education world at what she does.  She’s one of the best people that I know.  And she’s my best friend.
  • What kind of a writer do I want to be?  what kind of genre do I  explore next?  Tackle shorter pieces.  Maybe a focus on prose poetry.  Love the prose poem.  Maybe essay writing.  Creative nonfiction.  Greenback Cutthroats.  Skin.  The Old Bon Pharmacy and cherry cokes!  Being male.
  • I feel closer to God when I am in the mountains.  Wow, that’s a little trite: “I found God in the mountains.”  But it’s true.  I think my conception of God was formed in the spring of 1972 during the Outward Bound trip in the Lost Creek Wilderness Area.  During the solo portion.  I wish I had that journal.
  • “If you’re gonna worry, don’t pray.  If you’re gonna pray, don’t worry.”  I’m worrying a lot less these days. Maybe a lot less than ever before.
  • Is this a normal respiratory rate for my age, weight and amount of exertion?  This isn’t “shortness of breath,” is it?  I didn’t consult a physician before beginning my exercise routine.
  • Homeownership isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Well, it is a nice thing.  A lot of maintenance.  Hell ya.
  • Being an adult isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, either.  Fatherhood is a pretty cool gig.  Jess is a free-spirit of a daughter.  She is growing growing growing in so many ways.  Her fiancé is a good dude, too.
  • I’m a late bloomer.  I discover things later than some.  I think I’m good with that — but I wish I would have discovered fly fishing earlier in my life.  Then again, things happen when they happen.


May’s Winter Day

Posted in Nature, Observations on May 12, 2014 by Vince.Puzick

Who scrapes his windshield

in May, standing in Keens, wool

socks, t-shirt under hoodie, beneath

snow-weary trees that canopy

the driveway?  My, how the lilac

petals pop from their snowy blanket

that threatens their very branches.

The mama robin hunkers down

in her nest to shield the spring-blue eggs

that, just yesterday, caught my eye as

the messenger of spring’s final arrival.

Today, though, plastic blade scrapes

May’s Winter Day from the glass,

flip-flop footprints punctuate the grass,

and spring holds back despite

what my calendar may say.

Direction: Remembering Roger

Posted in Observations, People on February 10, 2014 by Vince.Puzick

In the fall of 1971, two years after my father left, I joined the North Junior Mountain Club, run by my Latin teacher, Roger Schoenstein. My weekends throughout all of 9th Grade and into my high school years were spent hiking the Colorado mountains with Roger, often with his wife Patty, and a bunch of other teens.

One Saturday, as we were getting ready to head back to our camp after hiking up a small peak, Roger said “OK, Puzick, lead us on back.”  About 10 seconds later he called out again:  “Hey, Vince…this is great and all but, actually, our camp is that way,” his gloved hand pointed about 180 degrees opposite the direction in which I was headed.

For about six years, from the time I was a 9th grade student until I was a college student, Roger gently (and sometimes maybe not so gently) gave me direction.  With my own addictions and immaturity as a teenage boy trying to navigate his way into young manhood, I was not always able to hear or heed the guidance. Maybe it is always that way between a mentor and a stubborn mentee?  Just when you think you are ready to spread your wings, you make your mistake and learn that you have a lot to learn?

Roger was an incredible Latin and English teacher.  But more than that, he was, in many ways, a Renaissance Man.  Not only did he take us on some extraordinary nature experiences — floating the Green River in canoes, hiking Barr Trail to summit Pikes Peak, exploring the Uncompahgres, surviving overnight cross-country ski trips, and even abandoning one trip to the Grand Canyon when the transmission went out in his truck before we even reached Walsenburg — he also built a darkroom in his basement, played the guitar, knew the ins-and-outs of 16mm films, played tennis, and became an accomplished woodworker.

My teacher, a mentor in so many ways, Roger died early Saturday morning.

We didn’t have a lot of contact in the last several years — for all of the reasons that can happen when two lives get busy and diverge.   But I spent a lot of miles riding in the cab of that F-250 headed to one adventure or another.  I spent hours in the summer of 1975, when we were working the Outdoor School in Vail, riding around in that truck.  He’d give me, a misguided teen boy without a father at home or a direction in life, the keys and let me drive around alone listening to his Cat Stevens tape:  “Wild World,” “Father and Son,” and “The Wind.” Listening for one more instance of “Vince, you want to head that way.”

Whether in a canoe, the cab of a pickup truck, or on the thin boards of cross country skis, or in long conversations while developing black and white photos in the darkroom, you gave me direction at a time I needed it most.

Thank you, Roger.  May you rest in peace.

Hank: A Tribute

Posted in Nature, Observations, Uncategorized on December 8, 2013 by Vince.Puzick

I want to write about a horse named Hank.  He deserves a long post, a real tribute.  The more I write, though, to elevate Hank, the more trite it sounds.  It needs to be a simple story.

The significance of my relationship with Hank was only made possible because of an experience I had with a horse and her young colt six or eight years prior.  My Aunt Mary, who lived about a quarter mile away from us on Cascade Avenue, boarded horses one year.  I made my way to the prairie at the back of her house where she kept the horses.  While I was petting the mare and her colt, I decided to climb through the fence.  Stupidly, naively, I found myself between the mare and the colt.  In a fury of hot June dust and a thunder of hooves, she spun around.  Her back hooves snapped out in a blur directly at me.  I leaned back, stepped back, as her hooves stopped about three inches from my pre-adolescent skin-and-bones chest.

I climbed back through the fence.  Heart pounding.  Legs shaking.  If I hadn’t peed a little, I should have.  The mare’s fury was instinctual, predictable and protective.  My actions were the problem.  I could not shake the fear.

A few years later, I was hired at Blue Mountain Ranch near Florissant, Colorado to be a hiking and backpacking leader as well as a camp “counselor.”    One of the perks was to have access to the other amenities of the camp — including horseback riding, if that was an interest.

Despite the nagging undercurrent of fear, I went out riding with a small group of the guys attending the camp.  A couple of them were relatively close to my age and, with Texas roots and frequent visits over the years to the Ranch, they were pretty accomplished riders.

I saddled up Hank and we took to the hills.  My limited experiences with horseback riding had been on relatively flat land, with some occasional hills to negotiate.  We rode through steep hills here, though, sometimes on a trail, sometimes not.  Winding our ways through trees.  Down steep hills and back up — so steep I was fearing that I’d slide out of the saddle and over Hank’s rump.

We went out several times — long rides in the morning or evening.  At one point, they talked me into riding Hank bareback.  My fear subsided even as I felt Hank’s power.  I was maybe 175 pounds.  Any control I felt was probably an illusion.  I did feel more comfortable around at least one horse.  Interestingly, recognizing Hank’s power and beauty helped ease the self-inflicted fear from years before.

Until one afternoon I was heading to the corral to take Hank out for a ride.  One of the ranch hands stopped me.  The veterinarian said we could not ride Hank for a while, maybe a long while.  I asked him what happened.  A group of girls had been out riding Hank and jumping logs with him.  He had banged up his cannon bone — the equivalent of our shin.  Between his hoof and his knee, Hank was banged up, swollen, sore.  Other than staying off of him for maybe the rest of the summer, another recommended treatment was to walk him down to the small lake on the property and soak his legs.

I watched a few times as different people took Hank down to the lake and waded in with him.  Hank would go into the water maybe three or four steps, the water barely high enough up his front legs to do much good.  And I would watch them bring Hank back to the corral.

When I asked the ranch hand one afternoon if I could take Hank down to the lake, he handed me the reins and said “have at it.”  I swung the gate open and led the beautiful horse down to the lake.  My first two steps into the lake reminded me why this was a good treatment for his swollen legs.  The cold water shocked me at first, then felt pretty good on this summer afternoon.  I waded in a bit further, Hank following.

After a few more steps, the cold water was at the bottom of my rib cage and Hank was in up to his forearm. His legs, up to and even above his knees, were completely submerged.  I stepped closer to him and ran my hand along his broad nose and muscular neck.  Hank let me walk him into that lake throughout the remainder of the summer.  In fact, I was the only one that could get him in deep enough to have any real effect.

The corral and horse barn were visible from the cement slab at the door of our cabin.  I’d push the screen door open and step out, let out a whistle, and Hank’s ears would turn forward, alert, knowing.  He’d walk to the fence and wait as I approached the corral.  I’d slip the bridle on, swing the gate open, and we would walk down for our cold water soak in the mountain lake.

This is a simple story.  It’s about Hank, the horse.  It’s about fear and soaking it away in a cold mountain lake.

Who was that Masked Man?

Posted in Observations, People on June 5, 2013 by Vince.Puzick

I watched The Lone Ranger after school on our little black and white TV.  The screen, framed by a dark wood cabinet, was maybe 13” diagonal.  You couldn’t sit too far from it if you wanted to see much detail, but the reception in the early and mid-1960’s was so shaky, at that house on the far north end of Colorado Springs, that we didn’t expect much in terms of picture quality anyway.

The Lone Ranger, of course, competed with Superman for a young boy’s attention on the television.  We had other heroes – G.I. Joe was notable in a military town such as Colorado Springs.  Growing up at the base of NORAD, and with Fort Carson only a few miles up the road, an army figure would be worthy of admiration and imitation. But he hadn’t made it to the small screen for every day viewing. (I did, however, own a G.I. Joe and would take him next door to Aunt Millie and Uncle Chuck’s house and play with him in their sand-pile next to the garage.) I wasn’t into comic books and the heroes that may have been deployed in those pages escaped my attention.

Superman, it seems to me, was a city boy’s hero.  We didn’t have any tall buildings to leap in Colorado Springs – with a single bound or otherwise. Sure, we had Penrose Hospital, the tallest building in the area at 12 floors, but there wasn’t another comparably sized building for 65 miles, in Denver.  The Holly Sugar Building, three miles into downtown from our two acres, hadn’t been built yet.  I didn’t understand superpowers. Speedy enough to outrun a bullet?  More powerful than a locomotive? Change the course of mighty rivers?  I could not relate.  I didn’t understand jumping into a phone booth to change clothes. I’m not sure I had even seen a phone booth or paid attention to them in our weekly trips downtown with Aunt Millie.  Superman’s cityscape didn’t fit me.

I could relate more to The Lone Ranger, though, and daydream about that life far more than I could about Superman.  The landscape in The Lone Ranger was more familiar – the plateaus and plains through which he and Tonto, his faithful Indian companion, rode were scenes from our own drives in southwest Colorado.  The opening credits of the pilot showed a map, stretching up from Texas, through New Mexico, and into Colorado.  It was my landscape.

His powers?  He was daring and resourceful in his effort to bring law and order to the unruly southwest territory. I wanted to be daring.  I didn’t know what resourceful meant, but I wanted that, too.  To me, the Lone Ranger’s ambitions echoed those of Superman in his fight for truth, justice, and the American Way.  But his motive was simple, clean as that white stallion on which he rode: bring justice to the rugged frontier.


He was a fabulous individual (even the credits announced that fact). The Lone Ranger was mysterious.  He wore a mask, damn it, and traveled with an Indian Scout who pieced fragments of broken English into plots and strategies to outwit the bad guy.

Yes, The Lone Ranger shaped my image of boyhood heroes.

One afternoon, my dad came home from Aircraft Mechanics with some gifts in hand.  He had one of the machinists there shape a six-shooter and a rifle out of a nice piece of wood.  He also had a black piece of vinyl that perfectly matched that of the “masked man” on TV.  I put the mask on, tucked the six-shooter into my pants, and roamed the range of our two acres fighting bad guys.

We didn’t live in a neighborhood, though, and I had no Indian companion.  No matter.  Fighting outlaws, bringing justice to the territory laid out at 3250 North Cascade was my mission.

But there weren’t many outlaws to be found.  Phil and Deb were pre-occupied as I rode up on my thin, wooden, horse.  Aunt Millie wasn’t an outlaw.  She was usually good for some ginger ale, and something baked, followed by a “thank you, ma’am” nod of the head as I rode off.  I had no silver bullet to leave behind.  A crumpled napkin.  An empty glass.

I rode the border of our two properties, imagined threats thwarted, justice claimed.  Calm restored.

And here the storyline could take a predictable turn.  The cliché “profound insight” about the drunken father returning home, the polished wood pistol and Winchester impotent against the barrage of taunts and the ambush of emotion. Promises headed off at the pass. The vinyl mask insufficient to hide the hurt.

Variations on a Theme

Posted in Observations, People on April 7, 2013 by Vince.Puzick

Georgia O’Keeffe drew, painted, sketched, studied thousands of Calla Lilies.  Hundreds, thousands, of skulls.  She never painted the same lily twice.  Each a different angle.  A new perspective.  A different shade of white.  A Calla Lily situated against a skull.  Another against the robin egg sky over the red New Mexico landscape. When asked, she said she neither liked nor disliked lilies.  She had “no feelings at all, really, toward them.”

And so it is with my father.  I turn him this way for a view in.  A glimpse from this angle.  Place him in the piñon-covered hills in Huerfano County walking where his roots are, roots that for him would never take hold.  Place him here, on the barstool of the Bella Vista, smoke-filled, Anne Murray on the jukebox.  I turn him over in the palm of my mind.  Place him on a Greyhound bus.  Still photos from a restless life.

I hold his image here: the distance from my my mind’s eye to my fingertips.  And it’s this space, this distance, that distinguishes my approach from O’Keeffe’s and her Calla Lily.  I have no feeling at all, really, toward the man.  But this space, this reach between the father and the son, I roll around in the soft light of a pinon-scented, smoke-filled landscape.


Untold Tales at the Tailwaters

Posted in Fishing, Observations, People, Places on January 20, 2013 by Vince.Puzick

Five of us headed to the Arkansas River, to the tailwaters below the dam on Lake Pueblo.  Usually we head toward the Nature Center or Valco Ponds.  This day, we went further downstream instead, more into the city of Pueblo.  Fishing in an urban setting is a different experience than being in the Canyon, or wading at Deckers, or stalking brookies in a small stream.

Oh the people we met.

As we were getting ourselves ready, a Hispanic man pulled into the dirt parking lot in a dark red sedan and began to get ready.  He said hello as he began to get his waders on and get his rod set up.  In a few minutes, he was offering some recommendations.  Obviously a local, he certainly knew the river.  If we were heading upstream, he said, pointing with his rod, fish at a hole just a little ways up. Another hole is by the rocks, further, just around the bend.  He offered the suggestions freely, as if he were talking to a couple of long-time friends.  We thanked him as we headed upstream where we fished for the next couple of hours.

Back at the car having lunch, an old Chevy blazer pulled in: grey, dark windows, hip hop pouring out of the open windows.  Another older model SUV pulled in next to them.  Both cars were packed with Latino and Latina teens and young adults in their early 20s.  Each one had a bottle of beer.  A few got out of the cars and passed around the joint somebody offered.

Before long, one by one they each had put on a light blue t-shirt.  Some of the guys had draped the shirt over their shoulder as they laughed, drank, smoked.

It was amazing how many young people were there so quickly.  One guy came over toward my car where I was sitting.  He had a beer in one hand and cradled a Crown Royal purple box in the other.

“You had any luck?” he asked, his baseball cap pulled down to eyebrow level.

”Caught two,” I said.

”I usually come down for night fishing.  I work ‘til 7, come down at 9 and fish under that bridge until about 11.  I’ve just been having this craving for trout…you know how that goes?  But I haven’t had much luck since Christmas!”

I wondered why he was down there now, with his group of friends.  I don’t know if I asked what was happening or not.  Somehow he told me:  they were there honoring a friend, 19, who had died in the last week.  Had left a party drunk to go get a deck of playing cards.  Took a corner over by Irving School, “you know where that’s at” he asked, pointing east.  I shrugged.  ”Not really.”  ”Yeah, he took a corner down there.  At about 90.  Rolled it.  Killed himself.”  I wondered to myself if he saw the sad irony happening in that dirt parking lot.  ”These are his friends.  So we came down to honor him.”  Now I could see that the blue shirts were a tribute with images of their deceased friend silk-screened on them.

Maybe his need to tell somebody was relieved.  Maybe it was just time to go back to his friends at the grey Blazer.  We shook hands.  I told him to be careful today.  He nodded.  ”We will.”

A few minutes later, my nephew and I were heading upstream again.  An older married couple was behind us, out walking their two dogs.  The man called out “where are you guys going to fish?”  We told him we didn’t know, we’d just pick a spot.  He was a local, too, having moved there from “the Midwest” five years prior.  He told us of some holes and stretches, under the railroad bridge, or down by the culvert feeding the river, and then further up by the spillway.  Conor asked what had brought them to Pueblo.  ”That’s a good question,” the man said. His wife offered, “we visited some friends here and decided to move. Like anyplace, it has its pros and cons.”  We turned off the path and headed down to the river with a “thanks for talking” and a return “good luck.”

I think of the mix here along the banks of the Arkansas.  The friendliness of the locals sharing fishing information.  A steady stream of folks walking and biking along the trails that parallel the river. An incredibly large group of teens — tattooed, stoned, drunk and getting more loaded — sharing their loss, their pain.  A married couple, retired, enjoying their walk along a river bank in a town which somehow became part of their destiny.

At the end of the day, the five of us stripped off our waders, each with our own story, each with our own path that somehow got us here today, our stories converging once again and yet still, here at the Tailwaters.

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