Aunt Liz

In my childhood my family used to visit my Grandfather’s place in northwestern Connecticut for a week or a weekend here and there. Usually we would stay nearby in an antique farmhouse with my aunts, uncles and slightly older cousins and later in a large boarding house bought by my uncle Bill as a vacation place. Mostly we just hung out there and marched around playing army games arranged by my cousin Web or played kick the can or a nighttime variation called German Spotlight.

Author at Doolittle Lake 1973

Sometimes in the summer my cousin David and I were rousted out of bed at 4:30 in the morning by my aunt Liz to go fishing on Benedict Pond nearby. We got in the station wagon with various rods and spinning reels and tackle boxes. We had an old, wooden grey rowboat that probably belonged to my grandfather stashed by the pond and we loaded up our fishing poles and shoved off. Aunt Liz rowed while Dave and I trolled our lines from the stern. We mostly turned up Perch and nasty Pickerel, a spiny, spiky, slippery thing that was difficult to get off the hook. Back they went into the pond worse for the wear to look for a bug or another shiny spinner flashing by. These were warm, early summer days. The pond was peaceful as the sun came up and the fish started to eat bugs off the surface of the pond. The only sounds were our hushed voices, the creak of wooden oars, and David peeing off the stern. Often, we snagged a lily pad and had to work to get the hook and line back in the boat.

I remember only once (?) one of us hooked a good-sized bass, the prize we were apparently after. I think we had a rubber worm on the hook. Aunt Liz was thrilled and coached us through the struggle with the fish, alternately giving it some line and reeling it closer to the boat. Then she was out with the net and giving it a clubbing with the end of an oar. Six pounds of pure joy for Aunt Liz. It might have been three pounds or ten, but this is a fish story. We trolled for a little longer, but we had what we were after. On shore Aunt Liz cut the fish down its belly, cleaned out the guts and wrapped it up in wet grass.

Then back in the car and a short ride home as the sun came up. Bass for breakfast. Maybe a trip to Doolittle Lake for a swim later. We could always count on Aunt Liz to advocate for ice cream on the way home.

Matthew W. Atkinson, 2020

Note: Aunt Liz is my late sister-in-law. Matthew is my son.


Serendipity: A Climbing Vignette (~1980s)

Occasionally the world of climbing, though we’ve always sensed it to be fairly compact, proves to be so small as to surprise us.

On Cathedral Ledge one morning, topping out on Toe Crack, I looked across to the second pitch belay on Thin Air with an eye to traversing over to continue to the top. But the route was pretty busy so I moved up and right into the chimney on Standard Route, either to wait out Thin Air or to rap down to do another climb. A couple of guys rappelling from higher up appeared and joined us in the wait. The wait proved long—there was a line at the bottom of Thin Air, and then climbers approaching from below in our own chimney and so—idle chat ensued.

Hardly a minute into our conversation one of the guys reached over to me and, indicating my rack, said “I have a wired stopper just like that one: booty from a climb I did this spring.”  I was astonished and replied, to his equal astonishment: “And I know where you found it: on the top pitch of Knight’s Gambit at Ragged’s main cliff.” “Wow, right!” he said, “how did you know?” “Because that stopper was mine,” I replied.

The guys were indeed from Connecticut.  My stoppers were unique because I had filed in them distinctive grooves to enhance their placement security. I recounted how, the year before, I had placed the piece. My second couldn’t get it out and, after having rappelled down to try myself, I couldn’t either. And so, I really hammered it in, thinking that it would probably be there forever.

That evening in the parking lot, as we were gearing down and cracking open our beers, a car drifted by with an arm extended from the passenger side window—in the hand of which was my lost stopper.

More climbing vignettes:
Bobo to the Rescue
The Gendarme
“Travails” With Charley