Craig Wisner


Surfperchin’ II.


Sun and wind on a Saturday morning; that this spot is exactly one hour from my home is not bad at all…It’s become Lusi’s favorite new beach.

The baby Barred Surfperch were out in full effect again but I managed to score two decent ones for the pan.




I’ve been fishing.

Typical surf rig:

St. Croix Wild River rod, 8’6″ Fast Action, 8-12#. (Favorite rod ever).

Shimano Sedona 4000FB reel w/10# mono. (As about a nice of a reel as I’ll take in the surf and sand).

Carolina rig, 3/4 oz. egg sinker/bead/swivel.  4′, 6# flourocarbon leader.  #4 Owner Mosquito Hook.  Gulp! Sandworms.


Damp and Dark.

It was supposed to be an overnight but camp was so damp, dark, and cold there was no chance of a warming fire.

So I kept walking long into the night.

It was all quite alive and full of energy, as was I.

Early Morning Light.

A winding drive at 3AM, hot coffee, hot music, two coolers full of ice rattling in the back.  I reached my glassing spot a full two hours before sunrise, sat in the cold and shivered until first light, dozing off in the needles and silence.  Occasional lightning flashed from behind the range, hanging in thunderheads out in the deserts beyond.  Sitting, listening, waiting for the sun.

In the pines, in the pines,

where the sun don’t ever shine,

I shivered the whole

night through…

And then golden light rising with birdsong; I sat long enough they payed me no mind and danced in the trees above me.  I picked apart the hillsides with binoculars, memorizing every thicket and tangle of manzanita and pine and rock.  Deer or not, I love this land and the early morning light, bearing quiet witness to the changing rhythm.


The Bison.


Certain locations seem to provoke a sense of ancestral memory, awakening something old that did not consciously register before. A vast landscape unfolds before the eyes and it seems to rekindle some glimpse from another lifetime, an archetype burned on the brain from the deep past, perhaps even another millennium. Snowcapped peaks above golden valleys, wind moaning animal-like through stands of dead trees; it all seemed like it had happened before. Maybe not for me, but most certainly for someone, and it had inexplicably worked its way into my consciousness. That we were hunting an ancient and storied North American mammal likely added to the sensation; it was easy to imagine my companions outfitted not with modern packs and gear but with skins and lances, engaged in something pre-dating any names or maps we would recognize.



That the beast we sought would be killed with a modern firearm does not change the fact that it still takes a small clan to hunt a bison, especially under human power alone. We were in pursuit on foot, forgoing pack animals or ATVs, and this added a great sense of both weight and adventure. Every step further into the backcountry would be a step that would have to be retraced, and when successful, retraced under a significant load. It would increase the time we would have to spend out, magnifying potential for encounters with other predators as well as weather, heightening the seriousness of the situation. But to go in the confidence that one is capable and is a member of a capable crew is a sweet space to occupy. There will come a day when my friends and I are no longer able to consider such feats, the later the better, but that we are able-bodied here and now should be an imperative to try to maintain an ethic of meeting challenges head-on and under our own power.


9A rifle crack echoed through the valley and the bison was soon sprawled in a meadow, dead. What follows becomes a blur of cooperation and work, first by fire and moonlight, soon extending into days. Skinning, butchering, fetching water, feeding the flames, patrolling for bears. Hoisting meat bags into the trees and hauling. There was too much work to be done to process what had happened in the moment; that would come later.


In three days the bison would revisit me, bringing with him a deep sadness and wellspring of conflicting emotions through a flood of lucid dream-images while lying in bed. I try to embrace all that comes with it, to embrace the sadness. The day that I no longer feel it will likely mark the day that I too lay dead in some meadow. We can live a life of avoidance or we can charge into it headlong.


In the meantime, there is so much to be grateful for, a point which we are reminded of through every great trip. I’m grateful for the sound of wind and spray on my shelter while in a warm bag, for the graupel blowing through golden trees as I walked a stretch alone. I am grateful the food now in my freezer and the thousands of miles of thoughts and sights and sounds while driving to Montana and back. I am grateful for the laughter in morning camp over steaming coffee, the time shared with really good people, and most especially the hugs and cheers as the last loads were un-shouldered at the trucks and the trip had officially come to an end.


Rejoicing that it’s over…and not a moment after getting warm and comfortable, wanting to be back out there again. So it always seems to go.



High Country Shadows.

Tracks and browse

trails winding through the thick;

Shadows, nothing but deer shadows

and high country sun.



Untitled (Sunday driving).

FullSizeRender copy

We drove for 12 hours

trying to catch the tail end

of the goddamned thing,

walked salt flats and rolling grass hills

looking for it

-everything dried out and parched

and it’s not even

summer yet.


You can smell the coming fires

in a warm, straw-like scent

hanging on the breeze

and we all talk, only half-joking,

of giving up and just hitting the road

for somewhere.


When the tires come to a halt

on another gravel turnout

and we stagger out

the cows look up slowly

from behind heat waves and wire fences

and it seems the cows know

that they, too, may have little choice,

and that the will of God cannot be accounted for:


You get what you get

and you don’t throw a fit.


I have to wonder if our children were born

as melancholy as she and I

or if we did this to them

as I stand back watching and find the pair drawn

to oil seeps and broken glass on the desert floor,

or staring into the light of the sun

struggling through a coastal fog

and meeting it all with sighs and a far off look

that seems to penetrate a future I cannot know.

They are content, just like us, to drive and think

and revel in places where we’re strangers

and people let us know it,

feeling outside of it all.


(perhaps to make us feel that much closer)


We drove for twelve hours

until we caught it again, if only for a day

sitting separate from the blur of the world,

safe behind the window glass

-singing, wondering, being together

knowing these actions, conversations, memories

are the only solid footing we have.


Photo Credits:  My Son