The Peanut Butter and Jelly Paradox (PB&JP)

I started keeping a fishing calendar this past year. My thinking was that I would somehow get to fish more. I was applying the business proverb of “that which gets measured gets done”. Apparently this doesn’t work as well on the home front. Actually, MOST of the leadership tactics I bring home from work become useless when they pass between my lot lines. Kind of a Bermuda Triangle of management principles I’d say. I’ll share more on this once I fully understand the phenomenon. In the meantime, I’ve learned it’s best to just go with the flow most of the time and try not to get underfoot of the wonderful women in my life.

Sometimes the vehicle we call life can drive pretty fast and we’re not necessarily at the wheel. Although I love that my daughters stay busy, it does make me ponder what the heck empty nesters do with their time. The endless stream of sleepovers, homework projects, ball games, and the like – easily displace the time that “coulda” been spent on a stream of a different sort. It’s “all good” though. I am happy they are busy well-adjusted kids that basically stay out of trouble. However, it sure is nice to have some “alone time” once in awhile to slow the pace.

Friday Evening

Every once in a while though, I get a gift of time. Yesterday I found out that the softball tournament this weekend was somehow going to go on without the Stampede, my youngest daughter’s team. As if they didn’t spend enough time together every previous weekend, they decided to do a movie day with the whole team. Great! Have at it. Just give me my free kitchen pass and I’m outa here. It’s the middle of July. Darn hot in my part of the country, but I bet I can find a coldwater tailrace with a few leftover stockers in it even in these dog days. Maybe four hours drive, at best, but it’d be worth it.

I mentioned it to the boss. When she said, “just go”, she sort of looked at me funny. So, apparently the vote (or veto) is still out on this one. I am smart enough to know actions-speak-louder-than-words and did not confuse her yes with a Yes – more negotiations to resume in the morning. Hmm, it’d probably be good to leverage some other activity that she is interested in. I may have to get out the massage table again. Worked for my last fishing trip – though my hands were too tired to cast. Oh, the sacrifices I whilst make for ye li’l trout. Hmm, maybe if she comes up with independent plans of her own for Saturday night, then I could throw the tent in the jeep and head for the mountains.

Sounds like a beer commercial doesn’t it. Well, shoot, I’m just hopeless enough of a romantic to believe there SHOULD be moments that are beer-commercial-ish. Maybe not with the athletes and bikini girls, but at the very least something more noble than the day-to-day grind of improving the widget making processes at work. I guess I’m searching for some adventure, something that forces one to say, “It don’t get no better’n this.”

Saturday Morning

Didn’t quite get up as early as I’d thought. As soon as was reasonably appropriate (which is frankly a stab in the dark), I introduced the topic of fishing again but was quickly reminded of the current state of my yard. She was right. The lawn was turning into a jungle – a product of our busy schedules and the same distractions that keep me from trout fishing. Mowing, edging, weeding, pruning, weed-wacking, pool cleaning, dog doo-doo shoveling, and a bunch of sweating later, I was ready to go fishing. Too late in the afternoon though for a reasonable trip to the mountains – but when life gives you lemons… make Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches. Oh yeah, I’ll explain this later.

I threw the tent, bedroll, sleeping bag, cotton sheet, cooler, and a couple of fly rods in the back seat. I grabbed the necessary paper products as well as a lighter. A few trips to the back of the jeep with armloads of logs completed the preparation. I was getting away. Not far away, but Away. Oops, almost forgot some flies, my vest, some sports sandals, and the little neoprene booties I wear for wet wading; oh yeah, bug dope and polarized glasses. I guess it wasn’t as simple as I had thought. I hope that is everything. I can’t help the sinking sensation I get every time I go camping – that I am leaving the key ingredient behind. Mental checklist time – yep, got everything. Okay, Away.

This trip I was trying to keep as simple as absolutely possible. Often though camping can be about the food. In fact, my wife is an incredible camp chef who works marvels with aluminum foil packets and hobo pie makers. She puts the George Foreman grill to shame or even the fancy Fire-and-Ice contraption that cools and cooks that my buddy Bruce (the James Bond of camping) uses. Camping with my wife Dawn is truly a culinary experience. Admittedly, I like to dabble in campfire cuisine as well. But, again, this trip was not about the food. I just need to stop to get soda, ice, beef jerky, shelled peanuts, and a couple of cigars and I will be whole. You see, there exists a phenomenon I call the Peanut Butter and Jelly Paradox. Henceforth described as PB&JP. According the PB&JP, EVERYTHING tastes incredible after a day in the outdoors, particularly if it is made AND consumed in the outdoors. If you were out wranglin’ doggies for a long day – shoe leather would taste like steak. If you were out in the woods hunting from daylight to early afternoon – crackers and cheese would make your mouth water like crème bruele.

My family discovered the PB&JP a few years ago while on Spring Break. We were spending a day at a Gulf beach frolicking in the surf and catching some rays. Being so engaged in our outdoor activities, we were not cognizant of our growing hunger until late in the afternoon. All we had in the little gutbucket was a few peanut butter & jelly sandwiches; it was the only food within a mile. You can’t possibly imagine the delectable balance of sweet and nutty, squooshy and crunchy? Try to visualize: moist bread with tender crusts that melt in your mouth, peanut butter that sticks to the roof of your mouth, and slippery jelly that glides over your tongue and past your tonsils. PB&J is a gourmand’s dream in the outdoors! PB&J is as good in the great outdoors as prime rib is in the artificial indoors. There you have it – the PB&J Paradox.

So, back to my trip – aligned with this paradox I knew I couldn’t go wrong with the simplicity of shelled peanuts and beef-jerky. Could I? I smiled as I rolled out of the drive. I’m “off like a herd of turtles” – a phrase an old friend repeated ad nauseam. My intended destination was a local lake probably only twenty minutes away. There were primitive sites there with not much more than a fire ring and a table. No electrical or fancy slabs with hookups – perfect for a rustic camper from the old school like me. On the way through the hilly country, I noticed many of the tributary creeks were high. It had been a wet summer in North Texas.

My plan included fishing Bear Creek once I had set up camp. But as I drove to the campground I crossed the bridge over Bear Creak and discovered that the normally sparse clear water – filled to the rim with bream – was actually too deep to wade. Flooded. Shoot, I thought; I’ll have to find a new place to fish. First I better set up camp.

I found the perfect camping spot high on a point overlooking Lake Benbrook in two different directions. A nice breeze came steadily off the water; I figured this would be good to keep the bugs at bay. Great spot to pitch a tent also. It was perfect except the previous campers had left quite a mess. Trash was all over the site and partially burned logs had spilled over the edge of the fire ring. It looked like whomever just left needed a double dose of the golden rule. I began to clean it up. I do touch a lot of critters and things in the great outdoors that some people might find disturbing, but for me, nothing was as disgusting as touching the leftover food trash of strangers. Well, I guess it’s not in the cards for me to ever bus tables – good. I threw all their anthropological remnants into the fire pit. I planned to burn it all with my campfire late that evening.

There must have been some embers still aglow in the pit. The trash burst into flames. Well, I guess I’ll roll with this. I threw a couple of logs on the fire and they promptly started with the help of the wind. I can fish tomorrow; I’ve got a fire to watch now. As I set up my tent, I chalked up another lesson the hard way. Okay, somewhere in the little dome tent manual I’m sure that it says to pound in the stakes first before erecting. Right, I’m not big on directions. Just after getting the poles into the bottom pins, the tent did a convincing impression of tumbleweed. I caught it after the fourth full rotation as it was headed in the general direction of the boat launch. Talking to it nicely, I coaxed it back to its intended resting-place.

Although I wasn’t fishing as I intended, it was a good night at camp. In a pavilion nearby, there was quite a family picnic going on. Somebody’s talented uncle brought along a guitar and a healthy desire to teach children and teens how to sing along with fifties songs and old country favorites. I must say it was heavenly to listen as I watched the fire dance. Interrupted more than occasionally by noisy boat launchings and the personal watercrafts horse-playing in the cove, this music was simply refreshing. I can stare endlessly into a fire with nothing but the night sounds of the woods; so this welcomed accompaniment was, well, music to my ears. Peanut shells glowed as I shucked and chucked them in the fire. The jerky tasted like… well, suffice it to say – the PB&JP was at work.

I sat and read a U.S. history book. I was taking an on-line class so there was a practical reason for cracking the book. However, it really was cool to read it THERE. I was studying about the nasty things the new Americans were doing to the Cherokees on the Trail of Tears, and the thousands killed en route to Oklahoma (Indian Territory back then.). Somehow this all seemed more meaningful sitting fireside looking over water and some semblance of nature. Yes, I’m a geek like that.

When the fire settled down enough to kick apart and then perish, I headed into the tent. I read a bit more history by flashlight. This reminded me of sneaky reading after “lights out” when I was a kid. Funny how we never actually grow-up. It didn’t take long to start to nodding-off. I threw my glasses in my baseball cap, turned off the flashlight, and rested my head on the makeshift pillow – a sweatshirt. See I knew I forgot something.

Sunday Morning

I woke to church bells echoing across the lake. At first I thought it was a cell phone. It seems that in everyday life no matter what you are doing – incessant cell phones ringing and chiming are inescapable. I reminded myself that I was not within a hundred yards of another human, then the church bell theory proved more plausible. I better get going. I always wake up with a pep-to-my-step when I’m camping. Betrayed often by my stiff back, I like to have an action bias. After all, there are fish to be caught and adventures to be had. Left over beef jerky for breakfast, a diet coke from the cold water in the cooler – though the ice was long gone – added to my building energy. I had all the fishing gear aligned in the front seat ready to assemble on arrival. Then rallying a quick tent tear down and chucking everything else in the back seat, I took off down the road.

Headed to the Trinity River below the dam of Lake Benbrook, I still didn’t know if it would be fishable. The tributaries were high, but maybe they weren’t releasing much below the dam. After all, the dams were for flood control, right? As luck would have it, the Trinity was perfect. Sunlight cast through the mammoth old-growth oaks leaving shadows on the edges for bream to hide. The water was only slightly more stained from the rain and barely above normal level. The fish were looking up. The poppers drifted well. Fish were aggressive and often visible for the take. Experimenting with woolly buggers also brought attacks by fish near beds and grassy islands. In the shadow of logs, hid the big’uns. If I could get perpendicular to them and cast just upstream, I could strip it about six inches in front of their nose for an exciting strike and fight. My three-weight labored against these saucer-sized brutes. I caught fish until I was too hungry to stand in the river any longer. Maybe fifty fish or more came to my hand and were released unharmed in the extended morning.

Wonderful time standing in the water – being a part of something wild. Maybe the Peanut Butter and Jelly Paradox doesn’t just apply to food. Not only does Peanut Butter and Jelly sometimes taste like Prime Rib. But sometimes rolling hills are as good as rocky mountains, local run-off creeks are as pretty as alpine streams, and biting bluegills are as exciting as finicky trout. There you have it – the Peanut Butter and Jelly Paradox in action. And since my girls are going to be grown up before I know it – I’ll take the little time I get, and enjoy the peanut butter and jelly.

Nicole Thomas

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