We’ve had an unseasonably warm Midwest winter, so it was no surprise the Punxsutawney rodent was wrong and spring came early. Never trust a big rat. The robins have been here since the first week in February, the jonquils have been in bloom since the first of March and I’ve been itching to go fishing since the day I retired my poles for the winter. Even the Great Blue Heron, who returns to my cove each spring after wintering in parts unknown has made her splendiferous return. There’s nothing like seeing her six and a half foot wingspan hovering just above the water as she glides in for some fishing of her own. Soon, the Canada Geese will bring their goslings to my front yard to show off their progeny and to get their usual treat of stale bread.
for my Midwest roots and purchased a house on the shores of Lake Hooterville. It was my summer home for 6 years until I decided to move here permanently. I pined for a return to small-town life, but maybe moving to a town of 342 people I overshot the “small” mark a little (or a lot). The thing I love most about this house is it sits 15 feet from the nicest little bass lake for miles around. Aside from the shallow gene pool, the lake makes this a lovely place to live – especially considering how much I enjoy fishing. I’ve loved fishing since I was a kid. Dad took me for the first time when I was six and my brothers and I trekked to the creek every day of our youth. Summers were an adventure of fishing, swimming and crawdad hunting. I think only my brother John could love it more than I do, though my sister Barbie is a close second.
What I like about being the non-church-going type, is when you wake up on a glorious morning like this and the water is calm. There’s no guilt involved when inviting the dog down to the dock for a little R&R. This morning was just such a Sunday. A hot cup of coffee and a freshly strung pole was just the ticket to shake off a long week of work, and like the flowers and the birds, the fish came early too. It was just me and my dog, Baby Tess. Well, perhaps “Baby” Tess is a misnomer. She’s a 150 pound Newfoundland with a heart of gold and
huge eyes we commonly refer to as “deep brown pools of sadness” when she wants something. At 5:30 this morning, she nudged me awake and those deep brown pools were asking to go fishing. Even my big girl has enough sense to know when it’s time to go fishing. She was right to wake me up so early. The fishing was good. We have a rule in this house that we catch and release. Before we release we always kiss the fish… on the lips. Now, Von (my most patient better half) watched this ritual for quite some time with a smirk on his face until he realized he wasn’t catching anything. He asked me about that one day. I told him he didn’t catch very many fish because he didn’t kiss them before he threw them back. “Kiss them”, he asked? “Kiss them. I properly thank every fish kind enough to take my bait and they come back.” He sneered at me through two more hours of fishing as I reeled in one after another and he got skunked. It wasn’t long before, out of the corner of my eye, I saw him sneak his pitifully small fish a kiss and I howled with laughter – but pretty soon, he was reeling them in as quickly as I was and it’s become a bit of a family joke. Baby Tess has decided that before any fish is returned to the lake, she must kiss it as well. That’s my big girl.
I can spend an entire day on the water just casting a line and reeling it in, over and over. It never matters if the fish are biting or not, though it sure is fun when they are. I’m sometimes asked about my obsession with my fishing pole, but it’s simple, really, it’s not about the fishin’ so much as it is the thinkin’…
You see, as someone who spent many hours sitting next to my socially conscious father on a riverbank, I realized that was the one place we never talked about crime and punishment or social injustice or human rights. We just sat and talked. Sometimes we just sat. Sitting by a riverbank with a fishing pole in my hand was where I learned to know my father the man, not my father the Liberal. I learned early on it was a good place to shed the burdens of the world, the heaviness of the things that needed to be done, the things about which we needed to care so much and just be completely within ourselves for a few hours. Fishing was the way Dad decompressed. That’s how I do it too.
Today is my friend Austin’s 35th birthday. He didn’t survive cancer long enough to see it, but I thought fondly of him as I sat casting out my line and reeling it in at a leisurely pace. I thought of last Memorial Day weekend and how we sat and looked out over this same view together with family and friends. I’d spent so much of the last 4 months missing him in profound sadness, I hadn’t taken the time to really enjoy his memory until this morning. Strange when you catch yourself sitting alone with a huge grin on your face, but there I was. And I made fried chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy for supper. With gravy all over – just the way he’d have wanted. Made a pie and had two pieces – one for me and one for him. Austin would have done the same for me.
Sitting there on the dock with Tess, I thought of Dad too, wondering what
he would have been like as an old man. Dad died of a massive heart attack at age 44 when I was just twelve, so I only knew him as a young man. I’ve often imagined him, white-haired, frail and bent, but with the same dark brown, almost black, deep-set playful eyes, sitting next to me on my dock and that made me smile too. He would have loved this place. He would have kissed every fish before throwing it back.
The best part of fishing is it gives me a couple of hours to share the peacefulness of an unseasonably warm spring morning on calm water with those who aren’t here anymore to remember everything that is good about being alive. I don’t have to think about politics or racism or poverty or civil rights or finances or work or relationships. It’s pretty much just me and Tess and memories of a good life and the good people who have been in it – and the fish chasing the twirling tail of the worm on the hook through the cool clear water. Fishing is about patience. Fishing is about breathing. Fishing is all about regaining a little perspective.
I’ll be back in a few days, dissecting this issue or that, but today, today was about fishing with Austin and Dad and Tess. It was good. Really, really good.
Carol Baker is a political writer, satirist, and co-host with Vicki Childs of our Here Women Talk weekly internet talk radio show called BROADSIDED. You can hear their show every Thursday at 11 am Eastern/10 Central/8 Pacific.