Thank You

Ever have a day or two in a row where everything falls into place, days when you say to yourself, “I don’t want this to end. Can’t we just keep this going, please?” Let me explain. 


Recently I was able to spend a couple of days with some of my family after a long absence due to my military obligations that often keep me away from home. My wife and I drove down to the lake where we live. We loaded our dogs in my truck, drove down to the water, leashed the dogs and walked some. It was evening. Some boats were on the water. We watched a girl on a float being pulled across the lake’s surface by her family in their boat. The girl laughed and then screamed seemingly simultaneously, as her father circled the boat and made his daughter jump the boat’s wake over and over. Then we watched the inevitable: the girl bounced, the ski rope was ripped free, and we saw the girl laughing and bobbing in her orange life jacket, waiting for her dad to swing the ski rope by her again for another tug. 


My wife had our King Charles Cavalier on a green leash by the rocks. My wife had her hair down. The sun’s last gold of the afternoon was at the western edge of the lake. Except for wake from the boats, the lake was smooth. I pulled out my phone and snapped a picture of my wife when she was unaware of my watching her. She was in one of the expressions I adore. (There’s something about her in spring/summer, when her skin has turned brown, her eyes shine as if she’s got a funny joke she wants to tell, her sandals reveal her pretty toes, and she’s unaware I’m watching … but these moments I wish I could freeze, bottle them for future openings, and so I snap a picture.)


The light was just right off the water. The girl out on the lake was up and on the float again, way out now on the far end of the lake, and being pulled across the water. A kayaker, nearer us, eased by silently, searching for hungry fish at dusk. I glimpsed one of the man’s rods as he paddled. Aflorescent green curly tail of a plastic worm swayed in rhythm to the man’s paddle strokes.


My wife comes over to me and takes our German shepherd from me so I can cast a few times. The water is crystal clear. I can see the lures I use, even several feet down. Cast, retrieve, cast. No bites, yet I see fish just below the dock on which I stand. It’s okay. This is not an evening for complaint, I can tell, but for thanksgiving. 


After several minutes, I pack up my rod and tackle boxes, and rejoin my wife who has been standing with the dogs on up the shoreline, and we walk back to my truck for the drive home. 


The next day, we go to a local restaurant where we eat raw oysters and talk and people-watch in an artsy section of a nearby town replete with great restaurants and nightlife. We go home later and watch a movie that causes us both to weep and laugh together. 


We talk of the kids. Our son is with friends for the weekend. Our daughter will be home tomorrow, too. We are thankful. My wife speaks of what she is singing tomorrow at church. It grows late. I take the dogs outside for a bit and hear the cicadas thrumming. 


And it bears upon me—that my times like these cannot be manufactured, but they unfurl as if by providence. It is enough to make me, as our dogs rustle through the dry oak leaves in front of the house, say aloud, “Yes, thank you,” and know I have been heard. 


One’s Tackle

“Dad, teach me to use a bait caster.” So began school upon the water yesterday. My family loves spring. For my wife, she loves the warmth of the sun and the long days of light. And I love to see her skin turn bronze and leave winter’s white behind. Our daughter loves spring, too. Like her mom, she tans easily; her skin and hair respond to the sun quickly, and her youth reflects the th-1energy of spring and sun. As a child, she was often bronze for more than six months each year, always long-legged, thin, and lithe– usually not far removed from a soccer ball. For our son, however, he treasures spring for fishing. He’s eight for only one more month and, I thought until yesterday, too young to use a bait caster reel. So I thought. “Dad, teach me to use a bait caster,” he repeated from the front of the Jon boat. In efforts to delay him, I used the list of parental excuses. “Son, a bait caster’s not like an open-face reel; it’s easier to get backlashes. What’s more, bait casters are more complicated. You have to be mindful of your lure and the wind. You have to focus on the vibrations in your line.” (I thought that was sure to dissuade him.) Alas, he’s like his mother: persistent. But he remained undeterred. After several minutes, I relented. “Okay,” I said, “here you go. You try it.”

There are few things I relish as much as fishing. Almost all of my fondest memories involve being near water. My formative years as a child and adolescentht were in middle GA, and on my family’s property were/are three ponds. Two are stocked with bream, largemouth bass, channel catfish, and crappie. The third and smallest pond served as my grandfather’s pond, and it consisted mostly of channel and speckled catfish. I remember his driving his 1967 Ford short-bed pickup truck down to the water’s edge in the evenings with his buckets of floating catfish food in the bed. He’d pull down to the pond, and even before he got out of his truck, the fish churned the water in anticipation. The whiskers of the catfish slashed the top of the water and their shiny gray-green sleekness thrilled us grandchildren as we watched Granddaddy feed his fish. He was not a man given to shows of affection, and he’d not comment upon how we watched him and the fish, and made memories, but those times shaped me, as water shapes stone. I was a tender boy, and I knew those times were special, but now those memories buoy my soul.

I’m in my forties now, and my son was in the front of our little boat yesterday, and he asked me to teach him how to fish with one of my bait casters. And I did. And I continue to learn and relearn how depths of meaning emerge from simple things. As I watched him, the sun’s gold lit our little time upon the water, and he squinted each time I let the prow swing too far west and the evening sun caused him to say, “Come on, Dad; I can’t see. Can you turn the boat around?” The blue herons on the pond’s edge eyed us and the white egrets stood statuesque until they snapped fish up from below. The day’s last moorhens and red-winged blackbirds sang of dusk’s approach.

I do not remember how old I was when I made a small effort to show my stepfather how important he was/is to me–especially for all the times he took me fishing; for all those times I got my bait caster tangled up, or when I cast too far, and he had to retrieve my lure from a branch overhanging the pond’s edge. But I remember purchasing a small book for him once titled The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton. I didn’t fully understand or appreciate that book then, but as I learn and relearn how depths of meaning emerge from simple things, I see how time angles for us all, and how so much depends upon our tackle. I am thankful.