Study to be Quiet

Aug. 12, 2009

And the down-turn of his wrist
†† When the flies drop in the stream;
†† A man who does not exist,
†† A man who is but a dream;
†† And cried, ĎBefore I am old
†† I shall have written him one
†† poem maybe as cold
†† And passionate as the dawn.í
Yeats, ďThe FishermanĒ
†† If I compose anything in this life, through words or Ė far less likely given my complete lack of ear Ė music, it can never compare with the compositions I find out there. Far and away.
†† This angling passion has led me on journeys I could not have imagined as a wee lad, barely old enough to hold an old fiberglass spincast rod with a green Johnson Century reel. I could barely hold it, since my arms were poking out from my sides around the orange life preserver I had to wear until I learned to swim, which was an iffy proposition since I was born with problematic ears prone to infection. Perhaps the damage done that way, and the surgeries to before I was two, hobbled whatever ear for music I might have inherited from my fatherís side of the family, almost all of them musicians to one degree or another.
†† But my umbilical to water has towed me to Otatsa Creek, far in the Rockies of Montana; Elkmont, Tremont and the Little Pigeon River in Tennessee; and countless waters here in Louisiana.
†† What Thoreau said, about men going fishing without realizing it isnít fish they are after, didnít ring true for me until I was well into my adult life. Now, with fewer years ahead than there are behind, I try my best to express in conversation and on these pages that my fishing is in itself a means to an end. Solace, companionship of true friends, wild water, trees, four-footed observers, all are the true catches of the day.
†† I didnít understand until after he was gone that my father was that way. Certainly food for the table was important, but there was a man who was happiest on the water. I know it now, though it took the accumulation of years on the dusty shelves of my memory for me to discern that truth.
†† He was adamant about silence, supposedly to not scare the fish, but now I know he demanded it so that the spell would not be broken. Study to be quiet, Thessalonians advises. My father was teaching me reverence for all things limpid; as we drifted between stunningly old and beautiful cypress trees, paddling an old wooden boat through backwater sloughs and hidden lakes, he tethered me to sun and air and water and sky.
†† Then came a time where I touched no water except that in the bath or the kitchen sink for more than a decade, and those years I can confidently say were the worst of my life. When finally I returned to grace he was gone, and I believe when his spirit left his body he told heaven to hold on a moment; he drifted across cane fields and cypress stands to Grand Avoille Cove, in the night, hovered there for a time, ethereal, silent. Only then did he continue, only then did he believe his days in this world were done.
†† If I compose anything more in the days remaining to me, it will never convey the way my father and I are linked by water.
†† People ask me, ďWhy do you fish?Ē and I say I fish to get away from it all, but I think Iím lying. I think I fish because Iím searching for something. A bit of wild, silver magic I hadnít known I was seeing until it was gone. Iím slowly learning the words again. They are not whispered by tongues, scribed on paper, rather they are enunciated by waves lapping against sandy creek shores, running over rounded pebbles, by green needles rubbing each other in a spring breeze, but most of all, by quiet.
†† Because you canít go there and be loud and raucous. Not if you expect the magic to stay rather than shrink away in dismay. The fish donít really care how loud you are, but the very thing youíre after out there, the thing that sends you driving hundreds of miles and throwing yourself headlong off the side of a safe, mapped road into a thicket of trees where you can hear laughing water, or deep into a black water canalÖthat thing despises riot and turbulence and noise.
†† Iíd like to think of my father being out there, in the water, in the air, in the trees with me. In fact, I guess I do, because despite my Baptist upbringing, I still think all my relations are here, with me, not in the clouds playing harps or surrounded by some disembodied white light. They are in the breeze, along the horizon, mingling with the dawn. Iíd like to think of him as novelist Daniel Wallace described:
†† ďAll of a sudden my arms were full of the most fantastic life, frenetic, impossible to hold on to even if Iíd wanted to, and I wanted to. But then all I was holding was the blanket, because my father had jumped into the river. And thatís when I discovered my father hadnít been dying after all. He was changing, transforming himself into something new and different to carry his life forward.Ē
†† And if I live my life with sanctimony, Iíd like to follow my father. Into the ethereal, into the great mystery. Iíd be no happier than if my own son drops my old, frail and tired body into a river and lets me become what Iíve always been: Water. A part of something ceaseless in movement, enveloping in love and permeating into the very heart of the earth. At last, then, Iíll have composed something that will be worth knowing.