Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Good For the Soul

“Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing it is not fish they are after"          - Henry David Thoreau

All my adult life people have frequently asked why I fish so much. The short answer is it’s good for my soul but the complete answer goes much deeper. Over the years fishing has occupied different places in my life and has taken on many incarnations. As a boy fishing simply got my brothers and me outside and in touch with nature through the summer months. During the winter months carrying a fishing rod from farm ponds, to creeks to lakes was replaced by carrying a shotgun or.22 rifle about the countryside of North Texas. Our big outings in those days were out to the east side of Lake Lewisville with our dad after work and on the weekends. During those years I never envisioned that fishing would become such a part of my life nor did I think of it that way or as anything other than just fishing. I felt much the same way about hunting though that feeling has changed drastically over the years. These days I just find it hard to take the life of a wild mammal, bird or fish given their world is shrinking so fast.
Up until the time when our family moved into the city I wasn’t even aware that people lived so disconnected from nature as those who dwell in big cities. Everything we caught or killed during those years living out in the rural countryside went onto the table. After our move into the city we stopped harvesting from the land. Our fishing excursions became rare and I can only recall a handful of hunting excursions. I lost my connection to the land but never lost the yearning for it. For lack of a better description I became somewhat of a hoodlum without that connection. During that time I wasn’t even aware of the chasm that existed between me and the natural world. I just knew I wasn’t happy with the world.
After several years I went back to the countryside that shaped my original view of the world to find it transformed into another city. The tiny community was well on its way to becoming just another example of urban sprawl. The farm ponds and cattle pastures were covered with houses, shops and restaurants. The few gravel roads had been widened to four lane paved streets dissected by a typical pattern of cross streets and cul-de-sacs. Where we used to gather sustenance from the land people now gathered there food in pre-packaged form. There is little description for the kind of loss that comes from the destruction of nature in the name of progress. To lose something as precious as the very thing that shaped a boy’s soul is tantamount to taking his life. Though I didn’t fully know it at the time the loss was incalculable on a personal level. That was the day I found myself encircled by a concrete jungle. Only now do I realize that it was the first great loss I ever suffered.
When I went back to our home in the city and reported what I had seen to my dad he simply acknowledged that he already knew. His words were calm but I know now on the inside he was as unhappy about it as I was. It didn’t dawn on me until many years later that it was only a short time after that day we started fishing more frequently again. We still lived in the midst of the concrete jungle but got out of it or at least onto the fringes more and more often. Many of those outings were spent drifting across Lake Worth snacking on Vienna sausages and cheese on crackers while catfishing. During one of those outings he confided in me his deepest desire to return to a life far away from the city. It was only the need to make enough money to support a family of six that had driven him away from Wyoming where his early view of the world had come with a rod or gun in his hands. His long term plan was to retire early and return to Wyoming and live out his later years. When we were younger he tried to keep us as close as he could to the countryside but the needs of the family had to outweigh his personal desires. He had hoped that by keeping us in or near the countryside as long as possible my brothers and I would bond with the land as he had. I am happy to report his plan worked but at the same time saddened he didn’t get to see how deeply the impression took.
On December 26, 1980 I spent the day with my dad as we shopped like champions at an after Christmas/going-out-of-business sale at Olsen’s Sporting Goods in Hurst, TX. I had married a few months earlier and had not spent much time with him during those months. We had not fish together at all during that time. The one time he came to my house during those months he invited me to join him and my uncle to drift for catfish on Lake Proctor. I declined the offer and took a raincheck. During our shopping we loaded up three full shopping carts with fishing gear of every manner for every member of the family making sure we had what we needed for the raincheck day of catfishing. We went back to my parents’ house and divided up all that tackle into big piles for him, myself and my brothers. When we were done we noted that his pile seemed to be the smallest of the bunch. We laughed and decided to rearrange the piles when he and Mom returned from a visit to Grandma’s a few days later because they were already late getting away. I stood in the driveway and waved as they pulled away. A few hours later I received a phone call telling me of the accident that had ended their lives.

It has taken a few decades to understand completely what fishing means to me or maybe it has just taken this long for me to be able to admit it. I like to think for the moment that fishing has come full circle in my life. The days of having something to prove have passed at least for the time being but I hope forever. These days I just want to fish because it is in my blood, it is in my heart, it soothes my soul. It’s where I find my dad.