Saturday, August 20, 2016

Fishing as a metaphor (or is it a simile?)

I sit suspended, floating in the dark water, and I wonder what is underneath. That's part of the allure of fishing. There is life - an entire ecosystem - in a world we cannot see. That unknown is also what makes me equally nervous. Fishing is a lot like life. You cast out, never knowing what might hit your line. Will it have barbs? Teeth?

I've been fishing a lot this summer, and it has me thinking about what the attraction is. As a girl, I went fishing with my dad often, so having grown up with it, I never questioned why we did it. We went fishing in so many places: Lake Erie, the Atlantic, this very lake. He pulled many things from many different bodies of water, from bluegill and sheepshead to giant red snapper, eel, and shark.

My dad, older brother, and me after a deep-sea fishing trip in the Atlantic
I have recently acquired his tackle and fishing gear - so much tackle! Fishermen. Always chasing the next best thing, that perfect piece of fake bait that will catch the big one. Incidentally, my dad was also a salesman. And a risk taker. He could convince the dead to buy life insurance. And he was always chasing the next best thing, even if it meant taking risks.

So, what is the attraction?

It's the unknown. The unknown can be scary, but it can also offer an elixir of hope. The unknown can yield the perfect fish. Fishermen are gamblers, ever hopeful, optimistic, hedging their bets that the next cast will bring luck.

Then, there is the waiting, and here's where fishing becomes therapeutic. In that silence and meditation-like concentration, time stands still and all worry and thoughts dissipate like ripples over the lake. The mind settles too in that quiet space. It's so quiet, it's almost deafening. This silence. Sit. I learned to be still from fishing, my first moments of quiet meditation floating suspended in time on a lake, waiting patiently for a nibble.

And then it happens. A ripple of movement reverberates up the thin line, up the pole to my fingertips. I pull back. The hook embeds. The catch. I reel in, pulling back every few seconds to ease the journey from water to air. My pole bends, and it's like Christmas. What will it be? Is it big? Will it have barbs or teeth?

I recently caught a foot-long crappie from the lake by my house. As it surfaced from the dark water, I reeled excitedly, my heart pounding. Its giant mouth emerged first, gulping great heaves of water and fighting futilely against my hook and line. Its big eyes bulged. This "man vs beast" moment is so primal, and I think it's also what keeps fishermen coming back for more. It's survival that clicks in, even though I can buy whatever food I need at the grocery store. It's a deep, innate instinct that hooks us into sports like this. And, the fish also primal, fights instinctively, a drive thousands of years old that says: no. Fight. Stay alive.

That drive is so strong in fish, their bodies so primal, their hearts keep beating for hours after they're dead. This phenomenon is shared by other creatures, such as turtles and frogs. Long after that crappie was dead, its head cut off, gutted and its body in my freezer, its heart kept beating hours after. If you're brave enough to place the heart next to your own blood vessel, like on your wrist, it will continue beating for hours, syncing up with the rhythm of your own blood flow. This drive to live, to survive, to keep moving forward.

I inherited many things from my dad: his tackle, his pole, but also his willingness to follow his dreams and the hook of hope for what's around the next bend. Like the fish, my dad's heart keeps beating after death. It lives in me, and in all that have hope for the next good catch.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Summer recap: what we do in the off season

So what does a girl do in the off season whose dogs take up much of her time in the fall and winter?

You would think the answer is relax, but we have been very busy this summer! Clearing trees, creating new puppy paths for daily walks with the dogs on our property, renovating this old farm house, and yakking! 

"Yakking" - my affectionate term for kayaking - has been a passion of mine for about the last eight years. This summer, I have officially passed the yakking bug over to my 12-year old daughter, Elise. She's become quite good at it too. 

Elise in the background being cool on her kayak
This summer has been unbelievably hot, with a total accumulation of three weeks worth of days at 90 degrees or above, so it was perfect to spend lots of time on the water. For her first kayak, I didn't want to invest too much. My Wilderness System is a mid-level kayak that costs about what you'd expect a mid-level kayak to cost. Not knowing if Elise would "take the bait," I opted for an "entry-level" Sundolphin brand sit-on-top kayak for her birthday in May. She had been kayaking in a tandem yak with me before, but this was the first time completely on her own. I gave her a brief lesson about the basics, and she took to it swimmingly! She's become quite adept on the water too and can easily keep up with me when paddling. We have enjoyed many hours paddling together this summer watching the fantastic sunsets over the lake by the Ranch.

Taken with my "real" camera: on of the amazing sunsets at the lake we kayak on

Elise's silhouette while watching the sun setting in the west
One thing I adore about kayaking is, because it's relatively silent depending on how you paddle, it allows for an extremely up-close and personal view of wildlife. I have seen more wildlife while paddling than at any other time, including by dog sled or backpacking. Elise got to see her first active beaver couple doing beaver things beside their den, muskrats, countless blue heron, falcons, hawks and many other animals.

A lone beaver swimming in the setting sun
We have been doing lots of fishing this summer too. Elise caught a fairly large catfish one evening, and last evening while kayaking, I caught a 12 inch crappie from the same lake. 

Elise focusing on her line

Me and the "crappie" - an unfortunate name for a beautiful fish

When it wasn't too hot, we trekked many miles hiking in various places where Pokemon don't go. 

Elise and her sister, Sophie on a family trip

Cooling their feet in the creek after a hike


We have ventured into less wild places too, like Stan Hywett Hall & Gardens in Akron - the largest house in Ohio. 

A view of the hall from the rose garden on the 70 acre grounds

Sophie and Elise in Stan Hywett mansion

And we have ventured into various craft stores and been silly ...

Sophie in Pat Catan's bouncing a giant fluff ball on her head ... 

...while a masked Elise watches on

Now we are gearing up for fall training to begin, and that normally begins around Labor Day, but I have little faith that the temps will cool off by then for us to run. 

Here's to a great summer and blanket weather ahead! 

A grainy cell phone photo from an evening when it was cool enough to cuddle in a blanket
Until next time,

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Bender

I watched a man die last night in the
Hollow din of twilight.
He was on a bender, a dance with death that weaved left of center colliding
With a semi tanker, the airbag, metal.
I, too, taunted death, but in my own morose mind, not through wine but through a bloodletting I so craved.

But in that moment when I watched you collide in crushed metal and smoke poof that
primal survival part of me took hold and I ran to you. I watched you
gurgle blood and gasp for each shallow breath. I touched you,
felt the heartbeat intent on life, that futile heartbeat.
Silly heart.
It's just a muscle, all brawn. It does not know to quit. And so it pumped and
until your lungs filled with blood and you gurgled.
I told you it would be alright.
I lied.
But I wanted to believe. I wanted so badly to believe
for you as well as for me.

Intention is everything.

Now, I am haunted by the acrid smell of the alcohol and blood on your breath, I am haunted
by the futile gurgle.
Airbag, blood and alcohol
Did you intend to dance with death?
I had been taunting her, too,
But in your death, I found my salvation.

- for Bradley Dillman  9/29/15

Special note: for those who are unfamiliar with the term "bloodletting" in an historical sense, please click here.