I am married to a fisherman. In some households that constitutes widowhood: a spouse abandoned, while the other stands next to a stream or river or sea. I’m most usually only a Sunday widow. But it’s OK in the extreme. When he’s happy, I’m happy. And fishing makes him deeply happy in a way that I can’t. Marriage comes to this: making space for those things that fulfill the other. No?
I can’t say that I share his passion for fishing in the same hands-on way. I don’t. But I do love fishing from a philosophical distance. I admire and deeply respect it as a pass-time. Any activity that requires sustained stillness, patience, observation, instinct, and an abiding love of nature speaks to my heart. Any love that brings out the best in you, allows you to be no one but yourself, and seduces you away from the lures of modern, technological life and consumerism wins it.
Have you heard of Paul Quinnett? He’s a psychologist and avid fisherman who writes books about both psychology and fishing. (Pavlov’s Trout: The Incompleat Psychology of Everyday Fishing, Darwin’s Bass: The Evolutionary Psychology of Fishing Man and Fishing Lessons). He is too quotable for me to limit him to a line or two here. But perhaps the line he’s chosen to introduce his book, is a more than adequate starter. You can imagine where it goes from here:
Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing
it is not fish they are after. —Henry David Thoreau
This is no doubt true. My husband is a catch-and-release fisherman only. He brings nothing home but a mysteriously nourished peace of mind. And that being the case, there’s no protest I can offer that really stands up. When I “nag” at him about fishing, what’s really bothering me is not his absence. It’s that I have nothing in my own life that gives me precisely that satisfaction, and for the same combination of reasons. When he fishes, he’s “gone.” Do you know what I mean? Gone. Away. On his own. In a meditative state of release.
Our house is full of fishing books and magazines. Carved primitive fishes from barrier islands and third world countries. Fishing paintings and prints from God knows when or where. An antique German print I bought on Third Avenue in NYC. Fish my children painted him for his birthday before they could speak properly. Indonesian “secret message” fish. Sugar spoons shaped like fish. Bottle openers with scales and tales. Fish-adorned porcelain and plates collected at vide-greniers scattered around Burgundy. Mounted, antique pikes. Fishing rods. Reels. Bait, new and antique.
Don’t tell him I said this, but I rather love it. The paraphernalia. The stuff. The years of collected knowledge. I feel at home with this other love of his, even if I envy her even-keeled temper and her steadily seductive ways. Maybe, as many women manage to do, I will actually become best friends with her. Maybe, I’ll pick up a rod one of these days and see what the love is really all about. Until then, I’ll watch and love fishing from afar.