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.
I wish I also had that love of something that gives a peaceful and nourished mind…I keep looking, but it is still elusive.
Happy New Year, my Friend! I’m so glad we met through blog land!
Char….beautiful photos, beautifully told. And that last photo of you on the riverbank. I feel like I could reach out and touch your shoulder. And you’d turn around and smile. As if you’re going to rise up, grab that pole, walk to the edge and cast. So glad I read this, today of all days: first day of a brand new year. How lucky are we to have a friendship that has lasted through how many fish caught and released? How many moments caught, held, released again? The only thing that makes me feel gone (put italics on that last word, wouldja?) is diving into a book. Being swallowed whole by it and almost refusing to come back out even for a sunset or cooking or walking through the woods or falling into someone’s eyes. You come back with ‘nothing’ from that, too. And yet your entire being, your cellular makeup, is completely changed. Organs rearranged. If it’s a great book, you’re remade. And you, I keep thinking, you – who has so many things she falls into all the time: your photography, your creativity, your painting, your art. But then as you say you are left with something ‘to show for it’. He comes home empty-handed and yet not empty at all. Here’s to 2015. So glad it got here right on time.
Oh my dear Janny. Yes, yes…how many moments caught and released again? So many. You’ve just made my post better with this comment. Writing, as usual, everything so much better than I ever could. Closer to the bone and the heart. Yes…a book. You’re right. And how could I have forgotten, when just this morning I laid one down so beautiful, so perfect that I was bereft at the conclusion. How could it dare to finish? Any Human Heart by William Boyd.
My God.. you have the most beautiful skin.. but that was my second thought… my first thought was – if you did come to the farm one day, you might find that other place ness, that Gone Ness, as you worked and worked and thinked and thnked – then ceased to think. I find it here, in the fields and gardens..
Ha ha! That’s my back! And, it’s a picture from a few years back. Four, I think. I’m not trying to make myself look young, it’s just the last picture ever taken of me whilst the Mister was Fishing. (The Fishing Mister. I like that.) Yes…the thing that comes closest to me for that emptiness is, like my friend Janet, either reading or something related to work. The creative work comes close — definitely a drug that works — but it’s also wrapped up in ego and fear and insecurity and “is it good enough?” etc. I think following your orders like a worker bee would be great.
And I want to go to Cecilia’s Gone Ness! How beautiful what she writes…’that other place ness, that Gone Ness’. Out here there are farms just a few miles back in the valley, there are places where the pastures meet the mountains and the creeks and streams meet all of them. Filled with gardens and greenhouses, dairy cows and some sheep, and every few days or so, elk. Roosevelt Elk. Their furry primordial scruffs running the long length of their necks and their long, lean faces chewing so serene, and us always hoping/wishing/praying/half-yelling for them not walk out on the highway, not to come close to our cars. In the spring there are community gatherings to cut back all the berry bushes and Oregon Grape which runs riot into the fields, and in the summer there are more gatherings to plant trees along the creek sides to keep the water in check. Fall is the best because of the apples and the cider pressings and then all the skins and cores thrown out in the grass for the elk to eat. It sounds bucolic, and sometimes it is, but for the farmers it’s always hard work and constant, something growing too fast or some greenhouse torn by the wind or some crop being eaten by birds and like Cecilia says it’s work and work and work. It’s like what you have in Burgundy, Char. Only Burgundy is actually more beautiful. We thought of Roberto the other day because the Steelhead salmon are running in the streams and the estuaries right now so thick and numerous you could almost walk on them, and at night all winter long the crab boats are in the bay, out on the horizon, their lights bobbing so bright they look like Christmas lights ringed across the ocean. Again that sounds so perfect but it was 21 degrees last night and all we can think is how long they spend out there in the freezing cold and the uncompromising wind, all the treacherous water now with the sudden storms, and how their livelihoods depend on what they can bring back every three days. I sit here in the warmth of a rental house typing and have it so easy. While so many people in this rural tri-village community work and work and work, three jobs at the very least, doing what’s necessary to stay alive. It is…humbling.
Yes, it is…all…humbling. I think about my chosen line of work with deeply mixed feelings. It certainly help turn the economic wheels, but it doesn’t qualify as what my grandparents would have thought of as “work.” It’s a modern construct, what we do. And I sometimes yearn for the skill to do something more– what’s the word…found it–essential. I think about fisherman all the time, the kind you write about, the kind that face the ocean and vagaries of nature every single day. Danger. Elements. Chance. Hope. Fisherman of all types live on hope. And, come to think of it, so do we. Love having you here.
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