Inching Toward Simplicity: Pragmatics and Prose

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fishing Truths



This weekend Tom, Gavin, and I tried fishing. Salt water--you don’t need a permit for the marine district in Connecticut. I hadn’t fished since before I was 6 years old. Tom’s last cast was at 12, and for Gavin it was a first.

First came the flurry of gear acquisition, a fun field trip to the outdoorsman’s mecca, Cabella’s. Then the novelty of bait purchase, sandworms and a meaty fish. Tom grappled with the pole’s mechanisms, different from the secondhand rod he’d acquired as a child. Then, finally, the day of the dock.

Such expectation! My father had been a fisherman, and I wanted to honor his spirit with the same intense commitment. But I couldn’t bait the monster of a sandworm, something straight out of a Grade B horror flick. I couldn’t watch it writhe, couldn’t witness the horrifying twin squirms after it was bisected.

Tom had his own ideal to aspire to, that of the father-son bond that comes from looking out over the water and waiting. And wait we did. For a 6-year-old, it wasn’t easy. Gavin pulled in his line a lot, to see if the bait was still there. He climbed the steps up to where he could look across at the osprey aerie. He peered into other family’s buckets, gear boxes. I walked him down to the other end of the boardwalk, hoping we’d spot a turtle. We commented on the raising and lowering of the train bridge, the curve of a sleek sail, the narrow beach that got buried under vegetation since spring.

I knew it was inevitable, after all Gavin was asked to wait for more than an hour. “I’m bored; when can we go?” A few more casts by Tom, who’d found his groove and had a few tugs by way-too-clever fish. “When can we go?” came again and again, each echo closer to the last. I was timing the whines like contractions.

Gavin did well, for the first time out. Even for me, with my father’s legacy and my quest for simplicity, it was hard to ease into. Through it all, there was always that distant hope for a fish, mixed with the realization that I hadn’t a clue what to do with it. This sitting and waiting, this gazing out, this not knowing the outcome felt foreign, in one way. And I could have done without the bait smells. But it also felt free; it felt accepting and calm and rare.

It’s good that we did this, this waiting and watching, together. I hope our abilities to acquire both quiet contemplation and dinner can grow together, as a family.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Silent Nights



The temperature reached the mid 90s last night, so I tolerated the icy drone of the AC as I fell to sleep. I prefer to avoid the AC, even at the cost of feeling a bit sticky. It makes me feel confined, shut off.

I thought back to childhood evenings of summer. I had an early bedtime, and never an air conditioner. Lying flat under a thin sheet, I fell to sleep listening. The requisite crickets all summer, of course. Chris, three years my senior and the ultimate crush of my youth, sitting on the curb with his friends, their restless voices making plans. The voices of Chris’ parents in their yard, lingering as the barbeque cooled. The rise and fall of my own family’s voices, less frequent as they tired. My sleepy mind could never follow the conversation.

As I listened, I also watched. Watched the slant of the light as cars drove down the street, watched it elongate and then narrow the shadow of my blinds and lace curtains. Sometimes in early evening or early morning the shadow of a bird on the telephone wire graced my pink wallpaper. Or sometimes bare tree branches appeared in silhouette. In the winter, of course, fewer sounds to accompany my drift. But I heard the rain, or the early morning snow plow. On autumn trips to our Vermont cabin I heard Daddy get up and get the fire going. For a few weeks every winter I watched the halo of light around a plug-in blue Christmas candle, the same color that I imagined for the Virgin Mary’s robe. I was filled with a holy feeling.

I was struck with gratitude that my room had been completely “unplugged”. Pre computers and cell phones of course. But no AC, no phone, no TV. What a different person I might have become if I’d fallen asleep every night to the TV, or to the sound of cool, compressed air filling my room. What if hadn’t heard summer just before I fell asleep? What if I hadn’t woken to birdsong? I swear I can hear the dusk and dawn, and even on the most stressful of days some small part of my mind treasures this connection.

When I left the still running AC behind in my bedroom this morning, the birds greeted me again. It was good to be back among the living.

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