As winter turns to spring, The Observer finds again the urge to get our fishing pole and tackle box, dig some worms out in the backyard, and go fishing. We surely need that calm stillness in our life right now, with the world seeming to slouch toward chaos day-by-day and at times hour-by-hour. Fishing, thank God, is the same as it ever was: the bobbing cork and cast line, the hook and bait, enticing fishes who troll the dappled, hidden depths of the Good Lord's waters. It's a hassle to get there: boat and tackle and untangling the fishing pole or cutting that long stick of breakwater cane like granddaddy did, maybe, then heading off to Wally World for bobbers and a fishing license so we don't get picked up by The Man, but we'll be damned if we don't miss it sometimes.
It is, as we said, the stillness of it that's appealing in times like these — the silent focus, waiting for that tug that may come now or never, a kind of meditation in and of itself, the mind caught on its own hook, unable to wander far enough inward that the bobber recedes to a blur on the water, but unwilling to occupy itself with anything else other than what might or might not come, the fishy spot sought out, the bait cast just perfectly between tangling cypress and muddy bank, the feeling when you know you're in the sweetness, then the rush of anticipation when the cork shivers once, twice, touched by invisible lives below the mirror surface of the deep. Don't ever let anybody talk bad about your relatives who head off to fish on warm Sundays instead of suiting up and going to church. The Observer has come to believe that fishing is its own, wholly valid religious experience, given that it is a moment when a mortal human being, takes time from this very finite life to cast the line and hook, so like a question mark, then wait still and quiet and faithful that The Great Hidden Fish might choose this moment to reveal himself or herself or itself.
It was The Observer's dearly departed Pa who taught Yours Truly how to fish, to tie the sturdy knot through the eye of a hook, to make the sacrifice of a cricket, worm or minnow. Pa loved the lake so much that when Yours Truly was a lad, he and Ma saved their pennies to buy a muddy, oddly shaped lot at Lake Conway. It was mostly vines and thorny brambles, so thick that Pa had to hack his way through with an Army surplus machete to even see the water after the papers were signed. But within a few years, he had a house on the land, a clear view of the lake, a meandering path through the cottonwoods to the water; a hundred-foot dock, lined with bell-shaped lights that could be turned on from the house with the flick of a switch. The Observer's boyhood is very much swirled in together with that place, which was sold off just after Yours Truly turned 12 for reasons we're still not clear about.
The house had a long, screened sleeping porch, and at night in the summer The Boy Observer and assorted, sunburnt kinfolks would try to find sweltering sleep there, listening to the calls of strange, nightwise birds, seeing the scarce glimmer of lights on the far shore the only sign that other human beings existed in the world. The fool we were then didn't care much for the place, with its mosquitoes and coiled water moccassins and fish gut smells. The only entertainment in the place, by Pa's design, was a single black and white TV whose screen could have been easily covered by a cereal box — that and the lake, of course — so we remember being very bored there from time to time when the fish weren't biting, or it was raining, or the sun burned down too hot to fish. But we can tell you this: We miss that place fiercely still, dream about it, consider it in traffic to this day when we're in a mood to think on the life and legacy of Pa, gone 16 years now. The Observer would give damn near anything to be back there now, watching a cork bob in the saw-toothed shade of the cypress just left of the dock, elbows on the rail, waiting patiently for the nibble that revealed the riot of life just below the surface.