A Fisher of Children
In a cloudy August afternoon, the cry goes up for a fishing party. We dig for worms, rustle through the barn for a net, check the hooks and leaders, grab a few poles, and soon we're off in the old red pickup, headed down to the trout stream through a narrow back road that is closed in winter. Each of my three older children is wearing big rubber boots with red soles and carrying high expectations about who will catch the first fish. The bed of the old truck jostles and shakes independently from the cab as we drive slowly over the narrow dirt track, up over the mountain, and then down again through a dark hollow. Clouds sail low over the mountaintops and a small field behind a white farmhouse disappears into the mist. We rattle by the meadow where the last tribe of local Indians under Chief Chunks once made camp, a stand of curved white birch and poplar edging out into the grass. We drive deeper into the woods until we suddenly emerge onto the main road and turn left toward our fishing hole.
After the thrill of the first casts, we settle into a routine, my oldest, Whitney, taking the project most seriously, checking her lure carefully, a Mepps or perhaps a Marble Spinner or a Sonic Rooster Tail. Caroline, my second daughter, soon loses interest and, removing her boots, wades into the shallow current, looking for rocks and small fish. I crouch down next to Charlie, my only son, helping him cast into the pool, amid cries of "Let me do it." Soon, I am just a spectator, watching my three oldest children off on their own, enjoying the river each in their own way.
Here I sit, a fisher of children, casting about with a great box of lures, applying all of the tricks I have learned in my lifetime to snare each of my children with love but also to prepare them for the rigors of adulthood. As they grow older, they become harder to catch, like wild trout who are easily spooked by the slap of line on water or who have fickle tastes, the fly not perfectly matching the evening hatch. They grow more patient with time, considering the bait before lunging. And once caught, they put up a good fight, often running out the line or snagging it on a rock, the hook spit out and useless.
I must learn to be more clever as the years pass. I sit by the side of this famous trout stream and watch patiently, looking for a single rise in the still pool and choosing my fly carefully. With children as with fish, the approach is everything. One poor cast and the fishing is over for the day, the waders stripped off and thrown back in the pickup for the ride home. Whitney is perhaps the cleverest of my children, an old trout who is always on guard, questioning hidden motives before I know I have them. She will only be caught willingly, taking the offered fly with full knowledge of the consequences. Caroline is carefree but wily, keenly adept at manipulating others with breezy charm and false enthusiasm. She will take the fly that is offered out of sheer lust for life, enjoying the action; the great leaps from the water and the final landing, my hands holding her gently. She is no loner, no solitary brook trout content in her pool. When I reel her in, I often realize that she has landed me. She is the real fisher in this family, the consummate player, the one who is most attuned to the whims and needs of others. And then there is Charlie who, still young, has enthusiasm and energy for all things. Every offering is worth a nibble and often a lunging strike. And once hooked, he is capable of a great fight, banging his head against the river bottom to dislodge an unwanted barb or running underneath the boat to tangle the line. He is a fisherman's dream, a hot streak of quicksilver, giving the fight of his life on every cast.
And then I think of other fishermen I have met over the years, their voices carrying clearly from a far shore, or perhaps I remember hearing just a whisper of encouragement at my side in the kitchen. They were unexpected visitors who pushed me into deeper currents before I knew I was ready, who used all the guile of an old angler to make me put up a good fight. And, as I sit on the rocky shore, I watch each of my children and hope that they, too, will hear a voice, one that speaks to them about deeper currents. It will not be my voice. It will be an old hand who can cast a thousand yards, the fly kissing the surface of the water lightly, waiting patiently for those who are willing to rise to the occasion.