Thursday, April 10, 2008

When to Cry Uncle

I hate to fish. My son loves it. The few times I’ve tried in my life have been experiences of mosquito bites, icky worms, and hours of desperate patience without the slightest nibble of return for my efforts. The fish know I am up there, as they lurk underneath, aware of my skepticism, taunting me by their restraint.

Crossing the English Channel a few days after D-Day, my father was one of the few survivors when his ship collided with a mine. Aside from a purple heart and a terrible story I have never actually heard him tell, he has not been comfortable on a boat of any kind since.

I love to sail. Also on the water, also requiring patience (especially in dead calm of a blistering August afternoon), also little physical effort surrounded by hours of sitting, I have felt an extraordinary peace of heart, adjusting the slack, connected to the line to the sail to the invisible Power of wind and sea.

My Uncles loved to sail. Bill lived on a Minnesota lake with a little dinghy and appointed me captain at the age of five, an honor I took seriously for years of visits. Uncle John sailed a Skipjack on the Chesapeake, seventy feet of broad power industriously commanding the open waters.

Mostly, there was my Uncle Gunner, a man of reserve and quiet calculation in life, corporate, and a part of the dreaded (at the time) Military Industrial Complex. But on the water, I knew a man who humbly honored his place on this Earth, and could quietly share with his nephew little things he knew might be appreciated. Standing at the wheel, silently surveying the trim, he was content beyond words, a lesson I absorbed with a willing heart.

My son has an uncle Don who loves to fish. A few years ago, they went out on the Delaware in a small boat for my son’s first experience. Planes on final approach droned constantly overhead, close enough to touch. The chop was relentless, drenching them. Clouds hung like a cold, grey blanket.

The bass were biting though. In a matter of an hour, they brought on board four fish at least 3’ long and heavy, battles that made the adrenaline surge, saturating the airwaves each time he called to let us know they had caught another.

It seemed nearly cruel to warn him that not all days are like that, but he has made several other trips with less success and remains enthusiastic. Next week, we plan to make the now annual pilgrimage back to the Delaware to fish with his uncle.

Perhaps I’ll join them for the boatride.

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