I remember going fishing. (7/2/06)
I remember going fishing with my dogs as a boy. Bright, hot days in late spring. There were always (and still are) many hawks around Podunk, mostly red-tales. At times, the hawks would circle one above the other, up to six at a time I recall. One hawk in the middle was usually the focus of swoops and aerobatics by the other hawks in the column. I intuited that this was mating behavior, though I don’t know if it was the correct time of year. Once I saw two hawks rise to the top of a column and come together violently and then plummet, wings flashing, for a hundred feet or so, coming apart dramatically a few yards above the ground. The presence of the hawks usually made my dogs nervous, causing them to stop and glance up every so often. During the aerial displays, Heidi and Sam were especially agitated, whining and fussing looking up at the birds. Perhaps they had had encounters with hawks that I didn’t know about. I felt at the time that they were responding empathetically to the tension of the moment. Somehow they knew the terrible importance of this display and were intimidated, wanting to be away from the arena.
I remember, as well. (7/5/06)
I remember, as well, being taught by my ichthyologist friend that I should approach pools in the stream with the sun in front of me. He explained that the trout in the pool were very smart, very wary, and if they saw my shadow pass over the pool they would know something was up. I often crouched low to the ground as I came up to a favorite spot so that the fish wouldn’t see me. I imagined the trout’s line of sight radiating out from its position in the creek, penetrating both air and water. If I stayed below it I might go unnoticed. My friend taught me also, to sneak up stream, dislodge a clump of sod and place it in the stream securing it with a large rock. As the dirt washed from the sod’s roots, a cloud of silt would wash down stream. If I could cast my bait into the cloud, the trout would believe it washed in off the bank and be more likely to strike. The times that I was disciplined enough to apply all these techniques often yielded a fish or two. When I had landed the fish and held it I was often afraid of its strength, like holding a disembodied struggling muscle.
I would kill the fish quickly, as per my friend’s instructions, so it would not suffer. Grabbing its upper jaw and bending its head back, quickly and sharply, till I felt its neck break. There would be a spasm of differing duration depending on the size of the fish, then stillness. After the killing, the fish would be wonderfully supple and loose in its body. I had a disturbing sense that the fish felt more alive when dead. Soon though, after having been in my creel, the trout would become stiff and dull, its eyes milky, its scales having lost their iridescence. I was usually content with having caught one or two fish and would return home without lingering. My father was usually glad to see the fish and I would cook them up for our lunch. I would fry them whole and my father would show me how to pull the skeleton out of the cooked fish head and all. He loved to have potatoes with the fish and dill, both usually from the garden. He always made a point of sucking the head and eating the eyes saying it was delicious. Catching and cooking fish for him was one of the few things I did as a child that seemed to please him.