God Fishes From The Bank
I doubt it’s an accident how well a cricket fits the mouth of a crappie and the palm of a hand. My hands have touched neither from the deck of a big boat. And I am glad.
At a dockside restaurant a few weeks ago, stewing in a balmy late afternoon, I caught myself looking a long while at a yacht. A big one, young and lithe, with an upturned prow, as Mr. Fitzgerald would note. And it struck me a boat is a poor measure of a man or woman’s heart. Sexy and lovely, yes they are. I lust after them. People jiggle their backsides and tinkle their glasses aboard them. Happy and aglow for a time. Borrowing from the original film, Arthur, a yacht doesn’t suck.
But on a pond bank, with no yacht-deck lovelies to check on my derriere, no champagne or waiters sweating their worsted wool to carry it for me, I am happy. More than happy, I am content. Thoughtful of what is good and thoughtless of what gets bothersome when a man’s boat is bigger than what his peace requires.
No, now, I am not so Thoreau that I don’t dig a cool boat. I dig them with my inner man-child, in that barefoot way that swamps the blues and tans me to my heart.
But on a freshwater lake bank a day or so ago, I wrestled a livid largemouth bass in on a spinning reel, honored him with admiration, un-hooked him, and sent him worshipfully back to his congregation. He belongs to the high church of the American farm pond. And so do I.
The pond is rimmed with trees old as my Granny would be. That means they shelter off the worst of the world’s heat, letting only the warm, soft summer light fall on a man who, with a rod and reel in his hands, is a boy again in that place. It’s organic, but tolerant of what’s not. Accepting of my artificiality. My sidewinder plastic worms and Rooster Tails please me the way Matchbox Cars and GI Joe once did. They require something of my imagination in my play time, and I’m glad. But if a cricket — a real one — were to hop handily into my palm on that pond bank, I’d fish with him. I’d hook him, baptize him, and soon lure out a crappie or a bass or an oversize bream, and I would feel not one twinge of Orvis-inspired inferiority. This is soup beans sport that soothes even the caviar set. The kind of fishing that’ll never require a thing from the Ralph Lauren collection. I know of no yacht able to navigate to this shore. Ralph can’t quite get here from there. No set of goat leather chaps and a shirt with piping and 31 pockets can show the way.
On that pond bank, it struck me that men, somewhere, were hauling through airports, lugging bags weighted at 83 pounds of the finest fly gear, spin tackle, waders, leaders, wading socks, felt-bottom shoes, and pocket knives that cost as much as a little girl’s entire pond bank tackle box. They own watches worth more than some storm-worthy boats. And I had just caught three fish that outweigh the the carryon luggage they’re hoisting on fishing trips to places with names like Jackson Hole and Kennebunkport. Places that roaming gnome might go.
Pond banks are holy, faithful places. Good walking-distance restoration of the mind. No plane ticket required. No restaurant checks in the three digits for two. Perhaps a pond bank is God’s own yacht. Even with my share of fancy, overpriced man toys, I know this in my heart. I know a mortal heaven when I get its mud on my feet. There’s divinity in a fat angry bluegill, caught and released by a young girl’s hands, but not her heart. A hallowedness lives on that shore. And I, an enduring boy, am more alive there than on so many of the big boats that have seen the bottoms of my overpriced fun shoes.
Mr. Thoreau made a home at Walden perhaps to light each of us a way to our own pond. A mud hole to a yacht, sure. But when the eyes and hearts of grown men and women walk as children on its water, the storms of their souls turn sweet with calm.
And there, the crickets need no flutes to raise a toast, after all.