Goin' Fishing - Channeling My Dad's Favorite Hobby

Sunday, January 15, 2023

 "I go fishing not to find myself but to lose myself." 

-Joseph Monninger  

Anyone who loves fishing can probably relate to this quote. I know that if my father was still here, he would. My dad was a lifelong fisherman. Fishing was many things for him. It was an escape, a challenge, a sport shared with friends and my mom, a date with nature. He enjoyed fishing from the time he was a boy until just a few years before his death at age 78.

Like most of his interests, Dad was an 'all in' kind of guy when it came to fishing. He had the necessary equipment, in fact he had 'all' the equipment, far above and beyond the 'necessary' stuff. Rods and reels, lures, depth finders, nets, waders, boats, filet knives, etc... He could have opened a small fishing shop with all the 'necessities' he'd acquired over his lifetime.  When I was a kid after a rainy day he'd send me outside after dark to pick night crawlers.   Night crawlers in our basement refrigerator was a pretty normal thing.

 Of course in order to fish, one needs a place to fish.  He had that too.  Though he fished at various lakes in his younger days, his favorite fishing hole was Saratoga Lake - the lake he fished as a boy and where he owned a home the last 41 years of his life.  Even before buying property on the lake, he spent weekends and summers there.  He didn't just fish in the warm weather, he loved ice fishing too and he and my mom enjoyed fishing on Lake George in their retirement, even though he had his own lake just outside his front door.

fishing - A form of meditation, some form of communion with levels of yourself that are deeper than the ordinary self.  -Ted Hughes

Every Saturday morning Dad collected his gear and traipsed down the driveway, across Route 9P, and loaded up his boat, ready to enjoy a morning of his favorite sport.  Dad had fishing buddies who joined him, sometimes in his boat, some he met up with out on the lake, and often his partner in crime was my mom.  She shared the thrill of the catch as much as he did.  Though some hobbies we acquire as adults, the photo history I've inherited clearly shows that Dad's love of the hobby started young.  And that love never waned, although his enthusiasm dampened in later years when his fishing hole became overpopulated with speed boats and jet skis, ruining the serenity he was accustomed to. 

A man's 'one last cast' is like a woman's "I'll be ready in 5 min.

Dad would come in from a morning on the lake, unload his gear, carry it back across the road, up the driveway and put it all back in its organized space and then settle down for what always came next....cleaning the catch.  Dad didn't just fish for the fun of the catch, he ate his catch and often shared his catch with neighbors and friends, but not before he pristinely filleted each and every walleye, blue gill, perch or sun fish.  This was quite a job and though he was skilled from many years of experience, he had a faithful assistant who not only supervised his work, but happily ate any scraps Dad threw his way.

These two were quite a team.  Mom would then take the filets and divide them up into Ziploc bags for the freezer.  She was a pro at cooking the fresh catch. 

My grandfather (l), my dad and my Uncle Ray (r)

My Aunt Twin (l), my grandmother, and Dad (r)

I never quite understood or shared Dad's passion for the sport of fishing.  Sitting in a boat for hours waiting for a fish to bite my worm was something I didn't have the patience for when I was young, but I I always knew it was something that brought my Dad immense joy, on many levels.   This week something struck me that made me finally get it.  I now understand.

I love taking photos.  Everyone who knows me knows that, but hardly anyone really understands why.  My family, my closest friends, or anyone other than a fellow photographer pretty much just doesn't get it.  I've never been able to really explain it and until now have really simply felt it was just something that no one who didn't share the hobby would ever really 'get'.  But thinking about my Dad's love of fishing made me see the parallel between the two hobbies.

When we go out on the road for a drive, most of the time it's with the hope and intent of finding that perfect photo - the 'money shot' as I call it.  Like with fishing, weather conditions have to be just right. For me there needs to be some sun, some blue sky, maybe some fluffy clouds or dark, angry clouds, etc...  As with fishing, I never know what I'm going to catch.  Some days we come home with only a few good shots, some days with many 'keepers' and some days we come home with the payload.  Every time out is an adventure, not knowing what lies around the next bend.

Many men go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they're after.     -Henry David Thoreau

Also like fishing, our photo seeking trips take us out of the chaos to a quieter, more serene place where the only thing we hear are the sounds of nature.  We are alone in our own sacred space where we can unwind and reflect and focus on the things that calm our minds and slow our anxious nerves.  Like fishing, every expedition is new and different, and filled with excitement and uncertainty.  When we come home, I anxiously upload and sometimes 'clean' my 'catch' and ready them for sharing.   Dad shared his catch and I share mine.  Just as Dad caught thousands of walleyes and perch over the years, each one was exciting as he reeled them in.  I have so many photos of the same barns, seasons after seasons, yet each new capture is exciting.   When the flag on Dad's ice fishing tip-ups would pop up, he and my mom would run to that hole to see what was on the end of the line.  It never got old.  I don't think catching a perfect sunset or finding a new dirt road will ever get old for me.

Fishing is not an escape from life but often a deeper immersion into it.

 - Harry Middleton

Dad and I may never have shared his passion for fishing, but I can finally say that now I understand it. We may have been trolling for a different prize, but the joy, the satisfaction, the thrill are very much the same.  My Dad was a pretty special guy and I'll never stop missing him but am so thankful for the memories and the photos I cherish.

Me and Dad

Me and Dad

Keeping Your Family Roots Intact Long After You're Gone

Thursday, January 5, 2023

 To forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without a source, 
a tree without a root. 
— Chinese Proverb

The land behind our house is part of a protected wetland, deemed forever wild. On either side of a stream there is a large portion of land that provides us with a view that changes dramatically with the seasons. At times we can barely see beyond our property line because the vegetation is so dense, but when autumn comes and the leaves drop, our view expands dramatically. In that view, I am able to see this fallen tree, roots still intact, some several years after it fell. On most days I look at the massive root base which sits like a giant roadblock in an otherwise open field, but the other day when I noticed it for the first time since the view opened up again, a different sentiment came to mind.

I'm not sure exactly when this tree fell, at least five years ago or more.  Although some parts of the top edges seem to be missing, it fascinates me that for the most part, it remains pretty intact, even after all this time.  From my perspective looking out the window, it's hard to be sure just how large the root base is (although the tree itself was quite tall and reaches far from its original spot to close to the edge of our property), so I sent John out, muck boots and all, to get a photo close-up.  I snapped a shot using my cell phone and was shocked to see by comparison (he's 5'8") just how large the root base actually is.

 If you've been reading my blogs for a minute, you know that my brain works in analogies and this was no different.  Almost immediately after noticing the still present, still intact root base, my mind began to churn.  That root base reminded me of family, specifically the strength of a family base.

This analogy perhaps originated from my genealogy research these past few years, along with my obsession with old family photos and the stories written in my Storyworth book.  Family and family history have always been important to me, but more so in the past few years.  When I look at the root base, I see large roots stretching in all directions....those are our early ancestors.  They are the origin of the family, its base.  From that base comes lesser roots, the next generations, followed by smaller roots- generations that follow.   Between the roots dirt is packed in, the roots hold it firmly so that even after years of being exposed to the elements of the seasons, it still remains mostly intact.  And among the roots and dirt, some new life, tiny vegetation takes hold and attempts to grow.  The dirt, for me, represents the health, the glue, of the family.

I think families are like this tree root.  Our ancestors are the basis for the family; they begin the whole process. How that process goes depends on many factors. For a tree, it depends on the soil conditions, the weather, wildlife....all of which can enhance it's growth or terminate it. Families are the same. They can be strong and sturdy or they can be weak and vulnerable. Unlike the trees in the forest who are at the mercy of the conditions that can't be controlled, families can be nurtured and preserved. When I look at this tree base I see a long lineage of a family, a family that has survived the generations, nurtured by love and support into a strong family unit. It's base (its history) remains long after it's uprooted, and long after its founding family are gone.

I think it's up to us, as keepers of our families and their history, to do what we can to make our base strong.  We need to intentionally work to keep our family stories alive through the generations.  We need to make sure the young people in the family know the people who came before them.  We need to make sure the young people in our family know the elders who are still with us and build those relationships.  We need to tell stories and share photos and celebrate our roots.   We need to honor our family history so that it will be strong and intact long after we're gone. I was fortunate to grow up in a family that valued family and the preservation of family history.  I spent many Sunday afternoons around my family dinner table listening to stories told by grandparents and great aunts and uncles.  I have boxes of family photos and memorabilia.  Those times, those artifacts, those memories are the glue that has kept our family together.  That is the 'dirt' that holds the roots, big and small, together.  It's the stuff that made me value how I got to be who I am today and the people who were here before me as well as those who were my support along the way, just like those tree roots.  I think that solid base is what kept my family strong, even during the storms.  I'm grateful for the people who came before me that were the dirt that held our family roots together.

I want to be like that giant root base, still a giant presence and foundational part of the family that remains long after I'm gone.  Don't you?  

History remembers the celebrated.  Genealogy remembers them all.
-Laurence Overmire

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