Having grown up at the ocean, I’ve always been fascinated by the people who cast their lines into the pounding surf.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve envied people who fish. Not for livelihood, but for pleasure. Their signs hanging on the office door when they are on vacation “Gone fishin’” filled me with a quiet sense of envy and sometimes despair that I didn’t pursue a similar activity to fill me with that much enjoyment.
On my morning strolls around the lake the fishermen and women standing by the water’s edge look so peaceful and fulfilled as they cast their line and wait, patiently for a bite. They rummage through their boxes to find just the right bait which they expertly place on their hooks with dexterous fingers. Rain, sun, crowds – none of it seems to matter as they block out the world in anticipation of their catch of the day. I often wonder if they are disappointed if their patience yields no catch or are they satisfied with just being there, united with nature, solitude and anticipation in the sheer bliss of the act of fishing.
They come to the lake, early in the morning, with their lines and their boxes and their chairs and their meals. Sometimes they have hip boots on, sometimes they have boats. They look neither left nor right as they nestle into their favorite spot where they will camp out for the day. They have their tools and their talent and they are determined to make this day count.
I’ve often wondered what is the draw for fishing? Is it the preparation? Why would someone get up before dawn to don the regalia of a fisherperson with no guarantee that this will result in success, defined as a fish on a hook? Are they there for dinner, and what happens if they don’t catch something today? Will they trod dejectedly to the fish counter at the grocery store and tell the clerk about their failure?
Or will they chalk it up to the joys of the activity, intermittent reinforcement – sometimes you win, sometimes you lose – but what matters is being in the game?
Or, is it just being there? The sheer joy of being in nature, because, after all, what other outdoor activity is sanctioned for its failure in the outcome?
But since I’m squeamish about impaling struggling bait on a hook and even more so about pulling a larger struggling fish off a hook, I realized early on that the pursuit of fishing as a pastime was not in my repertoire of experiences.
A reasonable facsimile to fishing for me is writing. There are many similarities. The solitude, silently waiting for a bite, shutting out the world and learning not to be distracted by the presence of others.
Casting a line with a worm on the end is a lot like putting an idea on the paper. Will something bite or, like many of the errant bait that make their getaway, will my idea lay fallow and demand abandonment, in lieu of another, better idea that takes hold?
I often ponder the best way to capture it. Computer screen or sheet of paper? Like those who fish, using the right equipment and the right bait can make the difference between grabbing hold of something or coming up empty. I’ve never scientifically explored the notion that one method is better than another, but I am aware that the physical act of holding a pen and placing it to paper often creates a more fulfilling connection between my ideas and the words that result.
Sometimes the idea will grow into a large squirmy form taking shape on the page as I scribble furiously to catch it before it gets away. Then there are times when the idea remains a small writhing blip on the screen that refuses to be more than its kernel. Yet, no matter the outcome, the sheer act of showing up and permitting myself to be one with my thoughts gives me the satisfaction of having claimed my place in the world that day, whether it was for a minute, an hour or longer.
In that space of time, I the writer and the satisfied fisherperson sitting over there under the shade tree are united. We have owned our moment; any outcome is a bonus.