Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Euclid and Bluefish

I didn’t get it at first either. You’re asking yourself what the hell do Euclid and bluefish have in common and how does Mike Rice even know who Euclid was? I’ll answer the latter and explain the former.

I was first introduced to Euclid while on a trip with my Latin Club to Italy when I was a junior in high school. My Latin teacher, Mr. Kothe, invited me to have a beer one afternoon while we were in Venice to talk about scholarly things. We sat at a cafĂ© on the edge of the Grand Canal drinking a Bavarian Spezial talking about life, knowledge and a girl that I thought the world revolved around. Mr. Kothe imparted to me passages from several poets about unrequited love and fools and ended with one of Euclid’s Common Notions:

“Things equal to the same thing are also equal to one another.”

We waited for another beer and he told me, “Someday Mr. Rice…not this day, but someday…Euclid will make sense to you, you will understand and you will find your way.”

He was right but it took me until sometime in my mid twenties to fully understand what it meant and why he said it at that time. Euclid may have been a math geek two thousand plus years ago but he was dialed in. Like so many things that Mr. Kothe taught me that seemed obscure at the time, I carry that concept with me and think of it often as I try to figure out life.

To explain the commonality between Euclid’s aforementioned postulate and bluefish, I have to tell another story before I get to the relevance of bluefish. I grew up on a farm in the hills of western Maine in a family that hunted. We hunted not for the “sport” of it but to put meat on the table. Hunting skills and the ways of the woods were handed from generation to generation. Opening day on the year I turned of legal hunting age was overcast and cold. I was nervous as we stepped over the fence of our field into the woods. I had gone with dad before and walked the woods and observed as he hunted but this time was different. That first day I couldn’t seem to do anything right. I tripped over every stick, log and rock. I made excruciatingly loud noises as I passed through the brush, got stuck in mud and I think I dropped my rifle a time or two. All of these blunders were met with that look, the one that I always tried to avoid getting from him. In the afternoon he sat me on a rock at the top of a bowl as he went below to hopefully push a deer out of the thicket back toward me. It seemed like hours that I sat there. It got colder, it started to rain…I just wanted to go home. Eventually he made his way back and we moved to the edge of a field. After discussing fields of fire and safety issues, he sat at one corner of the field and me at another. I kept looking over at him hoping he would get up and give me the sign to head for home. The dude never moved for the rest of the afternoon. At all. I thought I would lose my mind but there was no way I would show any sign that I was miserable. Years later he would tell me that his favorite part of hunting had nothing to do with hunting at all, it was just being out there away from everything complicated. He said that some of his best days hunting were days he didn’t see any deer.

Fast forward to late summer of 2006. Dad came down to Marshfield to visit and I wanted to take him fishing. We had never fished together much when I was growing up and other than a few head-boat trips he had never really fished on the ocean. At the time I was seven years into my fly fishing addiction, had a boat, all the gear and a ton of time on the water. I had spent countless hours alone on the water, in the sun, the rain, even in the snow pursuing my love of fly fishing. I wanted him to experience some of that. I wanted to show him my boat handling skills, knowledge of the rivers and parts of the ocean I called home and my ability to read the water and find fish. I had engine issues on my boat that hadn’t been fixed yet so my buddy Scott Washburn offered to take us out in his boat.

We met Scott at sunrise at the dock and we headed for the mouth of the river where we hoped to find some bluefish that had been hanging around. On the ride downriver I showed dad how to operate the bail on my spinning rod (yes I own one) and went over casting and what to expect if a bass or blue hit the Deadly Dick I had tied on. We got to a section of boulder fields at the mouth as the tide turned and started dropping. Birds were working over feeding fish and Scott got us right into them. The water was rough and we were getting bounced around but I didn’t think anything of it. I handed dad the spinning rod, put him in the bow and watched him make the first cast as I started casting my fly rod from the stern. I went tight to a blue as dad made another cast that ended with the line in a bird’s nest. I’ll be honest; I said a few four letter words under my breath when I saw that mess of line on the spool. I looked over at him as I put the blue onto the reel and for an instant saw the look upon his face that must have been on my face all those years ago in the woods. At that moment I realized that those looks were not so much directed at me as at himself, a realization that maybe things had not been explained or taught as completely as had been thought. I too had experienced moments like that with my daughter. Now I understood.

I hauled my blue in, released it, put my rod away and attacked the mess of line on the spinning rod. It wasn’t that bad and I had dad back fishing quickly. I stayed with him, talking him through the cast and the retrieve. He went tight to his first bluefish after a few casts and I will never forget the look on his face. One of surprise, joy and confusion all mixed together. He hooked a couple more blues and I noticed the look on his face was turning to one of anxious desperation and green tones. In my excitement to get him on fish I hadn’t even considered the conditions and his lack of experience being in a boat in two to three foot waves. The old man was getting seasick and having inherited his stubbornness and pride I knew he wouldn’t say anything. I released the blue he had on and told Scott I wanted to run inside to look for some bass. Once we got in on flat water dad looked a lot better and came back to life.

Later that day we sat on my stone patio drinking beer in the sun and I told him that my favorite part of fishing has nothing to do with catching fish, that I just love being on the water away from everything and that some of my best days on the water were days I didn’t catch a thing. I watched him with my daughter and thought about the events of that morning. Was this an example of history repeating itself? Had he and I in some way come full circle? In my world on the water had I become the teacher and he the student?  

I was driving home from work a few nights ago when dad called me to say that he had just finished dressing out a six point buck he had shot. He proceeded to tell me the story, how he had sat silently in his field in the cold and the wind waiting and watching for almost two hours for that buck to show. I totally understood the why and the significance.

I sit here on the river as I finish writing this and look out at the mouth where dad caught his first bluefish. Hunting to my father is what fishing is to me. And while we have had differences over the years, in many ways we are the same.

Euclid was right.

North River, MA
10 Nov 2013

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