Monday, December 1, 2014

A World Away

I had planned on fishing most of the morning; I didn’t plan on staying for most of the day. I got there two hours before dead low under a clear sky and a light breeze. The fishing had been consistent during the last of the drop. Sand eels were everywhere and the stripes were chewing on flat-wings with gusto. During the slack I started seeing a bunch of smaller schoolies coming up into just a few inches of water along the sand and then race back into the deep hole. A bit odd I thought. I was going to write it off as one of those things that happens when fishing sometimes until I figured out what the deal was.

It took a while because I didn’t have my glasses on. And I was watching planes. Yes, planes. The North and South Rivers are right under the flight path heading into Logan so there are always planes in the sky. These schoolies were not interested in the flat-wings. I figured I’d just keep mindlessly casting the flat-wing until the water changed. So I was watching airplanes.

I’ll get to the planes shortly. There is some back-story that needs to be explained. My sister and I grew up on a farm in western Maine in the seventies. While it wasn’t “out in the sticks”, it wasn’t suburbia either. I’m going to sound really old here kids, but I remember the weekly trips into town. It was a big deal. Don’t get me wrong, there were probably more trips into town than I’m letting on but this is my story. The weekly “trip” I’m talking about was going in town to the grocery store, the drug store, the Farmer’s Union and if we were lucky, maybe Woolworth’s or J.J. Newberry’s. The best part for me was the weekly stop at the Norway Library.

Every summer I participated in the reading program. If you read a certain number of books you received something. I have no memory of what the tangible incentive was but I remember the awesome wonder that the library represented. I think you were limited to checking out five books at a time. I would check out my limit and, with the assistance of a flashlight, usually have all of them read two days before the next trip to town. Those two days were supplemented with back issues of National Geographic and Outdoor Life. Every week those five books introduced me to people and took me to places and doing things that at the time seemed a world away.

I clearly remember one of these trips to town just before the Fourth of July in 1977. Of the five books I checked out that week, one was “Airborne: A Sentimental Journey” by William F. Buckley and another was “Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft” by Thor Heyerdahl. The librarian asked me if I was going to actually read both of them. I said I was and I did. I was eleven. Fourteen years later I would begin living my own stories at sea.

My reading time was sandwiched in between swimming lessons and farm chores with my sister. My mother, aware that chores would get done with less protest if they were entertaining, introduced us to a game to curtail the monotony of weeding tomatoes, snapping beans and shelling peas. She would tell us to watch the sky for airplanes and then try to guess where the plane was going or had come from and who was on it.  We would make up stories together, but off to the side I was imagining flying to places and doing things with the characters and people I had read about. Sailing Cyrano with Buckley, surviving at sea with Heyerdahl, running sled dogs in the Yukon with Jack London, fighting the British with Ethan Allen, exploring the West with Lewis and Clark, fishing with Ted Williams, wondering why anyone would go to Cleveland and dreaming of the ocean.

So here I was on this day, calling on this game taught to me by my mother to pass the time. I watched an airplane beginning its descent into Boston and remembered making the same descent returning from places I have fished that as a boy seemed impossible to get to. My attention returned to the schoolies in the shallows. I decided to change flies and switched my sunglasses for my reading glasses. I happened to look down into the water at my feet and instantly knew what had been going on around me while I was day dreaming. There were clouds of grass shrimp no larger than a half inch grouped together at the edge of the water.

I tied on a #4 orange Crazy Charlie. A bonefish fly but also one of the most effective flies for most species I’ve fished for. I was instantly on to stripes. No big hero fish, just a lot of river sized fish that I think are as fun to catch as the big ones. But I was sight casting to these guys in the skinny water. I’ve paid hundreds of dollars a day to do the same thing in distant places but was now doing it literally in my backyard. I kept moving up the flat as the tide came in. The higher up, the more the shrimp and the fish spread out but they were still there. I finally had to end things before I would be forced to swim off the flat.

I made one more cast. I thought of Buckley and Heyerdahl. I watched one more airplane returning from somewhere far away. I thought of the Norway Library and of all those stories contained inside of it. I thought of all the places I’ve been to and all the things I’ve done as I’ve wandered and wondered what is over the horizon or around the next bend. I looked around at the water surrounding me and the river and marsh that I continue to explore. This place is my own library, a collection of my own stories. I didn’t have to go a world away to find them. I only had to come home.

North River, MA
July 2014