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The Buckhorn

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Fishing isn’t merely about catching fish, it’s about catching memories

“Did you really go fishing?“ someone asked me recently, barely hiding her incredulousness.
Yes, I really did. I guess fishing just seems incongruous for a (presumably) stereotypical left-leaning liberal feminist who (allegedly) spends her time absorbing every word on the Huffington Post and snickering about Sarah Palin’s latest gaffe over a glass of white wine.
Sarah Palin - does she still exist?
Me, I’m no fan of stereotypes. In fact, I’ve made it my life’s goal to defy definition. You might think you’ve defined me, but watch me simply step outside that definition, like crayon colors just floating away from the black outlines on the page of your coloring book. Watch me drift up over your head and become a rainbow now. Hah. And you thought you had me all figured out.
So, yes. Fishing. Because it makes me happy and doesn’t harm anyone else. That’s probably the only outline I’m willing to remain within.
It was during a typical evening-unwind conversation with my husband a few weeks back when I meandered into memories of my father taking me fishing when I was little. Because I have only one sister (who was rather sickly as a child) and no brothers, I was my dad’s default son. I realized this only in retrospect, because I thought it was normal for girls to pull on their cowboy boots and jeans, and go fishing with their dads.
This will come as a huge shock to most, but I was an extremely quiet child, which made me the perfect fishing companion. I didn’t disturb the peace and quiet, and more important, didn’t scare the fish away. Also, because I viewed my dad as one of the gods when I was little, spending time with him was the most super awesome thing on earth to me. I didn’t want to screw it up. My sister was a Mommy’s Girl, but Daddy — he belonged to me.
One of our favorite fishing spots was along the American River, and we’d hike out across what seemed then like a mile of river rocks before getting to the water. I knew how to bait my own hook and cast, and we’d get our lines in the water and sit quietly and wait, watching for the pole tips to twitch. If one bobbed or bowed, I’d whisper, “Is it a bite?”
“No,” he’d whisper back, “It’s just the current.”
One time, however, I was sure it was more than the current: a slow bow and release, bow and release.
“You’re snagged on a log,” he said.
Well, nothing you can do when you’re snagged but reel in and see if the hook comes free, or cut the line and start over. I started reeling, but the line kept coming in — very slowly and heavily. And suddenly, it yanked back.
“Hey, I think you’ve got one!” he exclaimed.
Not being a perfect default son, I switched back into girly-girl mode and handed him the pole. I didn’t like the feeling of the fish fighting on the line. That frantic thrashing reminded me of the fish flopping in the fishnet when toddler-me climbed up on a chair and flipped every single fish in Dad’s aquarium onto the living room floor. Killed them all, I did. I was on the last one, feeling it twitching in the net, when I got caught, and got my butt warmed. I might have been a quiet child, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I wasn’t devious when left unattended.
Anyway, once I felt that frantic tugging, I was more than happy to let Dad reel in the fish, which turned out to be an 18-inch steelhead. Although Dad did all the real work, he always gave me full credit for catching it, and beamed with pride in my direction every time he retold that story of the day I caught a log that turned out to be a whopper. And, let me tell you, a beam of papa pride for a Daddy’s Girl is like liquid gold pouring directly into your soul.
Sadly, not long after that, my father’s PTSD and compensatory alcoholism became more than he could manage. His mind, life, and relationships all began to erode, and eventually crumble. For much of my life, I only remembered the bad times, but as I get older, the good memories trickle back — like fishing; the togetherness of sitting quietly with someone you love and trust, surrounded by nature, nothing but the sound of the river and occasional whispers, birds flitting about, and my very favorite thing — dragonflies resting on the tip of your pole. Most of what I loved about fishing had nothing to do with actually catching fish.
“So,” I told my husband during that evening-unwind chat, “We should go fishing!” With cherished childhood fishing memories of his own, he heartily agreed. Much to my amazement, we actually stopped talking about it and just did it: got fishing licenses and new tackle, and he even bought me a brand new hot pink fishing pole and a reel that flashes purple lights when you turn it. It’s like it was designed just for me!
Next, we set out for Donner Lake and rented a boat, fully aware that we’d set out far too late in the morning to catch anything. The real “catch” was breaking out of our recreational inertia. No, we didn’t catch a freakin’ thing, but we made a break from computers, televisions and cell phones, and reconnected with nature and each other. Fishing was still as serene as I remember: being peacefully quiet, together, without the need or urge to fill the air between us with words, just watching the lines in the water. Talk about hitting the re-set button on stress.
So, fishing? Yes. We’ll be doing it again. And if we catch a fish, that’ll be really cool, but merely be a bonus. We’ll be catching memories.