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Standing on a tiny spit of hard-packed brown-sugar sand, I cast and reel, cast and reel, careful to keep my line away from the half-submerged tree whose barkless branches poke up above the water like the weathered bones of some long-dead beast. The water is murky, darkened by the shade of the pines that flank the silent hills.
Suddenly, a tug on the line. The pull is fierce and I figure I must have a hooked foot-long fish, but when I finally wrestle my quarry to shore, the mighty fighter is revealed to be a five-inch perch.
He has taken the bait, hard: all three prongs of the lure have pierced his lips and spots of redness well where the barbs have punched through flesh.
I wince as I painstakingly work him loose--for it seems that any movement of one hook drives its companions deeper--but at last the job is done, and I release the perch, which is too small to keep even if I were inclined to do so, into the water.
He hangs suspended for a moment and I fear I have injured him too badly to live. Go, I say, in a whispered tone that is half-plea, half-prayer. Please go.
Finally, blessedly, with a flip of his tail, he disappears.
It is on this day, reluctant to cause more pain, that I renounce fishing.
Yet for years after I will often find myself wandering beside the water in my dreams, compelled by a longing as deep and sweet as well-water to once more cast into the depths, savouring the anticipation of the unseen strike at the end of the line.
Tide of ancient ritual
Flows through my veins—
Wavelets break upon the shore.