Learning to Fish

I read this last night for Fish Tales Two, in the Carlo Theatre at Dell’Arte.

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I’ve never fished.

Except, there was a time when I was little, so little, maybe 4 or 5, and my older brother took me to a pond in town.

We lived in the mountains of southern california. It was a tourist town, about the size of Blue Lake, known for its gold rush days and its apple pie.  People would drive up from the city on the weekends and crowd the sidewalks.  I mean, seriously crowd the sidewalks — it was sometimes hard just to walk down to the liquor store to try to steal candy.

And then during the winter, when it would snow — the tourists would come again, and just park anywhere, and then go sledding on our hills.  They always had the best sleds too.  Shiny red and blue things.  (We had garbage bags and trash can lids.)

As kids, with nothing to do — we only got three tv channels and they only came in clear if I stood there and held the bunny ears just right — we had to find ways to entertain ourselves.  And as the youngest of four, I was lucky to get to tag along.

The pond was past the old burnt-down house, past the old jail.  There was a one-cell jail from the gold rush days. A small concrete structure with a toilet and a sink inside.  It was the first structure in town to have indoor plumbing.  On Halloween there was always a fake skeleton behind the bars, some humorous sign about donating to its bail. Sometimes kids would throw the candy they didn’t want through the bars.  The rest of us would try to figure out how to get the candy out.

Everything in that town was an attraction.  But the pond was on private property and there was never anyone there. It seemed like a secret really.

That day at the pond, my brother did all the fishing.

How did he even know what to do? What was he, 10, maybe 11?  We didn’t know anyone that fished. We certainly didn’t know anyone that fished in that pond. Did he even use a fishing pole? Where did it come from? For all I know, he had a string on a stick.  I barely remember, but I remember that I stood there in awe.

He caught a couple fish that day.  They were little. Little bitty things, probably just a couple inches long.  I think he was disappointed, but I wasn’t.  I loved my time with him. Trespassing through a fence, getting burrs in my socks.  It was hot that day. The dried mud cracked under my shoes.

When I texted him recently to make sure I wasn’t making all this up — you know how memories are — he replied and confirmed everything.  “Let’s go fishing next time we hang out for sure,” he wrote.  And I sighed.

I don’t know. I don’t really want to go fishing. There’s a lot to learn, there’s equipment to gather, things to borrow, have to get a permit… It just seems like a lot of work.  And then what if we don’t catch anything? Or … what if we do? And then we have to figure out if we can keep it, or do we throw it back, then don’t I need to know how to gut and fillet, and then if the kids know we’re going, then they want to come, and then I’m sitting there with a 2-year-old throwing a fit because she wants to hold the pole, and then I have to be nervous about my 5-year-old getting a bite and what if he gets pulled in, and the water’s cold, and … ugh.

There’s something about me — when I learn something new, I won’t do it until I know everything.  I was one of those kids — the kind that doesn’t just jump into a new game… I wouldn’t play something until I knew how. I’d sit on the side and watch and learn. I had to figure out the strategy, the mechanics, the competition. Everything.

And I don’t know how to fish.

Before I could reply to protest or maybe to feign agreement, I got another message on my phone. it said, “even if we don’t want to.”

Because he knows me.  He knows I would rather sit it out. Maybe just watch. Gather words for my next piece of writing.  But sometimes my brother knows just what I need.

And maybe what I need is to learn how to enjoy a new experience while the experience is still new.

I looked at my phone, and typed out a reply.  “OK. I’ll dig up the worms.”