Gone Fishin’!

When we lived on the lake, I was often asked by old friends about my retirement activities, and what I did to amuse myself all the livelong day.  Most of them assumed I did a lot of fishing.  And they were right, to a point.

In my opinion, there are few pleasures in life to compare to the joys of fishing.  But only, of course, if it’s done properly—that is, my way.

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It’s probably true that there are as many ways to fish as there are people who go fishing.  So, the proper procedures will be defined differently by each of us.  My routine would undoubtedly be totally inappropriate for anyone else.

I developed it as a younger man camping in the wilds of northern Ontario, and it was perfection, itself—or almost, since there was one flaw, which I shall come to shortly.

As I remember it, the proper fishing excursion began quite early in the morning, when all save the birds were still asleep.  I would rise quietly, so gently as to pass unnoticed by comrades on my way from the tent to the water’s edge.  The canoe, already laden with the necessary gear, would be launched smoothly, silently, into the mist-enshrouded lake.

My body would stretch exultantly as the paddle cut deeply through the water’s ebony surface.  For a time, nothing would be heard but the soothing hiss of the canoe across the lake.  My happiness was absolute.

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I’d watch as the mist lifted, a curtain rising before an audience of one.  Wet, wraith-like wisps would seek to flee the warming sun—frantic, elusive phantoms ruthlessly pursued until thrust from its gaze.

I’d be well offshore when the sun brought the forest alight in greens, bouncing and careening its way through the translucent leaves.  Dark shade-spots would climb the stretching tree-trunks, dance across leaves turned to face the morning light, and then suddenly vanish.

The lake—its diamond-dancing surface reflecting morning back to bluing sky—would part before my craft, bowing away in widening ripples to lap gently against the shore of a small inlet I might find.  I was in awe of the panorama of sunlit trees reflected in the mirrored mere—quicksilver, green, and cold.

The lilting lament of a loon might be all that would break the silence.  Great granite slabs, topped by bush and trees, slanted from on high down into the lake, which tossed back their image from its glassy depths.

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Peace would reign, rampant upon nature’s canvas.

Alas, it would not last.  For to begin fishing was to interrupt that sylvan sequence of morning life, to disturb its natural ebb and flow.  Yet, not to cast a line was to deny the purpose of the visit.

And therein lay the flaw in my perfect way to fish.  The act of fishing became almost a sacrilege in nature’s cathedral of calm, and thus devoid of any joy.  All the pleasure had come from just being there.

So, I had to adapt in order to come to grips with the incongruity of being a fisherman who didn’t like to fish.  I made sure my tackle-box always contained a book or two, a novel, perhaps, or a chosen book of verse.  It held my harmonica, a ‘one-man band’ with which I could while away countless hours.  And there was always a camera, loaded and ready.

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In short, I still went fishing, but I did not fish.  When I’d reach the perfect spot, I’d cease my paddling, sink back in the bottom of the canoe, and just drift ‘til it was time to go back.

Water-bugs would skitter their erratic dash across the water, an occasional fish would jump with a splash.  When a kingfisher darted down to stand on the prow of the canoe, I knew I’d become a piece of the very scene I was observing.

I was one with my surroundings—at once apart and a part.

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There were inevitable questions, of course, when I’d return from an excursion.  Where did I fish?  What bait was I using?  Did I catch anything?

I’d reply that nothing was biting, or that there were only a few nibbles.

In that respect, I guess, I was like all true fishermen.  I would never tell anyone where I’d found my favourite fishing-hole.

That would have spoiled it.

It’s a Boy!

Another of those small milestones of life passed us by the other day.  Our youngest daughter reached the ripe old age of forty-five.  It didn’t appear to faze her, the realization that she is now firmly ensconced in middle-age.  But it brought a flood of memories for me.

Way back then, my wife became pregnant at the same time as one of my sisters—apparently within days of one another.  We didn’t know that at the time, of course, but as delivery day approached for each of them, it became a matter of conjecture as to which would blossom first.

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My brother-in-law and I oversaw a number of betting pools within our two families—all in good fun, naturally.  Who would deliver sooner?  Would the babies be girls or boys?  If one of each, which family would have the boy?  What would be the combined weight of the two babies?

The combined weight of the two mothers was never up for discussion!

As it happened, my sister went into labour first.  In short order, a wee daughter made her grand entrance, and all of us rejoiced.  My brother-in-law and I gathered the vital statistics for the betting-pools.

A day later, my wife told me it was time.  I drove her to the hospital, after dropping our older daughter off with my parents.  It was hard to tell who was more excited, our little girl or my mother and father.  None of them could talk coherently when we departed—my daughter because she was only a year-and-a-half old, my parents because they were so thrilled about my sister’s newborn, and our impending one.

We had elected not to know the gender before our baby’s arrival, as had my sister and her husband.  I think they’d been hoping, if they had a girl, they could borrow our daughter’s swaddling clothes if our new baby was a boy.

As far as we were concerned, the gender issue was a non-issue.  Unlike previous generations in my family (my grandfather and father both celebrated wildly whenever boys were born), I was more than happy to welcome either a sister or brother for our daughter.  However, given our precarious financial situation back then, which would be exacerbated by the arrival of another child, I was secretly hoping for another girl.  I mean, a boy would have looked strange in the pastel pink and yellow clothing that would have to be passed down from his older sister.

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Our hospital was a welcome change from the location where our first daughter had been born.  This time, I was allowed—encouraged even—to be in the delivery room.  I had wanted to do that the first time, but was prohibited.

“We can’t be worried about a father who might faint during the birthing,” I was told.  They had obviously been tipped off that I had once passed out while having stitches removed from my hand.

I practiced for this delivery, though.  I attended the pre-birthing classes with my wife, learning all there was to know about the process.  I stood by her head in the mock-up sessions, holding her hand gently, counting the seconds of each mock-push and each mock-rest between.  I accepted that it was she who was allowed to scream, if necessary during the ordeal, not I.  And I was assured there would be a stool for me to sit on if my legs gave out.

The baby seemed like it would never come.  While my wife snatched some needed sleep, I spent time with my sister and newest niece, in their room down the hall.  In fact, I was there when my sister and her baby were wheeled into the room after a visit to the nursery.  I stood up when they entered.

“That’s not my wife, y’know,” I told the startled nurse.  “That’s my sister!”

The look the nurse gave me could have curdled my sister’s milk, had she been looking.  What sort of degenerates were we?

My sister quickly explained that my wife was awaiting delivery of our own baby, an explanation I wasn’t sure mollified the nurse.

Finally, some eleven hours after we had rushed to the hospital, the moment of arrival approached.  I was ushered into the delivery room, clad in gown, mask, and bootied feet, and planted at my wife’s head.  The doctor stood at the other end, with a mirror above and behind him.  For the next several hours (minutes, actually, but to me they seemed to drag interminably), my wife pushed and cried her way to the point where the baby began to emerge.

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“Let’s rest for a moment,” the doctor said, clearing the baby’s tiny mouth with his finger.

Perched halfway out, with the barely-showing umbilical cord still folded back into the womb, the baby seemed a miracle.

“It’s a boy!” my wife declared between pants of exertion.  Her certainty, it turned out, was the result of mistaking the umbilical cord for another appendage that only a boy would have.

“If this is my son,” I thought to myself, incredulously, “he’s bigger than I am!”

The procedure was completed shortly thereafter, and we welcomed a second daughter into the world.  After she was placed in my arms, I was the first to begin cleaning her squinting face of the birthing detritus.  Words cannot describe my elation at that moment.  Forty-five years later, I remember it still.

To top off the day, my wife was taken to the same semi-private room occupied by my sister.  My mother and father were already visiting her, with our older daughter, when we were escorted in.  What a joyful experience—introducing our newborn to her sister, her slightly-older cousin, and other family members!

After ensuring everyone was settled in properly, the nurse sidled over to me.  With a gentle elbow in my ribs, she whispered, “So, you got them straightened out now, honey?”

Oh, yeah!

 

Music in Muskoka

It never crossed my mind on that rainy, August Saturday in 1967—our wedding day, as we stood on the threshold of our future together—that our golden anniversary would eventually arrive.  And now, fifty years on, it has.

Symbolic occasions have never resonated loudly with me, for whatever reason.  My wife and I have always celebrated family birthdays, of course, especially those of our children and grandchildren.  Wedding anniversaries, however, have come and gone with very little fanfare—although not without a sense of gratitude for our good fortune.

But it occurred to us a while back that, when two strong, independent people are able to spend fifty years with each other, weathering the storms and cherishing the good times, it is no small feat.  It is, in our case, a triumph of symbiosis over autonomy.  And so, we resolved to celebrate this one.

Our wedding coincided with Canada’s 100th year as a nation; indeed, we joked that getting married was our centennial project.  Now, as the country celebrates its sesquicentennial, we marvel that we have been married for fully a third of its existence.

For some time, we cast about for ideas as to how we might mark the momentous occasion.  We consulted with friends who have already achieved the milestone, we spoke with our children, and we talked with each other, long into the night many times, searching for the perfect way to celebrate.

You’ll never guess what has come to be.

On the very anniversary date of our nuptials, my wife will be a member of the audience in a darkened theatre, while I, a lifelong singer of songs (but never publicly), will be sharing the stage with my comrades in a barbershop harmony chorus, sixty-five-men strong, for a night of music in Muskoka.

Had you asked me those fifty long years ago if I thought such a situation could ever come to be, I’d have regarded you as mad.  Yet, there I shall be, one voice among many in the mighty Harbourtown Sound, singing my heart out.

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This being Canada’s 150th birthday year, the programme will contain several songs of Canadiana, two of which you may hear now, should you choose.  The first is Fare Thee Well, written by John Rankin of Nova Scotia—

 

The second, Hallelujah, is from Leonard Cohen, and one of our favourites to perform.  It may be found at the end of this post.

Both songs will be sung in harmony with our hosts for the concert, the Muskoka Music Men, a local barbershop chorus.  Our chorus will be singing several other songs, as well, including selections from Broadway, Motown, and the more traditional barbershop canon.

My wife and I did take an extended trip earlier in the spring, as part of our golden year, and we shall be together with our children and grandchildren for a special celebration later in the summer.  So the concert is not a one-off commemoration of our special year, just one part of it.

Given my love for the music, I can’t think of a more enjoyable way to end the journey to fifty years, and begin the voyage to sixty years, our diamond anniversary.  And for that prospect, I offer up, Hallelujah

Modern Sins

Most readers of this blog will know—or know how to find out—the names of the seven deadly sins, according to Judaeo-Christian orthodoxy.  They are, in alphabetical order, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth, and wrath.

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Less known, perhaps, are seven contrasting virtues:  kindness, temperance, charity, chastity, humility, diligence, and patience.  A focus on these in our daily lives is thought to provide a shield from the deadly sins.

By way of comparison, the four vices identified in Islamic tradition are concupiscence (gluttony and lust), cowardice, ignorance, and tyranny.  The contrasting virtues are chastity, courage, wisdom, and justice.

In Sikh philosophy, five vices, whose purpose is to steal one’s common sense, are identified:  attachment, conceit, greed, lust, and rage.  By contrast, the virtues identified are compassion, humility, love, and truth.

There is a remarkable similarity among these—attesting, perhaps, to a universal quest for righteousness and enlightenment across all humankind.

It is all too easy, of course, to succumb to the temptations of the vices, regardless of our religious and ethical upbringing.  Much of the history of the world may be laid at the feet of those who chose to embark upon a darker path than our enlightened selves would have followed.

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Despite those missteps, however, we have arrived at this place, in this time, with the same choice facing us—a commitment to the virtues or an embracing of the vices.  I choose to believe—admittedly, less with evidence and more with hope—that our better natures will take us down the right path.

On a more pedestrian level, there are other, perhaps-lesser vices that bedevil us today in our quest for nirvana.  As with the major vices cited earlier, they are linked to corresponding virtues that are too often missing in our commonplace activities.

Intellectual laziness is one such vice.  So many people today are content to take whatever they might hear or read at face-value.  They make no attempt to question its source, its veracity, or even its consequences.  Critical thinking—the application of logic, surely an essential virtue—is non-existent for them.  Advertising agencies, corporate behemoths, and politicians love such folks.

Farther along the same spectrum are the people who actively deny the truths of science and history.  Absolute certainty—the refusal to accommodate opposing thoughts and opinions—leads them to see the world through only one lens.  And often a faulty one, more prism than glass.  They believe everything they think.  Left to themselves, they may not do much damage.  But when they ascend to positions of influence, the danger is palpable.  The virtue of open-mindedness—a tolerance and consideration of others’ viewpoints—is sorely lacking.

Another everyday vice is the desire for instant gratification.  Too many of us prefer not to think about the future, and how it will be affected by the choices we make today.  “I’m alright, Jack!” is a phrase that springs to mind.  This tendency may be forgiven in third-world countries, where vast populations are concerned only with their next meal, their next drink of water.  But for us in the developed world, the profligate, endless consumption of the resources of our finite planet with little thought to their replenishment verges on the criminal.  It’s been said that we have not inherited the planet from our forebears; rather, we have borrowed it from those yet to come.  Yet we do not behave as if we believe that.  The virtue of responsible stewardship is sadly lacking.

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Egocentrism—a belief that I alone occupy the centre of the universe—is yet another modern vice.  It manifests as a position of entitlement, the notion that you don’t matter as much as I do.  Regardless of my socio-economic standing, I deserve the same things you do, whether earned or not.  It’s a me-first attitude, aimed at placing me on a par with the most-privileged among us, demoting you and everyone else to subservient positions.  In short, it tears our civilized, communal society asunder.  It exists, I believe, in the absence of altruism, the virtue of selflessness, the presence of a social conscience.

Of all these vices, this last one—the absence of a social conscience—may be the direst for the future of humankind.  Either we are each others’ keeper, or we are not.

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As a wise man once said, faced with a choice of cohesion or division, “If we do not hang together, we shall surely hang separately.”