Winter dragged its heavy heels. As the unhurried months tumbled by, my enthusiasm grew like an inescapable malaise. Twenty years hadn’t seen me absent for more than a few weeks, which is almost certainly why I was so impatient to be back where, for the past two years, I’ve known little else.
Since my partner and I took to the open road I’ve found prolonged periods inside unsettling; at times even the thin walls of our camper restrict feeling the toned ebb and flow of the open air. It’s not that I’m unappreciative as such, it’s just that since knowing such freedom I’ve become knotted where reverie and reality converge; where almost everyday a thin line holds me in connection with something tacit, unpredictable and mysterious. I could say it was fishing but it’s more than that; it’s the damp morning air, the flourish of bird song, a stiff breeze, iridescence, adventure and so on. Where there is a lake or river more often than not I’m held captive, like water behind a dam, especially if there are fish.
Ultimately, my winter gig schedule came to a close. I’d saved a bit of money; paid back my ex all she’d invested in the camper and with what was left over bought a great new camera. I was more than ready to leave, but due to circumstances beyond my control the days turned to weeks and all I could think to do was fish. Suddenly it dawned on me: we should start the trip a little latter than planned and that way I could spend a week or so by the water. With that, a small window of opportunity presented itself within my psyche; I hastily packed the camper and pointed it towards a liquid jewel hidden amongst curvaceous rolling mountains.
As I neared, imagery flooded my mind: magnificent mirrors gliding amongst intimate gatherings of lilies, stony bays and the odd falcon overhead. I had a knowing feeling that my chance may come in one of two places, and both looked attractive. After several sunny days had idled by without a bite I opted for another spot at the other end of the lake, bordering a reedy bay amongst the shallows. The passing full moon brought with it a change in conditions amongst other not so pleasant news. Out of the blue Patricia called, barely able to articulate a word; something terrible had happened to Norman.
It was during our travels through Italy last year that we’d rescued little Norm. I’d spotted him as we walked the small cobbled paths surrounding Lago D’Orta. After waiting a day to see if his parents returned, we decided to intervene. Norm grew quickly and would spend nearly all of his time perched on our shoulders. Most mornings he’d coo until I opened the camper door, then launch out over my head into the new day. We loved him dearly and the news of his rather serious head injury was utterly heartbreaking.
Patricia arrived some days later and having seen the vet, she was understandably saddened. Norm was conscious and able to stand but needed close attention. Although I assured Patricia he’d probably survive, the vet had said it was a 50/50 chance he’d make it. It was actually awful to witness, to see him so still and void of life after once being such a lively creature. He just stood there hunched over eyes closed and only really moved when we had to force feed him hemp paste through a syringe. I had confidence in him though; he’d survived many times before; the clasp of two peregrine falcons, a three-week absence, a dog’s mouth, the neighbour’s cat and so on. If anything it would just turn out to be another one of Norman’s tremendous survival stories.
With Norm under Patricia’s close supervision, my attention returned to the water. I’d caught several lovely fish bordering the reeds and one from beneath the lilies, all of which installed confidence for a larger fish. Above us the grey sky parted, brief rays of gold bursting down through a million water droplets. All around us nature thrived, perhaps a little too keenly with regards to the ants and their plans to take over my rucksack. Several times I intervened, even repositioning the bivvy, but they just moved with it, in it and around it.
Two more bites came and went without so much as a glimpse; one of which, the better one, replaced my hook seamlessly with a lily bed. I thought I was still attached until a cluster of lilies rose to the surface clutching my hook. I laughed because cry I could not. At least not in front the sniggering spectators gathered on the pontoon some twenty meters away.
Several days eased by before I mustered further action. I was entertaining another move when a deep purple mirror well proportioned and full of vigor broke the calm. As I held her in the margins, the detailed interlocking fractal forms across her back transfixed me. It brought my attention to notice that even at the most minute level worlds of intricate beauty are everywhere. I apologized for hooking her and with that she glided softly through my hands and back out to join the others.
The following morning, under the cover of darkness, I woke to an erratic bite. Its jerky movement had the characteristics of a small fish, but my instinct led me to conclude otherwise. In the boat I made haste over the water, tugging line from beneath the pads. With the fish some meters from the boat I flicked on the head torch receiving a shock. Very clearly, some meters away, an extraordinary carp gulped the surface. At once it crashed, plowing through the lilies, my spool spinning wildly in pursuit. Keeping a steady pressure I hoped the hook was well positioned and despite not being able to make out a thing I resisted switching on the light for a second time. Brandishing a net in my left hand I eased her closer and closer until it seemed like a good moment. When it came, the weighty thump of her burrowing into the net had me instantly peering down at a huge pair of shoulders shimmering in the dim glow before me.
Dawn was not long due so I waited eagerly as a light grew from the East. She was a fine-looking carp. I was extremely fortunate to have landed her. Not much could have snatched away the contented feeling our meeting had imparted. Yet, some hours later, I would be clasping Norman in tears as he underwent a series of seizures. He was obviously in great pain and as the seizures lessened we felt compelled to offer our goodbyes. It hit us both pretty hard having already had a tough winter; that said something about witnessing his passing brought me closer to understanding my own mortality. Sometimes it takes such an event to bring about necessary perspective. I imagine most will feel apprehensive when the inevitable rears its head. However, in the meantime, I feel like it ‘s well worth remembering just how precious life is; now more than ever there I see great need for humanity to care for one another, not least the non-human others on which our survival depends. As anglers, we know well the benefits a few days by the water can bring, and if we can enlarge the sphere of angling to include preservation of the environment, then all the better.
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