By Dave Anderson
My parents used to tell me all the time that you can’t understand, fathom, quantify the love you have for your children until you have one of your own. These moments made me squirm in much the same way that catching my parents kissing made me squirm. Don’t get me wrong, it was nice to hear… but I didn’t need to hear it three times a week! Looking back, I was lucky to have parents that made it clear—all the time—that they loved and supported me, my brothers and each other.
Christmas was always a phenomenal time of year, we weren’t rich by anyone’s standard, but my parents put a lot of emphasis on making sure they always maintained that Christmas magic. And my mom was obsessive about making sure that they spent the same amount on each of us—I’m talking down to the penny—AND that each of our piles of presents was roughly the same size. It was almost as if she thought we’d be going through catalogs after opening all our presents, tallying totals, billing for discrepancies.
This went on for much longer than it should have, but my parents didn’t want to let the magic go either. I remember Christmas 2002, I was already out of the house living with my girlfriend 80 miles from home on the shores of Buzzards Bay. That year marked my first real fall run. My gear was not intended for someone that put in the kind of time that I did that fall. I’d like to tell you that I had it all figured out, I did not, but I learned a hell of a lot. I had two surf setups; a schoolie outfit that consisted of a low-end Penn reel and an 8-foot Shimano Blue Runner rod and I had another of the same Penn reels in a larger size clamped onto a 10-foot Ugly Stik. By the time I made my lasts casts in November, my reels were in rough shape. This was about 50% due to the fact that I didn’t do much to preserve them and 50% that they weren’t intended to be fished four times a week and submerged 30 times per trip. Corrosion was visible on many parts of both reels, the anti-reverse only worked when I didn’t need it to and they sounded like those old crank egg beaters.
I had a long list of things I wanted that year, most of it was more important than a fishing reel. I needed tools and clothes and other things to make my first year out of the house go as smoothly as it could. My parents did the right thing and got me all of that stuff I needed; tools and a toolbox, some decent winter clothes, a pair of boots, I can’t remember all the details. But as I sat there surrounded by crumpled wrapping paper and dodging more being thrown at me by both of my brothers, I did feel a little disappointed that I didn’t get the reel. It seemed like just as much of a need as any of that other stuff to me.
Then my mom handed me one more present. I knew the size of the box was right and I could see the sparkle in her eye, she was excited to give this to me. My dad chimed in, “Open it!” I reasoned for a minute, maybe it was something else that came in a reel-sized box. For the first time in my life, I looked around myself and added up a rough tally of what they had spent on me. That’s when I knew there was no way it was going to be the reel, the one I wanted would have cost more than all of the other stuff combined!
I looked at my mom and said, “This better not be what I think it is!” I didn’t mean a single word of that sentence. I opened the package slowly, I knew exactly what the damned box looked like, I’d seen it on the shelves of every tackle shop I’d been in since I knew I wanted it. I saw the cream-colored cardboard and the maroon printing on the side. It was the reel. A Shimano Stradic 6000, at the time, it was a $220 reel. I was ecstatic inside, but also feeling a little guilty. I knew my parents didn’t have gobs of extra money floating around. For a minute I acted a little angry, “You guys! You shouldn’t have spent all this extra money, you already gave me what I needed!”
“You will never be able to understand the love you have for your children until you have one of your own…” My dad quipped with a wide smile. I gave in to the moment, I could not have asked for a better Christmas. It was a time when I was just finding my footing in the world; I wouldn’t have been able to buy that reel before spring. Odds were that my un-rinsed reels would have seized up by May and then I’d be really stuck. My mom and dad made that happen because they wanted to keep that Christmas magic alive, my happiness and surprise in that moment was worth every extra penny.
Now it’s my turn to crank up the magic and keep it alive for as long as I can. My daughter is three this Christmas and her excitement has brought all of the electricity of the holiday season back into my life. Every house with crazy Christmas lights brings out gasps of astonishment from the car seat behind me, we have to spend at least 20 minutes absorbing the wonder that is the Christmas section at Target… every time we go there. Everything must be related to the Holiday… from cookies, to drawings, to anything else you can think of. And if I am up in the morning before she is and she comes down to find that I have not lit the tree… you wanna talk about a dirty look?
I get it now. It’s not just one day, it’s at least a month of enchantment for a little kid and as an adult, you suddenly find yourself thrust back in time, living each second again through a different set of eyes. And when Christmas morning arrives, the pinnacle of their existence—at least as far as they’re concerned—you want that day to feel like a 24 hour fireworks display. Did we spend way too much on her? There is no doubt. But I don’t feel a stich of remorse, these years will go quick and the magic means more to me now than it ever did. I think that’s what it’s really all about.
By John P. Lee
When I was in fifth grade, we moved back to the States from Hong Kong. Everyone in my new school thought I was going to be Chinese—I don’t blame them, look at my last name. I think I disappointed many: Bruce Lee, the master, was the action hero of that era. When my neighbor, a boy my age, came over to greet us, forced by his father to do so, what he saw wasn’t a Chinese martial arts master but a dorky, American kid with a Red Sox cap pulled tightly down over his head making his ears Dumbo out like palm leaves.
Only three years, that’s how long we lived in Hong Kong. My dad got a job with a small investment company that wanted footing in Southeast Asia, so we moved halfway around the world from Newport, Rhode Island. I was already a watery kid. But what Hong Kong did was combine water with a huge city and this, I am certain, shaped who I have become. Not that it made me wildly interesting, a scholar of Chinese history or culture; but my time there did give me the strange blend, almost verging on the impossible, of loving both fish and nature as well as the industries that seem to exploit them.
Hong Kong Harbor and the ships and the fishing junks—they got deep into my little head and stayed there. The seaport, back then as well as now, centers around the harbor. The whole city seems to face it. When you walk downhill you always end up there. Water was a draw for me: it was so alive and crazy and busy, so full of color and sounds. And the thing is, I didn’t even know it, didn’t understand how charged-up it made me. Kids don’t really know what gets under their skin. Rumination, to a kid, is like breathing. It’s constant. Or it was with me.
But there was no intellect. Just feelings and energy, a kind of rawness and presence, which, unfortunately, is easily lost when we grow up and act like grownups. My fuel was visual that’s how I made sense of the world (still do) and Hong Kong Harbor was as visual as any place can get. Ships from all over the world, tugs, junks, sampans of a hundred different styles. It was also loaded with things adrift. Every kind of flotsam was in Hong Kong harbor in the 1970s and I stared at it, hoping to see something, I’m not even sure what.
In the 1970s everything on the planet was made in Hong Kong and even today, it ranks as one of the world’s busiest seaports. I never knew what I might see. One day I saw a cow’s head, another I saw the entrails of some animal trailing off like a massive jellyfish. I saw plastic toys and a dead dog. I saw all kinds of wood and bamboo. Crates and baskets and buckets. Styrofoam that formed in drifts along the bulkheads. I saw little fish along the ferry docks and watched the Chinese fish for them with handlines. All this may sound a bit off-putting: a kid into garbage, and I’m sure even I thought that, but it also held some mystery to me. To this day I am unable to walk by water without staring into it. What I’m looking for, I still don’t know…
The other thing that I think I carried back to the States was a fascination with fishing boats and life at sea. Again, it was completely opposite of reason and intellect, and had to do with the unknown. There was a part of Hong Kong called Aberdeen and this is where the fishing fleet tied up. This fleet made New Bedford look artisanal, like a cute New England painting. The boats went on for what I perceived as miles, one tied to the next in a long chain of wooden junks. These junks were homes. The owners, after a fishing trip into the South China Sea, did not head back to their apartments for some rest and family time. The boats were it, all-inclusive. The whole family—generations deep—lived aboard in floating villages. This was sensory overload for me. And it was more than fascination it was something I felt, as if I swallowed it whole. And the fish they caught, many of them alive in tanks in open-air markets held a strong pull for me. I had to peer in. These markets were the very opposite of a Whole Food experience in Manhattan or Boston, where everything is clear, bright, smoke-free and no one is yelling. Again, now years later, I am still more at home in a fishing port with fish being handled and trucks and ice and pallets, shouting people, than I am at the beach, mall, or fancy marina.
One of my favorite memories is from that time and it’s the kind of memory that I wouldn’t mind revisiting when I’m laying down to die. We would often go off into the hills after school and hike around. Hong Kong had both temperate forest and also this savanna-type grass that would grow on wind-swept faces. The funny thing is, even though Hong Kong was incredibly dense with people, there were also large sections where no one lived; so we’d hike around, go exploring.
I can still picture this one particular day, sunny and clear, dry. I was with my brother and maybe another friend. My brother being in charge, as the big fifth-grader. I recall standing on a big rock watching the wind blow the grass, and on three sides of us stretched the South China Sea, beyond that, the land of China. Seeing the hills of China way off in the distance—China was an enigma, a hard nut to crack. Hong Kong was under British control when we were there but China had closed borders and was under communist rule, the era of Mao Zedong had just ended—and to my little head, a third grader, China was as bad-ass as any place could possibly be. So there we were, on the edge of nowhere, on a map that didn’t exist to us, following trails that few people ever walked—parent-free and wild.
Photos taken by my mom or dad.
By Dave Anderson
Nighttime is my time. I love fishing at any time, but I feel the most at home in darkness. When color is removed from your field of view you perceive the landscape using different senses; on one hand your eyes begin to hone in on nuance, picking up the subtle color changes of a gentle rise on the surface or the dark stain of a recent break. The black expanse of a grove of pines is given depth when your hearing fills in the blanks. Hollows gape and echo in a light wind, pine needles soften while leaves hiss – almost ring – in the breeze. When you really tune in and your subconscious takes over you may find that your mind is practically on fire, processing sound, using sight only on an ‘as needed’ basis. It’s these times when your mind takes the wheel that it is easiest to believe that we only use a tiny fraction of our brain’s potential.
Winter is a tough season for the night angler—unless you target holdover striped bass exclusively or maybe, walleye. For those of us that hunt trout and freshwater bass, the hits become fewer and the chances of blowing that opportunity become much more likely—complacency comes easy in the third hitless hour with your fingers frozen in the positions of holding a rod and reel.
I covered a lot more ground than usual last night, more than I ever had in this particular pond and I only had one solid hit and two nudges to show for it. Maybe it was the fact that it was a Sunday night, after a weekend of increased fishing pressure, or maybe it was the cooling waters and threatening stare of the super moon foreshadowing the whiteness of the coming winter. A light wind rose from the west, I wished I had worn one more layer.
I turned around after covering, what Google Earth tells me was, almost exactly one mile of prime shoreline (it felt like twice that!) and began walking back toward the car. As I rounded a shallow bend in the shore I heard the low calls of a pair of owls in the trees. When you spend a lot of time outside in the quiet darkness you learn that owls all have a unique call, not to the species but to the individual. These two were keeping a good rhythm going one of them was low and somber, with drawn out annunciations, Hooo-Hooo-H-Hoo-Hoo, the other was playing for style points with a much faster and complex call, Hoo-H-H-H-Hooo-H-Hoo-Hoo. Each one replicated to a tee during each round, each one sung in a “woe-is-me” minor key.
My mind snapped to a conversation I had with my friend Keith’s wife, Lauren. She works for the Audubon Society and conducts regular owl walks for groups of bird enthusiasts. I could hear her voice in my head telling me that owls can be brought in by playing—or in some cases—vocally imitating their calls. She uses an iPod and speakers to broadcast actual recordings of owl calls and they come to investigate—almost—without exception. Since I had a captive audience that was, clearly, feeling the night vibe and comforting each other with the dialogue of mated pair. I cupped a hand to my mouth and did my best to throw my own vocal stylings into the mix.
The pair went silent. The light wind seemed to bend with their confusion as a deafening silence crossed the pond like a sudden gust of wind. Their calls cautiously resumed as I did my best to move quietly along the gravelly bank. I called again, they called back—in sequence. I called again and the first owl rushed to fill the space at the end of my phrase, the other followed. I took a few more steps and called out, again the space right at the end of my phrase was filled. It was starting to feel like a competition. For a split second I felt a flutter of nervous excitement blooming in my chest—an osprey once tried to attack me… in the dark I might never see them coming! I weighed the risks and called again—they called back quickly and, once again, in sequence.
This continued with intermittent steps until I could tell I was right below the second caller. Hidden by the blackness of a tall, gangly pine I heard the call. I don’t know why, but I assumed that this owl was the female—low and somber, not as brash and braggadocios as Mr. Style Points. She called, I called back and she took to the air, crossing the clouded corridor of the full moon as she flew, I watched the black dart, soar across the pond and settle into the treeline. I pulled my camera, knowing (hoping) that he would follow her—he didn’t. I called again. I heard the snap and rustle of the foliage as he dropped into an iron cross and glided slowly through the same lane, I snapped the best shot I could. His slow movement sent a message of warning as he surveyed the area before crossing the water to join his mate.
I could hear them consoling each other for the rest of the night, the rhythm and phrasing unchanged. Even after taking several casts on the way back, in some of the most productive spots in the pond, there was not a fish to be had. The owl encounter made my night. It’s the incidentals that make fishing what it is to me. I have already shared this story with my wife and daughter and I will tell it many more times in my life. If I had caught a fish, I would most likely forget that fish within a few years, but this owl encounter will stick with me forever.