By Jerry Audet
This week is the first since sometime in early April that I haven’t surf fished. Therefore, understandably, rather expectedly, it’s a sad week.
It’s been a cold and windy fall. Exceptional, really, in a many regards. Too cold, with too low a success rate, to reasonably expect anyone to continue fishing the New England surf at this point.
But this isn’t about anyone, this is about me. And therefore, logic and reason seem somehow to not apply.
So instead, or rather in spite of, this reasonable assessment, I balk, and dive into brooding rebellion. I am moping around the house, forlorn; I get irritable. “Guys just give up too soon!”, “I’m more committed!”, “Remember that 40-pounder caught on the Cape in December? I can be THAT guy!”. Proclamations of a desperate man, illogical delusions.
Humans are drawn to consistency, to behavioral patterns. Daily, weekly, and seasonally. It’s good for mental health; indeed good for physical health. Studies have shown this - I know, I have read them.
So with the end of the season, I’ve lost my pattern, and with it, my stability. And as such, I feel unstable; or rather, perhaps, unwell. The rituals stop suddenly; the wetsuit doesn’t have to be rinsed again. I no longer have to check my leader, or prepare my peanut butter and jelly sandwich for the car ride home. Wherever my favorite yellow darter got to in the car, it can just stay there until May.
And so idleness, and emptiness, invade the places these daily and nightly conventions usually hold.
The end of the season, for me, is a lot like preparing for death. You know it’s inevitable; that it’s coming no matter your most fervent wishes it wouldn’t. You know, implicitly, at your first cast of the season that it will, eventually, end; but you push it away anyways. Denial. Seven months, after all, is a long time when viewed in the future.
But it feels so cheaply short when looking back.
And so the end doesn’t come suddenly, but it always feels like it. Again like the coming of death, or perhaps rather like aging, toward the end, I do not suddenly stop, I just do it less and less. I fall back on what I can do, what is available to me, filling in the gaps- things to prop me up as a huge part of my life fades away. I start running more; a lot more. I trout fish and hunt for bass and pickerel before the ice comes. I start trying to reconnect with my friends whom I’ve neglected and disappeared from over the last seven months. Part of me comes back into view, even as another part of me slides away. It’s good, I know, but it takes some time for me to actually believe it.
I know I cannot will the season to last; I do not command the relentless march of time. I will never be that much in control; so it is to be mortal. Yet, it doesn’t make it any easier when the final days come.
And so, while October offers seven day-per-week fishing windows, November, by some measure, is less- especially at the end. And December defines “inconsistent”; it is the end.
And it is, suddenly, here.
Still, until last week, every chance I got, I continued to hit the surf. I saw an extra sunny and “warm” day, and canceled a scheduled run I had, and fished the night tide. Nothing: no hits, and no fish. Then, I went again on a particularly calm night, despite knuckle-crippling cold. Everything felt oh so right that night. Yet, again- no fish. I left that particular night frustrated- my head and my heart arguing over what to do next. The former knowing the end had arrived, the latter refusing to believe it.
And, this week, there were no windows. It has been so cold; the tides are all wrong. I caught a cold and was waylaid for part of the week. In consequence, I have work piling up; and all my favors- begged, borrowed, and exchanged- are expired. So I am stuck playing catchup. And then, my wife asks me sheepishly, for the first time in years, to stay home and not fish. To help her decorate the house for the Holidays. How can I reasonably say no?
And so it goes. I always say, “this year, I will cut it off”. I will implement some hard deadline, predetermined in April; to mitigate the suffering at the end. Or rather, give myself some kind of parameter, something to motivate me; or end the suffering, depending on what the situation might be. And yet, every year instead, I just tail off. I keep a glimmer of hope burning that maybe there’s one more bite to be had. Herring moving along the coast, 40’s hot on their tails. Maybe an exceptionally stable sand eel bite. A push of teen bass through my area. So I go from five days a week, to three, then to two, then I’m dragging myself to the coast one night of the week out of spite and mutiny against something I wish wasn’t true, but I know that it is.
“You can’t catch them from the couch!” I tell myself, as ice forms in my guides and beard.
Then, the end really comes in ultimate finality. Sometimes I really don’t plan it, a couple weeks of bad weather and despite my best intentions, I never get out again.
Other years, it slips more slowly into the past tense…”the surf season was”.
But this year, today, I have made a choice.
The truth is, I am ready. Sadness, denial, loss- sure, I feel that. But also, acceptance. It’s time. For the first time in years, I’m making the choice, early, to stop. No tailing off. No final “one last trip just to say I did”.
The season could have been worse. I tell myself this to soften the blow. 740, or so, bass is a substantial number. Seven fish over thirty pounds is a number I can be proud of. I worked damn hard for those numbers. I’ve earned this rest. I can stop.
I can; I don’t want to, but I am; I can let the season go.
Consider this post acceptance; my formal resignation.
Until next season then. Until screeching Red-wing Blackbirds and deafening peepers. Until suicidally determined herring, and rich, sweet blooming Forsythia.
By John P. Lee
In the morning before school we walk down and check the pond. The pond is close to our house, a 50-second walk, cutting through a corner of our neighbor’s property. The boy looks into the pond. He is interested in ice. We do this almost daily, father and son. The water is very clear, I tell him that all the algae, the zoo- and phytoplankton have died. The water is clear because it has no life in it. He both listens and doesn’t. My words to him are meant to be osmotic—I want him to absorb things. Things that I have learned. I have no idea how I’m doing with this. Is my life—all 48-years of it—being properly downloaded onto his processor? Normally when we come to the dock there is always a fish, a small finger-sized largemouth or a sunfish. He looks hard, an ‘I spy’ game. But the fish are gone, slid out off the bank and into deep water. “When is the ice coming?” he asks. He wants to crush the ice in the shallows with his feet, the sound of cracking glass. He wants to stomp and throw rocks out and across, listen for that sound, the reverberation. I tell him soon. There is mist on the pond. We watch the mist. He asks about it, ‘why is it there?’ I tell him the pond is losing its heat, the air, colder than the water, is pulling the heat away.
We don’t know who our children will become and we don’t know if we will be here to see it. As a parent I too look for fish, I too look for ice, independently of him. But I want him to be this and that. Already in my mind he has become something which today he is not. We often lean too far into the future, warped inside the parent prediction machine. We walk back up the hill. The leaves on all the trees, including the big oak, are down. It feels like winter. “The ice will be here soon?” he asks. “Yes,” I tell him. “Tomorrow I bet, if tonight gets cold enough and the wind dies out.”
By Dave Anderson
In my life as a stay-at-home dad, it is customary for my daughter and I to make regular drives to the ocean. Sometimes we get out and hunt for hermit crabs; or sea glass. We might make a few casts. Or, sometimes, we just sit in the car and watch the waves. We often drive from spot to spot, (usually in the late-fall or winter) and just look—taking in the view and absorbing the rejuvenating aura of the sea. This is hard to explain to those that don’t know how to receive it. Lila definitely gets it, sometimes she forgets what it does to her and I’ll have to—almost—drag her to the car. However, when we pull up to the shore and look out upon the vast, expansive wilderness that is the ocean, I can see her little face relax; reflective of just how I feel. And then the perma-smile begins.
She might be freezing cold- with a half-cup of water pooling in each boot, but she will beg me to stay. Her pockets stuffed with shells and interesting rocks, soaked to the knee, she points out birds and every dead organism washed up on the shore. Examining everything at a Rainman level.
My pride cannot be measured.
Unfortunately, riding from ocean view to ocean view puts us in danger of crossing paths with…well, assholes. I know I’ve written about this before, but the idea that a person owns all that he can see from his yard really irks me. I am (usually) not trespassing, especially when I’m with Lila. I also like to think I’m a reasonably nice person. I mean, I also have a 4-year old child with me; it should be clear that my intentions are benign.
But, some of these entitled lowlifes just have to stick their nose where it doesn’t need to be sniffing.
Just the other day I was out with Lila; again, just part of our routine. It was a particularly cold and breezy day, the wind howling, the ocean lashing the rocky shore. We had no intentions of getting out of the car. We stopped at a boat ramp, then a long jetty with a wide ocean view, then the end of a dead end street with a nice high overlook .
Then, we turned down a street that leads to a beach that is private in the summertime. Now, mind you, there is no gate, no key card, no armed guard and virtually everyone is gone for the season. There’s a great view at the bend. So, we drove down , looked at the waves for, literally, two minutes and then headed toward home. There is a fork in the road to turn around at, and as we drove the 200 yards to the fork, we noticed a red car coming the opposite direction. The road is narrow so one of us had to move over; I would have, but the other driver did first. As I drove by I offered up a friendly wave; what I got back in return was the icy stare of a man that appeared to be fighting age-induced dementia.
Children can be so intuitive and Lila did not let the moment go unexamined. She piped right up, “Who was that daddy?”
“I don’t know,” I replied honestly, “but he didn’t seem too friendly…”
I swung the car around at the fork (like I have done hundreds of times) and headed out the way I came. I saw Mr. Wonderful’s car waiting at the end of the road, but it turned as we rounded the bend, I assumed he turned when he saw me coming back out. I guess I just looked out of place, I'm far from a millionaire, my car looks like the car you’d expect a fishing junkie to drive—it’s dirty, a little rusty, racks on top, but why assume the worst?
As I pulled out of the end of the road and swung to the right, I saw the old man again, waiting. He had to be pushing 80; out of shape, decrepit, and wearing a scowl that broadcast a clear message of pure, unwarranted, hate. He made sure to look into my eyes as we passed him; but I wasn’t going give in and stoop to his level. I just gave a short, ‘hi there!’ nod and kept driving.
I made it about a mile down the quiet road before this guy came speeding up behind me—and I’m talking like 65 in a 35. Now, suddenly, he’s riding six feet off my bumper. Remember, I have my child in the car. My blood was starting to boil. But I couldn’t jam on the brakes, so I signaled a right turn down a side road. He signaled too! So, I made the snap decision to stay straight. He stayed straight too!
Now my adrenalin and anger were combining; I’m seething, almost hyperventilating. I NEVER get like this. I’m trying to laugh it off, for Lila’s sake, but now I feel like I want confrontation.
I’m riding a mile ahead of myself on the mental map in my head, trying to decide how I will ditch this dumbass. Then I get the idea to just pull over, no signal, no brakes, no slowdown, just jerk the car over and stop. Without any more thought, I do it. Mr. hollow-headed-geriatric-moron does the same thing! However, my maneuver prevents him from getting all the way over, forcing him to pass.
He puttered by at the speed of an idling golf cart. I gave him THE dirtiest, scariest, hate-filled glare you can imagine. Like I wanted to tear his head off, reach down his sputtering neck hole and rip out his heart and then eat it, raw, as it reflexively beat out its last quivering attempts at sustaining this worthless excuse for a human being.
Because that’s exactly how I felt.
He went by, but pulled over in front of me and put his car in park. Then he just sat there, tilting his head back, eyeing me in the rearview. I so badly wanted to get out of the car and confront him, veins were erupting out of my forehead, my hands were clenched into involuntary fists, teeth gritting… then…
Quietly, almost a squeak, “Daddy…? Daddy?! Why are we stopping?”
I closed my eyes, pressed my lips together and sighed through my nose. Opening my eyes, I gestured to my brainless adversary, throwing both hands up as if to say, “What are we doing now?” He answered with the same gesture. So, against all of the urges in my soul, and the catcalls from the devil on my shoulder, I threw the car in reverse, backed into the nearest driveway and sped back in the direction I had come from.
I’d like to think that Jonny Alzheimer’s in the red car had a moment of clarity just then, and realized that this could not end well for him if we were to step out of the vehicles. Not because I am such a tough guy, but because he was probably 40 years older than me, with the physical stature of a decaying snake skin. Whatever the reason, as his taillights faded behind me, I saw him gun it from the side of the road and head off in the other direction, at a very high rate of speed—this told me he didn’t want us to follow him. I was happy to oblige.
I took the longest route home I could think of. I needed the long, slow drive to cool myself down. Lila started to complain about a belly ache and I knew that her senses had pieced together the anxiety hanging in the air, despite the fact that she couldn’t understand it. By the time we made it home, she was fine. But I was still deeply angered. After hearing the story, even my wife, the picture of calm and grace, asked me, “Are you going to go back to his house?” As much as I would have liked to go back and, at least discussed the ordeal with Mr. Wonderful, I have since decided that nothing good could come from that. All of the scenarios I play in my head end with me in handcuffs.
So I guess I’m just going to let it drop, at least until next time.
What would you do?