Opening the door at 6:00 in the morning, I could smell it instantly – the sensation of a hard day on the water foretold by the soggy smell of wet, stony soil and moss, barraged incessantly by a fresh whipping wind and heavy, sideways rain drops. The lodge was situated quite perfectly near the center of the lake, but the ripest fishing grounds were to the extremities of the amoeba-shaped basin. Having endured the first day, with much success, I knew that the catch awaiting us would be worth the cold, the rain, the bone-shaking combination of the two as the skiff cut through the water for the next 45 minutes. I adorned my warmest jacket atop my thickest hoodie. For good measure, I donned a winter hood, the kind with the round cut-out in it just large enough for your eyes and nose. My feet were wrapped in two layers of wool socks and water-proof boots. Despite the added weight to my attire, my soul lifted considerably beyond any height or breadth it had ever encountered.
A fifteen-year-old existence is one of extravagant uncertainty and misconception. Not a week ago I grimaced, clicking through the television stations half-heartedly, as the phone seemed to refuse in stubborn defiance against ringing. Plans made with friends for a day of summer open-endedness; forgotten in place of a better development that seemed, endlessly, to develop without me. But now, out in the great open wilderness, a different stubborn defiance began to take root, stabilize, grow, split and double on itself. A forgotten rhythm coursed through me, cracking and cragging former habits and idle preferences in favor of experience and adventure just in the same manner as the stone trodden upon on the path to the dock forced me to consider each next step. Alongside my father and grandfather, I wanted nothing more than to prove my worthiness against the forces rippling and dousing my clothes and face.
Our potentially eternal trek ended with the quelling of the outboard motor; our wake catching us, rose to meet the stern of the skiff, lifting us back against the familiar rise and fall of the plane and crest of the boat in the inverse direction. There’s a jolt that occurs when that aquatic rhythm is cut. Time to gear down and tackle on. July in Manitoba sees nearly no end to sunlight. Still, the cover of heavy clouds masked the location, and warmth, of the sun as we prepared to try our luck. When the jagged and violent snag hits the line, signifying the start of the battle, and snaps, taking with it not just the prize, but also the lure, I learned to set the reel’s drag a bit more on the forgiving end. The monster on the other end at times needs room to run, to be identified, to be gauged before we can understand how to battle back. I also learned the art of showing my opposition the boat. As a beastly Northern Pike surfaces and sees what he’s gotten himself into, the innate desire to engage back against the line runs deeper than ever. If not done with care, a loss of a hard-fought battle too close to the end of the line to properly stomach, threatens.
In the boat with my grandfather and our guide, wedded to bliss, permanently affixed to the fleeting nature of the moment, insubordinately disregarding the impermanence of the moment, I see now that I was given the most precious gift a man or boy can have with his grandfather and father; I was given the gift of time and memory. There are but two photos that survived that morning, to my knowledge. They took place at our shorelunch. The morning waned as the sun crept higher into a cloud-marred sky. Hunger in the belly crept up, settling just under the surface much as our game did to us. With a half-dozen or so freshly caught Northern Pike strung up off the port side of the boat, we set down our instruments of men, zippered back up and felt the outboard motor lurch to life. An island not far off in the horizon pegged as our lunch destination. Entirely saturated with the vitality of the morning surging through my nerves, coursing through my veins, we brought the skiff to shore, disembarked and greeted the rest of our party. Five boats there were in total. All with similar success. A bounty of food as reward for our enterprising morning! While the guides battered and fried the freshly fileted fish deep in butter and with the perfect dash of flour, I grabbed my rod and began to cast off the shore. I brought no added fish to the bounty, although I drew several remarks from the group regarding the unbridled happiness that occurs when an older man watches a younger man unable to set aside his rod in favor of the fork. We ate like kings. Only rarely throughout the course of my life have I experienced its equal. Filled with fish, freedom and love, lunch finally came to an end. As the group gathered to set back out for the afternoon; the time of the day for catching, packing on ice and shipping of fish commenced. Just prior to renewing our adventure, one among us grabbed my father’s camera and beckoned me, my father and my grandfather to huddle together.
Pictured in the center of the shot, wet and only recently removed from the cold, braces exposed, hair matted and windblown, I stand beaming. My father’s left arm wrapped around my shoulder, fingers curled just over-top, we stand eye to eye. The same height for the first time in my life. My grandfather, to my left, holding the remnants of his soda, lips cracked in his self-styled smile, decked out in camouflage and a hat from his award-winning hunting labs’ kennel. Our eyes all miraculously looking through the camera, beyond it; a permanent reminder of the love that existed in that moment; has always existed and will always exist. Evergreens poised behind us – descendants of the first trees that ever took root on that rocky island; have always persisted in their greenness, despite the ice and snow, despite the wind and rain, will always persist in their greenness. Countless birds, fish, former fires around us – among us; home to all the life and livelihood any man will ever or has ever needed. Kings in that moment, or at least the king with his princes.
In all the coming years that I hope to be blessed in fatherhood, my search for intentionality, happiness, fulfillment will always compare its findings to that moment. The last vestiges of evidence copied into the back fold of each of my children’s journal. Perfectly alive in that moment, I realized my contentment. As I look back, its meaning to me has expanded as the carryover embers of that fire have themselves lit other fires, other passions – those I’ve held in my heart, stoked carefully, unknowingly awaiting the moment I would incorporate the generation brought about by my own doing into the pursuit of maintaining those fires; of preserving the tradition, legacy and love captured between us. I will that it be passed down. It is my purpose. It was the moment created for me to remember the strength, pride and passion of my father and grandfather. It is the cavern of my soul reserved for the men of my heart. May it ever survive.
Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,