Saturday, August 6, 2011

Fishing buddies

Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after. - Henry David Thoreau 
At age four, our grandson Augie sets his goals high. Before joining us at the lake, he announced that he wanted to catch a fish and eat it. He and ViMae know that butchers turn animals into meat, and Pa had told them that Grandma was the best fish-butcher he knew. So they decided that Grandma would clean the fish and Pa would cook it. 

Belted kingfisher at Star Lake
To manage expectations, we talked about the notion that fishing is all about trying; you never know whether you'll catch anything good. We explained that while fishing you sometimes get to see animals and birds along the shore; that's how we had seen loons, herons, and just this week a belted kingfisher. (We wouldn't have known or cared about the kingfisher if it hadn't been for Augie and his Minnesota bird book.)

Right after lunch on the day they arrived, the four of us donned sunscreen and life jackets and climbed into the little fishing boat. (Mom, who doesn't enjoy fishing anyway, took a much-needed nap.) We introduced them to their fishing rods and spent a little time getting them to settle in. If you have fished with a kid, you know the "don'ts": don't wave the rod around, don't let out so much line, don't just set it down. We added as many "do's" as we could: hold it steady, move it slowly, let us know if you feel a little tug. They were excited, and they tried hard to cooperate, except for that part about letting out too much line thing. The release button is just too inviting and it was a great way to tease Pa. 

Star Lake is full of sunfish and crappies, most of them small but ambitious enough to nibble at whatever you dangle in front of them. Sure enough, within 10 minutes each child had caught a fish. Vi's was too small to keep and she didn't mind throwing it back; she was happy just to have caught one. Augie's was bigger; he was beaming as we offered to put it on the stringer. A shadow crossed his face, so I quickly added, "You can let it go if you want," and that's what he chose to do. My only regret: we neglected to bring the camera along to get pictures of their first fish.

The next day Augie and I went out, and this time he handled the rod like an experienced fisherman. We each caught a fish quickly; he reeled in his own and wanted to take out the tiny hook himself but it was caught a little awkwardly so I did it. Again we let the fish go, and with that he was ready to go back to the cabin.

"Do you want to go for a little ride to see whether we find any birds?" "No, I want to go to the cabin. Go fast."

We were using a 5-hp trolling motor. Fast doesn't really exist. But he'd seen bigger boats churn up the water with their wakes. "Turn on the waves and the bubbles," he said. I assured them that I had, and he was happy.

Small fish, but delicious
Peter and I had caught enough fish ahead of time so the kids could have a meal of fish even if they didn't catch any. They were perfectly happy to gobble up crappies and sunfish just like the ones they had caught and released. Even their mom tried some, and didn't mind the taste as long as there was tartar sauce.

At the end of our vacation, we asked the kids to name their favorite thing. ViMae loved swimming. Augie's answer: "Trying to catch a big fish." I have a feeling this boy is going to be a fisherman. (Not giving up on his sister, either. She has more patience for sitting still.)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Shared experiences

Our deck view last week
When I was a kid, my dad designed and built a lake cabin about an hour's drive from our home in northern Minnesota. I learned to love fishing, picking blueberries, listening for loons, and just being in the woods and close to nature.

I discovered, or developed, an important part of myself there; I was relaxed, grounded, in the moment. I felt healthy. As an adult, I lived and worked hundreds of miles away, but I headed to that plain little cabin for summer vacations and left behind all the tensions and frustrations of my job. Peter, who had grown up in New York and spent family time at the ocean, came to love the north woods as well.

The cabin was sold in 1993, and that summer Peter and I became regulars at St. Paul Saints baseball games. We never revisited the lake experience until last summer, when I rented a cabin at a great little resort on Star Lake in north-central Minnesota. We loved the place, and I realized how much I had missed the part of me that spent hours and hours attuned to the gently lapping waves, the sound of wind in the trees, and the constant presence of birds and other critters, seen and unseen.

Knowing how our grandkids enjoy nature, we immediately wanted to share this lovely experience with them and their parents. So this year, we had a two-part vacation. The first three days Peter and I rested, fished, took a couple of hikes to check out potential kid activities, and entertained our friends Carol and Michael, who have retired to a lake home about 50 miles from "our" resort. It was wonderful to see them, and really fun showing them around our new favorite place.

On Wednesday, Abby arrived with the kids (their dad had a prior engagement, the week-long bicycle ride across Iowa). In short, they LOVED everything about it. Among the highlights: fishing, swimming, playing on the beach and at the little playground, hiking, helping row a boat, spotting an eagle and some deer, hearing loons day and night, sitting on the deck among the treetops, playing in the screened porch that Augie calls the Game Room, eating fresh-caught fish, and having sleepovers with Pa and Grandma. Oh, and playing with the computer and iPad. Hey, we all needed some down time. This is not my childhood no-water-no-electricity cabin.

Vi and I were lying on beach towels one afternoon, warming in the sun after swimming. "Grandma," she said, "Your cabin is better than your house." Why is that, ViolaMae? "Because it has bedrooms and a bathroom downstairs for me and my family to sleep."

I have more stories that will wait for another post. Suffice it to say that as we drove home, Peter and I were wearing broad smiles, enjoying our north woods experience doubly because we were able to share it with the youngsters and because they embraced it with so much enthusiasm.

When they visit Daddy's family in Montana, they love to visit a working farm. This year they also went to Yellowstone, where they learned to identify the scat and tracks of bison and other animals. They can't wait to go again, and Augie knows exactly which animals to look for out west. He knows his list of Minnesota animals (and birds), too, and we look forward to years of discovery and fun ahead.  


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