Monday, September 29, 2014

You Are Where You Are

My Dad made obvious statements impossible to refute. He brought these universal truths out often, enjoying them immensely. They were simple and pure, defying follow up questions or responses of any kind really. One of his favorite lines was;

“Everybody’s got to be somewhere.”

It’s very hard to argue with that statement. Mom might be at the kitchen table reading the Bloomington Pantagraph about someone from Danvers who was picked up for DUI, for example, and be surprised at where the arrest was made.

“What do you suppose he was doing there on the South Side of Bloomington?” she would say, nosily. To which Dad might reply;

“Well you know, everybody’s got to be somewhere.”

He never named EGBS, this concept in the acronym. It could have been Dean’s law of random physical presence, the requirement that our bodies occupy space somewhere on the planet. For him I think it expressed something deeply existential. We heard that line and others so much we tended to dismiss them because they were so obvious. I think he thought they were funny, often smiling as he delivered the lines.

Its corollary, which is even better I think, is that sage bit of wisdom;

“You are where you are.”

That’s certainly true, in every case, whenever said, but it implies something else. YAWYA, which might be Dean’s law of unavoidable current habitation, carries with it the necessity of accepting your place but at the same time assessing your situation. We don’t like to do that, as Americans. We like to ignore our reality and live instead in the world of the possible, as if we were at some place we are not. A poor medical student without two dimes to rub together behaving as if he were already a rich doctor, living in a hovel drinking cheap beer but buying expensive crystal for the day he can enjoy fine wine. Dad liked to call things as he saw them, encouraged his family and others to do the same, but at the same time offering hope. He lived through a lot of bad stuff, my Dad. I like to think he learned these things, YAWYA and EGTBS, the hard way and tried in his gentle way to pass them on to us.

But then again Dad may have learned these lessons as a lifelong Cub fan.

Born in 1909, the year after the Cubs won their last World Series, Dad never saw them as champions during his lifetime. During his 77 years on the planet he loved to listen to the Cubs play on the radio, and after he sold the cows he insisted on getting a giant TV dish, which we mounted in concrete by the garden, so he and Mom could pull in WGN from outer space and watch the Cubs on Channel 9. He loved to follow them but never do I remember him joining in the chorus of boos that has followed them all these years for being arguably the worst team in baseball during the last century. I think he was comforted and helped as a Cub fan by those two principles he embraced. “Everybody has to be somewhere” and “You are where you are.”

The Cubs finished an entire season of Major League Baseball last night by winning their final game and taking two out of three from the Milwaukee Brewers, as they did from the St. Louis Cardinals earlier in the week. At the beginning of the season my friend Chuck Maney point out that the Cubs looked good, if they had been playing in the Pacific Coast League. Sadly they were not. They were a major league ball club with little resemblance to one. Did Cub fans have high hopes for their team in spring training? No. We expected them to have a losing season. It was called a rebuilding year from the start, which is a misnomer. For the Cubs it was simply a building year. They had nothing to rebuild from. Rebuilding implies you once had a solid structure to restore. The Cubs have been in shambles, as far as their won-loss record, since their last winning season in 2008. They lost 101 games in 2012. Winning seasons have been few and far between since 1908. It’s a very sad history to own. But such is the history of the Chicago Cubs. They are where they are.

The Cubs finished in the cellar, last place of the National League’s Central Division with a record of 73 wins and 89 losses, for the fifth year in a row. Thirty teams make up Major League Baseball in America, fifteen teams in both the American and National League. The best team in baseball, Numero Uno during the regular season, was the Los Angeles Angels with a record of 98 wins and 64 losses. The Cubs, looking purely at wins and losses now and not beer sales at home games, tied with the Philadelphia Phillies as 23rd best team in baseball with a winning percentage of .451. But then, everybody has to be somewhere.

For a time I had this crazy hope that the Cubs might claw their way past the fading Cincinnati Reds and finish fourth in the division. Sadly, that did not come to pass. They missed that milestone by three games. The Cubs could be worse. Several teams are. The lowly Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League West own the title of worst team in baseball and are firmly established there with a winning percentage of .395, 63 wins and 96 losses. If the Cubs were playing in the West rather than the Central there would be two teams below them. They would finish not in the cellar but ahead of both Colorado and Arizona. But, they aren’t in the West. They are where they are.

My own personal goal after trading off Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hamel to Oakland, was for the Cubs to be the best of the worst, cellar dwelling team in Major League Baseball with the best record. Though few recognize it there is each year a king of the cellar dwellers, the team that happens to find themselves last in their division but with the best record of the worst losers. It happens this year that the Cubs tied the Phillies as being “Best of the Worst.” You won’t find this kind of analysis on ESPN folks. It’s a shame to allow the title of “Best of the Worst” to end as a tie. I personally believe it should be decided by a one game playoff.

The Cubs almost made won that crown. In fact, legions of Chicagoans got a push I’m sure in their bets with friends that one Chicago team would win more than the other. Both were equally bad. The Chicago White Sox also finished the year at 73 wins and 89 losses. It was predicted at the beginning of the season that the Cubs had a shot at another dreaded negative achievement, the ultimate disgrace, losing 100 games. HA! Not even close. Not even 90. I know some teams have not lost 90 games in modern history, but we’re talking about the Chicago Cubs here folks. Since 1945 they have lost 90 in a single season 21 times. They lost 100 games or more three times since 1945, the last time in 2012 when they lost 101. This year they traded practically every pitcher with any value, played kids the second half of the season, and still won 73 games while losing only 89. If you’re a Cub fan you hang your hat on that 89. The Cubs have lost 90 games or more the last three seasons. Not this year.

I know it’s easy to read this as a Cardinal fan, or a Yankee enthusiast, who adopt as their own smoothly oiled organizations with storied histories and a roomful of pennants and trophies, and scoff. Laugh even; loudly, boisterously, derisively.

“Those poor Cub fans,” they say, wiping tears of laughter from their eyes. “Why would you stay loyal to a team with such a miserable history, an organization that traded Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio, actually believed that Adolfo Phillips would one day become a hitter, and has not had a team in the World Series for 106 years?” More laughter. They can hardly stand it’s so funny. ROTFLTAO.

Well to them I say everybody has to be somewhere, and that’s exactly where the Cubs are. Yes, they have a losing record (though not within the friendly confines of Wrigley field, where they won 41 and lost 40.) Yes they traded away their best pitchers, anyone with actual with proven value except for Jake Arrieta. And yes they still have problems with their old ball park. But where are the Cubs exactly?

The Cubs are poised for success. They have long term contracts with two young players who had solid seasons and are beginning to produce-Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. Rizzo finished second in the National League in homers with 32. Castro was tenth best among National League batters in batting average with .292 and kept his head in the game all season. They brought up four promising rookies, Jorge Solero, Javier Baez, Arismendy Alacantara, and Kyle Hendricks, a rookie who pitched himself into the starting rotation. Who did they get for Samardzija and Hamel? Addison Russell, yet another shortstop who in 2012 was baseball’s first round draft pick, Billy McKinney the 2013 number one pick, pitcher Dan Strahly and that perennial favorite PTBNL (Player to Be Named Later.) The Cubs traded known talent for vast potential. Samardzija and Hamel helped Oakland get to the playoffs this year. Russell and McKinney may carry the Cubs there often in future years.

Even critics of the Cubs covet the young players now in the Cubs organization including Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, and C.J. Edwards. They can be developed or traded. Have you heard of these guys? They haven’t played an inning of Major League Baseball. Watch for them. And miracle of miracles, the Cubs may have actually found an effective closer in Hector Rondon. God help me if I’ve jinxed these young players.

So yes it is true, as my Dad was so fond of saying, that everyone has to be somewhere. Where are the Cubs? They finished in the cellar of the Central division with a losing record. They did not have a good season in 2014. But fortunately, you are where you are. The Cubs are loaded with talented young players. I like where they are. I can hardly wait till next year. But then, I’m a Cub fan. What did you expect?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Dogs in the Bible, truth from fiction, raising kids

Never let it be said that I am not wrong from time to time. My wife reminds me of my wrongness by pointing out and remembering, I truly believe, every error in thought or action I have committed (of which she is aware) from the moment I met her till just this morning actually. And now that I’m blogging to the public, you point out my errors as well. So be it. I stand corrected.

One of my blog gaffes was exposed by smart guy and friend Don Baker. I’m not being sarcastic here. He really is a smart guy, having founded and then retired as director from a very good organization youth organization in Evanston. In a post about talking to my dog I boldly asserted, or rather my dog Ally (may she rest in peace) boldly asserted, that dogs were not mentioned in the Bible. Don liked the article, as did many. However he gently but firmly told me in no uncertain terms, with references to back it up, that dogs indeed did make it into the holy scriptures.

Don has this search program that allows you to type in anything you please and see if it is mentioned in the Bible. I find it is difficult if not impossible in this age of Google to invent or distort facts. It can be done, but it’s certainly not as easy as it used to be, especially about such widely studied things as the Bible. So Don used this virtual digital gizmo as it were and discovered no less than twenty seven (27) references to dogs in the Bible. Not one of them complimentary. I’m glad Ally didn’t know. Ally was right, and that was her point in the story. Sometimes it’s better to be ignored completely than noted and remembered in a negative light. Sadly, dogs do not enjoy Biblical anonymity. I’m glad Ally died before learning how awful it really is. She never was one much for Google.

The dog references in the Bible, beginning in Exodus and ending in Revelations, are universally bad. Here’s a few favorites, holy dog highlights as it were, to give you a flavor for the low regard in which dogs were held in ancient times.

Psalms 59:6- They return at evening, they howl like a dog, and go around the city.

Psalms 22:16- For dogs have surrounded me; a band of evildoers has encompassed me…

1 Samuel 17:43- The Philistine said to David, "Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?"

Philippians 3:2- Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision. (editor’s note: Would not circumcision be extremely hard to fake?)

Revelation 22:15- Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.

Matthew 7:6- Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

(And my personal favorite)

Proverbs 26:11- Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.

There you have it. According to the Bible, dogs will lie, turn on you, howl, eat their puke, and do evil things. The verses speak for themselves, which may give you a hint as to why Christianity and the Bible are such a hard sell these days. We think a lot more of our dogs now. We love them to the point of believing them good animals with noble hearts even. We love dogs because we think dogs teach us about life itself.

My personal favorite, the dog vomit fool verse, reminds me of a short exchange between my seven year old daughter and I a long time ago. She ran into the house with a horrified look on her face.

“Dad, Sandy just threw up and now he’s eating it! What’s wrong with him? ”

“Honey, it’s just him being a dog. They’re not people. Dogs do that.”

And as we now know from the Bible, dogs have done that same thing for thousands of years.

Moving on to less graphic and earthy topics, I think it’s good to remind you occasionally, as if you didn’t already know, that I make stuff up in these blog posts. Are they are based on things that really happen or have happened to me? Yes. Are the events actually as l experienced them? Only loosely. Are the conversations verbatim? No. This is not journalism. These are stories. Journalists, good ones that is, are constrained by an obligation to write the truth as closely as they can to what they see and understand to be true. I, on the other hand, exercise my prerogative to make stuff up for story purposes.

Did I get lost in a boat in Northern Ontario with a guy who was not pleased at being lost as I wrote about the last two weeks? Yes I did. Did he say those exact words to me, and I to him, which I enclosed with quotation marks as dialogue? Not entirely. For example, in recollecting the incident around a table in a warm kitchen laden down with Walleye fillets, hash browns and cold beer did he describe my directional device as a “candy ass compass?” No he did not. I made that up. I thought it the perfect adjective for that cheap compass that got us home, and to communicate the gentle ribbing he gave me in front of the other guys, as guys will do.

Does that detract from your enjoyment of the story? I hope not. I strive to make these posts better in the future by making up more and better stuff, describing life in ways that are not necessarily factual but damn good. I count on you to suspend your disbelief and go with it. Perhaps laughing, maybe crying at times, but certainly getting emotionally involved with the writing and enjoying it. That’s what I’m going for. I hope to make up a whole book that way. Will it be based on things that really happened in my life? I don’t know how it couldn’t. Will it be non-fiction? A memoir? Not on your life. Too difficult, too painful, and maybe too boring. I’m going, each time I write, for a good story. Just thought you should know.

And as long as I’m talking about various things this week let me close with something from my past life as a formally working person. Child abuse. Contrary to recent news on parenting stemming from all places the NFL, child abuse is fairly easy to recognize. Government, through state agencies, often in partnership with community organizations, now identify, treat, and as a last resort raise abused and neglected children. We use the courts to prosecute, rehabilitate, and in some cases terminate the parental rights of abusive and neglectful parents. Preventing and responding to child abuse and neglect is serious business. Attending to it is in our country’s best interest. Why? Because child abuse and neglect destroys families and creates damaged adults.

State agencies, which is Illinois is DCFS, have codified child abuse and its deadly sister, child neglect. Child abuse in Illinois begins with cuts, welts and bruises and ends with broken bones, skull fractures, and death. Is the use of physical punishment to discipline your child, considered abuse? No. But striking your child in a way that creates cults, welts, and bruises certainly is. What’s the difference? You can see cuts, welts, and bruises. They are evidence of abuse, of physical punishment taken too far. As a society we officially draw the line right there.

Which speaks not at all to the argument as to whether physical or corporal punishment is necessary to effectively parent children. Parenting children is one of our most important roles as human beings. And it is hard work. It requires us grown-ups to be confident, decisive, fair, consistent, diligent and yet loving. How many of us are up to that task day in and day out? To be an effective parent you must set limits and boundaries and provide consequences when your children exceed them. As a parent you have an obligation to teach your children right from wrong, appropriate from inappropriate, kind from mean. You can’t simply be their friend. You must be their guide to both living well and being good, and at times that will require you to deliver hard lessons.

However, we do not have to hit our kids to deliver those lessons. I believe hitting children only reinforces the belief that interpersonal violence, administered by the strong over the weak, the big over the little, is ultimate power. You are required as a parent to clearly express disapproval of bad behavior, create consequences for it that matter, and risk causing your children temporary pain, which is contrary to the loving care you typically display to them. But it does not have to be physical pain. There are a host of effective alternatives to whipping children.

All that said, there are parents who will continue to use physical punishment to discipline their children. It’s not the end of the world nor is it against the law. What is against the law begins with cuts welts and bruises. If you choose to punish your children physically spank them with your open hand. Do not take their pants down. Don’t hit them with objects. If you do so, cuts welts and bruises will not be an issue. Should a four year old boy child be hit with a narrow branch of a tree until welts are raised on his bare skin and he bleeds? That is an easy question to answer. Most of us, Michael Vick notwithstanding, wouldn’t treat a dog that way. And if Charles Barkley is correct and 90% of Southern black parents “whoop” their children in that fashion they should stop. It’s too much. They are traumatizing their children and perpetuating needless violence against other humans. Child abuse is defined and easily recognized. There is no national debate of which I’m aware on this topic. End of story.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Going North Part 2

I held the hood of my rain jacket out over my face, shielding my eyes from the hard rain. I couldn’t see the far shore. My biggest fear was rocks. If we hit a rock which damaged the motor or the boat, or worse yet threw one or both of us into the water, we’d be in real trouble. I looked at my old partner. He’d managed to get the hood up on his rain jacket. He had his life jacket on upside down. He was depending on me to keep him safe. I was still lost. Sometimes we have little to go on but hope and faith.

Time distorts when we’re in trouble. I don’t know how long we travelled north in that little boat, searching for the shoreline. It seemed like an hour, but it was probably no more than twenty minutes. The wind blew hard, and the rain continued to pelt us. Gusts of wind blew rain and lake water onto us. We hunkered down.

Finally the shore appeared. We’d gone straight North by the compass. Trees and a rock line loomed before us, but no camp. I pulled the boat within twenty feet of shore and stopped. My boat partner and I hadn’t talked in some time.

“We’re still lost!” he yelled.

“No we’re not, we’re on the North shore of Roderick Lake. Which way do you think camp is? Right or Left? East or West?”

He looked carefully both ways. “I don’t know!”

“I think West. I’m going to turn right.”

“That’s what I was going to say,” he yelled.

“OK. If we don’t find camp we’ll come back. But we’re staying on this shore!”

I turned the boat. Because the wind was at our shoulder the boat handled differently, wallowing some. Slowing down didn’t help.

“Hold on! “I yelled. My partner looked back at me and nodded. His face looked grim.

We came to a spit of land going south from shore. I turned into the wind and the bow of the boat began to bounce. Cutting the waves with the V of the little boat was better. I sped up. At the end of the land was an island. A narrow channel separated it from land. Those channels were often shallow, and I feared the rocks.

“I’m going around this island, then we’ll turn back North!”

As we neared the end of the island my partner grew animated.

“Look!” He was pointing ahead of us.

Sticking up from a line of rocks was a thin steel rod, rebar. Wired on top of it was a green plastic jug. It was meant to warn boaters of underwater rocks.

“We’re close!” he said. We’d both seen that jug before. Giving the jug ample berth I turned back North. He pointed again, and turned with a big grin. Amid the white caps we saw two white buoys, markers for the float planes.

“Look on shore for the cabin!” I yelled.

Rain still hampered our vision. But I thought I saw something out of the ordinary, something too smooth, too even. It was the hulls of unused fishing boats stacked on the shore by our camp.

“There it is!”


“Off to the right!”

“I don’t see it!”

“It’s there.”

We were in open water. I twisted the motor handle open full and made a line straight for the hulls. As we got closer we saw the roof of the cabin. Then smoke coming from the chimney. Relief washed over me. I pictured our friends sitting around the kitchen table, warmed by the stove, not far away. We were having steaks that night. I’d seen them in the fridge. We would dock the boat, leave the gear, get into the cabin, and be in for the night. Safe. Dry clothes, hot meal, warm bed.

As we neared the dock our trip leader was standing on the dock. The rain was letting up. He held up his arms and smiled.

“We were worried about you!”

“No more worried than us!” my partner said.

Our leader grabbed the rope on the bow and pulled us up the inclined dock, our boat filling the last empty slot. First he helped my partner step out of the boat and onto the dock. Then he came to where I was sitting at the rear of the boat.

“How was it out there?” he asked.

“It was a son of a bitch.”

“We were giving you twenty more minutes and if you weren’t back we were coming out looking for you.”

“Did you see that storm coming?” I asked.

“Yeah, we were in open water and saw the storm across the lake. We got in before the rain started.”

“I didn’t see it at all. It was my fault.”

“I thought maybe you’d gone to shore to wait it out.”

“No. I felt like I had to get him back.”

“Well, I’m glad you did.”

I started dinner with a couple of fingers of Bushmill’s Irish whiskey. I was still a little jumpy after coming off the lake. My partner in the adventure sat next to me with a tumbler of vodka. Our friends were sympathetic. Well, sympathetic to a point. Several of them remarked that while they were worried, of course they were worried, they realized if we didn’t happen to make it back there would be two more sirloins for them. They wanted details of our time in the storm. I ate while my partner talked. Steak and hash browns never tasted so good.

“Well, it’s raining like hell, we don’t know where we are, and Dave pulls out this candy ass little compass and tells me we’re going clear across the lake. So I have little choice but to go with him. I thought we were going to be blown right into the lake a couple of times, and I don’t swim very well. But by God we got here, all because I saw that green jug.“

He held his glass up, I raised mine, and we clicked them together.

“You were a good captain,” he said.

“You were a great first mate.” We drank. I believe we had a few more after that as well. Before I turned in that night I had a cigar.

This trip has a twenty year plus history. Our leader and at least one other of the eight have been on every one. Another of the crew was on the original trip, missed a few, and is back. It was my first time. They know what they’re doing; what it costs down to the penny, equipment needed, groceries required, how it works crossing the border. I felt I was in good hands. The leader filleted all the fish, made the major decisions, handled the money, told us when to start releasing fish, and generally kept everything running smoothly and on schedule. He did it very well and very quietly.

Why do guys go on these trips? I can’t speak for them. I went for the beauty, and to recapture something I found up there years before. I wasn’t sure I would ever make it back. I hadn’t fished in fifteen years. When I was young, still acting director of YSB and working way too hard, I went with a bunch of guys to the Canadian border on a similar trip. Rustic cabin, little motorboats, cases of beer. I slept in the back of a van the whole way up, twelve hours plus. The fellas thought there was something wrong with me, roused me in Northern Minnesota at a donut shop and told me to go to the bathroom. A few days into the trip, after I was rested, I woke to the beauty of the sky and the lakes around me. It cleared my head. I got married soon after that, and started my family.

Years later I took my son to the boundary waters three summers in a row, beginning when he was in 7th grade. I wanted him to find what I had found years before. We cooked freeze dried food and fish, humped our canoe and gear over portages, set up camp, hiked, fished, and lazed around. When it rained we stayed in the tent and read short stories to each other. We had fun. It was a special time for me, and for him I think.

Why do guys go on these trips? They go to experience the fresh air and sunshine of all day on the lake and remember the feel of a fish on the line. To walk through the woods on a path you’ve never travelled. To carve a week out of your life that is simple. To tell old jokes to people that haven’t heard them, enjoy old friendships, and make new ones. One thing for sure, they don’t go for the big pots in the poker games.

When I woke in the middle of the night I would sometimes walk out on the dock and look at the sky. There is no light pollution in the wilderness of Northern Ontario. You forget how beautiful the night sky can be. We saw a hint of Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, dancing on the night horizon, shimmery and white, like sheer curtains. Early one morning I went outside and saw the sky over the lake lit by the sun rising behind the cabin.

Later that morning four of us travelled to a corner of the lake, into the river that feeds Lake Roderick, got out of our boats and pulled them by ropes from shore through a narrow rock gorge with rapids to navigate once again on a wider section of the river, finally tying them up at the head of a portage trail. We gathered our fishing gear, extra boat gas, and a lunch we had packed to follow a narrow rocky portage trail up and over the hill that separates Roderick from a smaller lake simply named Walleye. There we found two old boats with 8 HP motors tied to a small dock and gas cans under a crude wooden box near them. As we fished and explored Walleye Lake I felt doubly removed, absolutely cut off, floating quietly in the Canadian wilderness under a bright sun. Walleye Lake is aptly named by the way. We filleted them in the boat, on an oar, to avoid the weight of so many whole fish on the trip back.

That night I saw the moon rising over the lake that was lit red by the sun that morning.

Later in the week we made another portage on the south end of the lake, this time bypassing a loud cascade of water in the stream that is the outlet for Roderick. This was an easier walk. We saw signs of moose on the trail. It was good to get off the lake and walk deep into the woods. It’s quiet and beautiful in there as well.

These guys have moved their trip around, from one Canadian outfitter to another, flying in from various departure points, fishing on lots of different lakes. Apparently, a number of other groups have gone to Roderick Lake, stayed in that particular cabin over and over, year after year. Each visit they leave home made plaques on the walls, some nicely done with wood burners, which list their names, note the year, and comment on their stay. One group noted that in July of 1997 “All We Caught Was a Buzz.”

On the back of one nicely done peeled log, hung carefully from a support beam over the kitchen table on brass eyelets in 2012, The Snore Crew shared this thought

“Trips like these remind men they can be boys forever.”

They might be on to something there.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Going North

There is a town in north Ontario,
With dream comfort memory to spare.
And in my mind I still need a place to go,
All my changes were there.

Blue, blue windows behind the stars,
Yellow moon on the rise,
Big birds flying across the sky,
Throwing shadows on our eyes.

from the song “Helpless” by Neil Young, 1969

After a quick trip across the lake, a 9.9 horsepower motor pushing our 14’ fishing boat as fast as possible, we neared a vertical rock face and slowed down. Our wake raced past us and broke on the rocks on shore, bouncing back at our boat. We bobbed on the water.
“What’s our depth?” I asked.

He read the screen of the gizmo by the motor that indicated how deep the water and displayed digital Lego like figures purported to be fish from time to time.

“22 feet.” We’d been catching fish in water 26 to 32 feet deep all week. “We’ll drift to deeper water. When we get to thirty three feet or so we’ll go back and make another pass. There’s a trough down there that runs along the cliff. Let’s fish.”

He shut off the motor. I opened the bail on my reel and dropped my line into the water. A quarter ounce neon green lead head jig was tied directly to the end of wispy, nearly invisible six pound test line. On the jig's hook half a worm was threaded, just to cover the tip. I’d pinched the worm in two, and put the remaining half between my yellow cotton gloves on the bench beside me. Both halves, the one on my hook and the one in the boat, wriggled. We’d brought the worms all the way from Illinois. Still they wriggled. You have to hand it to worms, they are very resilient.

How that puny looking line could hold such heavy fish without breaking was a mystery to me. Line spooled off the reel and then stopped. I knew my jig was on the bottom. I reeled it up two turns. It hung with no slack, straight down, not moving. I curled the forefinger of my right hand under the line and held it lightly, staring at the end of my pole.

I looked up from the water. Cotton ball clouds hung in a brilliant blue sky. Across the lake I watched a patch of shade, chased by the sun, sweep across spiky pines on the far shore. A crow cawed three times. Then there was silence.

It gets quiet in the shack. There is the click of the keyboard as I type, birds, crickets at times, locusts in the trees at night. But constantly in the background is the persistent noise of civilization. A siren, the hum of truck tires on Route 80, the sound of a train on the tracks down the hill, a car passing across the ravine on Fields Place or on Caton Road at the other side of the house.

But on that far northern lake? Nothing, broken only by the smallest of sounds. The quiet lap of a single wave against the boat. Wind. A metal stringer scraping the gunwale of the boat. Small sounds were amplified. For long stretches of time nothing was heard at all. The silence was magnificent, and deeply peaceful.

No roads lead to Lake Roderick in Northern Ontario. I suppose with a canoe or kayak and a series of long and tortured portages you could reach it by land, but for all practical purposes it is accessible only by sea plane. To get there eight men in two vehicles, one towing a trailer, started in Ottawa, drove to International Falls, crossed the border into Canada, drove to Red Lake, Ontario, and managed to get ourselves and all our gear; groceries, bait, tackle, equipment, and bags, into two planes. They flew us north and west over lakes and forest, landed on the waters of Lake Roderick, and taxied to a dock. In front of us was a rustic cabin, which became our home for seven nights. With our stuff unloaded and on the dock, the plane taxied off. Its two long silver pontoons left the surface of the lake, grew smaller, then disappeared over the ridge. We traveled over a thousand miles to put ourselves in this place.

The rock face where we fished that day was forty feet tall. Where the rock was exposed, not covered by small pines clinging impossibly to the granite, their roots yards wide and a few inches deep, a collapse was evident. The front of the rock face had sheared off. Chunks of granite, lying near the lake’s edge, showed sharp angles. On the cliff above were gaping holes where the rocks once were, deep fissures in the rock wall mirroring the shape of the rock below. You could see how the rock could be fit back together, rejoined after all these years, like a 3-D jigsaw puzzle. It looked like a Picasso cubist painting. A big nest of sticks was built on a flat ledge, home to birds we never saw. As we fished the giant rocks loomed above us, next to us, the water twenty five feet deep within yards of shore. I imagined more slabs and chunks of rock on the lake floor below our boat, with fish seeking shelter between them. I jigged my line, pulling it up and letting it fall. The end of the rod bent slightly. I felt a slight tug on my line.

“Please come back,” I said softly to the fish, deep below me, as if it could hear.

I felt another tug. I let my rod tip go close to the water before jerking the line up hard. Nothing.

“You missed him,” my fishing partner said. “They hit light. You might have pulled it out of his mouth.”

I reeled my line up, pulling the jig out of the water. I could see the shiny curve of the hook, the barb showing.

“He took my worm.”

“I’ll go up and make another pass.” My partner started the motor and slowly took the boat back to the start of the rock face, turned the boat sideways to the wind, then killed the engine, letting us drift, pushed by the wind, through the same water again. I put the worm’s other half on my jig. We cast our lines on the wind side, positioning our bait near the bottom, and continued to jig.

Near the spot where I had the bite previously, my rod tip again bent and I felt again the familiar tug. ‘Let him take it a little more’ I said to myself. When the tug became stronger I pulled up hard. This time the weight stayed on the line.

“Fish on.”

I kept the tip of my rod up and high and reeled in line. As I did the weight became heavier and my drag, the control on the reel that gives when tension on the line hits a predetermined level, sang. The fish was running straight down, taking my jig and the line it was attached to with him. I could feel the fish move through my rod, watch him move as the line pulled right, then left, through the water.

The fight with Walleyed pike is mostly vertical. They flee downward and we work to bring them up to the boat. They rarely run away from the boat. Northern pike, especially when they see the boat, run hard in all directions, sometimes jumping out of the water in an attempt to spit the hook. When they do they sometimes use their teeth to cut a set up with no wire leader such as the one I was fishing. This was a Walleye.

“Do you need the net?”

“I don’t think so.”

He fought nicely but was beginning to come up. I didn’t think he was big. As he neared the surface I could see him, green sides flecked with yellow, big translucent eyes, his brownish top fin spread open and spiny on his back, the hook firmly in his mouth. I drew him up to the boat, grasped the head of the jig between my thumb and finger, and pulled him up and in. He flopped on the bottom of the boat.

We ate the fish we caught and when we had our limit released the rest. Eight guys can keep sixteen Walleye. That’s 32 fillets max, more than enough for a meal. Those were my favorite days, when we had plenty of fish for supper cleaned and ready in the fridge at camp and could fish just for the pleasure of catching them. We released the small ones, and many of the bigger ones, preferring to clean and eat the medium size Walleye. I quickly laid the fish I had caught on the seat of the boat in front of me, on a ruler decal, and saw that he was eighteen inches. That would be a perfect eating size, but we had no need for him. I carefully took the hook from his mouth, held him in the water and let him slide out of my hand.

“Go back and grow. See you next year.” He swam away, down to the bottom, unharmed.

The camp supplied us with a cast iron cook pot over a propane burner on a frame outside the cabin. One of our group was the fry master. He did a wonderful job. He used a light batter and cooked the fish golden brown. Some nights we made rice to go with the fish, spiked with onions and peppers. Other nights we sliced raw potatoes into slivers and fried them in the fish oil after the fillets were cooked. Until we ran out of lettuce we made a big salad to go with. Someone was smart enough to bring a bucket of Illinois garden tomatoes. A little hot sauce sprinkled on the plate. All washed down with cold beer. Is there anything better than eating fish caught that day from clean cold water served hot with freshly prepared sides? Of course there is. But as I bit into those Walleye fillets around the cabin table with my friends I couldn’t think of anything.

We stayed in a summer cabin set on stones, the log floor beams suspended a foot from the ground, rubber hoses running under the cabin for plumbing. When you looked at the construction inside the cabin, all exposed peeled log rafters and beams with flat wooden panel siding, you could almost see the trees from which it was made. Recently the camp owner converted to a solar panel system for electricity, which worked well. Despite their summer only use there was a steel wood stove in the kitchen which, when compared to the Sardine stove in the shack, was gigantic. It was like building a campfire in a steamer trunk. But it took the chill off. We made a fire every morning, and often at night. Visiting Canada at the 51st parallel in early September is like travelling through time. Through the green pine boughs we saw the yellows and reds of the deciduous trees turning. We were the last fishing party on the lake. After we left they were shutting it down for the season. A giant V of geese flew over us heading south on one of our last days on the lake. Fall is coming. We saw it up there.

Not every day was idyllic. We brought rain suits for a reason. The weather turned quickly. I learned that the hard way. After lunch and an afternoon nap we headed out in the boats to fish again. As sometimes happened a few of our group decided to stay in camp. I was without a partner. The oldest among us, a man near eighty who kept up amazingly well, saw I needed a boat mate.

“I’ll go with you Dave.”

He quickly got his gear together and we set out, some five minutes after the others, and went our own way.

“How about we go to shallow coves and throw spoons at Northerns?” I asked. Although we all brought tackle for the bigger, harder fighting Northern Pike we had exclusively fished for Walleye.

“Sounds good to me. Lead the way.” I took off in a new direction to a part of the lake that appeared to contain shallower water, looking for reed beds and cabbage grass, a type of water weed believed to hold Northerns.

It was windy in the middle of the lake and overcast, so we went from cove to cove, going carefully around points of land that often indicated shallow rocks below the surface. We’d fished for perhaps an hour with little luck. It grew overcast and the wind increased. I paid little attention to the sky nor did my partner. It began to sprinkle rain.

“I’m not interested in fishing in the rain are you? Let’s head back.”

As I said that and started the motor, the sky opened up and hard cold rain pelted us. We were shocked it could rain that hard, that fast. I had been wearing my rain jacket as a hedge against the wind but not my rain pants. I watched as my jeans were spotted with rain, then completely soaked. I felt a chill. The wind increased.

“Put your rain coat on!” I said to my partner. He struggled to find the arms. In the end he wrapped it around him and held it close to him.

“And your life vest!” I felt the burden of getting him back safely.

As we left that cove and entered the larger lake the water was choppy and covered in whitecaps. I’d been on large lakes like this before, with my son, in the boundary waters. We traveled by canoe. I would never have attempted to cross a lake that size in such weather in a canoe. I would have opted to get on shore and wait it out. But we were camping on those trips. We had a tent, a tarp, a propane stove. Here we had none of that. I figured we didn’t have a match between us. Instead were in a good aluminum boat, a deep V bottom Lund, with a dependable Yamaha motor and plenty of gas. My goal immediately was to get us back to camp as soon as possible.

The wind was mostly behind us, and the boat handled reasonably well. My partner was alarmed however, at the boat rocking through the waves.

“Slow down, we’ll tip!”

“No we won’t. I’m going to get us back to camp.”

As soon as pulled out of the cove I was disoriented. I couldn’t see well enough to tell island from shore. The sky gave me no clue as to where the sun was and thus what direction we were heading. We yelled to be heard above the noise of the wind and rain.

“Do you know where we are?”

I paused. “No!”

He paused. “Neither do I!”

“I have a compass!”

I had a cheap compass in my tackle bag. I got it out, opened the case, and let the needle spin. I have better compasses that this I thought. Why didn’t I bring one of them? Rain spotted the compass face. I wiped it off with my thumb. I turned the boat around.

“I’m heading North!”

“A compass doesn’t do you any good when you don’t know where you are to start with!” He had no faith.

“Our camp is on the North end of the lake. I’m going North. You going with me?”

”I guess I am.”

I held the hood of my rain jacket out over my face, shielding my eyes from the hard slanting rain, and held tight to the tiller. I couldn’t see the far shore. My biggest fear was rocks. If we hit a rock which damaged the motor or the boat, or worse yet threw one or both of us into the water, we’d be in real trouble. I looked at my old partner. He’d managed to get the hood up on his rain jacket. He had his life jacket on upside down. He was depending on me to keep him safe. I was still lost.

Sometimes we have little to go on but hope and faith.