The beautiful views along the drive to the lake were obscured by a memory of a nightmare that I had the previous evening. In my bad dream I was being tossed about in dark rough seas and barely able to keep my head above water. I was terrified that I would drown. The sea was green and brown, and the stench of oil was overpowering. The emulsion of oil and water clung to my soaking clothes and I couldn’t get away from the terrible odor. I did not want my last moments on this earth to be in an oily sea poisoned by human greed. My fear became so great that I awoke with a jolt. I found myself sweating, upright in bed, and absolutely full of fear. It took me more than a few seconds to realize I was safe and secure in my own bed. I could not reconcile the dream in my groggy condition. After a few moments I connected the dots and understood that I was processing my very real fears about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I lied awake for some time after that. My mind was on over drive. I felt helpless about what will turn out to be the worst-ever man made ecological disaster. I felt very sad; very sad, indeed.
As I drove along I tried to distract myself from these thoughts but little snippets of anguish kept running through my brain. I wondered why human greed was so prevalent. The hand writing seemed to be on the proverbial wall. Either we change the way we behave or we will irrevocably ruin our life support system. I focusedagain on the beauty around me. The sun was just above the hill tops to the northeast. I drove past fields covered with yellow dandelions and green grass. The ash trees were just starting to bud out completing the flourishing foliage found in the forest at the road’s edge. A few deer scampered across this rural road causing me to slow my truck to almost a stop. The small boat and trailer I was towing pulled a little to the left as I slowed down.
The earth really is a wonderful and beautiful place. It is complex and simple at the same time. It occurs to me that humans do not take enough time to understand or appreciate our planet’s ecosystems, especially those that focus on making money. Perhaps to those who are wealthy greenbacks are the gods that they worship. My perspective on that topic is quite different. My reverence is directed towards the natural world and beyond. I love everything wild.
I was on my way to meet my good friend Jeff. We were going to give my old boat the first test run of the season. As part of the day we would make sure the boat was still sea worthy as well as test some new equipment out that was new to the Fishound. I was looking forward to a day on the water with Jeff, and now I hoped it would cure what ailed me. A day on a quiet lake has strong restorative powers. As I neared Harriman Reservoir I thought of the irony of me driving a truck, pulling a boat on the trailer, and then motoring about the lake in the water craft while I worried about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I looked forward to the day when our transportation and recreation was not so oil dependent. I wondered if my love of fishing and seeking adventure in far off places did not paint me in an environmentally unfavorable light. Clearly I, as a consumer, contributed to our oil dependence problem. I laughed to myself as this thought reminded me that I really should climb down off my high horse once in a while when it comes to environmental ethics.
Jeff had a long drive to meet me and was a little late. I used the spare time to set up the electronic equipment on the boat which included a new GPS/Sonar device that we would test out today. Being able to track your exact speed, direction, and position on the planet by using satellites circling the planet is pretty darned amazing. Being able to see fish and obstacles in the water with sonar is equally impressive. Long gone are the days of navigating by sight and compass and fishing by guess work combined with trial and error. We live in a technical era that I often try to reject until I remember how dependent I am on all these electronic gizmos that make life just a little bit easier.
When Jeff arrived we gave each other a hug. I have known Jeff since I was 4 years old. In every sense of the word we grew up together. Not in the same house but on adjacent streets in the same neighbor hood. We played together nearly every day as children. We traveled on the same school bus and went to the same schools. We shared adventures and misadventures. I am a year older, so when it came time to graduate from high school I was the first to leave. I came back. Jeff had his own adventures and he returned from them. We lived together for a few years as young adults and eventually went on to live out life with our families on separate but somewhat similar flight paths. Over the years we have stayed in touch, got together, and followed each others lives. And we probably always will. They say blood runs thicker than water, but not in our case.
There was a missing piece to the pie on that day. Steve, the third musketeer in our trio is of equal importance, is equally loved, but lives too far away to join us. Jeff and I never get together without speaking kind words about Steve. He is the most gregarious of our threesome. We will see Steve in only a few short weeks when we go on our annual fishing trip together. This year we seek salmon and bass in northwestern Maine. While fishing in Lake Aziscohos and Umbagog Lake we will laugh, talk and renew the life long bond that is ours.
Jeff and I launched the boat off the trailer into the very clear waters of Harriman Reservoir. As we started the motor and headed south we both looked about at the tranquil scenery. Harriman is located in the southern Green Mountains and is surrounded by lush forest and tall hills. There are very few cottages on the lake and almost all of these are on the northern end. On this Monday we would only see one other boat on this eleven mile long lake. We moved slowly, soaking up the view. For the first few minutes we adjusted to our new surroundings and let peace penetrate to our bones.
As we moved down the lake at a slow pace Jeff and I talked about our daily lives: my wonderful wife and his lovely long time girl friend, our children, our work, and little pieces of our hopes and dreams. We discuss the past and renewed a few memories. We talked about a place called the dingle and a silly fight we had there when we were young teenagers. After a while we stopped talking. We just sat there in silence as the boat move down the lake appreciating the tranquil moment.
The Fishound is an older aluminum hull boat powered by a 40 horsepower motor with a 10 horsepower kicker for trolling. She is a sound water craft, but shows the signs of age, much like her present owner. Jeff was at the helm steering the boat and keeping a sharp eye on the sonar and GPS. We were using downriggers and knowing the depth of the water as indicated by the sonar is critical. The sonar also tells us the exact position of any fish the sound waves mark. When I say Jeff was keeping a sharp eye some might say I was grossly exaggerating. Actually Jeff was squinting through both eyes and praying he was reading the numbers correctly. His vision has been severely compromised by a life long battle with diabetes.
As I fiddled with the downriggers, making various adjustments trying to convince the fish that it was time to join us in the boat, I kept watching the tall hills that are graced with rounded crowns and are situated just off of the western shore. A couple of million years ago these two thousand foot hills were jagged mountains as tall as the Rocky Mountain spine. Glaciers, precipitation, and wind have all contributed to these once great mountains’ demise. Now most areas on these hills hold fertile soils that are capable of carrying large areas of mature forest. The peaks have moderated to long shallow ridges, only a few cliffs and steep faces remain. Now capable of supporting large numbers of plants and animals this once stark habitat is rich with life. It is awe inspiring to think that even mountains mellow with age.
Jeff and I are a lot like those craggy mountains that have been relegated to hills. Once we were both completely robust, moved with speed and agility and approached life with a great deal of gusto. Now we still get the job done but in a more deliberate and perhaps considerate manner. We have mellowed like those once great mountains. Like the hills we are still full of life.
I watched Jeff as he piloted the boat. With very little experience he quickly adjusted to making large, gentle sweeps when turning the boat. This is necessary to avoid tangling the lines trailing off of the downriggers to the rear. It’s not as easy as it sounds and this novice sailor got the hang of it right away.
As we pushed further south we saw loons, mergansers, and Canada geese floating on the water’s surface. There was little wind and only small ripples on the pond. The sun was dancing behind whatever clouds that could be found as it slowly dropped towards the horizon in the western sky. When we neared the southern end of Harriman Reservoir Jeff turned the Fishound in a wide arc until we are travelling north. The steel wire on the downriggers groaned as a breeze blew across the woven cable. The small 9.9 horsepower kicker slowly moved us up the lake as we trolled at about 2 miles per hour.
I took the controls for a short while so that I could learn the basics of the new GPS/Sonar device. With the instruction book in hand I manipulated buttons, tabs, and windows navigating my way through the various systems that this piece of equipment has to offer. I quickly learned the basic operations, although I am sure I will forget many of them by the next time I go out on the water in this boat. Jeff took in the scenery, just enjoying the moment. We switched our duties again and Jeff took the controls without speaking a word. It’s funny when you know someone well enough to communicate without speaking. It is a level of comfort that one finds with only a few people in a lifetime.
When I was a child my father had a fairly large recreational fishing boat. It was an oak hull twenty eight foot vesselthat weighted five and a half tons and bore the name Williamena 1. The boat was made by the Pinson Boat Manufacturing Company in downeast Maine in 1929. I spent many long hours sitting on that boat attached to a mooring swinging back and forth with the ebb and flows of the tide. The boat was in a nearly constant state of repair and we spent far more time fixing it than fishing off of it. My summer weekends and family vacations were spent on the ocean for a period of about six years. I spent most of the other three seasons living near the woods. As a teenager I pictured myself piloting a fishing boat for a living. I always knew that at some point I would have to make a choice between woods and water. Ultimately I chose to live and work in a rural forested environment. There were too many people near the ocean. I like people, I just like privacy better. Now the Fishound lets me enjoy large bodies of water in ways that I had forgotten about. There is a strong feeling of freedom that one gets on the ocean or on an isolated lake. My only regret while spending time on the open water when I’m fishing is that it can’t last forever.
The eastern shore of Harriman Reservoir has rocky ledges and short sandy stretches. On this day a few nude bathers dot the shoreline. I’m thinking they must be pretty chilly on this May afternoon when the temperature is in the lower 50’s. They’d probably think I was pretty chilly when I’m out here ice fishing in temperatures at ten below zero. It’s all a matter of perspective and desire.
With the sun getting lower in the western sky Jeff and I decided to head north to our starting point. Jeff fired up the 40 horsepower outboard, we pulled the gear off the downriggers, and we started off towards the north end of the lake. Our slow, steady tour of the lakeside was over. Objects on the wooded shoreline moved by a little more quickly as we cruised along at a speed of about 20 knots per hour. In a relatively short time we traversed the length of the lake. When we got close to the dock I took over the controls to assure a smooth landing. Jeff and I loaded the boat on the cradle of the trailer and hauled the Fishound out of the water. We took down all of the electronic equipment and put the fishing gear in the back of my truck. We had both enjoyed the day immensely.
Jeff had about an hour and a half drive to the north to get home. We hugged, said our good byes and he drove off. I was sorry to see him go but very content to have spent a day with him in this nearly perfect setting. As I started towards home I looked in the rear vision mirror and saw the boat riding on the trailer. The Fishound had done her job that day and I felt as if she deserved a rest as we traveled over paved and dirt roads on our way back to the homestead.
As I drove to the top of the first hill I saw ominous clouds to the south. I was reminded of the previous night’s bad dream about being caught in a storm in oil and water. And then it hit me. Oil and water do not mix, just like greed and good environmental stewardship do not mix. I wondered if we humans could change course. I wondered if we could wear off our sharp edges and look at our world from a different perspective. I wondered if we, as a species, were wise enough to let reason rule over greed. Only time will tell.
Written for www.wildramblings in May of 2010.