My father fished commercially as those of you who read this blog regularly may recall. As well, he fished for pleasure starting at a young age. He didn’t have to go very far to find water, as he grew up on a hillside farm in Norway. It was positioned between high mountain lakes above, and Norway’s longest and deepest fjord, Sognefjord, below. The family farm also had a hidden “fishing hole” that was fed by a mountain creek. My father told of learning to swim in the fishing hole: as a very small child, his older brothers tossed him in and left him to figure it out. Fortunately, he did.
One might think that my father’s fishing skills and his love of fishing and boating would have been passed down to his children from an early age, especially to this daughter, his eldest. That was not the case though. I grew up in a different time and place. Though Seattle is nearly surrounded by water, we, unfortunately, didn’t have a boat as I was growing up.
I would have loved and benefited from early fishing and boating lessons. As a young adult, I found myself living 250+ miles away, inland, yet my home at one point was quite literally on the bank of a beautiful river. Unfortunately, I had no real sense of how to fish, had it occurred to me to try.
The neighbor across the road from our place on the river was the opposite. His fishing pole was a permanent fixture on the river’s edge, constantly busy, attended or not. During the summertime, I’d often hear a shy knock at our door, and would open it to find one of his grandkids offering a wiggling trout or a catfish, “My Grandpa said to give this to you.” After a while, even the very youngest of his grandchildren would whisper-knock, then just stare at me with big saucer-eyes and not say a word. That was my cue, “Oh, hi! Is that for me? Thank you so much! Tell your Grandpa, thank you!” Then, I would extricate a wiggly fish from the hook in the tight grip of a tiny hand, and later enjoy a wonderful fish dinner.
My first real fishing lesson (much better than those nature walks) actually took place in Norway. I was nineteen when one of my younger sisters and I visited there with my father. This was his first trip back to “The Old Country” in many decades. His nephew and family, my cousins, now lived on the family farm where he’d grown up. It was, and still is, handed down from generation to generation. Many other relatives were, and are, living on other hillside farms nearby.
Very early one morning, one of my many cousins took the three of us out in his boat on one of those alpine lakes above the farm. The lake was completely still, aside from the soft sounds made by our rowboat. A light mist hung over the water. As we ventured further onto the lake, the water below was so clear that I could see submerged trees on the bottom.
My cousin soon located and began to pull up a net, heavy with fish. He had placed it there sometime the day before. He brought the fish net up carefully, yet I recall seeing several fish slip back into the water in that moment. I may have been the only one to notice. Soon, the floor of the boat was awash with slippery, silvery fish. Quiet transitioned to activity, as my cousin and dad showed us how to kill and clean them. It’s a skill which has come in handy many times over…and one that still flashes to mind if I hear an unexpected light knock at my door.
As you might expect, my fishing lesson with my dad, sister, and cousin provided far more than actual fishing skills, though I didn’t realize that right away. In Norway, I had a glimpse of an entire life that my father had left behind. Through the experiences and stories that played out or were told on that trip, I saw him in a different context. I understood why he left Norway; he was adventurous and was looking for opportunity, not because his life lacked depth or meaning. I also gained a deeper understanding of myself, as well as insights about family, friendships, choices and assumptions.
I came home with some great memories, some friendships that have continued over these subsequent years, and some wonderful photos — a few of which I’ve included here.
I still think of those fish, the ones that got away, as well as the ones that we enjoyed for dinner that evening. Intuitively, I still always notice the ones that get away. I try not to dwell on them too much.
Metaphorically, I now realize the importance of focusing on that which is here, now, in the present moment — whether it be opportunities, skills, knowledge, health or people. So, when my thoughts do slip away or wander in other directions, as they do, I let them play on the line a bit or run themselves out…then, I reel them in.