Measuring the passing of time during a week in Canada.
For a few months longer, until Wylie turns 20, I will have three teenage sons in the house.
It is a magical time in their lives, and for me, too, watching the slow but blindingly fast transition from boys to men. I am reminded of Mom’s saying that “the hours go slowly but the years so fast.”
A week of fishing for walleye and pike at a remote Ontario lake made that stand out in sharp relief. One night after dinner, Wylie took it upon himself to take a boat across the lake and dump the filleted fish carcasses, potato peels, and onion husks in a spot where we were told to leave compostable matter. A gull, who became our daily companion, followed him, and I occasionally peered from the window in the cabin to make sure that the bear that must frequent that spot was not looking for a larger snack.
Canadian lakes can be confusing, and it is easy to become disoriented. All the landmarks at Coles Lake in Ontario are rock and pine. Get lost in your thoughts, and you might find yourself asking, Now how do I get back from here? My friend, Mike Dombeck, the only person to ever lead both the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, and a walleye guide for 11 years, marveled at Wylie’s almost immediate knowledge of the lake, and his ability to recall water depth and potential hazards.
Casey, 16, returned from an all-day jaunt with Mike’s nephew, Joe. They travelled by boat to Little August Lake where in normal water years, they would have passed through a shallow narrows before taking a smaller skiff with a smaller motor to a remote lake upstream.
The narrows were a lot narrower this year because of drought. Casey and Joe, who can bench press a combined 600 pounds, ended up pushing the boat through boot sucking muck for several hundred yards and then poling through rocks only to arrive at Little August Lake to find the four-horsepower motor they brought to get across the lake did not start.
When they returned, I asked Casey, “You didn’t try to start the motor here first?” He shrugged. He is 16, after all.
Henry Trace, 13, and I fished one afternoon together, and I looked on with pride as he caught nine walleye in a row on what had previously been a slow afternoon. On one retrieve, he brought his lure to the boat and we both shouted as a 32-inch pike ambushed his twister tail.
I have fished in Canada several times in the past few years, but this was the first with the boys.
We were finishing one drift, and HT, who is more comfortable on a hoop court than anywhere else, said “I think this is the best afternoon, maybe best day, of fishing I’ve ever had.”
On another day, Wylie and I returned from an island and came upon Casey’s boat and laughed as Casey pantomimed catching a 50-inch pike that was actually a snag. HT’s well-known basketball court “trash talk” was in full effect as we showed him the two 16-inch walleye on our stringer. “Those are babies! How could you take them from their Mommy?”
We mostly spin fished, although I caught some nice walleye on the fly, and Wylie landed an 18-incher off the dock with a perch fly at midnight one evening.
Watching boys turn to men is not always easy business. They are at an age where they aren’t necessarily looking for advice or approval, and having coached them all in basketball and baseball, it is hard for me not to give it.
Growing up, my brothers and I played sports all year, and were not at all a hunting and fishing family. My Dad, who passed away last August, was recognized 15 or so years ago by the Newark Star-Ledger as one of the 100 best basketball players in the city. I once asked him why we never went camping as a family. His response: “Chris, for me, staying at a Motel 6 is the equivalent of camping.”
Traveling up and back from the camp, we spent a good eight hours together in the car. Wylie played DJ with a mix of rap and classics. It was perhaps the only time “Gang, Gang, Gang” by Jack Harlow was juxtaposed with “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell. Casey and Henry Trace sat in the back and alternatively wrestled and passed comments on Wylie’s music.
When I was a few years older than Wylie, I discovered a quote by the French poet, Charles Baudelaire:
“Be drunken, always. That is the point; nothing else matters. If you would not feel the horrible burden of time weigh you down and crush you to the earth, be drunken continually.
Drunken with what? With wine, with poetry or with virtue, as you please. But be drunken.
And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace, or on the green grass in a ditch, or in the dreary solitude of your own room, you should awaken and find the drunkenness half or entirely gone, ask of the wind, of the wave, of the star, of the bird, of the clock, of all that flies, of all that speaks, ask what hour it is; and wind, wave, star, bird, or clock will answer you: “It is the hour to be drunken!
Be drunken, if you would not be the martyred slaves of time; be drunken continually! With wine, with poetry or with virtue, as you please.”
What a great joy to see Wylie, Casey, and Henry Trace living those words in their own way.
The exigencies of life will soon press on the boys, and they may lose the ability or desire to get off the grid and fish for a week together. In the meantime, I plan to enjoy every moment with them.