Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Fishing Is For the Birds

When my son, Joseph was fourteen he was at that age where the primitive drive of the male species to hunt or fish for something, kill it and eat it was evident.  It is that age old rite of passage.  Something male Homo sapiens cannot avoid no matter how sensitive we are.  It is a primal urge.
I have never been much of a hunter, still suffering from the trauma of shooting and killing a robin red breast with my BB gun as a boy.  I cried over its lifeless body before giving it a proper burial and eloquent eulogy.
Fishing fulfills that urge for me, though it is still hard to clean fish as I look into their eyeballs.  Some are such beautiful creatures.  But fishing is relaxing and far less guilt-inducing since I rarely catch anything and I release many of the fish I do catch.
During a week-long stay at a beach house in North Carolina, Joseph and I decided we were going to catch some dinner.  Whatever we caught that day was going to grace our table that evening.  With bait and gear, we proceeded to paddle our boat to the sandbar in the middle of the sound our beach house overlooks.  From there we would fish into the deeper part of the sound because, we knew that is where all the really big fish are according to the “big water, big fish” theory.
After casting our lines, we placed our rods into the holders stuck into the sand.  We then began to walk around searching for minnows we could net for bait.  I would occasionally glance at the poles to see if there was any action while Joseph and I discussed the merits of various minnows we spotted in the shallows and tidal pools of the sandbar.  Shortly, I glanced at my pole and saw it suddenly bend down.
“I got one!” I exclaimed excitedly, running towards it.
Disappointment and surprise greeted me upon reaching my pole as I realized that what brought the line down was not a fish, but a seagull that had flown through the nearly invisible line, becoming entangled in it.  It was flapping helplessly on the surface making a tremendous commotion, squawking and shrieking loudly.  I could see the line had wrapped around one of its wings.
I pulled the line with the attached seagull in towards the shore and reached out to free it pulling my hand away just in time to save my fingers from certain pain.  I could see that this was not going to be easy.  Meanwhile Joseph stood by watching incredulously.  The squawking created by this one seagull was deafening.  I sent Joseph to get our dip net and my pocket knife.
It was about this time that the skies began to darken.   As I awaited my son’s return, I glanced up at a scene straight out of Alfred Hitchcock’s horror movie, “The Birds.”  Jonathan Livingston Seagull’s family and friends had gathered.  A tinge of fear ran through me as I recalled one of the victims of that movie whose eyeballs were missing.
“Hey, I am trying to help him, really!  I am trying to set him free!  Please don’t attack me!” I pleaded to the gathering fowl as a new sense of urgency began to fill me.
Joseph returned with the dip net and the knife.  Looking up he said, “Wow, Dad, they look really mad.”  He was always such an observant child.
“I know.  While I free this guy, you keep an eye on them and don’t let them attack me!” I exclaimed, not really knowing how he was going to do that.  He kept vigil for me as I attempted to free the trapped gull, which I was now convinced was the leader of the pack above me.  Placing the dip net over his head to protect my hand from his snapping beak, I carefully reached for his wing and cut the line free with my knife.  The part of his wing that the fishing line had wrapped around had lost some feathers, but it didn’t look too bad.  I lifted the dip net away from his head, and after scampering across the water, Jonathan Livingston was airborne once again.
Above the gathering flock of vengeful protectors slowly dissipated, following the freed bird.
My son and I looked at each other and began laughing.  “What a catch!” I said.  “What a fish story!”
We didn’t catch any fish that day.  Instead, Joseph and I went to the seafood market and bought some nice fillets.  We enjoyed recounting the story over dinner and thought of that seagull flying around perhaps telling others of his adventure that day.  Joseph’s primal urges were somehow placated by his heroic defense of his Dad from vicious beasts.  I also felt somehow redeemed for senselessly killing a beautiful robin a long time ago.