Fall 2016 (Volume 20, Issue II): 20th Anniversary Issue
Blaine Masterson didn’t know too much about fishing, but nonetheless, ever since his father had died he found himself getting up extra early each morning just to go out on the lake and fish. His father’s fortune and humble little mansion out on Reeds Lake in East Grand Rapids, Michigan were now his, and like a fool he had quit his challenging old job at the auto parts factory in Detroit to move out here and take it easy for awhile.
However, doing nothing didn’t exactly turn out to be a suitable life for him, and so he had eventually found himself forming a very strict and sacred morning routine which essentially grounded him and kept him still somewhat connected to the honor and discipline that he had always so much admired about normal working class life.
At precisely 4:30 a.m each morning, he got out of bed. Then he made his way downstairs to make a fresh pot of coffee. The coffeemaker he used was the exact same one his father had used for the past twenty or thirty years or so. How had it lasted so long? When Blaine moved into the place, he was pleased to find that there were still some old coffee grounds left inside the machine, coffee grounds his father must have carefully scooped into the machine on the morning before he died. When Blaine reached in to remove the grounds, he instantly got a big whiff of the intense dark Italian roast his father had always preferred and then for a moment he swore he felt his father’s presence suddenly start rushing through him, like a violent jolt of brilliant electricity.
While the coffee was brewing, Blaine got dressed in his new retirement costume: old blue jeans, a random tee shirt, tall hiking boots. Then, he packed a little lunch for himself: two ham and salami sandwiches thrown casually into a small paper sack. After that, he poured the entire carafe of hot coffee into a big sturdy thermos and walked enthusiastically away from everything, and out the back porch door.
His new home had its own private dock and boathouse. For awhile, Blaine had toyed with the idea of just living in the boathouse and never setting foot inside the main house, but he found that the boathouse made him nervous as if he were a soldier in a fort awaiting a sad and gloomy day full of bloodshed and battle–he wasn’t sure why.
Plus, it was such a glorious thing to walk down the long narrow path in the woods to the lake each morning. The path smelled of pine trees, flowers, and old childhood memories. The main house was situated on a high hill above the treetops, about a ten minute walk from the shore. The walk gave him a chance to wake up, a chance to fully take in the freshness of the morning–a blank page he always felt he could somehow do so many good and marvelous things with.
Once at the shore, Blaine loaded his gear into the boat. His boat was a grand blue pontoon, purchased by his father to add a little excitement to his famous Friday night cocktail parties. The guests at the get-togethers were pretty much a complete “who’s who” of the Grand Rapids legal community. Any lawyer who wanted to prove to the world that he or she also had a wild rambunctious side was welcome to come. Blaine had always hated the parties when he was growing up. It was embarrassing that his family’s property had so often became the stage for passionate regrettable monologues by powerful privileged people who suddenly lost their nerve and revealed far too much about their personal lives to an audience of people who always remembered everything and always used whatever information they had to nudge, barter, and bicker their way into gross situations of huge financial gain.
The boat had a roof to block out the sun or rain, a set of comfy chairs that even the most inebriated and overweight judge could find quite suitable, a large cooler for limes, lemons, seltzers and ales. All in all, Blaine did not hold the boat’s previous career in high regard. He felt that its new life as an early morning fishing vessel was something far more honorable and full of bright promise.
Today, however, Blaine found himself setting out with a head full of mixed feelings. There was a slight chill in the air, something that told him “Yes, it really is late October and pretty soon this lake will not be suitable for boating.” He imagined himself ice fishing once the lake froze over, but he knew that that would hardly be the same. He imagined himself sitting quietly alone in a tiny little shanty out in the exact center of the lake. He would probably do it, but the intense gratification he got from whizzing around aimlessly on this veritable floating cottage of haunting childhood memories was something far more extravagant, far more exhilarating.
Blaine steered the boat happily toward his one special spot in the lake. He always started his mornings aiming for his one special spot. It was on the far east end of the lake, where few serious fishermen ever bothered to go. The water was shallow, weedy, and often disgraced with numerous discarded candy wrappers and bottles of cheap domestic beer.
He didn’t go there to begin his daily fishing session. No, he went there because he knew that plenty of ducks and geese liked to hide out there and spend time with their families there. He liked seeing, for example, a mother duck climbing out of the water with a parade of young ducklings following behind her: one, two, three, four–one time he had even sworn he’d seen a mother with a full team of ten ducklings waddling right behind her!
It was so funny the way that young ducklings walked. They walked as if walking were an intense and demanding sport as complex and mysterious as a complete eighteen hole round of golf can be. They walked as if playing “follow the leader” could become a full and absorbing career to devote an entire humble lifetime to.
It was here in the “land of the ducks” where Blaine would always choose to park the ridiculous pontoon boat, open up his thermos, and take his first sip of coffee for the day.
Often the sun was just starting to peek out at him from above the long low horizon in the distance. Sometimes the ducks actually seemed to distinctly say the actual word “quack” as if they were speaking directly to him, trying to basically communicate an important message to him that probably went something like, “Good day, sir. I am glad to see that you honestly admire our duckness. And I am also very glad to report that we are all equally thrilled to actually be ducks. So, thank you kindly for your support and I hope that you will truly have a nice time today out on the lake, dear beautiful stranger, dear welcome friend, dear humble hardy local duck club member and general wildlife defender / supporter / enthusiast, etc.”
Blaine watched the ducks as he respectfully thought some new and encouraging thoughts about his father. So, his father had chosen one kind of life and Blaine had chosen another–big deal.
In this early morning clarity Blaine could almost understand some of the largest and most complicated problems that had been troubling him greatly ever since his free and easy youth had become an often harsh and difficult normal adulthood.
For example, it could not ever really be so wrong to become whatever it was you were truly meant to become; it could not ever really be so wrong to honestly love whatever you honestly loved.
And now, here out on the lake, Blaine was finally for the first time of his life, truly starting to discover what he really honestly loved.
The sun, the ducks, the boat, the coffee, the morning, the routine, the joy of considering himself “an honest fisherman”–all of these things were a part of his newfound identity but none of them individually encompassed his complete and actual definition of himself or of his love.
His love was a large large thing, and it was only ever partially revealed through the things that mattered to him most. He could at best, only get a few rare tiny glimpses of the whole thing and then it always went away to be oh so completely sneaky and entirely intangible, as it always was and always would be.
Blaine sipped his morning coffee and thought that he maybe kind of sort of understood something very important, albeit in a very vague and messy type of way.
It was a tiny victory, but one that he felt he would be more than willing to write several paragraphs about later on in the small leather diary he had been sort of irregularly writing in ever since he had arrived back at his father’s house.
But, as for now, there was a whole long pleasant morning of fishing for him to look forward to. Blaine started the boat back up and headed off in a direction he thought would be more suitable for that brave new promising activity–an activity that for him was still a great and challenging new adventure.