Just give me a boat, a rod, and a quiet lake, or a meandering river, and I am there. I drink in the sun, close my eyes and feel the warm breeze skirting across the water. Dragging my hands in the crisp liquid, I peer into the depths, where a black narrowing tunnel coils down. It is beyond this, I imagine, where the fish are gazing back up at me dodging in the shadows of our little drifting boat.
I walk, with Father at my side, the entire length of the field behind our house: a paddle propped on my shoulder and a bottle of water in my hand. From there we edge our way down the slope to the beach. Father and I lift the green canoe up from its hiding place among the fir trees and carry it to the edge of Salem Lake. Warm water ripples quiver in the early afternoon sun. The firm boat glides in placidly and I follow it in my flip-flops letting the coolness creep in between my toes and up my bare shins.
“You want the front or back?” Father asks me roughly and then goes on without waiting for a response. “I’ll take the back, it’s kind of hard to steer. The wind’s picking up anyway.” I get in the front and sit down on the stiff cane seat. I loosen my flip-flops: they fall with a sodden thud to the floor. With a last great heave, Father steps onto the narrow boat and into his seat.
“We’ll follow the edge around to the other side, I’m gonna trawl for a minute.” He throws a lure over the back and lets it drag as I slowly row us through the subdued water. He steers us around the edge of the lake with his paddle. I tire easily, but I keep rowing. I love this time with Father. I know he is thinking only of the fish and the boat. He doesn’t even know I’m there. That’s the best time to be around him, because he’s not angry or stressed from work. He’s working the oar, and he’s thinking about the current that runs diagonally where the Clyde River cuts through the middle of the lake, continues lazily through the woods, and sighs into Little Lake Salem on the other side.
We reach the opposite side of the Lake. Looking back, I can see all the summer camps clumped along the shore and in the midst of them stands our house. It sits back on the slope shadowed by the dark pines. Father says, “Ok. Hang on a minute.” He hasn’t caught anything on a lure, and I know that I won’t either. He hands the rod over to me and slowly slides his fly rod out from under the seats. I should be casting, but instead, I set the base of the rod down by my feet, so the tip hangs over the front.
I rest my cheek on my knees and wait and listen. Swoosh, swoosh. The faint whisper of the line sings as my dad throws the rod forward and back. The fly drops to the surface several yards in front of me. It jumps to the right, and then swims toward me a bit, then to the left. I can’t even see it, but I can just make out the ripples that it leaves when it jumps. The fly floats slowly to the edge of the boat and then rises back up and into the air. There it goes again! The rhythmic dance grows in my mind and grows fainter with the darkening sky.
I open my eyes. Father is turning the boat so our house is directly in front of us across the lake. We start paddling back to the beach. I don’t have a watch on. How long have we been out there? Hours? Minutes? Seconds? We have no fish, but I have Father at my back, steering the slow, tired canoe. I’m so sleepy and the trickle of the water that falls from the moving oars hypnotizes me into another dream. I pull my oar in. Father keeps rowing.
“Do you need me?” I ask over a slouched shoulder.
I don’t even wait for the answer. I am sleeping even before he can say to me, “I got it.”