Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Or perhaps "in gills and fins" would be more appropriate. That's one bass fingerling who has been eating well, indeed. In a few weeks we'll return him to the water; fat, sassy and ready to become the voracious apex predator he (or she) is genetically programmed to be. But for now he goes back in the tank, to hone his predatory skills on the schools of baitfish that share his world, which happens to be on our back porch.
Every summer I drag an old 55-gallon aquarium onto the porch, fill it with water, and then we head to the local creek with nets and a five-gallon bucket. We catch mosquito fish, suckers, shiners, killifish, various sunfishes, crawfish, tadpoles, water sliders, whirligig beetles, leeches, snails, fairy shrimp, dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, frogs, baby snapping turtles, baby red-eared sliders, baby bass, baby channel catfish, baby crappie, and whatever else we happen to dredge up out of the primordial ooze of the creek bottom.
We then dump the whole thing into the aquarium and spend all summer watching nature take its infinitely fascinating course. Personally, I think it beats the hell out of TV. We've been doing this since the boys were first old enough to walk along the creek, and while these days the oldest is more into basketball and his adolescent social scene than looking foolish with his old man, the youngest is, thankfully, still fully engaged in such things.
So once again we head off to the creek, just a couple of kids; one eight, one 43, to see what we can catch. There are usually other people there enjoying the park, too, though not like us. Other kids, swinging or climbing the jungle gym. Other parents, sitting at the picnic tables watching their children, talking to their spouses or friends, smoking cigarettes, or staring at their phones. I'm usually - no, always - the only parent to be found chasing minnows with a net. The other parents always stare at me, wondering what the hell that grown man is thinking, splashing in the water like a kid. Yes, yes, I am. Put a net in my hand, give me a pond or a stretch of creek, and I become a child again. And I'm thankful for it. Always will be.
Despite the parents' tacit disapproval of my childish, filthy, and suspect antics, their kids always seem to gravitate toward us, ask us what we're doing, ask what's in the bucket. There's an unsated curiosity in their eyes, that natural childhood curiosity we all once had, but invariably - perhaps inevitably - lose as we get older, or, in the case of modern children, killed early by the sirens of our modern, all-encompassing digital lifestyle.
So we show them tadpoles and minnows and crawdads, ribbon snakes and sliders and baby catfish, while their parents watch me - this dirty, wet old man in sneakers and torn shorts - from afar with skeptical, suspicious eyes. Eventually their parents call the children away from us, load them into their cars and drive away, back to whatever world they inhabit and leaving us to this one.
We make a few more passes with the nets and decide to call it a day. We load up the bucket, heavy with water and wondrous critters, throw the nets in the back of the truck, and go home. It's been a good time, but I can't help but wonder how many more days like this I have allotted to me. My youngest will not always be so young, will not always want to do childish things. There's a time coming when I won't have anyone with which to splash around in a muddy creek, and with it no more reason for this 43-year-old man to act like a child. What, I wonder, will I do then?
Posted by Chad Love at 2:43 PM