Friday, April 10, 2009


When I was a kid, my Dad would take me and my two older brothers fishing almost every weekend during bass season. We lived up the road a ways, from one of the reservoirs that feeds New York City's water supply. It had great bass fishing, because when New York City decided to create it's reservoir system late in the 19th century, it chose the spot where my town was originally located. It is a great point of pride for the locals, that when their legal suit against the city failed, instead of abandoning their homes and letting the reservoir swallow it, they moved it.


The whole town.

Each house. Each store. Fifty buildings total were pulled by horses on soaped timber tracks to a new plot of land that was well beyond the city's flood zone. Left behind were the stone walls and vacant foundations that had framed the old town. What does this have to do with fishing? Well any angler worth their lures will tell you that stone walls (submerged of course) are favorite places for bass to reside....

My Dad kept a rowboat down on the bank of the flooded old town now known as the reservoir, with along side other row boats that other fishermen left along the bank. None of the boats were locked, just left there flipped upside down so they wouldn't fill with rain. Every Saturday morning as early as he could muster, Dad would pack us all up, me, my brothers, our poles, tackle, freshly dug worms, the oars to the boat, and whatever snacks Mom had bagged, into our station wagon, and drive us down the bumpy dirt road, that led to the reservoir. When we reached the path along the road side that led to our little row boat, Dad would pull off and we would systematically unpack the station wagon. Dad had a system for everything.

Getting to the boat involved climbing over or around the guard rail, avoiding pricker bushes, poison ivy, and burrs while walking down a washed out gravelly path that precariously sloped to the water's edge, and our boat. All with gear in hands. My Father is not so much of a patient man. In retrospect it was clearly the promise of time on the water with reel in hand that helped him keep his whits about him as he managed three of us, and the repeated trips to the car that were required for all of our gear to reach the shoreline.

Once down to the waters edge my middle brother and I would practice skimming stones while my eldest brother and Dad would flip and load the boat. Carefully we would each take our turn stepping into the wobbly boat that Dad would hold beached in the soft dirt of the shore until we were all in and settled. When we were really little Dad could easily push off from the shore, but when we grew bigger, he occasionally planted a boot in the water and showered our young ears with some colorful expletives.

Dad would then make his way to the center of the boat to man the oars. This always made me anxious, the way the boat, free from the shores stability, would sway and toss from side to side, while he stepped over seats and around our gear. I always held my breath and was careful not to move, certain any unanticipated shift would throw my father head first into the water.

Once seated Dad would begin his dipping and pulling of the oars and propel us across the water to one of his favorite fishing spots. The rhythm of his strokes and the hypnotic little swirls of whirl pools left in the oars wake, quickly set me at ease.

When we were beginners Dad would bait our hooks and cast the line for us. He also attached bobbers to our line hoping to give us a small advantage over the fish. For those of you who have never been fishing, a bobber is a little floaty ball with a hook and a worm dangling on a line in the water below it. When a fish nibbles the worm the bobber will sink into the water and pop back up when they let go, giving the user a notion of when they should try to plant the hook in the fishes mouth. I always felt bad for the worms...and the fish. While I did catch my share of Sunnies, I spent a good amount of my time on the boat relaxing and observing my bobber.

That's what my Dad told me to do....'keep your eye on the bobber' I did. I watched it intently. I observed the way is stayed a certain level above the water even when the wind sent ripples at it. I observed it effortlessly staying buoyant on the water. Even when a fish did pull it under, it popped back up to the surface with certainty and a satisfying bounce. It had a singular intent. To float. In my child mind I tied the bobber's fate to my own. I would watch as each new nautical danger tried to sink it. A ripple from the oars. Multiple nibbles from the fish. I would hold my breath till my bobber safely popped back to the surface. It gave me an odd confidence that if such a small insignificant ball could persevere with such ease, surely, little as I was, I could do the same.

Looking back I realize that my admiration of the bobber, and my home town's spirit, was really a reflection of my own innate optimism. The quality in me that when faced with unexpected difficulties, could usually see not only the path through, but the silver lining. The properties of my own nature that allowed my mood to remain buoyant. I always believed that something good was ahead, that life's sweetness awaited me around each new turn. I was rarely disappointed. Like most good things in life, I took my optimistic faith for granted. I assumed it would always be there, unshakable...indeed unsinkable.

Lately, it has been...difficult. Perhaps it is midlife, or the burdens of a family of wellness challenged loved ones. Maybe it is my brother's mental illness, or my father's terminal one. Most likely a combination of all three. It is hard to be optimistic when the people I love are suffering. It is hard to see the silver lining when the people I love struggle. It is challenging to be buoyant when the weight of their pain is constantly pulling at my heart.

Lately it seems the very nature of my buoyancy is in question.

I see now I was wrong to make so many assumptions steeped in optimism. My family's health, my brother's sanity, my father's presence in this world. All of them taken for granted until they failed. Cognitively I can see the silver linings. Celiac Disease gives us the cure with our gluten free diet. My Father's illness has given us meaningful time together,that we may have otherwise missed. My brother's mental illness...well I am still looking for the silver lining in that one, but I am sure it's there.

It is clear now that I must fight for my bouyancy. It is no longer effortless to burst back to the surface. I need to find a way to untangle the pain from my heart so that even with my shaken faith, I can propel myself to the surface...if only to float... because in my family's lives...

I am the bobber.

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