Thursday, February 2, 2017


Grandson Martin, Jacob,
and Vickie (l. to r.)
While visiting in the home of Vickie Sullivan's 97-year old mother in central Florida recently, Vickie's sister came over with two old photographs of me and my grandson Martin in hand. The photos probably dated back to 33 years ago, and one photo showed me holding a large bass I had caught; the other photograph showed my grandson Martin, Mary Ruth's oldest son Jacob, and Vickie holding a nice string of fish they had caught in canals on the Latt Maxcy Corporation Ranch. I couldn't believe that the large bass I held was my catch of the day, but there I was, wearing large-frame glasses popular back in the day, smiling over the fish that was stretched to full length in a snapshot that Mary Ruth had discovered among her memorabilia.

Fishing was once among my favorite recreations, and I felt a jolt about my aging process when I looked at the photo. My blissful expression and that of my grandson in the photographs also jolted me into a consciousness of how recent photos of me show a lot of white hair and a certain worried look on my face. I was in my forties when we made this fishing jaunt, and I was enchanted with the landscape of central Florida — the grassy pastureland savannas with scattered clumps of saw palmetto, hammocks of live oaks trailing moss, and orange groves scattered among many glistening lakes. My nostalgia and memories of the past make it a happy time among hospitable people.

Me with bass
At the time of the photo-taking, an abundance of bass, bream, and catfish filled the canals on the ranch with overflowing high water from the nearby Kissimmee River. Every cast that day had brought in a fish; however, I never returned to this bountiful fishing spot and later confined my fishing to casts from a pier that Vickie's mother built on the beach of her lakefront home. For a long spell, she fed the fish in Silver Lake daily, and on one occasion, I caught 23 bream, ceasing my fishing only when dusk came... and I began to think about having to clean the catch!

In my forthcoming book of poetry, Sifting Red Dirt (see cover below), I included a prose poem about fishing expeditions entitled Big Creek:

They called it “floating the river,” one paddling, the other casting his way into eddies all day, pulling close to shadowy pools, perch beds where blue gills and sun perch darted for multi-colored flies thrown into their hunger. One summer, they allowed me along, and I was given a fly rod and shown how to crack the whip, two flies attached. When I felt the hard pull of two blue gills, plump, dark blue bodies tugging at the lures and breaking the surface of the water I knew why they went out on the river. Most days the sun was so hot they had to come to a hiatus under overhanging oaks every few hours to open a can of beer and say a few words to each other, but the less words, the better, the overwhelming silence a relief from talk required for the unending necessity of hands at work, making a living. The Bogue Chitto, Choctaw for “Big Creek,” was then clear water, and when we stopped under the bridge by The Tavern to replenish the beer, I could see the gravel bottom of the river, breathe in the desultory air, feel a part of that silence that had been broken only by the whiz of the line and a small snap as the line hit the water. They were both on their way to becoming alcoholics, and floating the river soon became something less spiritual, less recreation, and more drinking in the shade of the watchful oaks. I knew the only peace either of them felt was on that river, and I did not go with them often but when I did, I wasn’t afraid, even in sudden summer thunderstorms when we had to pull up on the banks and sit until the white flashes and rumbling stopped. I was only afraid of water moccasins dropping into the boat, preferring to be at the outer edges of the perch pools. Sometimes when the sun became unbearable, the paddler would start the motor of an old outboard and stir the heavy air, riding the current for a few minutes, the breeze pushing us on to another pool. Years later, I would understand the meditative quality of those trips, no thoughts persisting, just concentration on the line flying into the dark pools searching for hungry perch, a hypnotic gesture, not caring what anyone thought, not wanting to hear anyone else’s problems, not moaning about life not being intact, but feeling the soul’s bliss, heart contracting with joy in the simple goodness of floating the river. 

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