A Word for That
I was born shortly after the good old days. We already had light bulbs and paved roads and outboard motors—some of the more noticeable hallmarks of “progress”. Fiercely independent “natives” were already working in hotels and banks, and our little island had begun to take its place in a larger (yet already shrinking) world, a world which was just about then witnessing the dissolution of the British Empire. What I just missed were the real old days, the smoke-pot days, before the automobile, the cruise-ship, and the telephone, when our little island was a sleepy place full of mangroves, duppies and mosquitoes…and a lot less people.
Fishing stretches back nearly to the beginning of memory. It doesn’t flow through it like a river, but like the ocean is ever-present. Naturally there is an ebb and flow. There were seasons spent fishing and those not. At times one was simply too busy growing up. There is a longish list of things a boy must do while still young and foolish, and fishing is only one of them. As it is a few items have remained undone. This might account for the grown-up longing for his lost childhood; in a sense, all childhoods are lost.
I think the first years may have been the best, but they have faded, eroded past full recovery. This may be why I still fish: to recapture some of that indefinable sense that occasionally glimmers through these imperfect recollections.
I do recall the feeling of long days, little disturbed by technology. To the windward open sea-grape groves rambled along the low bluffs of iron-shore, with the constant sound of breakers in the air. At an imagined distance the Caribbean Sea hung, a dark, far-off blue, blurred by the long breezes.
Fishermen are born, they say. Certainly fishing is in the blood, but it took a confluence of elements (in this case rivers of blood and salt seas) to fashion a fisherman out of the raw materials present at conception. Blood alone cannot provide the years under sun, rain, and moon dragging a living from the waters. One has to learn for oneself that the ocean is unforgiving and “many go down, but few return to the sunlit lands.” Mother Ocean calls her children to her bosom.
The naiveté of the young fisherman seems worthy of recapture, and I wonder how fishing has become so complicated now. In my youth we wet hook and line with the surety that if fish weren’t caught, at least we’d done what we could. As the old people said, there are days when the tide is bad and the fish don’t bite, that’s all. One cannot worry overmuch about the disposition of celestial bodies, and with no fish comes the consolation of not having to stand in the sun to clean them. (I looked forward to not cleaning fish only slightly less than I did catching them.)
The wild places called to me—still do—and fishing took me there, right to the thick of things. One never knew when conditions could become critical, and the moody Atlantic is known for her sudden squalls, particularly in the tropics. That cool draft, the first sudden gust off a squall was always thrilling, and even now I can taste on its breath the smell of rain…we should have a word for that.
1 C.S. Lewis, from The Silver Chair.[back]