The Fisherman

He preferred to fish from the shore, his toes in the mud, the whole of the lake in front of him. His rod didn’t change much over the years. And why would it? He was the best fisherman in town, perhaps the country.

Then came the nets.

The first one pulled out thousands of fish in a single pull.

Before long, there were nets everywhere, blanketing the lake, extracting the fish in minutes. The men with the nets did not come barefoot; they did not choose to feel the cool, wet earth between their toes or to appreciate the glint of the sun off the lake’s surface.

They walked quickly and threw their nets without contemplation.

They never asked him to leave; they didn’t have to.

He left on his own. The rod felt silly, his craft immediately ancient and unimpressive. Coming home with a dozen fish, however beautiful in their color and size, no longer provided the same warm feeling.

He dropped his rod, not out of any specific emotion, but just by opening his hands. He began walking.

Hours passed, and he found himself by the same small pond he discovered as a boy, the murky puddle where he learned his lot, hours of trial and error, of cursing, of laughing, of waiting for the surface to tremor.

There were 2 young men on the shore, sitting in low-back chairs, their rods upright and secured in the earth beside them.

“How are the fish?” he asked.

They shook their heads.

He walked over, and they sat up.

“What are you using?”

Before long, he was showing them how to find worms in the soil and hook them lengthwise so they wouldn’t fall off. He demonstrated a side-cast to get the line under the willow. Ah, the willow, that old friend.

He tugged at the line 3 times, reeled a half turn, a winning formula he would never forget.

The line jounced, barely noticeable unless you were holding the rod – a small vibration you could easily miss if you didn’t know what it was.

He smiled and glanced over at the young men, but they were busy looking at each other, a private exchange he wasn’t supposed to see.

He noticed, for the first time, their empty bucket and the cooler with the bottle opener on it.

“Sorry,” he said.

And they laughed.

He put the rod down, gently this time, as if placing a baby back in its crib.

The willow seemed to answer with its sway, a loyal friend bearing witness.

His feet cold, he made his way back to the road, feeling the punches of wind each time a car raced by.

He thought of the nets, the lake, and his home. He tried to imagine the way the nets would feel in his hands, how heavy they may be in his arms.

He pictured his rod, worn and bent, laying on the ground by his footprints, then turned around and walked backward, trying to ignore the wind.

He paced slowly, knowing all too well that the road would soon dip and turn and take everything from him.

Within minutes, the pond was out of sight.

And then the willow.