It has been 7 years since I last cast a line into a river and I find my fingers fumbling as I tie a simple fisherman’s knot. I ball up a worm and slide the hook through it, then turn to see my daughter’s reaction. Her brows are furrowed as she studies the technique.
“Will it die?” Yes, I reply. For a moment I worry that something as small as the death of an earthworm will send her back up the riverbank and disengaged with me and these fishing poles, but she surprises me as she responds. “Sometimes I like to feed worms to our chickens. So, fish and chickens eat the same stuff, huh?” I smile as I watch her eyes dart from the baited hook to the slow moving current.
Her brothers join us on the dock. They are double-fisting PB & J’s while propped on their knees peering into the water. “I see tiny baby fish. I don’t think you’ll be able to catch any of these, sis.” Soon, the monotony of the cast-reel-cast grows old and they head up to the house. I can see weather moving in from the west and my stomach rumbles like thunder. We might get rained on soon. Let’s finish up and make dinner. “But I haven’t caught a fish yet… I’m not leaving until I catch one!”
When I was five years old, my parents divorced. It was a devastating end to a once unconditional love. The rest of my childhood consisted of every-other weekends and multiple custody disputes. After my dad moved to California, every-other-weekends turned into twice a year visits. I would spend most of my time in preparation for these visits learning fishing lingo and declaring myself a diehard fan of his college football team. I just wanted to be noticed—to be validated.
In college, I followed a boy up to Alaska. He had big dreams of fishing, and of course those dreams became mine as well. I returned year after year, to work at fishing lodges and finish up a degree. I seemed to capture his attention, and many others. The ratio of male to female was 10:1, so I was constantly told how amazing it was to see a woman passionate about a male-dominated lifestyle. In reality, I just wanted to be noticed—to be validated.
I have spent much of my life chasing false prophets, which has led me to question whether or not that part of myself holds any authenticity. Have I spent my entire life weaving my identity into a tapestry made up of other people’s dreams? Do I even like to fish? This is the first time since my children were born that I’ve picked up a rod and reel.
The rain arrives. It hits the water’s surface like bouncy balls and Isla moves to my lap with her Mickey Mouse pole clutched in hand. Ready to go in? “Nope. Not yet.” She casts, the line zips, plops in the water, and I watch her inch that worm back to the dock. Her line meets resistance and she instinctively pulls up on her pole to set the hook.
What am I watching? She's five! She's never seen me or her father do this. She jumps from my lap, eyes wide, and loudly whispers, “I think I caught a fish!” Her voice is raspy and tangled with excitement. I think you’re right, sis!
She vigorously reels in her line and I bend down to grab the small bass from the water and gently remove the hook. Her jaw drops and her awe is absolutely infectious. “Let me hold him, mom.” Without hesitation, she grabs the fish from my hands and studies him from mouth to fin. She gets quiet, then looks up at me. “Today is my favorite day.” My cheeks flush and I blink tears from my eyes. Mine, too, sis. We crouch down together and she drops her hands into the water to release her tiny iridescent friend.
The moonlight reflects in the water, the same way I reflect in her. She is me, 25 years ago—before the need of validation and crippling uncertainty shadowed my joy. This is what I love and it didn't take a man to show me that—it was 5 year old girl, licking the rain from her lips as she casted her line once again.