Turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks

For over sixty years, friends, relatives and even strangers have tried to teach me how to fish. I have been taken out in countless boats only to be taken back to shore and dropped off for distracting them with my excessive pacing on their too small for that boat. I was simply too impatient with the process. Though my impatience has certainly been part of the issue, my general attitude was the greater problem. Why would I want to spend a good portion of my vacation throwing a line at fish who never showed much interest in biting what I was offering. There were so many other things I could do that seemed more productive. Even chasing a golf ball around the course seemed more entertaining and much more likely to offer the greater exercise.

Don’t get me wrong. Over the history of my near fishing career, I have managed to catch the occasional fish that others told me they could use as bait. I even managed to “suck” a fish out of my dad’s pond with a cane pole but telling that story will have to be a blog of its own. The bottom line is that I never came close to qualifying as a fisherman, let alone to own or deserve my own pole.

All that changed last year. My seven-year-old grandson, Jackson, wanted to fish. Unfortunately, I was the only one available to teach him. Reluctantly, I decided to try. I started by digging out my daughter’s old pole, she had lost interest almost as fast as I had with the only difference being that she at least made it to the owning a pole level. Next stop, the bait shop and a dozen Canadian Crawlers, hopeful this was the way to go. And then, poorly outfitted, I took him down to the end of our dock. What happened next was magic. He caught a fish on his second cast, and he was hooked. By the end of the summer, he was asking how he could catch the really big fish, you know, the kind you have to carry one of those heavy-duty nets and a baseball bat to defend yourself. I started to hear walleye, northern, and muskie being bandied about with regularity. I could only hope taking him to local sports bars to show him monster mounted muskies and northerns would dissuade him in his dangerous quest. It didn’t. Other seasoned fisherman would slide by in their boats and Jackson would engage them in fish conversations. “What have you caught?”, “I just caught a smallmouth bass, but I got a largemouth yesterday.” Until we started these lessons, I didn’t know mouth size was such a big deal. My wife asked him if he had caught a loudmouth bass and I didn’t even catch her faux pas. As the conversation between these fishermen carried on, I dreaded being asked my role for fear that I would have to admit I was only his bait caddy.

It is now year two of these so-called fishing lessons and the strangest thing is happening, I am finding myself liking this fishing gig. Not only has Jackson made me appreciate the art of fishing, but he has also hooked me on the sport, yes, I just called it a sport. He started me out small, a couple of crappies here, a bluegill there and then it happened, I caught a smallmouth bass. I was ready to have it mounted for display in one of those sportsman’s bars right next to the 52-inch Muskie, but I quickly came back down to earth as I heard Jackson casually say, “Nice job Opa, you caught a smallmouth.”

Today, Jackson and I spent an hour in a bait shop staring at the countless lures and fishing gear as if it were a candy store, and tonight, while everyone was finishing dinner, I caught myself wandering down to the dock and casting a line. To my sheer delight, I caught two nice smallmouth bass. I reveled in the fight and beamed with pride as I pulled each one to the surface. Later, as we all sat around the campfire, I found myself drawn once again back to the dock. As I cast my line out unto the lake’s surface, softly shadowed in the twilight glow of a northern Wisconsin evening, I came to the realization that I was in, hook, line, and sinker. I guess now I’ll have to buy myself a pole.

All I can say Jackson ….. you really did teach this old dog a new trick.

From the Mouth of a Child

Just the other day we were returning from our trip up to the family cottage. Having stopped at the Big M for a treat, my daughter asked Jackson if he could wish something for the earth what would it be? Jackson never hesitated in his response, “I would wish that cars and all engines stop using gas. It makes global warming and that is bad for the earth. And someday that will be bad for me.”

Jackson is seven. Think about that. He doesn’t question the science. He doesn’t ignore the obvious and at seven he wants to do something about it. I could only marvel at his response and at the same time wish that some of our leaders could be half as wise as he was in that moment. His generation will inherit the actions we take and at present, we still resist. We balk at the changes required because we think of the effect on jobs and even more so the cost. But I will tell you that our inactivity will cost far more in the future, provided that in the future we even have the option.

We must take responsibility for what we have done. My generation is guilty of ignoring the warnings, of not making the effort to be even a little more responsible with our choices, of electing leaders with our wallets instead of our ethics. We must be far more serious about recycle, reclaim, and reuse practices. We must, simply put, ACT. And we must do it before it is too late.

We owe it to our children, to our grandchildren. I don’t want Jackson asking me ten years from now why I hadn’t done anything when I knew it was my responsibility and not that of a seven year old who doesn’t even have a vote. It is not too late. From the mouths of our children comes a plea to save the earth. We must save it so that they might have a future filled with all the bounty we have enjoyed. Do it for Jackson and all the Jacksons so that their wish may still come true.

Maybe Covid-19 Wasn’t All That Bad

We should always look for the silver lining, and when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I started thinking today about all the changes Covid-19 brought about and I started to realize that as bad as the pandemic was, there were things I accomplished. I finally got that Little Library built. During the pandemic, it became my wife’s total focus. We now have neighborhood children putting in book requests to their favorite librarian, Ms. Debi. The treat bags and notes ay have something to do with her popularity.

And there are all the things I learned, useful things. Top on the list would be Zoom. Before Covid-19, I would resist Skype calls, Duo calls, and any other virtual calls. Then came the pandemic and suddenly, virtual meetings, virtual gatherings, even virtual game nights, became the norm. I am proud to say, I am now a Zoom, Google Meets, and Microsoft Teams wizard. Seems strange to say I am a virtual expert. Does that mean, not really, just imaginary?

Another learned process, making wearing a mask a fashion statement. I admit that when it started, I wasn’t too stylish. But as time went on we all got pretty clever and fashionable. We wore masks sporting our favorite logos, coordinated our masks with our ensemble, and even found ways to make them almost sexy. I for one, sort of miss donning my various masks now that I have been vaccinated. Thanks to Covid-19’s mask wearing mandates, I will be better prepared to rob a bank if I ever decide to go rogue.

And then there is the improvements to my office décor. Pre pandemic, I hadn’t really thought about my shelves. Once I started Zooming (is that a word?), I started seeing it as my backdrop on my zoom calls. Time to clean up my act. Off to storage, went a lot of the memorabilia, unread books, and just piles of paper and files. Thank you Covid-19!, my office is quite impressive these days.

Six feet used to be a rough estimate that was anywhere from way too short to ridiculously long. A couple of months of pandemic rules, and I can now nail six feet to within a couple inches. I feel like a walking ruler. Want to know how long that putt was?, I got it. Need that board cut to six feet?, leave that tape measure in your tool belt. Admit it, how many times during the last year did you find yourself moving that extra three inches to put six feet between you and that other person.

There were a lot of other little lessons learned. I have now mastered the art of separating the wafer section from the wine pod in those little communion cups. I discovered that you can actually party outside in the middle of winter with snow falling as long as you have that fire pit going and the now all important patio heater. I actually drove seventy-five miles to a Lowes to find mine. I am even looking forward to this fall when I can fire it back up and party. I might even invite more than ten people.

I know it wasn’t at all good, but it wasn’t all bad either. I have developed skills that were clearly lacking and as an added bonus, I now know every dog and every dog walker in the neighborhood. Admittedly, I will see if I recognize them without their masks.

And one final observation, it seems that as we learned to stand six feet apart, we somehow all grew a little closer.