“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” ~Henry David Thoreau
A few days ago, I was gifted with a real treat. My son, Brent, invited me to join him and our oldest grandson, Lydon, for a birthday outing on Lake Pleasant, a reservoir near Phoenix. While the ostensible purpose of the trip was to fish, it quickly became apparent that actually catching fish was a pretty low priority. Instead, it was a time for the three of us to enjoy a beautiful day together – being on the lake and just having a good time. What a great way to celebrate Brent’s 40th birthday!
There is something about being on the water, whether in a canoe or on a luxurious pontoon boat, that is mesmerizing. Whether floating quietly or flying over the water with wind and spray blowing, it is easy to forget both past and future and just exist in the present moment.
Watching grandson Lydon sitting on Dad’s lap and steering the boat jogged wonderful old memories for me. As a kid in the lake country of northern Minnesota, I spent hundreds of hours on the water and in the woods. My dad had a small cabin, a little one-room building the size of a chicken coop that had been hauled to the lakeshore on a machinery trailer the year I was born. From this primitive little home-base, I fished with Dad or, as I got older, by myself on the little lake. Although we often caught fish, it really didn’t seem to matter much. We would trudge back up the hill at the end of the day empty handed with smiles on our faces as wide as if we had caught our limit.
As my memory slide show moved forward in time, I recalled a few of Brent’s first fishing trips with me. One mental picture was of Brent, only a few months old, propped in a car seat in the shade while I fished for trout in an Oregon lake. Later, I remember him landing a really nice smallmouth bass while we were canoeing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area wilderness. The smile on his face became an indelible image which I’ve treasured for 25 years. Since then, we have fished together on streams, lakes, and the ocean. These treasured activities over the years provide all of us, from my Dad to my Grandson, with an appreciation of our wild places that has been unbroken now for four generations.
Our day started, as many fishing trips do, well before dawn. After an early breakfast of serious proportions – in my case consisting of chicken-fried steak, pancakes, potatoes, and eggs – the three of us drove through the sunrise to the marina at Lake Pleasant to board our pontoon boat. I was blown away when the marina attendant brought it to the pier.
This was definitely not my idea of a fishing boat. I thought back to when I was a kid in Minnesota and it was a big deal to go fishing in a 14’ aluminum boat with rock-hard seats and a 5 hp outboard. There were a few pontoon boats around then, but they were primitive affairs cobbled together by local blacksmiths or welders. Comparing this luxurious craft to those old rafts was like comparing a Model T Ford and a Lexus. I admit to some nostalgia for both the Model T and the old boats with their single-digit horsepower “kickers” moving them through the water at a very modest speed.
During the day, we were privileged to see a variety of local wildlife including heron, bald eagles, and, special to me, a small group of wild burros. These delightful critters are the descendents of the animals turned loose by gold miners many years ago. They have thrived and now can be seen in much of northwestern Arizona. While some area ranchers consider them pests, I regard them as a beautiful example of the resilience of life in the wilds.
Beyond the enjoyment of a day on the water and the welcome wildlife sightings, the opportunity to spend time with Brent and Lydon was the high spot of the day.
Sadly, a day in the company of loving family while enjoying the outdoors is an experience that too few people know. Our day on the lake helped me to understand the happiness my Dad must have felt when he took me fishing all those years ago. As we meandered around the lake, I watched my son and grandson and could appreciate the feelings Brent now enjoys as he introduces the love of Nature to his children. I like to think that we are passing forward a legacy of love for Mother Earth. All things considered, I am a very lucky person to have had such a day.