On the Fairhaven side of the hurricane barrier, what looked like three generations of one family stood along the edge of the water: three girls ranging from a preadolescent to a teenager, a middle-aged man and woman, and an older woman with gray hair and a big sun hat.
As I walked by, a small little drama unfolded. The tip of the oldest girl’s fishing rod started to bend down. She looked at is as if not quite sure what to do. Then it bent down even more.
“Dad!” she said. “Dad! I’ve got a fish!”
Dad, an energetic, friendly-looking man, bounded over the rocks towards her, calling out advice: “Now don’t drag it over the rocks, you’ll cut the line. Come down closer to the water. That’s it, now bend the tip of your rod down….”
By the time Dad had gotten to her, she had pulled the little silver fish up out of the water. “I got it!” she said triumphantly. While all this was going on, the older woman with the gray hair calmly pulled a slightly larger fish out of the water — but since the younger girls and the man were all watching the oldest girl, I think the only ones who noticed the older woman’s catch were the woman and me.
Dad helped the oldest girl unhook the little fish and throw it back, saying, “Now it’s my turn. It’s my turn to catch something.”
The littlest girl chanted in a singsong voice, “Daddy hasn’t caught anything, Daddy hasn’t caught a fish.”
Fifty years ago, I probably would have been thrown off by the fact that the family members had all different shades of skin from chocolate brown to palest white. Perhaps we have made some progress in this world, because I didn’t even notice that until after the oldest girl landed her fish. What I really noticed was that I just can’t get used to watching people fish in the ocean.
Saltwater fishing confuses me because I learned how to fish on rievers, lakes, and ponds. Saltwater fishing obeys the daily rhythms of the tides, whereas freshwater fishing obeys the daily rhythms of the sun. The seasons of saltwater fishing have to take into account the migrations of fish populations through the ocean, whereas the seasons of freshwater fishing (in this climate, anyway) depend on ice, water levels, and things like temperature inversions.
I suppose the father of that little family, who seemed to be the self-proclaimed expert on fishing, was teaching his children things like how to be aware of the tides. When we were kids, my father always took us fishing on freshwater. I have no awareness of tides. I’m acutely aware of the hour before sunset when the calm surface of a pond will be dimpled with hatching insects which will attract hungry trout; and some mornings I still awaken an hour before sunrise, ready to go down to the river and cast a lure into the lilypads trying to attract the hungry bass and the voracious northern pike.
Sometimes it seems that our adult attitudes are fixed by certain childhood experiences. I can’t get excited by the tides, but the evening and morning hours give me a thrill. And it never seems right to go fishing in the middle of the day, when any self-respecting trout will be sleeping on the bottom of the stream. And if I don’t even notice a mixed race family at first, maybe there’s real hope for the next generation.