Not Quite Fishing

How much wonder and magic do we miss, every day, just because we don’t pay attention?

I shut the screen door quietly behind me; letting it bang shut like the children did would wake everyone up, and that was the last thing I wanted. The morning was still early, the sun not quite up yet. Then cricket song of the night had not yet given way to the buzz of cicadas that would fill the hot daylight hours. The dewy grass was cool on my bare feet as I walked down the front yard to the dock where the fishing boat was tied.

When I stepped onto the dock, I paused a moment to enjoy the glassy-still water. The tide was high and almost ready to turn. There was no breeze to stir the surface into waves, and nothing moved in the water. I would be rowing this morning, then – I couldn’t bear to break this peaceful silence with the buzz of the outboard motor.

My family was under the impression that I was going fishing, and that I was a mighty poor fisherman since I never seemed to bring anything back. It was true that I slipped away in the early morning when the fish were biting and sought out the quiet spots that fishermen liked to find, but I wasn’t fishing. The truth lay in the waterproof bag that I set in a safe place in the boat before I cast off from the dock. The fishing pole and tackle box were pure misdirection, to keep down the questions about what I was doing.

I put the oars in the oarlocks and set off with the tide, which was now starting to ebb. It would be easier to row with it and then use the motor to come back against it, later on in the morning when the motor’s noise wouldn’t be so raw and harsh. That was fine; one of my favorite spots was only about ten minutes down river – just a pleasant stretch with the oars.

I enjoyed the exercise of rowing – stretching my body and feeling the boat slip through the water in response. Even though the early morning was relatively cool, I quickly worked up a sweat, and by the time I reached the entrance to the creek that was my goal, I was ready to take a break. But the sun was starting to rise now, the sky was colored a pale rose around the edges, and I needed to hurry if I wanted to get where I was going on time.

I rowed into the creek. It was narrow after the width of the river, but still a good fifteen feet across. I knew the water was still deep, too, especially with the high tide. The tidal rivers here near the ocean were slow and silty but wide and deep and filled with life. Some of that life was what drew me out in the early part of the day.

I rowed up the creek, rounding several bends before I found the spot I was looking for. There was a buckeye bush just in the crook of the next bend, and a bed of water lilies on the far side of it. There were no other people here today, which meant I was in luck. I tied the boat to the bush and waited there, bobbing in the middle of the long skinny lily pads locally known as snake tongues.

The moment I was waiting for wasn’t long in coming. As the sun finally pushed over the horizon, the water around me began to stir. As I watched, something began to creep out of the water onto the lily pads. They were small, and looked a lot like dragonflies, red and green and blue, at first glance. But these were no dragonfly nymphs coming out of the water to hatch into adults, dry off and fly away into the new day.

I watched with delight as the first of the little creatures finished drying off from its swim from its creek side burrow. It took flight, buzzing around my head. Another one took off from its lily pad and then landed on the handle of my oar. I dropped my head to look at the little creature up close. It was bright blue, only about three inches long. And it was a perfect little dragon. A mosquito drifted too close and with a quick snap, the tiny dragon trapped it in its jaws and ate it.

Another little dragon, its wings now dry, circled my head once and then landed in my hair. I sat there in the midst of a swirl of dragons no bigger than my thumb as they ate the mosquitoes and gnats that were trying to breakfast on me. It had taken several weeks of waiting here as they emerged and not trying to grab them, to get them to the point that they trusted me and wouldn’t fly away immediately. The insect buffet that I attracted definitely helped with that.

Once sated, the dragons spent a few minutes investigating me and the journal that I had taken from my little waterproof bag. I made quick sketches of the tiny beasts as they lit here and there on and around me. One tried to attack my pencil and another tried to eat the marks I was making on the paper. Finally, as the day grew bright, they buzzed off into the heavily wooded swamp by the creek. From more than a few feet away, they looked like the insects they mimicked, the dragonflies. Only these were far more dragon than fly.

My dose of magic for the day over, I stowed my journal in the waterproof bag once more. I would need a new one soon – this one was getting full the of wonder that I had found. I rowed back out of the creek and then cranked the motor on the boat to go home. I would get there just as everyone else was beginning to wake up, and I would take their ribbing about what a rotten fisherman I was with a smile. What I was catching was far, far better than fish.

– Jane W. Wolfinbarger (She Wolf) ©2009

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