I am in no state to fish with style. So instead, I sit on my ladder, shoulders hunched over my heart, and sing to the water. I sing about craving a connection to the land. I sing, asking for a glimpse of the world’s largest Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. I sing about my most vibrant friend, Kelly, who recently, unexpectedly, passed from pneumonia.
Mike noticed me fighting off tears during Thanksgiving dinner. So, the following day, when I waded over to the coffee machine, he strongly suggested – “Let’s pack up and go to Pyramid Lake tonight. I think it would be good for all of us.”
As a gal passionate about planning ahead, I roughly sighed like a stubborn bull. But ultimately agreed, Mike’s right. I need this. It took me quadruple the time to pack clothes. Luckily I have enough leftovers to get us through the weekend.
Meanwhile, Mike is setting up our fishing rods with a measuring tape.
He’s not messing around. It’s been years of fishing and years of not catching. Like a doctor going in for surgery, he has a headlamp on his head to compensate for his depleting eyesight and the poor lighting in our house. He doesn’t even look up to say, “Honestly, I’d be happy if either of us caught a fish.”
I don’t say anything back. Instead, I allow my head to roll in the direction I want to walk to get the movement started. Then, I pace from the kid’s bedroom to the laundry room, to my bedroom, and back to the kid’s bedroom.
We made it into the van while the sun was still up and had the pleasure of watching the sun fall behind the mountain range in the rearview mirror. Finally, we arrived at Pyramid Lake with the last bit of light leaving the west side mountains and firing up the ridge line with yellow and red.
We drove on the sandy beach roads. They were half frozen, half muddy puddles. We were looking for a new spot to try. I liked the idea of driving as close as we could to the water and fishing from outside the van doors. That’d be ideal for the kids and me. However, no port-a-john here. So, we claim our usual spot until we make our desert bathroom set-up. No one wants to poop behind the slim cover of a tumbleweed.
We pulled up to “our spot” in the dark. Mike and I began the choreographed dance of turning the back bench seat into an extra-long queen-sized bed. First, Mike pulls out our kitchen, camp chairs, and the kid’s toy and throws me the sleeping bags and pillows. At the same time, I remove the children and dress them to go outside to play with toys by lantern light. Next, I stack their car seats on the driver’s seat and spin around the passenger’s seat.
Together, Mike and I flatten the bed and zip together the two double-person sleeping bags to make one giant sleeping bag for all four of us. Then, we join the kids outside for obligatory standing and staring at how cute they are. Finally, Mike turns on music, and I fire up the Coleman stove to heat leftover soup.
The song “The Meaning” by Fruition makes me stop to think about Kelly, the friend I just lost. I picked up a hula hoop she and I made together and started dancing. I wanted to cry, but instead, I smiled. I thought maybe she was in the heart of that hoop. I danced, gazing into the center of the circle. A smile crept onto my face for the first time in a while.
That night we ate leftover chicken and rice soup with kimchi, watched Luca for the umpteenth time, and all fell asleep early.
The following day, I woke up and remembered a passage in the book I’d been reading, “Braiding Sweetgrass.” The author is an indigenous woman who weaves ancestral knowledge with biology to share her reverence for the natural world. She talks about gratitude being gifted to humans.
Like an eagle gifted with the ability to fly high must watch over the world. Likewise, humans gifted with the ability to give thanks should show appreciation for the natural world every once in a lot.
She shared that her parents each had different ways of showing gratitude. For example, on camping and fishing trips, her dad would pour out the first sip of his coffee as an offering to the earth and the water. And her mother would practice “leave it better than you found it” and pick up trash and litter around their campsite.
With a fresh cup of coffee in my hand, I step away from my family, who might think I’ve gone entirely loopy, and pour out my first sip of coffee. Preceding the pour, I felt silly. But after the coffee hit the ground, I felt different. I felt equal to the earth in a “hey, I like coffee, and you like coffee too” sort of way.
Mike took the first shift on fishing, and I hung out at camp with the kids. We danced with hoops, and my relationship with the hoop felt different too. I danced with purpose. My gift (to my dismay sometimes) is the ability to dance, and right now, I am using my gift to dance for the earth, and it feels right and not forced, for once.
When it’s my turn to fish, I grab my brand new (purple) duly rod with switch chucker line and go over the technique with Mike. He walks me through casting and reminds me to take my time and get to know my new rod. It will be a learning curve. Just focus on practicing.
His pep talk took the pressure off of catching a fish. My only duty was to get acquainted with my rod and untangle jumbled lines. Despite not being able to get my line very far out, I find casting simple. I don’t bother myself with trying to get the line far out just now. I only want to lay down a nice line every time, which I do. To my own surprise.
But as I cast and am alone, on a ladder, in the lake, my head starts to spiral in an attempt to find the reasoning behind an untimely death. Where it just doesn’t make sense. To fight off my brain’s poison, I start singing. I’m not singing established songs but making up songs as I go.
I’m singing about things I want to hurry up and do before life leaves me. And when I think about it, I desperately want to be connected to the land. To be a healthy contributor to its health and for it to provide for my health. I want to be nourished by body, mind, and soul from the stunning land surrounding me.
I want to catch a freaking fish. But I don’t plan on eating the first one I get. I want to show the lake it can trust me. I won’t just take, take, take. First, I want to see, admire, and give the fish back to the lake with complete gratitude.
However, my songs aren’t working, and I’m just sitting here, singing, casting, singing, casting. I’m thankful no one is around, so they don’t hear my singing. Mid-verse, I declare, “fuck it,” and I start reeling in my line. It snags. I grunt and move into position to free my hook. I am shocked when I lay my rod flat to tug the line free, and the rod jiggles.
I still don’t know what’s going on. I continue to reel in my line. The snag seems mad. My voice shakes when I call for Mike to get the net so much that he doesn’t hear me the first time, and I need to shout it louder the second time when I am more sure.
Mike leaves the kids on shore and drudges into the water with a net. I, still in disbelief, escort the fish toward Mike fumbling with words – I loudly worry I might have snagged the fish and don’t have a clean hook. Something isn’t right.
Mike scoops up the fish and declares, “Pink midge, hooked in the corner of its jaw.” We high-five and walk the fish closer to shore so the kids can see. Otherwise, my son might throw a fit if he doesn’t get the opportunity to touch the fish.
We stand in a circle around the fish and admire its olive-green body and crimson cheeks. It’s dotted with dark circles and looks quite petite with a huge smile, just like Kelly Smiley. I wet my hands before touching the fish and said out loud, “Thank you.”