Musings on an Island Childhood
My grandfather spoke to the fish in German, English, French, and Spanish. Bill Riedel would lean over the side, spat the dark juice from a wad of Beech-Nut wintergreen "snoose" over the bow and say, "Here fishy, fishy, fishy, komm her, fisch." That was near the middle. After we rounded the point at Honeymoon Lake on Whidbey Island, he'd start talking to the rainbow trout we were after in nonsense French. Once we got to the lily pads, he'd switch to German again. And it was there, in the weeds and snags, that we'd always nab one. Near the dock on the other side of the lake, he'd try out some ridiculous language he said was Spanish, but always scared the fish and gave me a good laugh.
My grandfather taught me how to set the hook, dip the net, reel 'em in, carefully, but with gusto. On shore, after grandma blew the signal to come home for breakfast on a wooden train whistle, he'd show me how to break the neck, strip the guts, and prepare the trout for frying. Grandma would dip the cleaned fish in flour, pepper, and salt, and fry it up. That crisp-fried trout, smelling of loam and leaves and sky and love, along with a good German spread of "Dutch Lunch" -- liverwurst on toast with cream cheese, and sausage -- repeated summer morning after summer morning, is forever cemented in my consciousness.
Grandpa Bill also taught me about kindness. He warned me about mean boys who would catch snakes in the tall grass at the edge of the lake, swing them like ropes and toss them into the water, or kill frogs and salamanders for fun. "Never love a boy who is mean to animals."
This is my late grandfather's boat. I can feel the rope in my hands when I see it, even now. The photo puts me there, on the porch of my grandparents' place next to the ferry dock, drinking coffee, talking about family and the weather. I say, simply, "Going out" and they know what I mean. I can feel my feet on the green all-weather plastic turf-covered steps, then slipping into sneakers, grabbing an orange life vest, my hands gripping the rope, twisting against it to flip the boat, dragging it between driftwood logs, and hearing the hopeful sound of wood on metal the oars make when they catch the water and strain in their rings, the feeling of floating, waving to the folks onshore, the ferry boat sounding its horn, the salted air on my face, becoming smaller and smaller as the shoreline thins and blurs, and then, such a beautiful peace. Dip and pull, dip and pull, muscle and breath the only fuel needed to power through soft swells. Whether it's biking or rowing or climbing or running, I still love that feeling. Human power. Unconditional love. Space and sky and sea. Belonging to something, to someone -- the earth and its people. Leaving and returning. Mutual understanding. Some things never change. The best things don't. Thank you, Grandpa Bill, and Grandma Marjorie. What a priceless, eternal gift.
I was lucky enough to have some poems published recently by Whidbey Writes, a new project. In March, thanks to connections found through the writing, I'm lucky enough to be the guest artist at Langley Art Gallery. I am thankful for these opportunities, but also for the remembering and reflection and appreciation for the place where I was born, that it has spawned.
This poem, published awhile back by New Hope Literary Magazine, is a take, in a sense, on my grandfather's influence, though it's fiction.
Burial At Sea
A moody trout is a dead trout,
the oars gently. I watched every move, took
in every word from my seat atop the
Years later, I recalled those sepia days, all
golden alder leaf spin and reel, fisher philosopher,
cold blue sky, knit cap hug, and hot
he’d announce, then spit tar like a perturbed
grasshopper over the bow. Good for us.
Winter seeped in slowly, water beings languishing
it wasn’t the fish’s fault. My mother, bloated from
the bottle in faded flannel forgot my name.
things, to fish and men.
A moody trout
It feels good to acknowledge where I've come from, remember it, and understand it. There is peace and joy in that, and I am thankful. I can picture my young son playing on the beach near the Clinton ferry dock years ago. Bare feet on sand. Wind-salted waves. The smell of sun-warmed dock wood. He'll remember, too. It's in us.
Keywords: Bay, Clinton, Harbor, Island, Island, Life, Life, Magazine, Magazine, Mutiny, Oak, Seattle, WA, Whidbey, Whidbey, Whidbey, Whidbey, Whidbey, Writers, Writing
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