Beijing, 8 June 2013
Readers of my posts will no doubt have noticed that I often refer to a piece of canal which runs close by our apartment and along which I walk every day as I go to and from the office. I like my piece of canal, especially during the summer when along the banks the weeping willows have leaved and the water irises stand tall, while the lotuses on the artificial island in the middle of the stream are unfurling.
Closing my eyes a little and squinting a bit, I could almost imagine that I am on a placid river running through a quiet wooded landscape rather than in the middle of a highly urbanized setting. This view of the canal today, where to a great degree the fog blots out the buildings, gives an idea of what I mean.
Fishermen also like it. The moment the ice melts and the trees start flowering, they filter out of the surrounding urban jungle and start settling down along the banks.
They sport what look to my eyes like state-of-the-art fishing rods (no stick, string, and safety pin for them), nets to hold their haul, and various pieces of fishing tackle.
And there they sit all summer and well into the autumn, staring out into the middle distance, waiting for a nibble on the end of their lines.
What are they thinking about, I always wonder, as I walk briskly by aiming to arrive in the office on time. Really, what do fishermen think about all day? This has always been a mystery to me. And what are these particular fishermen catching, for Lord’s sake? The few times I’ve seen a fish on the end of their lines, they were small and malingering. I fervently hope they don’t take them home to the wife to cook. I should clarify that as my pictures show the overwhelming majority of my fisherpersons are men. I got quite excited one morning when I spotted a woman, and I guess this other woman I saw a week or so ago thought it was better to be with her man than alone at home.
I am no fisherman; I suppose that much is clear. In fact, I have only ever fished once in my life. I was 14 going 15, and I was on a canoe trip on Lake of the Woods in Canada.
I remember the date very well; it was when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Me and my travel companion, Steve, must have been the only people in the whole of North America not sitting in front of a TV that day. After a hard morning’s paddling and looking over some Native American rock paintings,
Steve decided to give me a taste of the sport. He hauled out his fishing rod, set me up, and gave me a short lesson in its use. We then sat there for a while – not long, thank goodness – until I got a bite. My fish fought a bit, but after a while I hauled it in. It was a large pike, or so I have thought all these years. It certainly looked like one. But my internet surfing for this posting has convinced me that I caught a muskellunge (or muskie to the experienced fisherman – you see how quickly I catch on to the jargon …), which actually does belong to the pike family. I suppose my catch was no more than a metre long but in my mind’s eye it has grown over the years to an enormous length. Steve took a photo, with me holding the muskie a trifle nervously but still sporting a smug smile on my face. Where is that photo? Sitting in a shoe box under a bed somewhere, perhaps, or now that both my parents are dead it is probably buried in a landfill in some foreign land. For all intents and purposes, gone. But here is a photo, which seems very similar to mine in my mind’s eye, except that we were sitting in a canoe while this gentleman is standing in a rather swank boat
Well, I suppose that will be the only time I ever sit behind a rod staring into the middle distance thinking about … what?
Lake of the woods: http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m5tjkqKB7h1r1ghhbo1_1280.jpg
rock painting: http://www.canoenorthwestontario.ca/sscimages/history/IMG_4260_1.jpg
the rest: mine