So it was that I applied my
powers of ratiocination to the invention of a device called a "Life-Quality Balancing
The L.Q.B.S. consisted of a scale (two pans of equal weight
hanging in balance), 1,400 #8 medium-shank fishhooks (one for each minute of
the day), and a meticulous list dividing my Standard Day into Neutral Minutes
(N.M.'s), Unsatisfactory Minutes (U.M.'s), and Satisfactory Minutes (S.M.'s).
For every U .M. I put a hook on the left scale-pan, for every S.M. I
put one on the right, N.M. hooks I put in a neutral box.
constructed a series of charts and graphs dealing with ways to turn V.M.'s and
N.M.'s into S.M.'s, fully convinced that this simple
scientific process would
eventually allow me to attain a state called "
Actualization ," or "U .S.A."
I was thrilled with this program, and
baffled that I hadn't come up with it sooner.
Nothing but unadulterated
fishing went into the plus pan; I put Bill Bob hooks in the neutral box, not
because he wasn't satisfactory, but because neutral is the way he prefers to
Of course Ma- and H2O-hooks were piled high in the junk pan, along
with school, yard work, Flyfishing Clubs,
pimple-popping, constipation and other nasty imbalances.
historian-type reader with his high tolerance for dull but factual material may
be disappointed to learn that, though I still use the hooks,
the lists and graphs were reduced to
fluffy gray ash when "U.S.A." failed to pan out.
survived, however, and since
it exemplifies the quasi-logical gymnastics
my polarized brain
was wont to perform, I include it:
IDEAL 24 HOUR
||1. sleep: 6
2. food consumption: 30 min.
3. school: 0 hrs !
4. bath, stool,
etc: 15 min.
5. housework chores: 30 min.
6. nonangling conversation: 0
7. transportation: 45 min.
8. gear maintenance: 1 hr. 30 min.
9. fishing time: 14-1/2 hrs. per day!
WAYS TO ACTUALIZE IDEAL SCHEDULE
4,000 actual fishing hrs. per
It took some time to get settled
in the cabin: a day to stash gear, a day to build a fish-smoker, a day to set
up and stock the aquarium, a day to clean and salt in supplies, two days to cut
three cords of wood.
9th I hung the Ideal Schedule on the wall and
began to live it:
proceeded to fish all day, every day, first light to last.
All my life
I'd longed for such a marathon - and I haven't one happy
memory of it.
I recall is stream after stream, fish after fish, cast after cast, and nothing
in my head but the low cunning required to hoodwink my mindless quarry.
Each night my Log entries read like tax tables or grocery receipts,
describing not a dream come true, but
a drudgery of double shifts on a creekside assembly line.
After two weeks of "ideal" six-hour nights and sixteen-hour
days I got an incurable case of insomnia.
It hardly mattered:
sleeping I dreamt of
fishing and waking I fished till there was one, undivided, sleep like
I dreamed Dutch Hines wanted to interview
I knew he'd made Fuzz Gramsay a rich man by endorsing him.
I told him that I'd built the rod he'd just used he would inform his
I knew that if he endorsed me I'd get a thousand rod orders
before the month was out.
I knew that if I lowered my prices, making a
meagre ten dollars profit per rod, that was ten thousand smackers.
knew that with profits from that first burst of orders I could advertise in
every major sporting magazine in the country.
I could hire a half-dozen
peons to do my rod-building and fly-tying for me while I became a designer, an
organizer, an entrepreneur.
could open a tackle factory and warehouse.
I could hire salesmen and
I could automatize and computerize and expand.
could spend my days inventing prototype rods and flies and let the local
peasantry hunch over vises, squinting their eyesight away and snorting rod
I could start a guide service, take
fat cats to all the
great sport-fishing grounds on Earth.
I could open a chain of Trusty
Gus's Custom Rods and Flies that circumscribed the continent.
start chains of Cutthroat Gus's Seafood Restaurants, Cutthroat Gus's Riverside
Fishing Schools, Cutthroat Gus's Trouter's Resorts beginning in Lake Tahoe and
I could buy the coast of Oregon, name it Gussica, secede from
the Union, start my
own space program, make Titus my
Spock and me the Captain of an Intergalactic Winnebago and blast away into
space to search out potential trout-planets and go where no fisherman had gone
There was fishing. There was nothing else.
Kiluhiturmiut Eskimo song tells of a man like me:
Glorious was life
when standing at my fishing hole on the ice.
Did standing at my fishing
hole ever bring me joy?
Ever was I so anxious for my little fishhook if
it should not get a bite, Ayi, yai ya. . . .
Like the Eskimo, my last
thought before going fishing was "Won't it be glorious!" And like the Eskimo I
then stood by the water, a needy, nervous wretch too
wonder how "glory" could be so
dismal. Ayi, yai ya!
So I continued my Ideal Schedule and was soon
exhibiting more bizarre symptoms: besides the insomnia, tangled tongue and
water hallucinations, I
began to hide or even flee when I encountered other fishermen; to avoid human
contact I began stockpiling groceries and bought a fifty-gallon gas drum; soon
my communications with fellow
humanoids consisted of an occasional Thank you, Hi, or Fill-er-up, and that
Like many an addled hermit, I started yacking a blue streak,
but not to myself.
Oh no. I talked to my fly rod, Rodney.
expected, we became almost preternaturally skillful at extracting fish from
coastal streams ("we" being Rodney and me).
We caught cutthroat in
staggering numbers, often over a hundred a day.
I kept only enough to
eat and my appetite shrank
with my ability to sleep; still, I ate trout twice a day and grew no more tired
of it than an anteater grows tired of ants, he with his long snout and sticky
tongue, me with my Rodney and flies.
By mid-July I was no longer in
I was totally bamboozled; I was chicaned;
I was necromanced; I was
stuffed and nonsensed.
I no longer saw anything wrong with my life as
Rodney fished because I fished and I fished because Rodney
We had an understanding: we were two pieces of fishing
gear-smash us, lose us, wear us out, fishing gear will never question your
That was the thing about
Nature: make one lousy rule to
describe it and it'll contradict you
even if it has to transmogrify and metamorphosize and bust its ass to do
And so what?
If anybody grew wise enough to grasp the real
immutable laws of Nature, Nature'd only rear back and strike 'em dead before
they got anybody to understand them.
What use were such questions?
Everyone I knew would one day be dead.
Was there reference
material to peruse that would make it comprehensible?
Pills to pop to make it bearable?
Calesthenics to make it ... fun?
I didn't know. I didn't know anything
Every thing in my head came from fishing magazines,
fishing manuals, fishing
And what did these works have to say about
the meaning of Life and Death?
When I awoke, the first thing I saw was
the morning star, bluegreen and brilliant
between black silhouettes of cedars.
recognized myself: the
fanatical fisherman in me had died, and what remained was a stranger.
I was someone I barely knew, lying on my side, watching a star.
The fisherman left a pair of binoculars on a peg at the window.
He'd used them to watch for trout rising on the river; I aimed-them at
the star - and was amazed: brilliant greens, violets and blues eddied through
it as it glittered and shone.
naked eye had seen nothing of this whirling spectrum, and even now, through
binoculars, I saw little of the beauty that must really be there.
it struck me: trees, mists, mountains, flowers, fish, stones and streams -
all these must be the
robes saving my eyes from
the searing light;
they refracted and colored
the light, and it shone through, making them beautiful.
David James Duncan, The River Why
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