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.
then 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 " Unending Satisfaction Actualization ,"
or "U .S.A."
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 be. 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.
The 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 SCHEDULE
||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: 141/2 hrs. per day!
WAYS TO ACTUALIZE IDEAL SCHEDULE
school; no college!
2. move alone to year-round
friendships, anglers not excepted
4. experiment with drugs to eliminate
5. spend daylight hours only fishing
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.
ninth I hung the Ideal Schedule on the wall by my bed and began to live
I 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.
recall is stream after
stream, fish after fish, cast
after cast, and nothing in my head but the low cunning required to hoodwink my
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
I knew he'd made Fuzz Gramsay a rich man by endorsing
If I told him that I'd built the rod he'd just used he would inform
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
financial advisors and marketing
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.
open a chain of Trusty Gus's Custom Rods and Flies that circumscribed the
I could 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 Las Vegas.
I could buy the coast of Oregon,
name it Gussica, secede from the Union, start my own space program, make Titus
my Lieutenant 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 before !
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. But 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 anxious to
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 was it.
Like many an addled
hermit, I started yacking a blue streak, but not to myself. Oh no. I talked to
my fly rod, Rodney.
As 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 pain. 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 it
was. Rodney fished because I fished and I fished because Rodney fished.
We had an understanding: we were two pieces of fishing gear-smash us,
lose us, wear us out, fishing gear will
never question your judgement.
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 it.
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?
know. I didn't know anything about
Every thing in my head came from fishing magazines, fishing
manuals, fishing novels.
what did these works have to say about the meaning of Life and Death?
When I awoke, the first thing I saw was the
star, bluegreen and brilliant between
black silhouettes of cedars.
I scarcely recognized myself: the
fisherman in me had died, and what remained was a stranger.
someone I barely knew, lying on my
side, watching a star.
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.
eye had seen nothing of this whirling spectrum, and even now, through
binoculars, I saw little of the beauty that must really be there.
Then it struck me: trees, mists,
mountains, flowers, fish, stones and streams - all these must be the robes
saving my eyes from the searing light; yet they refracted and colored that
light, and it shone dimly through, making them beautiful.
from David James Duncan, The River Why
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