Catching Flowers Instead of Fish

MY daughter truly intended to become a devoted angler. When she was 7, the urge took hold. I bought her a cheap steel rod, some line, and half a dozen hooks. My father, Pee-Wee, an inveterate outdoorsman, had greater expectations for her. He presented her with a well-oiled reel, a hank of snell for her hooks, which, he criticized with a scornful eye on me, were much too big and crude. He gave her a fistful of punctured corks, too, carefully counted out of his personal kitchen-drawer treasury.

The Izaak Walton business lasted as long as the violin endeavor did later - almost half a season. By the time summer advanced, Nancy was more interested in wading at the skirts of the pond, which was Pee-Wee's lifelong oasis. While he sat contemplating on a mica-glinting rock, holding his pole slack, she soaked the tip of hers in the water. She carelessly laid it down in the mud to corral a school of minnows or to go after fat tadpoles with ineffectually cupped hands.

"Watch your cork," Pee-Wee would sigh. Nancy obeyed one moment but in the next forgot. The world about her was plainly too seductive. A blue dragonfly suspended over a broad arrowhead, sunning himself. A nymph climbed up a stalk of pickerelweed and fanned wings that grew more gorgeous by the minute as they dried out. A bullfrog croaked in the marsh down by the cove, and from nearby another responded. A turtle slid silently off a waterlogged limb. A ribbon of snake swam across the pond, describing a grace ful "S" through the calm, its head held erect above the surface. Sunlight speckled the ripples and sent showers of reflective diamonds into the blue air. Even when Nancy squinched her eyes against the brilliance, the patterns glittered behind tight lids.

A fisherman's thoughts are long, wholesome thoughts, Pee-Wee patiently impressed on Nancy. A fisherman's mind wanders in a labyrinth of pleasant meditation byways. He lays plans, solves problems, dreams great dreams. He thinks thankfully about the miracles that surround him. Such contemplation becomes a personal prayer. He proclaims with the psalmist: "Lord, I love the beauty of your house." The sun is kind on the fisherman's shoulders, while cool water laps at his feet. The planet he inhabits - the "hou se" - is the very best place to be. Time is suspended. All things are possible. Even if his day's catch is nil, he has stored other elements to be sorted at leisure from an appreciative memory.

But Nancy, at seven, though absorbing like a natural sponge, could not be still. Down by the dam, wild chives were in bloom, lavender-headed when flowering, and later, bearing hard white seed-pods in papery wraps. They made delicious nibbling. Down below, in the middle of the brook that fed into the pond, blue forget-me-nots blossomed on miniature islands. Their yellow eyes stared unblinking into the sun. She must uproot a clump, wrap it in a broad skunk-cabbage leaf, and bring it home to plant in my gar den.

SOMEWHERE nearby could usually be located the pale-pink clumps of anemone. They swayed on thread stems in the slightest wind, surrounded by dainty leafage. Deep maroon trillium - sometimes white - could be found enjoying wet footing. Trout lilies and blue flag loved such places, too. On sunnier slopes, columbine nodded to nectar-seeking bees, enticed by their orange-red jester caps. Redwings nested in the reeds, and kingfishers dove from lookout limbs to scoop up small fish. Crows and osprey, red-tailed hawks and all kinds of small birds, shared the sanctuary of Pee-Wee's pond.

Both he and I gently despaired of Nancy's ever becoming an angler. But now I realize she did assimilate a lot more than we meant to teach her. She toted home limp bouquets of spring loveliness, carrying back as well the fragrant message of the lone wild apple tree, inexplicably thriving in the swamp, and the grace of the chartreuse willows at the pond's edge.

Clear, beautiful thought took root in her busy brown-braided head, destined to richly mature. I see it today as I gasp over the poignant renderings of my artist-daughter's wildflower watercolors featuring a brave jack-in-the-pulpit, a dear clump of bluets, a wash of white violets I can almost smell - and taste. Pee-Wee would not be disappointed, I think.

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