I hardly fish anymore.
And I miss it.
Not just because I miss being near water or feeling the soft texture of the cork in my right hand, but rather when I don’t fish, I miss out on learning.
I didn’t fully realize the depth of that absence until the other day. When I was on the way back to work from the dentist.
Instead of taking the speediest path, I chose to drive the back road. The road that brought me aside the hayfields I spent too much time in haying as a kid. But not too much time in haying with my father.
If that makes sense.
The speediest path also took me past an old fishing hole.
Between the O’Hearn’s and the Lund’s trailer.
When I stopped and walked across the pavement to get to the hole, I noticed the age cracks in the road’s surface.
Had it really been that long since I had been here?
The fishing hole was as perfectly deep as it was when I was twelve: the brook feeding it running straight and consistent. Full from the October rain. And the early November rain.
The brook ran under the road through a culvert that Mr. Raymond put in while working for the Town. In 1983.
I remember because I watched him do it.With fly rod in hand. Impatiently waiting for the water to clear.
Later in life, Mr. Raymond’s son took my future wife to the prom.
Much later in life, Mr. Raymond’s granddaughter attended the school that I lead.
She is an amazing human.
Just like her father. And her grandfather.
Funny how all that works.
The rockscape in the fishing hole was still the same as when Mr. Raymond set the culvert.
So without a rod available, I simply reached under the most obvious rock, getting my shirt and tie wet in the process (I now have a job that requires both).
But no trout darted out. No trout were to be seen. Unlike when I was twelve.
Then I had a four weight Montague rod and was careful not to backcast into the road.
The experience as an eleven-year old of clipping a BMW from Quechee cured me of that nonsense.
But on that day, that twelve year-old day, I hooked a Brookie.
Flip cast. Under the ferns to the left. Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear.
That trout fought. And fought. And fought. And fought. Darting under the barb wire fence across the hole, almost cutting the lead.
And then it went home. Hard. Not to the East like Rainbows do, but to the west and under the most obvious. Refusing to budge.
Well, not without the tip of the rod bending in a ‘go-farther-and-I’ll-snap’ kind of way.
I did get the fish out, though. Eventually. And in the air. And then in my hands. Disappointed that it was not fifteen inches like the fight implied (or twenty).
But the disappointment did not last.
Again, I was twelve and being challenged in all sorts of ways, none that need exposition or extrapolation here.
But when that fish looked at me, its orange belly spots gleaming in the sun, my disappointment waned as did my intent of branching it through the gills and bringing it home to put it in the freezer.
It had given me its everything.
And that is when I learned about respect. And admiration.
I needed to learn both then.
So I put the eight inch fighter back in the water, moving it to get oxygen back in through its gills.
It was strange I did that because I had never released a trout before. They all ended up in the freezer. From there, some made it to the grill but most got freezer burned and tossed into the trash.
I am embarrassed to admit that. Knowing what I know now about giving everything, living, and fighting.
But that is the beauty of life I suppose.
And why I now miss fishing.
And also my twelve-year old self.
Despite his struggles.
But like then, I needed to be reminded, at forty-seven, of respect, admiration, giving everything, living, and fighting.
When I was eight years old, my grandfather told me that if I really wanted to know the story of a person, all I had to do was examine that person’s hands - the story would unfold in their texture, depth, and color. I know I was eight years old when I heard this bit of wisdom because it was also the year when I was told who Mr. Albright really was.
In addition to a small farm, my parents ran a dog-boarding kennel, and Mr. Albright, living in Woodstock at the time, boarded his two Corgies with us frequently. For a while, I simply knew him as the nice old man who made my mind wonder with stories of the places he visited while his dogs stayed in our kennel.
One day, Mr. Albright and his wife, Josephine, pulled into our driveway, and I ran down to greet them and take their dogs. When Mr. Albright opened the back of his station wagon to let the dogs out, I caught a glimpse of something tucked behind the crates; it was wrapped in a white cloth and speckled with paint, and looked like the belly of Brook Trout. I asked him what it was, so he shuffled to the side of the car, opened the door, folded the cloth back and withdrew a painting of fairly good size. I stared. I had never seen anything like that in my short life; it was so weird but also beautiful and dreamy. It was a painting of an old man, seated and wearing a red hat, his hands resting in his lap.
“Where did ya get that?”
“I painted it. It is called The Vermonter.”
“How long did it take ya to paint all that?”
“Years. About as long as you’ve been alive.”
“Wow, really? Why did it take so long?”
“The hands. The hands took that long. They tell the story.”
After Mr. Albright’s dogs were put in the kennel and I went back inside to get some lunch, my mother, who had been watching the unlikely conversation from the dining room window said, “Dougie, make sure you remember what just happened. Ivan is a very famous painter and you just got the treat of a lifetime.” I did remember but did not fully realize until later in my life just how big a ‘treat’ that experience was. What I did realize at that moment, however, in the chance meeting of my grandfather’s words and Mr. Albright’s painting, was that a truth was created: hands do tell a person’s story.
It was this experience with Mr. Albright and the truth created from it that has been the biggest influence in shaping my thinking about myself as an educator. Simply put, my job is to provide opportunities for students that allow them to create their own stories, opportunities focused on activity.
Sure, learning can take place without activity, but what is learned is theory, not knowledge. Knowledge contains an intimacy that theory lacks and knowledge, as I have come to discover, is what creates stories.
Mr. Albright’s painting was appropriately titled. The hands that took him eight years to create told the story of every old-school Vermonter I knew then and have known since: Albert Atwood, Otis Wilson, Henry Koloski, Stash Koloski, and ironically, my grandfather. To this day, I cannot look at that painting and not think of those men, men who had an intimate knowledge of hard work, honor, patience, and nature’s way - qualities I pray show themselves in the stories my students’ hands will tell.
I am not proud to admit it, especially to my Dad, but lately, given the craziness of my schedule, I have become a Jiffy Lube customer. My latest visit this past Tuesday not only had a handful of my former students changing the oil in my truck, it also had them rotating the tires and truing my rotors with a “newwickedfriggin’cool on-car lathe system that you have to let us try, Mr. Heavisides!!!!!” Always a sucker for seeing former students excited about their job, I agreed and, ironically, spent the next two hours in the “Jiffy” Lube lobby, perusing old copies of Sports Illustrated and looking for anything to kill the time. In that vein, I found myself in front of what I thought was the “awards wall” reading ten very similar looking documents. Upon closer inspection, though, they were not awards at all but rather Codes of Ethics written by every person who worked there, manager to pit monkey. I read every single one and was so impressed with the sincerity of their words, I vowed to give the activity a go of my own. Below are the results.
Code of Ethics
I will love my family unconditionally.
I will honor my wife.
I will be the best father that I can be.
I will encourage hope and optimism.
I will strive for balance in my life.
I will maintain good physical health.
I will maintain strong spiritual health.
I will not overreach.
I will not worship material objects.
I will strive to be trustworthy, honest, and honorable.
I will continually educate myself with whatever means are available.
I will be a positive leader.
I will promote progress and improvement, not achievement.
I will deal with conflict directly and respectfully.
I will help build a culture of collaboration and teamwork.
I will appreciate.
I will support.
I will be part of the solution, not the problem.
I was surprised at the difficulty of this activity. I thought doing a “Code of Ethics” would be a relatively benign and robotic piece of writing. However, I struggled with choosing the categories, what order to put them in (implying order of importance in my life), and prioritizing the indicators underneath.
Sure, any one of the indicators could be applied to the other two categories, but it was fun making decisions about what went where and why.
And although I struggled with this activity, taking way more time on it than I had to spend, it was fruitful; I have a clearer sense of what I value, or at least what I should value.
Who knew Jiffy Lube could be so thought provoking?