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Sunday Journal: What I learned from Dad

This story is a portion of the eulogy the author delivered at his father's funeral in January, about a fishing trip to Napadogan Brook, a stream in the Canadian province of New Brunswick. It was submitted by the author's uncle.

I learned a deep appreciation for the outdoors from my dad ... I also learned that sometimes risking life and limb can be fun, and that persistence usually pays off. Those who have gone hunting and fishing with Dad, though, know that it doesn't always ...

We drove through wooded roads and finally parked near the dead end of one of them. Dad decided to pull ahead a bit to a "better" parking spot. This was high summer, and a very hot and dry day, but Dad found the only mud hole in existence, burying the car to the frame. Not any old car, but his favorite, the station wagon. And so I learned that large, flat rocks can be used as makeshift shovels, as well as how to build a corduroy road using bark, sticks, rocks and severed branches. And that station wagons are ridiculously heavy.

A couple hours later, with the car resting on firm ground, we proceeded to walk through the clear-cut to the stream. I couldn't see the stream itself, but Dad assured me that it was just beyond the trees. How far? I asked. About a quarter of a mile, Dad answered. We'll be catching fish in half an hour. I learned that all distances just out of sight are about a quarter of a mile, and that all times that are "soon" are in about half an hour.

I learned other things on that grim death march. I learned that even tall 13-year-olds can't lift their legs high enough to avoid tripping over roots and stumps in a ragged clear-cut. And that gopher holes appeared out of nowhere. I learned that June is horsefly season in New Brunswick. I learned that excessive sweat removes fly dope, but that horseflies don't care about bug repellent. I learned that alders are thick and dense, and that they like to slap you in the face as you try to push through them.

Finally we made it to the stream, a cool and burbling brook, well shaded and strikingly beautiful. Dad could see several pools that he was sure held some fish. Here I learned that mosquitoes and horseflies like the cool shade too. I also learned that wet, mossy rocks are incredibly slippery, that gangly 13-year-olds aren't terribly coordinated, and that it is quite possible to drown in 2 feet of water if you slip, fall, twist your ankle, break your fishing rod and fill your hip waders.

Dad dragged me out of the stream and helped me out of the now incredibly heavy waders. While I wrung myself dry he said, "I'll show you how we did it when I was your age." He deftly tied a fresh hook to one end of fishing line and the other end to the remains of my rod. "There," he said, handing it to me. "Put a worm on and throw that in the pool over there." Dad learned that his son could give incredibly sarcastic looks, and I learned I wasn't too old to get a "Why I oughta . . ." look.

That done, he settled me on a dry rock with some lunch and then went to tackle some of the other trout-filled pools. Dad learned that 13-year-olds can be very whiny and loud if they're miserable and left alone too long. Eventually, we decided to head back to the car. (To this day I don't remember if he actually caught any fish. He said so later, but Dad's fishing stories were always filled with more fish, and bigger ones too, than his fishing trips ever were.)

As we started back the sun was behind the clouds, so Dad took a compass bearing. There was only about a hundred yards of woods back to the clear-cut, he said. I learned that all distances in the woods are about a hundred yards. It seemed to be taking a long while, but it was uphill. Finally, I saw light through the trees. Making a dash, we came out to find ourselves back at the stream. I learned that Dad hadn't put on his glasses when taking the compass bearing. I also learned that "walking in circles" while lost is true.

We argued about how to get out of the woods. Dad was in favor of trying the direct stab again. (He promised to put on his glasses.) I was in favor of taking the stream to where we knew there was a bridge, and following the road back to the car. We tried my way until both Dad and I were reminded about slippery rocks, bruises and full hip waders, and then we turned back and tried his way again.

I don't clearly remember the rest of the walk back to the car, having locked its memory into the portion of the brain that stores traumatic experiences. But we got there, despite my increasingly dire predictions to the contrary.

As we sat in the car, Dad cranked up the air conditioner. We were exhausted, muddied, bloodied, covered in welts, bruises, bites and scratches and soaked to the bone. Dad said, "Well, we won't do it THAT way again," and I agreed completely.

As we pulled away, though, I took a sideways look at Dad. He had that little smirk on his face, and I just know he was thinking "Boy, that was a good day." To me, that says everything you need to know about Dad. I'm gonna miss you, pal.

Keith Stiles is director of support for Global Mentoring Solutions of Markham, Ontario.

Sunday Journal: What I learned from Dad 06/18/11 [Last modified: Monday, June 20, 2011 1:01pm]
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