My son Robby opens his tackle box and shows me his fishing lures. Each is in its own little compartment like an expensive box of chocolates. He names them, carefully holding them up between his fingers and turning them, like he is seeing them for the first time himself. Rapala, Broken Back, Jitterbug, Rattle Trap . . .
Fishing has brought out a new side to my son. He hoards his equipment like it’s gold, preferring his old rusted fishing rod and reel than any harm coming to his new set. And this child, the same one who loses important math papers and tennis shoes, hates losing a lure to a branch on the bottom of the lake, so much so that he won’t even use them.
The other day, I was stressed out and not looking forward to my evening, wondering if I would ever get to bed. Robby asked me to go out in the paddleboat with him and watch him fish. Torn, I sighed and began to apologize for how much I had to do that night.
“It’s okay,” he said disappointedly.
One look at his eyes and, reluctantly, I went along, all the while thinking of how much this little excursion was going to put me behind.
We paddled out to the middle of the lake, and he cast. It was long and smooth and landed with a plop about three yards from where a fish had just jumped.
“See, I don’t want it right on top where that fish jumped because he’ll know it’s a fake worm. He won’t believe a worm just dropped out of the sky right in front of him. You want him to swim to it,” he explained in a low voice.
We sat quietly for a while, my son scanning the lake for his target before he drew back his arm and, in one fluid motion, floated his bait far out into the lake. I looked out over the water, beyond where he had cast. A blue heron was standing on a log by the shore, one leg pulled up under his body, his long neck smooth and elegant. He was still, like a statue. I pointed him out to Robby, and, as if the bird could sense that he was detected, it took off, its wings barely flicking the water. We watched him fly, his long neck curved in like the letter S.
“He likes that log over there,” my son whispered. “He’ll be back.” I nodded, wondering why I’d never noticed the heron before.
“Here go the crickets,” he said.
I was suddenly aware of crickets surrounding us from all sides, their grinding melody as deep as the woods themselves. I realized how much I’d been insulated by air conditioning lately, how little I’d heard of the outdoors. I closed my eyes and listened.
I heard the deep croak of bullfrogs and the far-away call of a morning dove. I heard a fish splash now and then, sometimes near us and sometimes far across the lake. And over and over, there was the slow squeak of my son reeling in the line, then a gentle whir as he cast it out again.
“I like this time of day,” I said, my to-do list long forgotten.
“Just wait,” he said. “In a little while the trees and the sunset will reflect off the water. It is so beautiful.”
“I will wait,” I said, and I thought about what I would have missed if Robby hadn’t asked me to join him. I leaned back in my seat and watched my little boy, the one who, in finding his own way, is helping me find mine.