Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Take Me Fishing

Did I ever mention how I cried at the end of the "Mary Poppins" movie the afternoon of Easter Sunday 1964 at the Stuart Theater in downtown Lincoln? There are so many things I don't or can't cry about, that I forget the many times I've tried to pretend I wasn't really crying over Hallmark moments, real or commercial.

Usually I cry very quietly. "I've got tears in my ears from lying on my back while I cry over you." I pretend it's allergies, or a nosebleed. By contrast, my sister went on a loud and inconsolable sobbing spree at the conclusion of a play of "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" at the Lincoln Community Theater when she was about three. My youngest had a similar reaction at the same age because a rainbow was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. He didn't want to lose the rainbow because he was afraid he would never see anything that beautiful again. How interesting that he finishes high school with plans to study photography.

This experience of grief and loss changes us. Our emotions stay closer to the surface, and express themselves more obviously. The phrase "permeable membrane" always pops into my mind. We are in a state of openness, even when we would rather not be. We are left ajar. We hug more, and say, "I love you."

I spent so many wonderful hours sitting in front of our house with my dad waiting for a storm and counting out "one milk bottle, two milk bottle, three..." after each flash of lightning. We didn't always have to talk. We could just sit in the webbed lawnchairs near the congregation of boxelder bugs by the concrete stoop and watch the sky turn greenish gray. How fortunate I was to have a father to teach me about being still and watching nature!

Dad is greatly touched by ads in the Take Me Fishing campaign in print and tv. The ads get him all choked up, and I can see why. They get to me, too. That PR company should get an award from Kleenex!

Dad did take us fishing. We started off with bamboo poles and red/white bobbers, catching sunfish and crappie. It wasn't important if we caught anything, but it was very important that we were quiet, patient, and observant, and that we were respectful of the fish and other fishermen.

We graduated to fishing with rod and reel, and catching northern pike at the then new reservoirs in southeast Nebraska. It was a moment of enormous pride when I received my very own fishing rod for my tenth birthday. The rod was a beautiful dragonfly blue and delivered the tacit message that I was worthy of this very grown-up gift. I don't think I've ever felt more proud.

My parents also took us butterfly hunting. I used to watch a tv show called "The American Sportsman" narrated by Curt Goudy while my dad dozed on the couch on late Sunday afternoons. Celebrities would hunt for trophy animals, with a soundtrack of heavy breathing and footsteps through tall grasses. Later on Sundays we would watch "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" with Marlin Perkins.

Dad probably crafted the first butterfly nets so I could earn a Campfire Girl bead. Before long we were all learning about butterflies, their host plants and life cycle, patience, and a bit of coordination. I have mixed feelings about hunting, but I know that this butterfly hobby gave me a permanent connection to nature. I hope that I honor the butterflies and moths we collected every time I teach an art project about insects or other animals. I hope that some of my students are entranced by the poetry of plant and animal names--swallowtail, sphinx, milkweed, rainbow, painted lady, question mark, bullhead, red spotted purple, sunfish, red admiral, Queen Anne's lace, cattails.

Dad helped me be a rockhound, too. The rock tumbler was the impetus for many magical father-daughter visits to the lapidary shop.

As I write this I get a bit Mary Poppins-ish. I'm seeing time spent with Dad in the basement at his workbench learning to hammer and saw....the building of the wonderful treehouse where I spent so many hours being creative and enjoying solitude, the screened house for raising praying mantis babies, and time wading in lakes and creeks. Dad doesn't know how inspiring his tales of trying to dam Willow Creek with rocks in his childhood were to me, even though the attempts were futile. The unsuccessful results of his early engineering efforts may have been the most enduring message: Get your bare toes out there in the mud and work with the wonders of nature!

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