Up Nort', the sequel
By Bill Stork, DVM
Revelations from the river side... Everybody has limitations, whether it be lack of intelligence, or having only one hand. As for those who think they're perfect, they have the greatest disability of all.
In a recent Non Sequitur, Danae and her talking Pygmy Clydesdale, Lucy, are on an adventure. It was the first day of summer vacation and Lucy led the way. "Where are we going?" Danae asked, head buried in her phone, checking her Facebook status. "We'll know when we get there," Lucy trudged on. In the next panel, Danae stopped cold. "Hey, I lost reception!" "We're here," declared Lucy.
Let the record show that most, if not all, things are relative, not the least of which is the mystical location, "Up North." I have friends from Rockford who treasure their time on Rock Lake, and family who farm near Fort, and escape to a trailer and campfire on the Wisconsin River, near Portage. Most recently for me it was an hour and a half north of the world's greatest pie, just off state highway 27.
Regardless of coordinates on the Gazetteer, "Up North" is where your biggest concern becomes spinners or surface bait, and whether to pack rain gear, sunscreen, or both. Packing industrial strength 95% DEET is simply survival (although do not spray it on the paint on your car, or on yourself if you are pregnant, immune-compromised or elderly).
On rare occasions, the "sometime you oughta, you're more than welcome, well I'm gonna do that" conversations over a picnic table at a family gathering come to fruition. On this occasion, my functional brother-in-law invited us to join a 20-year tradition of fishing on the Flambeau Flowage.
My dad has fished for 65 years, in seven states, on ten different lakes. Always for crappie, from the security of his 16-foot floating museum of mechanic's aftermarket modifications.* On the stand next to his throne, the articles in Outdoor Life about smallmouth bass fishing are dog-eared and worn thin. Though Dad has spent the bulk of his retirement on the water, and four years in the United States Navy, he swims like a cinder block.
On the Flambeau Flowage, the river flows fast at times, and they fish from canoes. Days shy of Dad's birthday number 79, I figured I might try and take a few days off. When my 15-year-old son said sure, he'd like to come as well, the decision was made.
Much is made of the romance of fishing, and for good reason. You are never so aware of your place in life until the next generation is in the bow of your canoe, and the previous generation upstream 25 yards.
You could hear Dad's war whoops from Cadott to Hayward as his rod tip tickled his knuckles and he reeled furiously. "Hey, Calvin!" he bellowed, as he held a 4lb "smallie" for us to see.
Meanwhile, I asked Calvin to put down his pole and pick up a paddle. We rowed furiously cross-current and downwind to nose into a shallow, grassy pool on the downstream side of an island where there should be fish. I dropped anchor, planted my paddle and locked my jaw, fighting to keep the boat in perfect position. Calvin tossed his homemade popper deep in an eddy pool.
As the rings spread, I found myself trembling. Time on Earth is finite, and ten minutes previous my heart had soared as Dad checked one off the proverbial bucket list. Right then and there, I found myself summoning every source of strength and fortune, focused and hoping with all I had that the water would boil, the bait would disappear, and my boy – three years from college and rapidly becoming a man – would catch a fish.
Praying hard to share the experience, at that moment, more than I ever had, I understood the length, depth and breadth of a father's love for his child.
*My dad's boat: a floating museum of homemade engineering and aftermarket add-ons. According to my dad's lifelong friend and service buddy Leroy: "Stork, I could give you a brand new Rolls Royce, and in 15 minutes you would have something homemade hanging off the dashboard."