The 4 a.m. wake-up call was early. Too early. But for three men on the hunt for fish, it was a small price to pay.
We met the captain on dock. “Call me Fredrik,” he said. He carried not one ounce of charm, but exuded plenty of self-confidence. And this was a most important thing for a man who made his living shuttling inlanders out to the sea.
We hopped into the small, but sturdy boat and Fredrik cut through the water into the darkness. The old Finn knew what he was doing. I could see it in his eyes painted the same green as the foam that laces the edge of the rushing waves. His hands were rough from spooling rope over the dock ties and tying down gear in the middle of countless storms. I could hear it in his voice – rough like the rumble of the diesel engine below the deck.
On one side sat my eldest son, catching up on the sleep he had missed out on this early morning cruise. On the other side was my youngest. I call them boys – but they are now men with careers and mortgages and increasingly expensive toys.
Together we were in pursuit of the fabled Pacific salmon as they swam their way from the salted sea into the fresh water of the mighty Columbia. It’s a journey of death that more than a million fish will take, just to drop a few red eggs in the river’s mud.
Look to the Horizon
The dawn of the day on the water came with little fanfare. It was foggy and the dark sky ceded to the dim daylight. It was an hour out to the fishing spot – so I sat back and took in the boats, the sea life, and the disappearing shoreline. But at some point the sway and dip of the boat telegraphed a signal into my inner-ear, which then sent a direct line to my stomach, threatening the early morning cargo of sugar doughnuts and strong coffee.
“My gills turned green” as the seamen call it, and I took in deeper gulps of air, hoping that would somehow neutralize the queasiness. I tried to keep my illness from my sons and the future labeling as the “chicken of the sea.” But I couldn’t avoid the captain’s gaze. He had seen my kind – flatlander- wanna-be-sealubber. He looked at my ashen face and pointed a finger out on the water. “Look at the horizon.” I did. “Keep looking. Pick a point out there and don’t look away,” he advised. “And don’t throw up in my boat.”
I focused on a distant house on the Washington shoreline. And sure enough, after a while, the internal gyroscope leveled out and I felt better, just in time to start fishing at the captain’s secret spot.
No wonder we confuse the women in our livesWe caught fish – lots of fish in the next couple of hours. But there was down time, as is common on these kinds of trips. And that led to idle conversation about weather, and boats, and sports.
Occasionally, the chatter would fall into the deeper waters as we spoke about relationships, life or God. We’d start talking about these subjects, almost stumbling into them. Then, suddenly, one of us us would change the subject. You see, all three of us have suffered. Sometimes, it was at the hands of others. Usually it was because of our own selfish pride. It’s not so easy to talk about these things. So we stammer over the naked truth, clothing it with a joke or light-hearted statement to hide the shame.
Our memories about family sometimes find themselves in this place. You see, ours is a broken family, as one important light left into the darkness, leaving the rest of us to huddle around the flickering candle.
No wonder we confuse the women in our lives. As men, we’ll march through minefields for the cause of freedom, snatch children from certain danger, and plunge into frigid cold to rescue a lost dog. But we’ll abandon a conversation in a moment when it becomes the slightest bit uncomfortable.
The power of silence
Something we all need to grasp is that there is power in silence. From business dealings to getting people to open up to simple conversation, the pregnant pause is powerful. It gives both parties time to think, to digest, to respond intelligently. Katie Donovan suggested in an interview with the BBC to “Ask a simple question, like ‘What did you do at the weekend?’ And then shut up. Once you’ve practiced keeping quiet it’s very useful throughout your whole life.”
For some of us men, silence it allows us time to watch, to listen and to think. It’s a complement when we don’t answer right away, when we don’t fill the air. It tells you that what you have to say is worth a moment of contemplation.
Give us a goal. Just don’t bog us down in the details.
When we do talk, we do love to talk about the future, about the great expectations that tomorrow holds. To pick a spot, a goal, a desire, a passion, a destiny and to focus on it might seem a cop-out, but it gets us through the rough waters.
We all know the story of Peter, the great rock of the church, who actually took a few steps on the water, defying the very laws of gravity. But when he forgot his horizon, he sunk.
That’s the way of the ancient mariners, who sought out landmarks, lighthouses, and even the stars to lead them. And this is the way of the men in your life. It keeps all of us off the rocks — and from leaning over the side of the boat.
Look to the horizon and you’ll get us to talk.