Thursday, September 9, 2010

Swimming Hole Story

Maine, despite recent troubling encroachments by McDonald's and Dunkin Donuts, still looks and feels pretty much the way it did when I first landed there as an 11-year-old sleepaway camper, and its unspoiled waters and cheap lobsters have been drawing me back for more than half the summers of my life.

On the road to the rental cabin, we'd pass foxes, wild turkeys, deer, and a barn selling fresh eggs by the honor system (leave $3.50 in a can); on the lake we saw loons, cormorants, and a bald eagle. The local county fair, despite the increasingly generic greasy food stalls and carny rides, still has 4H quilt and produce displays, smash-up derby, and poultry and livestock barns filled with glorious ribbon-worthy specimens like this ostrichy rooster [right].

But this summer's quintessential Maine experience happened at the local swimming hole,
at the dam of a long-gone mill in Bristol [below].
We cannonballed off the dam, swung in from a rope swing, and shared a smile as a chubby local kid patrolled the shallows with a wide net, as if there were any way he could catch fish like that.

But suddenly, the kid had a net full of baitfish. He grabbed one and hooked it on his fishing pole, and then gave another to his younger brother, whose pole consisted of a stick with a string tied to the end. The two of them stood in the shallows. Again, we smiled, charmed by the folksiness of it all. I thought to myself, in 30 years this guy will be the same beefy body type, driving a beat-up pickup truck down to the same swim hole....

Then -- incredibly quickly -- the kid had a fish! [right] I picked up my camera and tried to capture the moment. But what I missed was this:

He removed the fish from the hook. He kissed it squarely on the mouth. He held it aloft to throw it back in the water. And he WINGED it right at his little brother's head.

And the little brother didn't flinch, or whine, he just let the fish pummel off his skull and back into the pond.

And I realized -- as I was reminded when I finally read Olive Kittredge this summer -- that my fleeting feeling of urban superiority to this "quaint" setting needed a good smack on the head with a live bass.


jeff said...

you needed a smack in the head for leaving your readers wanting for so long.

Biffles said...

what he said!

Jacob Slichter said...

Great piece.

I'll never forget watching the fishmongers in Seattle throw fish, with deadeye aim, into a crowd of customers shouting out their orders. I watched for five minutes. All strikes, no balls.

Alona said...

we urbanites seem to need to feel superior to country folk as a way of rationalizing our life choices as we keep returning to their grounds for those treasured vacations...