“There you go,” Al said, pointing toward the bouncing rod posted on the port side of his Hewescraft. “Looks to be a nice one, too.”
I stepped out of the heated cockpit and lifted the pole from its holder, enduring the frigid slap of winter air against bare skin as I raised the tip to feel hefty weight on the end of the line. He was right; it felt good. A short fight from 20 feet down began as I reeled in three colors of lead, guiding a beautiful 18-inch rainbow into Dad’s waiting net.
“And that, my son, is how the retired do it,” he commented, leaning over to dump the fish into the live-well. He straightened, then turned to me, adding, “And apparently the unemployed.”
It was true. After 35 years of continuous employment, some periods of which included multiple, overlapping jobs, I had suddenly found myself without even one.
It wasn’t a surprise, really, Omega Pacific’s closing. The writing on the wall had prompted job searches well before the official word, but to be the first to receive walking papers, the first day back from an extended out-of-the-country visit, just five hours after the company announcement – that caught me off guard.
We had a running joke during my days in the military, regarding taking leave. We always knew that during any absence, something dramatic would occur, as it was much easier to make personal personnel changes while those that might object were not present. “Who got transferred this time?” Or, “What happened to Joe Blow?” we’d inquire, wondering where our shipmates had disappeared. In civilian life, it was modified to, “Who got canned this time?” It used to be funny. This time, though, after nine years, the joke was on me.
Dad and his friend Al Rettman were both retired, both avid outdoorsmen, and both savvy enough to recognize the potential therapy a day on the water could provide. I suspect having an extra pole in the boat may have played into their offer, but I was grateful for the distraction and accepted their invite to troll Lake Roosevelt the day after my termination.
I couldn’t have asked for a better day out. I am no fan of winter days, as subdued sunlight and shortened days dull my spirit – a phase during which my wife calls me Crabby Crabberson – often lasting well into March.
The dreary grayness that typically accompanies January in the Northwest, however, was surprisingly absent that day, replaced with splendidly bright sunshine and clear skies. The water was serenely flat and the air held only a smart crispness to remind us the season still had long to go. Such tranquility made it difficult to be surly, and I found myself standing alone in the well-deck, inhaling the view, happily taking it all in. But I felt guilty.
It was Wednesday, after all, and I should have been hard at work, diligently earning a living, helping to provide for my family. What in the heck was I doing out fishing? I had kids to care for, college on the near horizon, and a wife that loved to drink wine – with me. I should’ve been looking for a job, crunching numbers on a spreadsheet, planning out the next strategic move. Right? Shouldn’t I?
A mature bald eagle skimmed the flat expanse of water beside our small wake, mere feet off the surface, before veering sharply upward and coming to rest on an outstretched branch of a gangly, old snag. We motored past slowly, close enough that I could see the color in its eyes and the ruffled overlap of feathers in its tail. We locked eyes, he and I, maybe she and I … it doesn’t really matter, and for a few brief seconds, shared something profound.
“So you got canned, huh?” it seemed to say. “That’s pretty funny.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” I said softly. It kinda was.
“Then I guess you’re finally free to pursue what you want then,” it said plainly, fanning its tail feathers back in order.
“Yeah. I get it. Symbolism, right? The American Dream.”
“No!” it communicated sternly, rising from its perch. “Anyone can dream. This is opportunity. Freedom to do!” And with that it was gone.
Dad and Al looked at me warily from beneath the heated cover, visibly concerned that I seemed to be conversing aloud with a bird, in the cold, but I didn’t care.
Unemployed midweek fishing never felt so good.
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