In nature, breaking away | Moment's Notice

By Maria A. Montalvo | Aug 06, 2018

“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not the fish they are after.” – Henry David Thoreau

In a recent episode of “Live from Here” on NPR, Chris Thile told a story about how he stops the “mass of perpetual humanity swirling around me,” and he shared a beautiful melody representing what it feels like to sit on a bench in Madison Square Park in New York City with his family.

On a sunny day, he said, he has to wait in line for that bench. During this century, in his city, in his experience, it is worth it. The city or the bench or the park are not the thing of value, though – it is preserving the significance of being able and free to sit with loved ones in a natural setting.

Looking out across the edge of the lake as several members our family are fishing, and a crew of ducks with six ducklings crossing back and forth, I feel an affinity with Mr. Thile. I watch as two ducklings break away from the familial flock and head toward the shore.

The momma duck follows, quacking loudly, until she gathers them, and the baby ducks, so fuzzy and tiny, let out the softest chirps – a chirp that would make anyone try to stay close. The breeze is blowing to the south. I can see a kite flying in a field across the water. I cannot see the person flying it, but its butterfly shape soars in front of grayish-blue clouds and sky.

Lulu, the dog, is sitting in the grass next to the lake, chewing on a stick. She has already gone into the water several times, pursuing a tennis ball. The water seems to be moving along with the breeze, same tempo, same direction.

Evergreens in front of us, a slightly lighter shade of green than what they should be. The grass is tall in spots by the water, waving with each small gust. Most noticeable is the sound of the wind in my ear and how its deep tone there is lower than the breeze in the treetops above us.

I am not fishing, but I am watching the rest of them. Quietly casting and stripping the line or reeling it back in. Sideways glances with a smile. Exchanging advice, helping with a net, celebrating, or commiserating. My sister-in-law is wearing a floppy straw hat pulled over her shining blue eyes.

Their fishing shirts and vests always have that perfect degree of fray in the collar and fade across the sleeves. It is nearing the end of the day, nearly dusk, when the water looks black underneath while reflecting nearly white.

We can hear some other folks laughing and talking further away. We start to murmur about dinner, options for which lake to visit the next day. Lulu wags her tail every time one of us moves from our spots, checking to see if someone is going to throw a ball in the lake rather than a fly (a Pistol Pete Renegade, to be exact).

I have absolutely no idea what time it is, other than my guess from the lack of light and change in the birds (fewer hummingbirds and several swallows). I am quite calmed that I have no idea where my iPhone sits.

We are all likely thinking of different things, or if lucky, perhaps not thinking about anything but the water and the birds and the changing of the light and what it feels like to be on the lake, casting lines, with each other.

In his song, Chris Thile may have been channeling Thoreau, sitting in a green space, as am I, sitting by this lake. While Thoreau’s solitary perspective captures how to appreciate being alone in nature’s beauty, it feels now that it misses the joy created by sharing it.


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