When I was six, my uncle Jim taught me the two purposes of fishing: the Think and the Not-Think.
I never had any trouble with the point of the Think. Sometimes a guy has a lot on his mind, even at six; there’s mad escapes to plan, and how to build a raft that will go further than the old pilings on the corner bend, and the best way to get a quarter for the Big Red pop machine at the Circle K Station. You can’t be doing that when people are all the time carrying on about chores and homework and such.
Fishing? Yep. That’ll do ya. It’s a good time to close your eyes and brood. Plans get made and stuff gets done, mentally speaking. It’s worthwhile time.
But the Not-Think was Uncle Jim’s favored pastime. That just didn’t make sense to me. Shutting off your brain was something dumb people did, people who didn’t have a mid afire with imagination. There were never enough hours in the day to see everything I wanted to see or to do all I needed to get done. Turning off was like going to sleep. Everyone knew the time you spent sleeping was wasted.
I remember sneaking a look at him when he was set for a Not-Think and wondering what was going on behind those crusted, half-slitted eyes. Jim was a prospector who laid low with his eyes partly open, but you knew he wasn’t asleep because there was no snoring. He also would respond to a “hey” or a tug on the line without having to shake himself awake.
So, what was the Not Think, if it wasn’t sleeping? He said it was all about being present and letting go of the past and future. It was about taking refuge in the moment. Sometimes you had to bear down in the quiet to really listen.
I never got that as a child. Living in the moment was my default. I didn’t have enough past to drag me down, and the future was too nebulous to get a hook in me yet. So when we went on a Not-Think, I pretty much hummed to myself in my head and waited for something to happen. Sometimes I waited a really long time.
Eventually, though, my past caught up to me. I grew old enough that there were precious few things to come across that didn’t call up their own ghosts and memories. At the same time, the future grew weightier in proportion. There wasn’t much that came to mind without attendant consequences, obligations, and anticipated regrets. Living became a balancing act between what was and what would be, and let me tell you, each step was freighted with meaning. It was exhausting.
Jim and I were still fishing together, though we talked less those days. It was the quiet company of men: he at forty-three years, and me at eighteen. I was tired of thinking, finally. So I slid down and balanced on my tailbone, and I shut my eyes partway. The world was still there, all noise and bustle and painfully sharp meaning, right on the other side of my lashes. But if I slid halfway between then and next, I could slit open my eyes to color and shape without meaning. I could see the world without seeing me in it.
I haven’t fished in years. My world is too urban these days. But even in the busiest café, I can slide down and slip into the refuge of the moment. A fisher of one man, and I always find myself.