Or for that matter, flying through the air
One day, when my boys were still boys, we decided to go fishing in the pond near the local library. Rex the Wonder Dog threw himself in front of the van, so we opened the door and he got in. He made himself invisible, happily doing mathematical equations in his head or whatever dogs do when they’re sitting in a motor vehicle.
We arrived at the pond and the dog said he preferred staying in the van. Jason, then 11, helped Matthew, then 5, rig up his rod. I pulled my belly boat out of the van.
A belly boat is a fancy inner tube with a sling underneath. You put on your waders and these huge frogman flippers that make it impossible to get into the tube without doing complicated pirouettes with your fishing rod whipping and your hat flying. Your kids will watch you do this with perplexity and wonder.
For a parent, this is one of the unsung benefits of getting outside. You’re more….natural.
Which brings to mind the day my sons saw me fly.
We were at the neighborhood park and they were jumping off a ledge, a bit timidly. “You can jump higher than that,” I said. “Here, watch.” I raced across the grass and leaped into the air and, at the very apogee of my trajectory, I stopped in midair, like Wile E. Coyote, and my feet started racing as I fell. I sat up on the grass and laughed. My boys were standing there with their mouths open. “I can still do this. I’m not that old,” I said to myself. Applying every cell of my intelligence, I did it again. This time I jumped higher. I waved at a passing jetliner that swerved to avoid me. And then I went into a dive. I heard something snap. I sat up. People were watching from across the park.
“Dad, don’t do that,” said Matthew.
I chased after my sons and grabbed them and swung them around the park. They must have thought I had lost my mind, but it was probably just my youth, and the flexibility of my right shoulder. I suspect that my sons will replay this movie in their minds until their hair is grayer than mine. Wonder trumps vanity when you’re flying through the air. But I digress.
I fished for a while, kicking the flippers and gliding around the pond. The boys fished from shore. At the far end of the pond, three teen-agers were also fishing and trying out profanity. It’s difficult for a teen-ager to fish and be cool at the same time but they were trying. Eventually, they left, woofing and hooting and heaving rocks into the pond to mark their exit. I thought about how Jason would be a teen-ager soon.
Matthew was already bored so I offered to take him for a ride on the belly boat. He was at the stage when he was concerned about things like getting his feet wet. I told him I would try to keep his feet dry. Jason helped him onto my lap, and he sat with his little feet up on the edge of the tube, and I kicked off. I looked back and saw a hint of loss in the older boy’s eyes.
The younger boy held my fly rod. The line drifted out behind us as I trolled along the shore. We watched redwing blackbirds and listened to them rattle the rushes. Both of us were in heaven, or at least in one of its suburbs. After a while I kicked back to the shore and let the younger boy off.
“Dad, my butt is wet!”
“But your feet are dry.”
Then, without calculating the ratio of weight to buoyancy, I asked Jason, “Would you like to go out on the belly boat with me?”
His face lit up. He took off his shoes and socks and waded in and awkwardly leaned back in my arms. The tube rocked and wobbled and went lower in the water, but it stayed afloat.
We moved around the pond. I could tell by the shape of his cheek that he was smiling.
The sun disappeared behind the trees. The pond darkened and grew mysterious. Moisture in the air made the trees at the far end of the pond fuse and shimmer.
“It’s beautiful,” Jason said in a quiet voice. “It looks like a jungle.”
The older boy and I stayed out on the water and the minutes slowed to a stop. A street light, like a prodigal moon, shone through the branches. We drifted in the water together, and I thought to myself: Will this be the last time I hold him in my lap?
Meanwhile, Matthew had found a stump to sit on. He said later he was worried that someone would see the wet spot on his bottom “and think I peed myself.” He also convinced himself that a coyote was in the bushes. By the time we got back to the shore, he was swatting at a swarm of mosquitoes, still glued to that stump. (The next day the boys’ mother counted their mosquito bites and entered them into the Louv Book of World Records. Matthew was puffed up. He loved scoring higher than his older brother.)
Seeing the cloud of mosquitos, I lurched from the pond like the Creature from the Black Lagoon and charged up the slope with flippers flapping and arms waving.
We returned to the van, where the dog had worked out a new unified theory.
Richard Louv is chairman emeritus of the Children & Nature Network. He is the author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” and “The Nature Principle: Reconnecting With Life in a Virtual Age This essay is adapted from a prior book, “The Web of Life.” Photos: R.L.
Fishing isn’t for everyone, but it remains the most popular “gateway activity” to nature for young people, according to The Outdoor Foundation. Recent articles explain why and how, and one of them is about float tube fishing — an economical alternative to owning a boat:
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