Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Fishing for a memory...

On the farm I grew up on we had three farm ponds. One was located in a pasture, one in a hay field and the other at the far end of a corn field. The corn field pond was loaded with blue gill, great big blue gill. The hay field pond was known for it’s abundance of frogs. And the pasture pond, well you could catch anything in that pond - bass, blue gill, catfish, sunfish.

My grandfather, Orville, loved to fish. He first taught me how to fish with a cane pole, bobber and worm. It’s a simple arrangement that is still effective today. No reel or cranking or threading the line through eyelets – just toss the line into the water and when the bobber goes under – give the pole a sharp jerk.

Nine times out of ten – you caught a fish.

Later I graduated to spin casting and a Zebco 202 reel and then still later to the most revered reel of my youth – the Zebco 33.

I still remember fishing by myself in the corn field pond with the 202 and a little Rooster Tail lure. I had been casting along the edge some cattails just as my grandfather had taught me. I was hoping to entice one of those monster fish from the safety of the reeds.

I was tempted to move to another spot on the pond – but I remembered my grandfather’s admonition, “Sometimes it takes awhile to get the attention of a big one - so be patient!”

I stuck with the spot and made a deal with myself. I would cast 20 more times and if I didn’t get a hit I would move on around the pond. I started counting the casts, three, four, and five….ten, eleven, and twelve…sixteen, seven…whoa…what was that! I got in a hurry and started reeling without setting the hook…I was so excited I could barely cast again. This time reeling slowly past the cattails…I got a good strike.

I gave the fish a second or two to turn and run with the lure and then I gave it a sharp pull just as I had been taught. I had the blue gill on the line and the fish fought like crazy! I was 9 years old and for a moment I wondered if I was going to be able to bring this fish into the bank but I kept reeling it in.

Once on the bank I placed the fish in a bucket of pond water and raced to the house. I had a blue gill that weighed almost two pounds! After a picture I took the fish back down to the pond and released it with the hope that I would catch it again someday. I don’t think I ever did.

It was the first fish I ever caught all by myself and it was almost 36 years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday.

This past summer I had my nephew, Zack, with me at Coles Pond and we were fishing. He caught a monster 6 pound chain pickerel from the bank. It was not his first catch – he is an accomplished fisherman – but the excitement in his voice and the thrill of the catch reminded me again of my first catch, my grandfather and the importance of remembering.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Over Doing it...

Growing up my sister did not have great luck with pets. When she was four or five she had a goat that she raised from a kid.

At some point it was time to wean the goat from the bottle to solid feed. One evening at feeding time my sister gave her goat the usual amount of feed but the goat seemed to want more so my sister filled the bucket up again. The goat was not done yet and so my sister gave it even more. Now the feed was a sweet feed with molasses, oats and corn and the goat did not have enough sense to stop eating. My sister was not old enough to realize that the goat was eating itself to death. The goat died later that night.

Several years later my sister had a farm cat. She was a spotted short haired cat with a tremendous curiosity. One summer’s evening the cat lay beneath the outside light near the back porch. June bugs would swarm the light at night and then drop to the ground when they got too warm. At that point the cat would snatch them up and eat them. You guessed it. The cat must have lay there all night eating June bugs. The next morning there she was dead as could be.

Common sense tells us that at some point we should stop.

My problem is: Desire is relentless and insatiable. If I live on the level of instinct, I can never have enough. And all our unhappiness in life, all our discontent and frustration, comes down to this desire for more: a bigger house, a better husband or wife, more money, more applause, more this or that.

It becomes who we are because it's all we think about. We inevitably come to believe that we must have what we crave, and that if we can't, then our life will be unfulfilled.

So we miss life, the simple joys, and all the amazing things that we are surrounded by.The big secret to happiness is never a matter of getting what you want - As Sheryl Crow says, "It is wanting what you've got." It's appreciating what you have.

It's to find the beauty in everyday things: in a child's smile, the sky at sunset, the wisdom of a friend, a winter snowstorm, a satisfying meal, the pleasure of movement, flowers in bloom.

The secret to happiness is to hear the music of the universe everywhere you go, to find satisfaction in the company of the people around you, to see the sacred in the ordinary, to realize that there is still beauty and meaning and truth and mystery in the world.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Fox hunting and building trust

One of my dad's friends was an old dairy farmer named Archie Mayle. Archie had several sons and grandsons who all lived close by and helped out with milking and the farm.

The two activities that my dad and Archie had in common were fox hunting and making hard cider (think - apple moonshine).

Now understand that fox hunting in southern Ohio in the early '70's consisted of three or four farmers and their sons going out into the woods on a Friday night, building a big bonfire and turning the dogs loose.

For the next several hours we'd all sit by the fire and listen to the dogs as they picked up the scent of a fox and then trailed him.

You could tell if the dogs had picked up a scent and you could tell when they lost it - all by tone and length of their bark.

Each farmer knew the sound of his own dog and each would stand around the fire and brag about how he knew his dog was out in front because of the urgency he heard in the dog's howling.

Of course the consumption of large quantities of homemade hard cider had no influence whatsoever on a farmer's hearing!

One Friday night after a late hunt I ended up in bed at Archie's house instead of my own. The next morning, after the milking, nine of us sat down around the long table in Grandma Mayle's kitchen. Grandma Mayle's greatest joy in life seemed to be cooking for her extended family.

On the table were fried and scrambled eggs, ham, country sausage, the homemade biscuits with red eye gravy, crisp bacon, heaps of fried potatoes and buttery grits. Mrs.. Mayle always had fresh sliced tomatoes and home canned peaches on the breakfast table as well. It was a feast for the senses and one of my favorite childhood memories.

I was able to share in that experience because there was a sense of trust between our families. My family trusted theirs and they trusted ours. And that sense of trust existed between our families because we did things together.

It was the early 1970's in rural southern Ohio and there weren't many black and white family friendships like ours.

My dad and Archie did not see themselves as anything special, just farmers who were friends.

As a young person, those experiences of building "social capital" that crossed cultural lines had an important impact on my life and the way I would interact with people later in life.

Throughout our lives it is important to keep ourselves open to relationships with others different from ourselves because those relationships build trust.

Friday, January 06, 2006

"Do you have a COW?"

I remember song lyrics, dialogue from movies, great jokes and meaningful stories.

I read this Russian fable about 20 years ago when I was in college and it has always stuck with me...

A Russian woman lived with her husband & two children in a very small hut. Her husband's parents lost their home & she had to take them in. This was unbearable!

In desperation, she went to the village wise man, whom she knew had solved many, many problems. "What should I do?" she begged.

"Do you have a COW?" asked the wise man. "Yes," she replied. Then bring her into the hut too. And come back and see me in a week," said the wise man.

A week later she was back. "The cow has made things worse! This is utterly unbearable," she said.

"Do you have any CHICKENS?" asked wise man. "Yes," she replied. "What about them?"

"Bring them into the hut too, " he said, "And come back and see me in another week."

"Now you're utterly out of your mind," she said. Nevertheless, still awed by his reputation, she did as he asked.

A week later she returned. "This is absolutely impossible," she said. "Our home is a mess."

"All right," said the wise man, "take out the chickens."

The next week she reported that without the chickens it was definitely better, but still a miserable situation.

"All right," said the wise man, "Now take out the cow and that will settle your problem."

And it did. Without the chickens & cow, the woman, her husband, the children, and his two parents got along quite peacefully.

Suddenly everything is relative. As is often the case, until things get worse, we don't recognize how good we really have it.

Once after a concert he played with a broken violin string, Itzak Perlman said, "Sometimes it is the artist's task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left."

Complaining about how bad things are very seldom encourages me to work harder, get along with others or succeed where I am.

When I remember to be grateful and work with what I have - then I am able to approach life from a better perspective.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Cooking for a change...

One of things I enjoy doing as a hobby is cooking.

One of my favorites to cook is a beef roast. I love everything about browning it, putting it in a pot with celery, carrots and onions, seasonings, and then waiting as the house fills with the smell of dinner.

It reminds me so much of my grandmother's Sunday dinner when I was growing up. Beef roast or pork roast were all main course possibilities. My grandmother always made egg noodles with Sunday dinner from a simple recipe - 1 cup of flour, 1 egg and a half an egg shell of milk. The noodles were rolled out thin and cut on the counter and allowed to dry (covered with a towel) while we went to church.

Then later she would cook the noodles in a seasoned beef or chicken broth until they were tender. Sunday dinner was heavy on the starches which included either roasted or mashed potatoes, noodles, gravy, green beans or peas. And glorious, homemade, dinner rolls baked before church. But the roast was always the center of attention and fork tender.

Much of the way I cook today is rooted in the experiences of my youth. However, today when I take the occasional cooking class my experience is challenged by a new technique or method.
I always try to be open to practicing any new technique to see if it works for me and, if it does, then I try adopt it for regular use.

My grandmother's Sunday cooking is great - But I am not going to cook a roast every week like she did. I have learned to change and adapt to match our present day lifestyle.

Successful people do not find it easy to change. They just make a conscience effort to learn from change and be open to what innovation can teach.