No sound reached my ears other than the gentle rhythmic slap of small waves against my canoe. The lake…the world…was empty of humanity except for me.
Sun reflected off the ribs of the canoe; warm on my bare legs and shoulders. The old paddle, worn from exposure to the elements lay rough in my young hands.
I laid the paddle across my thighs and squinted against the mid-day glare. I took up the fiberglass fly rod borrowed from my father. A shadow on the floor of the lake gave away the hiding spot a loafing bass near the weed line. I stripped line and began to cast.
It was my personal summer of love; ten years removed from the more noted summer of 1967. I was sixteen, spending two weeks at a fish camp on a lake in the land of ten thousand lakes with my baseball coach and his family.
The camp was inhabited with other families who vacationed at this spot for the same two weeks for the past ten or fifteen years. As a result, the camp was like an extended family. Kids grew up seeing these same kids each summer, so our arrival at camp was like a family reunion.
This trip was consumed with two things I dreamt of often but knew little about…girls and smallmouth bass.
I knew a few things about both. I had looked at pictures and read magazines that were supposed to make me better at catching them. So far though, I had caught none.
I liked spending time watching them; they were elusive and mysterious. I knew some of the places they liked to frequent, and had some idea of things they liked to eat. I had but few lures with which to get their attention. Most of the time when I was able to catch their eye, I got so flustered that my attempts to connect with them were spurned. Some with a flip of a fin, some a flip of their hair.
Like most of us when we were young, my enthusiasm had not yet been tempered with experience, so I waded back in and made another cast.
The old bass popper never seemed to go far enough to get to the fish I was trying to catch. I had yet to learn how to really cast a fly, and it would be many years before I would try again. It would be yet a few years more before I became proficient at it. This day the fly splatted loudly about twenty feet from the canoe and spooked the bass.
It was a big lake and there were other fish. I tried another spot, and another. I replaced the fly with one of the few I had with me. None seemed to do the trick. But I persevered. When I next went to town I would have to buy better flies. Surely that was the solution.
At night, we kids gathered around the fire pit in front of the fish camp owner’s house and talked. We watched the stars come out; my God they were brilliant, far from the light pollution of the big city. We listened to the loons cry, lonesome and wavering as we walked along the lake shore.
Times seemed simpler then, in hindsight perhaps it was only me who was simple. There was this girl, and all I wanted to do was talk to her and hold her hand if only for a moment.
So I prepared for my cast. I only had a few lures, and precious little experience with them. I tried to be funny…she laughed, though I am not sure if it was from my humor or her pity. I cast again, this time trying to impress her; she moved closer as we walked.
The night was cold, even for the summer, for we were near the Canadian border. My hands were in my coat pockets, while my mind raced for what to do or say next. But I was out of flies…no more attractions to offer. Awkward silence followed; then her warm hand slipped into mine. I froze, not knowing what to do. So I just walked, filled with a hundred emotions and thoughts all at one time.
Soon our two weeks of vacation passed, and we said our goodbyes with promises to stay in touch. We corresponded every few days for a month or so. The letters came less often, until one day they came no more. An innocent summer romance slowly faded with time and distance. But I learned.
With new found confidence I began to cast again. Over the years I learned more about bass, and caught some. I learned more about women, caught some and lost all but one.
Sometimes, the lessons from that first summer of love come back to me, when all I need is to walk and talk, and hold a warm hand. To hear her laugh and move closer to me as we stroll; the one I will grow old with. My one in ten thousand.