Surviving a New England winter takes strength. And I am in southern New England; spring comes entire months earlier for me than it does for my brother, sister, and mother in Maine. The early signs that fill us with relief that we did, in fact, make it, are sort of clichéd, I guess. The garden: yellow forsythia popping on delicate long arcs; the beginning buds of the lilac, so new when they first emerge they’re monochrome; and even months before the final snow squall, the green tips of snowdrops and crocus and daffodils emerge in the sun-warmed corners by our front doors.
But the most hopeful signs of spring are the fishing poles and little tackle boxes of the fishermen and fisherwomen that appear around the lake. They are solitary as the Great Blue Herons, who are also fishing. There’s an expectancy in the air, coming from the lake itself, as if it, too, is eager to begin again as a body entirely made of water, freed of its tight skin of ice.
There’s silence. The songbirds aren’t migrating through yet, just the geese, and the woodpeckers hammering the soft, rotten trees that have uprooted and fallen over in the winter.
The fishermen and fisherwomen are a contemplative lot. When they pass others on their way to their chosen spot, they nod, rarely grin, make a bit of eye contact, but don’t mutter more than “hello.” They aren’t there to make new friends, and so what? They’ve come for something profoundly simple: to stare at the surface of water and ponder what’s under it. Casting the whole afternoon and leaving when it’s so dark the lake has become only sound.
They want to stare at the water and think of nothing but fish. Of the hope of fish. The pull of fish on their line. In all my years of silently passing by the fishing poles, I have never seen a single person catch something in this lake. Perhaps my timing has been off, but not once have I seen this. It makes me love these fishermen and women more. Because really, isn’t hope what it’s all about?
They bring me hope. Every spring I come around from the Upper Trail Head, and there they are: hope is the shape of a human holding a fishing pole.
I go to sleep thinking of their reflection in the water, the squiggly ripples of poles, and I awake to light my candles and find the day’s entry in my daily reader, The Book of Awakening by Mark Pepo. “We live like hungry fishermen: sewing and casting our nets, though we never really know what they will catch, never really know what will feed us until it is brought aboard.” There are fish, somewhere, moving through the lake, swimming within our dreams. And we’re all around that shore, together, either full from our last meal or longing for the next.