Jim Ott's Blog

This blog is a collection of columns I've written for Bay Area News Group newspapers serving the East San Francisco Bay region.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

To fish or not to fish

This column was published in the Tri-Valley Herald in July 2008.

As I type these words on a laptop, I’m sitting on a sofa in a cabin in the small resort town of Twain Harte, California. It’s early morning and my two daughters are still asleep. My wife is next to me reading. Coffee is brewing in the kitchen.
As you read this, Fourth of July has come and gone and I've returned home, but as I write this, I’m still here in the mountains hoping to capture for you the scent of pine, the clear sky, the sounds of pingpong and swimming and a rushing stream.
We’ve been coming up to Twain Harte for many years. Located north of Sonora, the town is named after Mark Twain and Bret Harte, who spent time in these parts. This is Gold Rush country, and the small mining town of Columbia, now preserved as a state historic park, is just a stone’s throw from here.
Each summer we rent a cabin and we’re always pleased to see people up here from back home. Across the street is a cabin owned by Art and Christine Hein, who were here for a few days and took in the Fourth of July parade.
And just a few strides down the road are cabins owned by the Hart family. These are the grown children of Thomas Hart, for whom the middle school in Pleasanton is named. In fact, another family of educators, the Sweeneys, are here for a reunion with the Harts. Neil Sweeney, the first principal of Foothill High School who still lives in Pleasanton with his wife Bev, introduced Thomas Hart to this resort town back in 1971. In all, more than 50 Harts and Sweeneys of all ages gathered for an old-fashioned barbeque on Independence Day.
Summers in Twain Harte often provide my family with some type of life lesson. Two years ago we were all reminded how precious life is when I was violently swept downriver from my family on a rafting trip. This year’s lesson occurred at a trout farm.

I heard about the trout farm from Don Cooper of Livermore, who spent many childhood summers in this area. I knew instantly we’d visit because my 12-year-old daughter, Kelsey, loves to fish, though she’d only ever caught two fish in her life.
Before I go on you need to know that Kelsey loves all creatures, and hates to see animals in pain. Like many kids her age, she’s been shaped by the threat of global warming and the impending extinction of species, so she doesn’t even like it when I snatch snails from flowers in our yard.
How she justifies the thrill of catching a fish is with the knowledge that she can release the slippery little being back into its habitat.

So as we arrived at the shady farm of streams and a pond brimming with trout, we were confronted with a sign that read, “No catch and release.” And so began the dilemma.

We understood that the farm’s proprietor needs to earn a living. He charges no entry fee, but instead charges for each fish caught, which he cleans and packs in ice. To catch and release is akin to, say, buying a book, quickly reading it, then returning it with no profit to the bookstore.

So Kelsey had to make a decision: to fish or not to fish.

Melissa, my 16-year-old who brought along a book instead of fishing gear, offered her sister the reassuring perspective that as humans, we’re part of the food chain. “When we eat chicken, someone has to kill the chicken,” she said.

Still, the thought of personally killing a fish gave Kelsey pause. We didn’t need the fish to survive. And yet the thrill of the hunt called out to her prehistoric inner cave warrior. Here she was, fishing rod in hand, trout visible just yards away.

On her second cast, she hooked a mighty rainbow trout that fought the line like a scene from “The Old Man and the Sea.” Then, not unlike Santiago after he caught the marlin in the Hemingway tale, Kelsey regretted her action as we slipped the gasping fish into a bucket.

And yet the challenge of line against muscle lured her to cast yet again into the teaming multitude of fish. And soon adrenaline ricocheted through her veins as another trout complied with the ancient ritual we call fishing.

This time, though, she stopped. Two fish—one now dead and one nearly so—were enough.

As the souls of the two trout edged silently toward heaven, I knew I’d never forget the look in Kelsey’s eyes as she grew a little older that day, as we ended another chapter of memories in the quiet pines of these mountains.


1 comment:

she said...

what a winner of a family story!

love learning about the history/relationship between these pleasanton families -and schools i so frequently pass and knew only by name..

AND, "Two years ago we were all reminded how precious life is when I was violently swept downriver from my family on a rafting trip"

i remember that blog! (and the excellent photo)

AND, i remember the blog where kelsey is very upset because you murdered a snail (and that excellent photo)

so to read this year's precious story with those stories still tucked in my head..

just adds texture, layers, joy and meaning..

and now i know everything happened exactly as it did for good reason,

but had i been there.. i would have paid double to the farm's proprietor for the catch & release experience.

then bbq steak for dinner

because i'm with melissa when it comes to eating; we are part of the food chain

great read/fun photos!

love, ~s.