REFLECTION: RALPH BARTHOLDT — Absolutely why you took the boat to town

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On days like this we took the boat to town.

That meant watching out for sunken logs in the bay where the sawmill was, and slaloming through the buoys that led through the narrows.

If the water was low, the reefs cragged up from the sky-blue chop like the maw of prehistoric animals that could lick the bottom off your boat if you strayed past the navigational aids.

They could chew and spit out your prop, or munch the lower unit off your motor.

Care was required.

You had just the one boat, and the one motor.

They were what replaced the season tickets others had to a family fun park with mini golf and bumper cars. Or, big screens with handsets used to chase cyber killers through cyber villages while sitting on the real-life couch with a plate of seemingly-cyber steaming, plastic-wrapped hot pockets.

They replaced vacations, movies, and long drives to beaches that you had read existed, but did not exist here.

You had a fishing rod, too. And an old tackle box filled with lures with names, crafted by marketers that you knew in your sleep.

The spinners, plugs and spoons were painted to look like minnows or frogs, or mice, or frightened ducklings that you knew would one day entice a large, wolf-like fish to strike.

So, you made room for them in the tackle box even though their big, barbed trebles only hooked spare line, spools, sinker packets and other lures that fell from the trays into the well.

But you took the boat into town anyhow, because your neighbor had a Heddon with glass beads inside that made a tinkling sound as it weaved on the mirror-like water when the air was heavy, after the sun fell behind trees, and the bugs came out.

You needed one.

You needed that lure, absolutely, for when the sky turned dark as a bruise, and the wind stopped and the water became polished aluminum.

You knew that.

So you measured your fuel with a stick stuck into the tank.

A lot of things didn’t work like they should, and the gauge on the orange, steel, gasoline tank that rode between your legs, was among them.

The stick said there was fuel enough.

And you measured your cash.

Dollar bills, a few and some change.

You weighed the necessity of the plug with the glass beads inside, counted calendar days before a next payday.

Made a decision.

You would fish the narrows on the way back, slipping behind the navigational aids, past the silent, rocky crags covered in gull and duck doo, to the weedy bays and maybe walk a top-water plug among them.

Or, cast out if you could, far enough with a big popper that you snugged tight with your line before jerking it to make a sound like a cork removed from a bottle. If you did it right, it was the mating call of a frog, you surmised.

Ploonk, ploonk.

If a bass struck, it would make you jump, and that was one of the reasons you used it, or any of the other lures in your box.

And if you were fortunate and found the lure with the glass beads packaged in a small, cardboard box hanging from a hook in the hardware store, you would check the knot twice, and the line, for abrasion. You would cast it quietly along the weed edges or into holes and, puckering your entire demeanor, reel it back.

Because you knew a bass would strike.

The water would boil, the surface would splash, the rod would pulse with energy.

You knew it.

And that’s why you took the boat to town.

• • •

Ralph Bartholdt can be reached at

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