Lured by the bluebird sky, we bundled up and set out for a walk down the familiar dirt road. Rounding the bend by the frozen pond, we spotted a man in olive waders and a worn barn jacket, flanked by a small boy holding a fishing rod and a smaller girl in a bright pink snowsuit.
wonder out loud
“What are you fishing for?” I asked as we approached. The simple question, bait-like, unlocked a story and the gift of an unexpected conversation.
“I grew up here in Harpswell, and I hated the fact that none of the freshwater ponds (there are five) had fish. So about a decade ago, when this guy was born,” he said as he ruffled his son’s hair, “I decided it was time to stock them. I went around and talked with all the neighbors, collected signatures, presented them to the state, and then released 300 young trout—browns, brooks, and rainbows—into each pond. Even though we don’t live in town anymore, we come here all the time to drop our lines and see what we can catch.” A smile spread across his face as he read ours; his story and enthusiasm had captured us all.
And the conversation continued. We cast questions. “What do the trout eat?” “How big do they grow?” “Do other people fish here?” “How does that wooden contraption you’re holding work?” He delighted in answering them all, and smiled as he humbly explained, “I’m kind of a nature nut!” The more we wanted to know, the more he opened up.
Finally, one of us asked the obvious question: “How many fish have you caught over the years?”
catch and release
With matching grins, the man and his son both answered, “One!” The boy went on, “It was a brown as long as my arm!” he said, stretching out his puffy wing. “It was gold, with a pink streak, and covered in black spots.” His dad added, “He was a feisty one, too, flopping around as we took the hook out.” Of course they threw it back. After all, the fun is threading bait onto the rusty hook, casting in a fine spot, and then waiting—for a while. They know that something will bite if it’s hungry.
“I love that all the children and grandchildren who visit these ponds can go fishing now,” the man said, trailing off as if losing himself in a daydream of carefree kids casting their lines, unaware of how fish returned to their backyards. Then he resurfaced and looked up to see the wonder in our eyes. He asked us, “Where are you all from?” He wanted to know us a bit, too. After a quick exchange, we thanked him and turned to head home. He quickly offered, “If you ever spot us down here again, come over and see us.” He didn’t want our time to end there, either.
just below the surface
Those 20 minutes on the road with this kind stranger changed the way each of us felt, though it was hard to explain how. “He helps me know the world is right. The simple goodness of people,” one friend explained. We all agreed: People are approachable, their stories rich and wonderful. Good fish are swimming in ponds all around us. Simple bait, patience, and open afternoons invite a few to the surface, eventually. They are always worth the wait.