Going Back Again
By Randy Kadish
They say you
can't go back again. But I had tried. And I had reminisced about the
great summers I had shared with old friends - Patti, Gerry, Bob - and
I had spun into a black hole of grief; so when Margaret called and
told me she had the beach house to herself, I told her I wasn't
fishermen are catching some big stripers," she said.
I looked at my
nine-weight fly rod. "I've been fishing the Hudson."
the rest of your life to fish the Hudson."
the old fisherman, still out there?"
know who old John is."
to see him, if he's still alive."
beach isn't crowded. You'll have most of the surf to yourself. It's a
later, I stepped onto the Fire Island ferry and saw two or three
people I knew. Afraid they would ask me about the last few years of my
life, I walked to the front of the boat and stood by myself. The sun
hung halfway down the sky. It still burned brighter than fire and hurt
my eyes. I put on sunglasses and looked straight ahead. The immense
sky seemed to overwhelm the plain of sun-reflecting water and to halt
it at the horizon line.
blasted on. The ferry moved slowly away from the dock, then chugged
across what looked like empty, outer space. I saw a distant galaxy.
The galaxy, I knew, was named Fire Island. I asked myself, haven't I
taken this ferry ride a hundred times? Why then is this the first time
the bay reminded me of outer space? Was it because it really looked
like it? Or was it because my infinite hours of practicing writing had
made conjuring up images easier for me? Or was it because my three
years of finally racking up a string of small successes had changed
perspective for me?
I didn't know.
and more of the island seemed to float up from the water and to expand
like a balloon. I deciphered green trees and wooden homes. I looked to
my side and wished my old friends stood next to me. Sad, I wanted the
ferry to turn back. For some strange reason, I wondered what soldiers
thought and felt as they crossed the English Channel to fight on
Normandy. Many of them, I assumed, also wanted their boats to turn
back. They had good reason. Did I?
reminded myself, isn't made from lead or shrapnel. Never has it killed
and its rows of trees and of wooden homes grew to life size. Like an
old photograph, the island looked unchanged.
bumped the dock. I grabbed my fly rod and my stripping basket, and
walked to Margaret's house. She waited on the porch. Because her
father was an angler in Ireland, I knew she'd understand when I said,
"I'd like to get some fishing in before sunset."
changed, set up my rod, and marched down the narrow, wooden boardwalk,
and up a short flight of steps. I stood at the top of the high dune.
corridor of reflected sunlight blazed at right angles to the
advancing, gently breaking waves. The long beach was spotted with only
a few clumps of people. Instantly, nature painted over the images in
my mind of a fast-moving, automobile-choked, concrete city. Suddenly,
I was as calm as the beach. The five years I had been away seemed to
have collapsed into five days.
thought, a part of me never left.
I didn't see
other anglers. I read the water. The tide was high. A big point was
about fifty yards to the west. Seagulls streaked past. Their piercing
squawks made them sound like drunken hooligans cruising for a fight. I
wondered, why can't seagulls sing beautifully, like other birds? At
least they can circle, dive and reveal fleeing bait fish.
however, time they didn't.
discouraged. I trudged across the soft, warm sand to the hard, cool
surf. I walked to the big point, where years before, for the first
time in my life, I voluntarily surrendered to something much bigger
than myself: the infinite beauty all around me.
Again I wanted
to surrender. I put on my stripping basket and false cast, letting out
more and more line. I presented my green deceiver. Unlike the
seagulls, the breaking waves spoke softly. They splashed around my
legs and greeted me, one by one; and as they slid back out, they tried
to pull me with them. I fought their beckoning, stood still, and
retrieved my line, six inches at a time.
I thought of
how all the cliches about fishing-being caressed by nature's beauty
and being stripped of self and time--were true. And I thought of how
I, a writer, always tried to avoid cliches. But not now, as I stood in
nature's canvas, I was confident no one, especially me, would
criticize the cliches in my mind.
ago I was also confident. So when I fished the surf with a
seventy-dollar spinning outfit, I was sure my strong will would make
me famous and therefore grateful. But as the rejection slips piled up,
my doubt and bitterness swelled and battered my self-worth with the
fury of a storm-pounded surf.
I looked down
the beach. I didn't see John. I again cast. My tight loop arrowed
though the air. My fly turned over about ninety feet away. I was proud
of having spent so many hours studying, practicing, and then writing
about, long-distance casting.
Wanting my fly
to sink to the bottom, I didn't retrieve. I thought, isn't it strange
I became a published, outdoor writer? Wouldn't John be surprised?
After all, I knew nothing about fishing when I first started seeing
him walk along the surf, always alone, always wearing a white, floppy
hat, always carrying his old, surf rod. Then one day he walked over to
me. "I saw you taking notes the other day. Are you a
He looked away
from me and studied the surf.
I wondered if
my answer disappointed me, then asked, "Is this a good fishing
think it is."
From that day
on, every time he saw me he shared some angling know-how; and for the
first time in my life, I saw how much I had to learn. But John rarely
looked into my eyes; and I became scared that becoming an angler might
turn me into a loner, like John.
absorbed everything John said. But I wanted to learn even more. I read
books and articles on surf fishing; and one day I told John about a
new fishing technique I had learned. He looked into my eyes. I was
surprised. "When I was a soldier in the Second World War,"
he said, "I often told myself that if I survived the war I'd go
back to Europe and fish the rivers I crossed as a young infantryman.
Well I survived the war, and I did go back. But fishing wasn't like I
thought it would be. All I kept seeing were the dead and dying
soldiers, floating face down, their blood spreading like smoke and
clouding the rivers red. I was to glad when I got home again, even
though I didn't think I'd ever fish again. Randy, I'm glad you
searched for and seemed to find your angling way."
I wanted to
ask John why he told me his story, but he turned abruptly. As I
watched him walk along the surf I thought of his description of
spreading blood. Impressed, I wondered if he was a writer.
The next time
I saw John he said only hello and walked on. I wanted to yell and tell
him how, thanks to him, I started to search for my writing way.
But I didn't.
My fly bounced
on the bottom. I had forgot to retrieve. I looked behind me. The sun
retreated behind the dune and, in the sky, exposed the stars it had
camouflaged with bright rays. Only a half-hour or so was left to the
day. I reminded myself, don't worry about catching a fish. Enjoy
what's in reach: this fishing moment. Sooner or later I'll land a
striper. Hasn't fishing also taught me to persevere and to have faith?
I again looked
down the beach. Again I didn't see John. Something told me I never
would. Sad, I thought, I'll see other anglers - Richard the actor, Gus
the limo driver - anglers who became long-lasting friends. No, fishing
didn't turn John into a loner. Maybe the war did. Maybe it didn't.
I'll never know.
didn't have John's blood-soaked memories, I reeled in my line, cut off
my fly, and thought, isn't it ironic I accidentally learned from what
I loved, fishing, how to become a better writer? Maybe there really is
a higher power or some divine plan. And maybe John was part of that
I wanted to
thank him. I thought of walking to his house, but I became frightened
of learning he had passed away. This time, however, I didn't try to
defuse my fear; so in spite of it, I confidently, maybe selfishly,
told myself that, because I had found my fishing and writing ways,
John, wherever he was in the universe, wouldn't mind if I headed
straight back to Margaret and spent as much time as possible
reminiscing with an old, good friend.
Randy Kadish 2006 ©
historical, fly-fishing novel,
"The Fly Caster Who Tried To Make Peace With The World"
is available on