By Doug Stanton
Summer is a time for forgiveness. Forgive the bullies, the liars, the cheats, the smiling posers, the con-men, the riff raff, the manipulators, the gravel voice hypnotists, the do-gooders, the bad-doers, the bookstore censors, the dictators, the misinformed, the rageful, the self-interested revolutionaries, the propagandists, the ego-maniacs, the political artists whose best arts are the art of self-promotion. The brooders whove blown to our door during the gray days of winter.
Im sitting at the Union Street dam in Traverse City, Michigan, fishing for gobies with Will, our six-year old son. Our daughter is at drivers ed. Our eldest son is washing dishes at an incredibly good restaurant in town, his summer job. Its summer and Will and I are fishing. When I was Wills age, I used to come down to this dam. The air smells the same. Like the underside of a bridge, even though it is broad daylight, and sunny. The dam pond is the color of cold coffee. Crumpled-up handfuls of foam float past, making it hard to see the shallow bottom. We are standing on the pitted concrete that is sagging into the dam pond. On the pond bottom are thousands of rocks, and among them, crayfish. Will likes to drop a worm down there and wait for one of the crayfish to come battling out of his small rock cave. The worm is circled by gobies, which are too small to really the bite the hook. I could fix this by tying on a smaller hook, but Will seems to enjoy the process of trying to catch a gobie. Perhaps because he is our third child, born 9 years after our second, he is most comfortable making up his own play.
I am thinking about a million things, except fishing with Will. I admire Wills focus as he leans over the concrete slab and dips the worm and hook into pods of gobies and the tiny caves of crayfish. Why cant I do that? This was the day I waited for, back in February. Winter is private, a ride down a frozen hole- summer is confession. Sunlight. The days are so long, they contain distance as well as time. Why do they have to start shortening so soon, on June 21?
Will catches a crayfish and swings it over and lowers it at his feet. It is no bigger than a butterfly, but bony. It seems too small to catch. And in fact the crayfish has simply grabbed the worm and held on as Will hoisted him. What a terrifying moment. Or was it?
The dam pond asks: Do you believe in God? The old willows I know along the bank, rank with the piss of wanderers, faded beer cans woven into the thick grass, answer: I cant answer. Does the crayfish think hes been caught? I dont know. I heard a man on the radio today saying there was nothing in the US constitution about government doing anything for anybody. My God, who are these people? They live in a world vibrating on the Internet in which they talk only to each other. Someone I know once said, If I say something, it must be true. When I questioned how this itself could be true, the answer was, How can you question me? Ive devoted my life to helping people.
The sun on the water is oily and I cant see the bottom, but on the far side of the pond other people are fishing, and Will wants to walk over there. He thinks the fishing will be better, though he has never seen anyone catch a fish while standing there. At the same time, he has caught several dozen gobies, trash fish, invaders, species nobody wants. But yet here they are, eating our worms, as we grow old, Will and I. We are smiling. Or rather, Will is always smiling. I am smiling too.
Nothing is happening, yet everything is happening. Its summer. If this were winter, wed go home. Indolence like this would kill us. My thoughts wouldnt wander. Theyd be sharp and focused.
What does lightning taste like? asks Will, looking up. He expects I have an answer for this brilliant, unexpected question.
How about pine sap? he asks. What does that taste like?
I bet. Whats the best sap?
Whats second best?
Do you think birch trees have good sap?
Hard to say.
How about lighting? Whats lightning taste like?
Thats a good question, Will. Where did you come up with that one?
I dont know. I just did.
Id say that lightning Id say that lightning tastes like summer.
Doug Stanton is the New York Times bestselling author of Horse Soldiers, now out in paperback.