MIS­ERY LOVES COM­PANY

My hunt­ing and fish­ing pals are as mad­den­ing as I am

Field and Stream - - FIELD TEST - By LLIB HEAVEY

Y OLD­EST FRIENDS are self­cen­tered whack jobs, shame­less con artists, or six kinds of strange. If we didn’t hunt and fish to­gether, I some­times won­der whether we’d be friends at all. Don’t get me wrong. I love these guys. It’s just that I can’t stand them much of the time. I was telling some guy at a party about how bent they all are when he said, “Well, they’re your friends. Don’t you have to won­der what that says about you?” Ac­tu­ally, I de­cided, I didn’t. I asked if he thought the Pa­tri­ots would win the Su­per Bowl again this year.

The best thing about long-stand­ing friend­ships is that you stop think­ing about them. Nei­ther of you need pre­tend to be other than what you are. You think aloud with­out wor­ry­ing about hurt­ing the other guy’s feel­ings be­cause you’ve learned he has no feel­ings. He feels ex­actly the same about you. But you’ve each put up with the other for so long that the habit is hard to break.

Like Evets (whose name I’ve spelled back­ward to pro­tect his iden­tity), a for­mer New York mar­ket­ing guy (the po­lite term for “con man”) who cashed out af­ter the bub­ble burst. Now he’s an ex­tro­verted her­mit who raises or­ganic veg­eta­bles and live­stock up­state on a moun­tain­side at 2,100 feet. In other words, where the grow­ing sea­son lasts about 14 hours. You have to ad­mire any­body that crazy. Last time I vis­ited, Evets, who had nui­sance tags, shot a doe in full view of my veg­e­tar­ian daugh­ter. It was be­yond stupid, and as a dad, I was more than ready to tear him a new one. But it hadn’t been pre­med­i­tated, and by the time his wife had worked

Mhim over, he’d been pun­ished enough. One for­gives one’s friends the oc­ca­sional im­be­cil­ity and hopes to be for­given in turn.

Re­cently, need­ing a change of scene, I vis­ited my old fish­ing buddy, Gerg (also spelled back­ward). For 20 years we cov­ered the wa­ter all around D.C. in his alu­minum Grum­man ca­noe. We lost touch when I moved to Bal­ti­more seven years ago. Gerg is a gifted artist whose work doesn’t sell and is so dif­fi­cult that you al­most feel like he doesn’t want it to sell. He’s the guy who was sup­posed to take me fish­ing on my 50th birth­day and have me home by 6:30 for a sur­prise party. He dropped me off three hours late and, wisely, kept go­ing. Gerg moved to ru­ral Nova Sco­tia a few years back, built him­self a house, and be­came a her­mit, too—paint­ing, sculpt­ing, and grow­ing ever more im­pos­si­ble in iso­la­tion. When I called, he warned me that the lo­cal wa­ters were over­pop­u­lated with in­tro­duced small­mouths that had all but dis­placed the na­tive trout. There were lots of fish but not many big ones. I told him it didn’t mat­ter. I just needed to get out of town and feel some­thing tug­ging back. I ar­rived to the news that his ’93 Jeep had thrown a cylin­der. So we wouldn’t be us­ing it to haul the ca­noe. And since my rental lacked four-wheel-drive, we couldn’t ac­cess the bet­ter shore-fish­ing spots. Ah, well, I thought, have to make the best of it.

The best of it was pretty thin. One day, we fished the dark, tan­nic stream along the high­way, where Gerg caught a cou­ple of dinks and I got skunked. The next, a friend of his took us out on a lake. But his 3-hp Ev­in­rude was kind of light for a heavy boat. We ac­tu­ally lost ground head­ing into the wind. I man­aged to catch a dozen small­ies, the big­gest go­ing 13 inches. O.K., 111⁄2 if you’re go­ing to be that way about it. But at least it was some­thing. And the coun­try was clean and wild— clas­sic Cana­dian Shield boul­ders and cliffs, all set about with cedar, spruce, and pine. I started to un­clench a bit. The world of man buns, SmartWater, and ar­ti­sanal bath­room tis­sue re­ceded. This feel­ing lasted un­til we reached shore, where we came across four 20-some­things so ab­sorbed in ready­ing their quad­copter drone for flight that they wouldn’t have no­ticed a pa­rade of lin­gerie mod­els.

Such lim­ited fish­ing op­tions meant more time to an­noy each other. Gerg was irked by my chronic in­abil­ity to find my keys, phone, and wal­let. Like I needed some­one to point out that I’m dis­or­ga­nized. I was irked that he loved to talk but found lis­ten­ing al­most im­pos­si­ble. On the last day we pounded an­other lake from shore. As the light grew long, I caught the lone fish of the day, a bruis­ing 9-incher. And then it was over. No big fish, mem­o­rable mo­ment, or great re­union. Just two cranky mid­dle-aged guys and some medi­ocre fish­ing in the mid­dle of nowhere. I’d come be­cause I needed an es­cape from my life for a few days. And, while Gerg couldn’t come right out and say it, I sensed how much he’d needed to see some­body he knew from the old days. As I drove to the air­port, I felt sub­tly buoyed by this. The years ac­cu­mu­late on old friend­ships like tree rings, dur­ing which time a kind of un­spo­ken care and loy­alty ac­crue be­tween men. I’d been of use to an old friend. That felt pretty good.

My new book will make you laugh, cry, and feel bet­ter about your­self. Af­ter all, you could be me. TSA just got my best knife. Find Should the Tent Be Burn­ing Like That? wher­ever books are sold.

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