By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, May 3, 1941.
“Do you suppose,” inquired Jimmie Frise, “there is anybody fishing in Germany?”
“If there is not,” I replied, “I bet there are plenty who wish they were.”
“Maybe so,” said Jimmie, “but for every man that isn’t fishing in Germany, there ought to be a man not fishing amongst us. Sooner or later, we are going to have to get it through our cheerful skulls that war is a game like any other game, and you have to have the same number of players on our team, as well trained as the other team and equipped with as serviceable equipment, if we expect to win.”
“I’ve seen rough country teams… ” I began.
“The greatest heroes in the world,” interrupted Jimmie, “can be beaten by the biggest cowards on earth, if the cowards have Tommy guns and the heroes have baseball bats.”
“The justice of our cause…” I started.
“Justice is a funny thing,” cut in Jim. “High as my opinion of our system of justice in this country may be, I still wouldn’t like to be a poor man, with the most just cause on earth, up against a billion-dollar corporation. Two poor men can get justice between them. Two billion-dollar corporations can get justice between them. But so long as justice costs money, those with money are going to be able to carry on from court to court and leave the poor man behind. What were you saying about the justice of our cause?”
“I forget,” I admitted. “It was something about the war.”
“Ah, yes,” said Jim. “Now let’s suppose this war is a hockey championship. Whichever team wins each member of the team is going to get a million dollars, plus ten thousand for each goal scored.”
“That’s a game I’d like to watch,” I exclaimed.
“You are watching it,” said Jim. “Now suppose our opponents are the Chicago Black Hawks and they have been in training all winter. They have been playing games right along. Winning them all. And we know our game against them is due on a certain date.”
“Where’s our team?” I inquired.
“We haven’t got one,” explained Jim. “We don’t believe in hockey that much. So we plan, the night of the game, to pick a team from the audience.”
“Don’t be silly.” I scoffed. “With $1,000,000 to each player?”
“Oh, we’ve got plenty of courage,” said Jim. “We feel hockey is a Canadian game. Everybody just naturally plays hockey in Canada, whereas the Chicago Black Hawks are foreigners. Besides, they’re professionals. We’ll pick a team from the audience, and by sheer sportsmanship and by sheer natural merit we’ll win…”
“That’s an absurd analogy to the war, Jim,” I protested.
“Okay,” said Jim, “you give me an analogy. To what extent is the average Canadian household in this war? The average Canadian man, woman and child thinks the war is a radio program.”
“Jim,” I said, scandalized.
“Well, we’re planning to go trout fishing tomorrow,” stated Jim. “All over the country, from Nova Scotia to Vancouver Island, men are planning tonight to go trout fishing tomorrow.”
“What could we do if we stayed home?” I demanded. “Could we make one shell? Could we help assemble one tank? Is there a single thing we could do tomorrow, by staying home, that would have the slightest effect on the course of the war?”
“Yes,” said Jim, “there is. A mighty and powerful effect on the war. We would be sacrificing something we really care about. We would be sacrificing, actually, for the first time.”
“Tens of thousands of Canadian homes have given up sons and husbands,” I asserted.
“The average home,” retorted Jim firmly, “is undisturbed. All the baloney about our individual war effort in soaking money away in war bonds and savings is just so much taffy to a lot of people who are kidding themselves that they are in the war. They are not losing. They are gaining.”
“Any number of modest, decent people,” I declared, “are depriving themselves of luxuries and even necessaries in order to save for the war.”
“Being thrifty,” stated Jim, “whether by instinct or as the result of exhortation, is not sacrifice. Sacrifice means losing something. For keeps.”
“Like a season’s fishing,” I submitted. “If I live to be 60, I have only 11 fishing seasons left.”
A Real Sacrifice
“Your private life and the even tenor of your way,” declared Jim, “must be upset before you start to function on a war basis. Everybody else in Canada has to give up something they love as much as you love fishing. And then watch Canada go to war.”
“Well,” I sighed, “I had everything packed. My rods and packsack are stacked in the vestibule, waiting. I’ve got my fishing clothes all hung ready in my closet. My fishing boots are greased. I put a red bandanna in the hip pocket of my old fishing pants. I put a handful of matches in the right-hand pocket. I spent the whole of last night getting everything ready…”
“I’m glad,” said Jim. “Now you will feel the loss more keenly. It would be no good if you gave up fishing without a pang. Whatever we give up, we should give up with bitterness. Then we’ll function.”
“As a matter of psychology, Jim,” I proposed, “don’t you think it would be even a greater sacrifice if we gave up fishing after the first trip of the year? So that our suffering will be all the keener?”
“You’ve got something there,” he mused. Which explains the fact that you might have seen us driving heartily northward over the week-end along with all the rest of the angling fraternity for the opening of the trout season.
Jim and I agreed not to mention the war from start to finish of the trip. We would pretend it was just the same glorious old opening as ever. But deep in our hearts we would know that this was the end. That every jewel of an hour spent on the streamside was one hour nearer the end of our sport for a long time to come. Anyone seeing us wading the stream and casting our flies would little dream that we were participating in a psychological ceremony the purpose of which was to make us bigger and better citizens.
The opening of the trout season is to an angler what Christmas is to a saint or the last day of school is to a schoolboy. It has religious elements in it as well as a sort of elemental joy that cannot be reasoned out. A man is at best a poor captive to civilization. It was fear that drove men into communities in the long, long ago; but sparks of courage still linger in the ashes of men’s hearts, and when those sparks fly a man feels an almost desperate desire to escape into the open to do primitive things.
It was a lovely day when we left the city. There was what the Scottish anglers call an “airt.” That means the atmosphere is so soft and humid, you can almost feel it between your thumb and finger. It was a day for birds to sing, for flies to fly, for bees to fall on the stream and for fish to rise up from the wintry bottom of their home and take a slash at the sky.
But when we crossed over the Caledon ridge a few miles north of the city, there came a change. The trees were not so advanced in bud. The fields had a sad and wintry look. And there was no airt.
And far ahead the horizon had a solid bank of gray cloud, as though April had not yet given up.
And when we reached the trout country itself, we had come under that gray bank and you might have thought we had driven two weeks back into time.
“Should we try to set up the tent?” I asked Jim, “or should we go right in to the farm and get Roy to put us up in the spare room?”
“I hate suddenly descending on a farm,” said Jim. “It isn’t merely that they have to get the room ready for us. They are upset in all ways. They feel they have to get to work and cook up special menus. Visitors on a farm are a matter of ceremony.”
“Maybe we could sleep in Roy’s barn,” I suggested. “The hay would be comfortable.”
“Let’s put up the tent,” urged Jim. “This is good-by, to trout fishing. Let us do it up in the traditional fashion.”
“It will be mighty chilly when night falls,” I pointed out.
“And it might even rain,” admitted Jim.
Might even rain! Ten miles this side of the river the rain began in a fine drizzle. By the time we reached the sideroad into Roy’s it had started in earnest. The clouds sagged down as they only can in May, as though to wake the earth with their kiss. The rain pelted. The road, rutted and filled with big holes, became a little river itself. And when we reached the creek we hardly recognized it. It had overflowed its banks and was running the color of church social coffee.
“How about, Roy’s?” I demanded.
“Let’s sit and enjoy the rain,” countered Jim. “After all, this is one of nature’s moods. We love them all.”
So there we sat in the car, with the windows up, while the rain pelted in slanting streaks and the whole earth became flooded and the stream steadily rose until the fences in the fields were waving in its current and the road had tides, across it.
For an hour the rain pelted. Then a patch of blue appeared and we put on our rubber boots and ventured forth.
“There isn’t a dry spot big enough for the tent within miles,” I declared.
“The tent has a waterproof floor,” reminded Jim. “Come on. Let’s do this up like men, not like sissies.”
He dragged out the tent in its bag and we walked up the road a few paces to study a little hillock of sand.
“Dry as a chip,” cried Jim. “Once we get the tent over it, she’ll be as cosy as a fox’s den.”
“It looks like an all-night rain to me,” I professed.
“Come on, grab hold,” said Jim.
So we spread out the tent on the soaking herbage and started to look about for a couple of poles. And suddenly the blue patch above vanished in a thick brown cloud and down came the deluge again. We rolled the tent up hastily and ran back to the car.
Now the rain really came down.
“To Roy’s,” I voted firmly.
Jim started the engine and went into low gear. The car shifted violently down on one corner.
“Now we’re done for,” I informed him.
The shoulder of the road had given way under our weight and the grab of, the car wheel. The more Jim tried the deeper we sank into thick mud.
“We’ll have to get Roy after all,” I submitted.
We walked along the flowing side road in the whirling rain and up to Roy’s farm, where there was nobody home but a little girl who said her father wasn’t expected until supper-time.
The next nearest farm,” I reminded Jim, “is that bird we had the row with last year about fishing on his part of the stream.”
“Tell your Daddy,” said Jim to the little girl, “that Mr. Frise is expecting him down at the stream.”
“Let’s wait here,” I suggested, looking out from the warmth of the house to the sweeping rain.
“This is a fishing trip,” replied Jim, “and I’m going to at least wet a line.”
Back to the car we trudged. From beneath the wet and bedraggled tent, which we had not restored to its bag, we fished out our rods and fly hooks. With heads bowed, we fastened on our reels and threaded up our lines; hitched on the leaders and tied on a couple of big, gaudy flies that we thought might catch the eye of a trout in that soup-colored stream roaring by.
Jim fished up and I fished down. It was ridiculous to cast a line at all. Great sticks and roots sailed along in the flood. It was impossible even to remember the shape of the stream or where its banks and familiar holes were.
It was growing dusk and with the rain came a new chill in the air. I quit and fought wet brush out to the road and came back to the car, where I found Jimmie on the running-board emptying his boots and taking down his rod.
“I think I heard Roy drive in,” he said wetly.
“Jim,” I declared, getting into the car, “what is there about fishing that attracts intelligent people like us? It’s always the same. It always turns out like this. What is the delusion we are under about the joy of fishing?”
“I was just thinking,” said Jim, “that it would be no sacrifice to give up fishing, after all.”
“You’re quite right,” I agreed. “We’ll have to study up some other sacrifice.”
So when Roy arrived over the fields with a team of horses to haul us out, we declined his ardent invitation to spend the night and said that as the stream would not be down to normal for a couple of days at least we might just as well go on back home to the city.
Which we did.