My father and I went camping this weekend. Knowing completely well that there were severe thunderstorms issued for Friday night. What did we say to the warnings? Fuck em. The place we went camping is technically my old bosses property. We go out there, rather than a park (or “campground“), for several reasons.
1) We’re not on a concrete pad surrounded by a bunch of other people.
2) We used to not get cell phone reception out there (we do now but turn our phones off).
3) No running water. No bathrooms.
4) No fire limits. I can build a goddamn bonfire if I want to.
5) We can shoot guns.
6) He’s got a stock tank…so we can fish.
7) No children. So I can say “fuck” in as many incarnations and as loud as I want.
8) No problems with alcohol.
So we get there on Friday around 1pm and my dad gets the fire started as I get the tent set up. It was pretty windy (the bitch tried to fly away from me at one point), but everything was set up in about 30 minutes…
I’m losing myself. My goal was not to tell you my entire weekend, but one particular instance. Let me narrow this down for you.
The weekend: A nice hike, big ass fires, sunburn, some gun shooting, lots of reading (I finished 3 books), 48 beers consumed and two small bottles of Jack, rain, lots of rain, water collecting in the tent, a dilapidated cabin, a nap in the sun, cold soup, warm soup…the night of the catfish.
Now for the real story.
The Night of the Catfish:
It’s been raining off and on. Bursts of rain would come, soaking us to the bone, then disappear as quickly as it came. Allowing us brief moments to dry off beside the fire. The there again-gone again, rain has disappeared and become replaced with a steady, slightly heavy, rain. We’ve taken to drinking in the rundown cabin, away from the elements, as the sun slowly declines in the sky.
My father has been fishing most of the day while I’ve read. He’s resorted to his Texas style way of fishing, throwing out the lines and then letting them sit there. Once an hour he goes back to check them, liberally drinking as he does.
It’s during these return visits that he interrupts me reading. My intent to go out there was simply from a point of relaxation. For awhile now I’ve been stuck in my house. My life has become that of a hermit. I sit on the internet from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed. My only foray outside is to smoke the occasional cigarette. In the last two weeks I’ve gone out with friends once, I’ve gone hiking once, but those have been my only lengthy excursions. I wanted to be out in nature, out in the sun. I wanted to go for a walk and be free of my online addiction. I didn’t mind his interruptions…he was like a kid in a candy store, happy to just be away from it all.
The sun is gone, my father goes to check the lines again. I can see the fire still holding on in the rain, flickers of light dancing in the darkness. I brave the elements in my trash bag poncho two sizes too small to get some more beer out of the cooler. I’ve just cracked open another one when I hear it.
“Ty! Come here!” I look around, wondering if I’d actually heard him.
“Dad?” I yell out in return.
“Help!” Comes the reply.
I initially started walking, sipping my beer as I went, but then I started running. I don’t run…ever. Thoughts were running through my head. Did he get hurt? Did he fall in the tank and can’t get out? Did he get attacked by an animal? My dad is getting up there in years. I’ve noticed recently that his equilibrium isn’t that good. When he gets cut he tends to bleed a lot because of blood thinners. When he bruises a small hit turns into something that looks catastrophic. So I ran.
When I get there I don’t see him down on the ground. He’s standing on the side of the tank, a fishing rod in hand. Imagine the scene if you can.
It’s night, but the moon is almost full so there’s that ethereal quality. The rain is coming down not steady now, but pouring. There’s my father. His clothes are soaked to the bone, the rain is sliding off his bald head in sheets, and he’s standing there like a madman holding a fishing pole.
“I just ran.” I told him.
I stood there, pondering if I should slap him.
“Well, help me. I can’t get the line to reel in.”
“Well there’s a fish on the end.”
I grab the line with my bare hand and try to pull…it doesn’t move. I look at him.
“Are you sure you’re not stuck?”
I feel the line jiggle in my hand. He’s not stuck. The line is taunt, tighter than a guitar string. With great effort I manage to pull enough to wrap some line around my hand. Not the brightest idea. I instantly feel it dig into my flesh. I already know it’s going to start bleeding. Fuck it. I keep pulling. My dad has moved up the shore, still trying to get the reel to work again. I grab with my left hand, leading the line in so I can wrap it around my right. Over and over. Slowly I feel that it’s coming close to shore.
Through lightening streaked skies and heavy rain, through giant teardrops of water bouncing off the tanks surface, I see it. It churns in the water not ten feet from me. I take a step back. What the fuck? Through my right hand I feel a giant tug and the line snaps. I quickly grab it again at my feet and wrap it around my hand. I pull, taking small steps back as I do. Slowly, it emerges from the water. No sooner did I have it on the shore that the line snapped again. I grabbed again as the big fish flopped, wrapping it around my hand one more time and pulling it as fast as I could up the shoreline. There it sat, the downed beast. It made one last giant thrash before it didn’t move again.
“Holy shit.” I mouthed.
“Now you know why I yelled for help.”
My dad is smiling like a little kid. Even in the dark I can see how lit up his eyes are. We’ve gone fishing many, many times since we moved from Texas to Georgia 12 years ago…this is the first fish he’s caught since we moved here. I wrap the line around a piece of metal that we use to hold the reels. I lift, and the line snaps again.
“What’s the test on the line?” I ask him.
In my hands I can tell one thing. It weighs more than 15 and less than 45 lbs. We guess at 25 lbs, although we don’t know. We only know that to snap the line on weight alone, it’s gotta be over 20. My dad’s still grinning as he picks up the catfish by its gills and carries it to the truck.
That grin didn’t leave his face the rest of the camping trip.
**That last picture is for a reference. I wear a size 14 wide boot.