Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A Day on Lake Champlain

All of my family was originally from Vermont so there was logic to my parents having a “camp” on the shore of northern Lake Champlain. My grandmother’s brother lived nearby in town during the winter and in the summer he had another “camp” a couple hundred feet from the folks. He looked after the folk’s place, pulling the water pipe out of the lake and draining the house pipes and pump in the fall. Then in the spring he would reverse the procedure, open the place up, chase the wild life out and generally get it ready for the folk’s vacation. They would let my wife and I use it for a couple weeks each summer.

Uncle Jesse would loan us his rowboat while we were there. It was a big lunk of a beast in which there was no illusion of gliding over the water. More of a Volga boatman feel. I enjoyed fishing, but the good fishing spots were not anywhere near where the cottage/camp was. Out of the blue, one evening, Uncle Jesse suggested that we take his motorboat the next day and do some real fishing. His boat was no Chris Craft, but it did have a modest motor and we jumped to take his offer. At that time, we had one child, our daughter Melis. Next morning the three of us were equipped with two fishing poles and a bucket of worms as we took off across the mirrored surface of Lake Champlain. Our destination was a large island about two miles off shore. The word was that behind that island there was a great fishing hole. We anchored close to shore in the lee of island and settled down for some serious fishing.

Young parents have so much to learn. Melis, who was six or seven then, soon realized that she didn’t have a fishing pole and cried discrimination. No, she didn’t want to use her mommy’s pole. No, she didn’t want her daddy’s pole. She wanted her own fishing pole. On the bottom of the boat I found one of those wooden slats they used to put in the bottom of a window shade (Gosh knows how it got there.) With three or four feet of fish line tied on the end and a rusty hook and worm on its end, it became Melis’s own fishing pole. Peace was restored.

Time went by without a nibble and we were all getting a little antsy. Antsy turned to mayhem with a screech, flailing of arms, splashing of water. Melis had caught a fish. She did the right thing and just hung on tight. We looked down to see a gigantic lake pike, the biggest I had ever seen. Of course, in no time the window shade slat proved no match for a big pike. Melis was left with the other end of a broken slat. Such a thrill will most often convince a beginner that fishing is their sport and they will continue fishing the same spot for hours. Not Melis, she wanted to go back immediately and tell Uncle Jesse about her big catch. She was not at all disturbed by the fine point of it having gotten away. The weather was deteriorating and so we acceded to her wishes. We were all charged up by Melis’s success and thought that was our excitement for the day.

Coming out from behind the island we learned otherwise. We had been shielded from a potent wind and very choppy water. I was frightened because I had no experience with a power boat in rough water and my wife was frightened because she knew how dumb I was about water and boats and wind. My first instinct was to gun the engine, I soon figured out that in this boat, at least, you don’t skip over the waves but slam into them at full speed. It took a lot of splashing and bumps before I figured out slow was better and angling into the waves was good. I gave up any thought of steering to Uncle Jesse’s dock and decided to settle on any landfall on the main land. Of course, when we got close to shore we were again sheltered and had an easy run to the dock.

Uncle Jesse was on the dock waiting. He had watched us from the moment we had turned from behind the island. He looked ready to give me hell, and I think he would have if Melis hadn’t been jumping all over him telling him about the big fish she caught. Love yuh, Melis.

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