I'm pretty raw right now, and really shouldn't be writing at all. But I want to share these thoughts, while life and death are on my mind so strongly. I pre-beg your forgiveness, and might later delete this. Maybe, maybe not. Depends.
Blood sports involve death. That's a simple fact that is often glossed over. Fishing involves death, the extinction of a specific awareness of itself. I have to believe that all forms of life, above a certain level, have at least a rudimentary self-awareness. Why else would they struggle so hard to delay their own deaths. There are some things beyond science, some thing we know but can not put into words. We know it in a way that is beyond words, beyond calculation, beyond certainly. And we know it for certain. Death, in its many forms, is one of those things we know about. It is, unfortunately, in our very DNA. When we are born, we already know that we will die. It's just there.
I'm pretty raw right now because I just had to put down my dog. He was 14 in human years, 98 in dog years. His organs were shutting down, and there was no hope of anything but painful delay. Painful for him, painful for us, his family. And the choices, and aren't there always some dismal list of choices, were to let him die a prolonged and painful death, or to end his life with as much dignity and lessening of pain as possible. To put it bluntly, I owed him. Rescued from a "shelter" at an impossibly early age, and with kennel cough, he became a constant in my life.
"Butch" we called him. In some small part because that is my family nickname. Butch, is what I am called by all of my relatives, except my wife who calls me Lloyd. I was something of a rough and tumble boy and teen. And it fit my dog better than it did me. Partly because he was diminutive, and mostly because of his attitude. Butch was small, weighing maybe twelve pounds at peak, and averaging eight, but he was by God all fight. He had kennel cough when Susan brought him home from the pound. And if he weighed ten ounces I'd be surprised. This was a brand new puppy that was only hours from death.
But Butch, Butch he was a fighter. He had courage, real courage, true courage, and he fought and he won and he lived fourteen wonderful years, although he coughed something wicked after drinking water for the rest of his life. I hate to say this, but I am crying as I write this and I'm not sure where I'm going, and shit here I am 60 years old. I'm just raw right now. I also killed the better half of a fifth after putting him down and burying him. I sent my wife away on an errand that would take her half the day. And then I put him down. It was a painless death. I planned it to every detail. No specifics here, but he was not struggling, not even close to fighting it. Butch was ready. He went with me holding him and telling it was alright to let go. To just go on and go to sleep, and dream of great green fields of grass with rabbits everywhere. Fat slow rabbits that would just barely be able to escape him, so he wouldn't have to figure out what do with one if he caught it. A perfect world full of beauty, and pleasure, and no pain.
Butch went quietly, slowly, and eternally, finally. His fourteen years as my companion will never be forgotten in my heart, or of my Susan's. He is eternally a part of us, for as long as we have just one synapse still firing. He will be part and parcel of many of my family's lives. Many knew Butch, and all loved him. He obviously won't play as large a part of their memories as Susan's and mine, but long after we're gone, his memory will survive in small pieces in many people. And when that generation passes, so will all memory of Butch. But I'll be long gone by then, and back with Butch again in some fashion probably unimaginable to us right now. But re assured, Butch and I will be together again, someway, somehow - but guaranteed.
And what does this have to do with fishing? I'm glad you asked, I can do with the distraction right now. What it has to do with fishing is this: Every fish we catch, we potentially kill. Even under the best of catch and release tactics, we potentially kill that fish - if not actually witness the death. And what great ubiquitous question does that raise? It raises the question of should we be doing this or not? Aye, that' is the question, isn't it? Should we be doing this or not.
And I answer a resound YES! What we do, all that we can do at our very worst, is to hasten inevitable death. And if we're careful we don't change anything. And to me, and this is just my opinion, the very best we can do is to leave no trace of ourselves, except in the memory of the few who survive us. And then, to just fade away in time, space, and memories. I think that is the ultimate to aspire to. Butch did that. Hopefully I will too in my turn. And may my passing be a sweet as his was.
Death follows life as surely as the sun rises It is the one and only single and immutable truth about life. And I think it is to be celebrated, death is, as a paen to reality. Fishing immutably involves death, and in some ways that is its attraction, and yet it isn't at all. The attraction isn't in killing. The attractions are that it provides a delicious food, or that it's a gamble. The gamble is whether or not you will entice this living thing onto your hook, and then bring him in. We become part of the death and life cycle of the individual fish we catch. Whether the fish is killed, dies later, or lives on, we become an intimate partner in that dance. The intimacy of that specific life becomes intwined with ours.
We are already involved in so many deaths in order to sustain ourselves. but those deaths have become third party, performed out of sight and out of mind. We didn't see the cow the steak comes from, didn't look in that specific cow's eye. We've become remote from that. We are rarely involved ourselves, we pay others to do that for us. And there's good reason for that. Inflicting death isn't pleasant. We instinctively rebel, knowing how precious our own lives are to us. And yet, it takes death, a constant parade of death, to nourish us.
So we fish in part because we need to reconnect to the world as it is, to connect to the true reality that lives inside us all, even though it can not be articulated. There's a truth deeper than words, and we all have that truth in us.
Butch lived a glorious fourteen years, ninety-eight in dog years. He is gone, and I'm still here, saddened beyond description, and remembering him. His grave is only hours old. I will miss his greetings when I come home from work, and his sitting in my lap. But for as long as I am of sound mind, I will hear the echoes of those greetings, and feel him snuggled down in my lap..
I'm going fishing tomorrow, and Butch will be on my mind, as he always will be for as long as I last.. And who could ask for more than that? But for now and the near future, I am In pain.