I feel a bit like Gollum.
I am squatting on my haunches, slurping delicious juices from my fingers as I delight in a fresh pike. Perhaps muttering to myself a little. Except I’m picking out the bones, whereas Gollum relished them with a crunch. And my fish is piping hot — J.R.R. Tolkien’s pity-worthy character would wail at what I have done, ruining a perfectly nice slippery meal by slow-cooking it over hot coals.
I hope a similar cry will rise from my readers to learn that I have been out on the lake five days and this is the first fish supper I’ve had.
I can explain — I’ve been working on the lake, and using my time on smooth, glassy water to travel instead of fish.
If there is wind, I have learned it is safe to assume that it will be anywhere but behind me — a tailwind is so rare it’s almost mythological. While I have been taking small snatches of time to fish, this is the first day I have persisted long enough to catch one. Or been lucky enough. Or had the right attitude.
I came close yesterday — I watched a pike follow the lure, and decided to hold out for a trout, wondering as I did so, “will I have bad luck if I don’t take the first fish offered? Or should one return the first catch in gratitude? Or is that superstitious nonsense?”
Today, with the sun intense on my back and the wind low, I stood out on a sandbar up to my knees, casting out over the drop-off. As I did so I reflected on the covenant between ourselves and those whom we rely upon for food. The question that arises for me is: because I am taking, is something being given? If so, by whom?
Take this pike, for example. It died so I may live.
I don’t think that this individual fish decided to give itself to me, and my belief on the subject affects my attitude towards the fish.
My rational brain tells me it fell for the nasty trick I played by adding spiky hooks to a bit of metal made to move like a tasty treat. And yet I thank it. For reasons beyond the rational, because whether or not the fish knows it, I’ve received a gift.
So who or what is the giver?
I’m not sure, but my ritual of thanks is important to me because it affirms one way I view my relationship to nature — the sacred way — which co-exists with the scientific lens, though it isn’t always easy to acknowledge equally and comfortably.
Ecologists speak of the interconnectedness of species in complex relationships; physicists speak of energy being matter and vice versa; and many eastern religions teach that all things are manifestations of the divine.
The fish in these lakes are dependent on habitat created by beaver dams, which boaters often ironically damage while trying to access less-fished waters. There are as many ways of viewing our relationships with other animals as there are people, and perhaps the motions of ritual are unimportant relative to the intention behind them.
And so I do give thanks, for giving, or for being given, or for forgiving my taking, to the fish, and all of the other parts of this beautiful world that couldn’t exist without it.