Fish Drama in a One-Act Play

Homes and boats on Round Lake in Charlevoix, Michigan. Lake Charlevoix connects to Round Lake which connects to the Pine River Channel which leads to Lake Michigan.

Friday, July 30, 2021

I’m about to walk across the drawbridge in Charlevoix when I see a man and a woman standing along the Pine River Channel on the other side of the bridge. The pair are in their late 50s, maybe early 60s. He wears a fishing hat and clutches a fishing pole that’s arched over the water. He works to reel in a fish that fights to remain in the water. She wears a pastel-colored shirt and pair of shorts and clasps a fishing net that’s perpendicular to the water. She’s waiting to scoop up the fish once it has been reeled in, ending any chance it has of slipping back into the channel. They are a team.

I stop to watch the battle between man and woman and fish. In front of me, three young teenage girls have already stopped to watch. All of them wear their golden hair in braids. I walk forward a few steps so I’m even with them but keep my distance. I don’t want to break the spell. Their large smiles have pushed their cheeks into rose-colored apples and their eyes twinkle, telegraphing their joy. We all watch the man lift his pole and crank his reel. He’s playing with the fish, letting it wear itself out. We all watch the woman move the net closer to the water in anticipation, then watch her back away when the fish retreats.

The girls huddle together, like teenage girls do. Their hands are empty. The cellphones I expected to see in their palms, protrude from their pockets. Watching the fish action is better than Snapchat, TikTok, or Instagram. They’re immersed in this moment, no lenses between them and the man-woman-fish drama.

Suddenly the woman swoops the net into the water and pulls up the fish. The man bends down and unhooks it. As he slips his fingers through the gill and lifts the fish, the three girls applaud loudly and laugh joyfully. Unfortunately, the man and woman don’t hear the clapping because of the traffic noise and their position on the opposite side of the channel.

I cross the bridge and get a better look at the fish—it’s big, a keeper. The man and woman pack up their gear and their one-and-only, but good-sized fish. I know what he and the woman are having for dinner.

And I know what the three girls will talk about at dinner.

[More information about fishing the Pine River Channel and Round Lake area.]

Requiem for a Paperback

The book is dead, nestled among dried leaves and small pine cones, partially covered by the branches of a pine tree nearly sweeping the ground. Sun-bleached pages catch the light and bounce it like a beacon.

Broken open along the spine, its pages swollen by last week’s rain and snow are baked dry. Two pages fused together, blown vertical and dried by the wind, stand perpendicular to the ground, a gravestone for the book.

I walk past, but stop. I turn, and look. I debate.

The front of the book is mangled, its cover rolled under itself. A splotch of sky-blue color entices me to retrace my steps. I want to know its name, but I don’t want to touch the book. It’s a corpse.

I’m walking my dogs, so I juggle leashes and mittens, remove my phone from my pocket, and snap several pictures, like I do in cemeteries to record family grave markers.

Who did the book belong to? How did it end up on the ground? Did someone finish it before it was lost?

I crouch down next to the book, thankful it’s not mine.

Centered on the top of the left page, I read, Ken Follett.

I’ve read some of his books: Triple, Hornet Flight, Night Over Water, and Eye of the Needle—one of my favorite books. The snippet of sky blue on the cover tells me it’s not The Eye of the Needle. The blue is too cheerful, matching none of the cover art I’ve ever seen for that book.

My dogs stand at the end of their leashes while I stare at the book. Still crouching, I contemplate turning the book to read its title.

I let it go.

I stand, leaving it in peace, its fused pages standing perpendicular to the ground, a gravestone for the book.

Christmas Lights in the Time of COVID-19

In 2015, I named this evergreen The Twinkling Tree because some of the lights gently winked while the rest burned steady. When I took my dogs for a walk, I’d say, “Let’s go see The Twinkling Tree.”

Almost every night I take my dogs for a second walk, sometime between the end of Wheel of Fortune and nine o’clock. During our winter walks, the cold air is warmed by Christmas lights strung on houses, trees, and bushes. I never tire of seeing the lights sparkle on a cold winter’s evening. From a house with a single lit wreath to a house with strings of lights illuminating every possible structure, tree, and shrub, I love them all.

This year, because of the pandemic, I expected to see fewer Christmas lights. I based this on my experience around Halloween, having noticed fewer Halloween lights and decorations, in keeping with fewer trick-or-treaters.

Christmas lights remind me of my childhood Christmases in the 1960s and 70s. Our house was a busy place. Both my parents worked and had four children born within eight years. But at Christmas my mother created magic in our living room and dining room, which flowed together as one long rectangle.

She strung multicolored C7 lights and hung old fashioned ornaments on a Christmas tree she chose for its perfect shape, fullness, and generous size. She stopped using tinsel sometime before I was old enough to remember, but I have a picture of my sister and I sitting in front of a Christmas tree festooned in the silver stuff. My mother said with a dog and two toddlers, tinsel was everywhere.

She framed the big picture window in the living room with a string of pastel lights sheathed in plastic opaque icicles. In the corner of the dining room, we had a built-in, floor-to-ceiling hutch. She created a winter wonderland on the part of the hutch meant for serving trays, first laying out fresh boughs of pine, then weaving twinkle lights through the boughs, and finally spraying the arrangement with canned snow.

The lights made the rooms glow because before she decorated, she cleaned and polished every surface. Humble and old, those rooms in our 1907 farmhouse shone with warmth and welcome.

And when the schools closed for Christmas vacation, my siblings and I spent many hours in those rooms. We played a version of twenty questions in front of the Christmas tree. Taking turns, one of us would silently pick an ornament, and the rest of us would start asking questions, trying to guess the ornament. We lifted wrapped presents from under the tree, shaking them, attempting to guess what our faraway relatives had sent us.

At twilight we sat on the couch in the sparkle of the pastel icicles, staring out the picture window into a farmer’s field and the woods beyond, talking about we wanted Santa to bring. When my mom bought a used upright piano and put it along a bare wall in the dining room, I played Christmas carols and my siblings and I sung, our small voices combing as one rejoicing sound.

On Christmas night my siblings and I sat around the dining room table, playing with board games and art supplies we received every year. Christmas lights shimmered and music played on the stereo. The relatives, who’d joined us for dinner, had all gone home, and the dishes had been washed and put away.

I remember those Christmas-light days as peaceful and other worldly, a respite from our hectic childhood days. Twinkling lights on a tree or a house or a city light post carry me back to the magic my mother created.

Although I expected to see fewer Christmas lights this year, I was amazed by the number of people who decorated their homes for the holidays. Walking my dogs up and down the streets has turned into a warm hug from Christmas Past, a wonderful gift in this year of uncertainty and anxiety.