Angler's Circle of Life by Mark Usyk

A child sits on the end of a dock, feet dangling just above the water, a short superhero themed fishing rod with a hook, a worm, and some split shot to keep it down there. The child watches the little Bluegills, the Pumpkin Seeds, the Perch, as they hover around the worm, curiously staring it down, now and then a mouth puckering to bump the juicy morsel. The child bounces the worm up and down, trying to force a take. The bait is raised slowly to see how far the fish will follow it up. Will they come right to the surface, will they stay down deeper. Will they think it’s getting away and finally take it? On this day for whatever reason the fish just won’t take the worm, and the child feels disappointment, a hint of things to come in life. On the next day, attempting once again to become the master of nature several fish flail at the end of the child’s line, and happiness and laughter carry across the water, the innocence of childhood not yet affected by the struggles of life. It’s the child, the water, and the fish. The worms found under the boards behind the old shed and in the garden, an old metal tackle box filled with rusty old hooks and lures not yet understood yet but there waiting to be used. There is nothing else.

The child is growing older, learning new techniques at fooling fish, new knots to better secure a hook, and a better fishing rod has replaced the short kiddie pole of yesterday. The contents of the tackle box have been organized, new lures replaced the old, needle nose pliers reside in the bottom. Simply shaking a fish loose or stepping on the fish and yanking the hook out is no longer acceptable. The young person standing on the edge of the pond has seen the blood, has seen the fish floating on its side after being let go, and has learned to respect the fish a little more by using the pliers to carefully remove a hook, so that the fish can be caught another day. There is also a stringer, and if enough decent fish are caught, but not more than the limit, and not out of season, his Grandfather will show him how to properly fillet the fish and his Grandmother will cook them for dinner. He has mixed feelings on this. The catching is the fun, the catching is the challenge. The killing and eating is something else. It’s a challenge unlike the rest of his life. It’s not the challenge of learning to divide fractions in math, or the challenge of understanding how elements in the periodic table react together, and it’s definitely not the challenge of interacting with other kids he can’t seem to relate to. Catching a fish. This is the only challenge that leaves him to himself in his mind, the other challenges as important as they may be when he’s not on the water, they are all unnecessary here, and a burden the mind needs not carry. The fish, the water, the immediate surroundings, these are all that matters. The killing of the fish weighs on his mind. The young person is slowly, through nature, learning to be a man.

A middle aged man finds himself at work yet again for the eighth day in a row, questioning. Everything he wants, a nice house, a good truck, maybe a little camp tucked away from everything on a lake somewhere, to get these things he has to work so many hours. So many hours spent making money to afford things that he has no time to enjoy because he is working all the time to afford them. Each shift eight to twelve hours lost from life, hours he never gets back. Day after day. This is being an adult? A man? This is a trap. Free men don’t fall in traps. Slaves do. On his day off, finally he hitches the boat up to the truck. He finds himself on a lake, the boat gently sways on the water as he makes a cast to the end of a dock. He’s hoping for a Bass to rush out and crush his streamer when the line goes tight. The tip of the rod dances as he strips in line, a life fighting him on the other end. He holds the large Sunfish in his hands. Blues and greens and purples and orange, the boat has drifted in to bump the end of the dock. The fisherman looks down into the water and sees the small group of Sunfish and Perch hiding just in the shadow of the wooden structure and he smiles as he lets his catch return to the group. He hasn’t thought about work, bills, or what needs to be done at home. In his mind he’s sitting on the end of that dock, his feet dangling just above the water, a coffee can of worms beside him and some dirt spilled on the old wood next to it. He is a man who has found his way back to being a child.

The Lion King had the circle of life wrong. It’s not about animals being born, dying, returning to the earth and then sustaining the next born. No. The circle of life…is in fishing.