Matters of Importance by Mark Usyk

The creek out back. That’s how I refer to it most of the time. It’s got a name like most creeks, but to me it’s the creek out back. Why? Because that’s where it is. The name isn’t important on most days. Less and less becomes important to me all the time the older I get it seems. And what I hold onto as actually important likewise becomes more important the older I get. The creek is important. Its name, not so much as its location. Out back.

Out back I can take the boys and we can spend a couple hours together fishing, talking or not talking. But they’re 8 and 13, so there’s usually talking. Carter can ramble on about nothing at all out of nowhere the way most 8yr olds can, and he does. He’s at that age where everything can be funny and he’s just learning to be a wise ass. He loves to come up with the most outlandish statements just because he needs to be talking and if he’s talking he may as well get your attention. And if you challenge some outlandish idea, he only answers the challenge with another matter of fact sarcastic wise crack. If he’s not lost in thoughts while he’s casting, this is what he’s doing while his older brother is concentrating on putting his cast on a pin point target somewhere within ear shot. That is, until he gets a fish on. Then Carter is all business.

Carter is all about holding the fish. While his older brother would rather not, Carter needs to hold the fish. There’s something in him that connects him to the whole experience through holding that which lives in another world apart from ours. Trapped below a clear barrier that is the surface of the water, the fish are a thing of fascination to him. Like most of us, I can see it in his eyes. When he holds a fish he studies it. It’s a great thing for him to come into contact with it. Merely seeing them swimming below us standing on the bridge above is not enough. The truth of this is neither him nor I care to stand very long at the giant aquarium in our local Bass Pro. Sure, we’ll walk over to it to take a look and see if there’s anything new or quickly inspect the bass to see if any of them have the tail of a pan fish protruding from their mouths, but we don’t spend much time there. There’s no chance in us ever catching them or touching them. So there’s not much point in wasting time.

The creek has been OK this year so far. We’ve caught smallmouths, we’ve caught decent sized fallfish, and we’ve had cruising carp pass us moving up and downstream while we stood in shin deep runs. Jacob has actually caught a few more fish than Carter, which is good in my mind. It balances out Carter’s enthusiasm for the catch with Jake’s business-like approach to the affair. And since Jake would rather not hold the fish most of the time and it’s all Carter wants to do, it brings two brothers together in a way most other things can’t.

While they might get in arguments about a video game and whose fault it was that someone lost, or while they fight about who was safe or out at first base, when Jacob catches a fish and Carter releases it there is no doubt as to who did what and that they did it together. The creek out back seems to be the one sure place where they’re brothers the entire time they’re on it.

I’m not extremely close to my younger siblings. I feel bad about it most of the time, but it’s just the way life has worked out. They’re a lot younger than me, they were only just getting interesting as I left home for the military twenty-four years ago, and upon coming home a lot of time and growing up had happened in between. I moved away. They grew up. I moved back, they moved away. My brother Luke stayed around, but as life has its ways of doing, we’ve chosen our own paths, and adult responsibilities pretty much keep us busy in our own directions. But there is always the pond next to the house we grew up in that I look back on when I look at Jacob and Carter on the creek together.

The pond was maybe an acre, shaped like most man-made ponds, mostly round and elongated, a couple willow trees overhung it back then, and it was fed by a spring, a stream that ran off of another property up the road. It was shallow and weedy on the end where the stream flowed in, but on the end where the water exited, it was supposedly twelve feet deep. We couldn’t see the bottom so for all we knew that was true, or it could have been twenty.

While we didn’t always get along together in the house, once we were standing on the side of the pond with fishing poles in hand, we became a team. We stalked bass and when one was closer to someone else we quietly pointed them out to the nearest sibling like a big game hunter guide might point out a specific water buffalo on a safari to a client. We caught bait together and discussed which way was the best way to hook a live frog so that a bass would be hooked. We had our own personal fishing poles, but the tackle boxes in the shed where for anyone to use. And while we might rush to open it first to get to that one lure we wanted before someone else, we never argued over who was using what, at least that I can remember now. That seems a little bit unrealistic, but as I said before, as I get older some things become less important and others more. And arguing when we were kids doesn’t seem to have any importance to me today, but conversely the fact that we fished together what seemed like almost every day of the summer is very important to me these days.

I’ll never forget the day Luke got stabbed in the palm of his hand by a bullhead’s fin spine. It’s a feeling you don’t forget if you’ve never had it happen to you, best described as a quick and sharp pain that ends with a long a lasting burning sensation. If I was sixteen or seventeen, then Luke was ten or eleven. He went back to the shed and returned with a heavy work glove and wouldn’t touch another one without the glove on for a long time. A year or two later I left for the Air Force.

While I was away in Texas in basic training, my Mother had sent me an envelope with some photos in it from back home. I still have those photos today. It’s funny, I set up my new writing area in my new house and I’ve tried to keep it pretty clean an uncluttered. A couple large framed fish photos and a dictionary and thesaurus, and a stuffed rooster. The first items speak for themselves and the latter is simply because I couldn’t escape suburbia hell as I’d intended. A stuffed rooster seems to me somehow an appropriate form of protest.

Anyway, there’s one old photo hung with its corner stuck between the old red barn wood siding pieces. An old Polaroid sent to me while I was in basic training. On the back is written Luke 8-‘94. I never got the significance of it until just now, twenty-four years later. I hadn’t been gone for all that long, yet in that picture, he was holding a really nice bullhead in the photo… With no glove.

We all grew up on the water to some extent. Some of us had camps on lakes, some of us had parents with boats, and some of us were lucky enough to have a pond close by. I don’t remember arguing on the pond, even though there’s no way it didn’t happen. It’s not important. What’s important is the memory of my brother getting stuck in the hand with a bullheads fin spine, and realizing that after I’d left he kept growing up on the pond, the proof was in that photo.

The most important time in our lives is probably childhood. The only place that I know of that I can go back to that is a place I can only get to if I have a fishing rod in my hand, or put one in my son’s. Somethings become less important as you get older, and others become more so.

Mark Usyk is the author of Reflections of a Fly Rod, available on Amazon, Barnes & Nobel, and signed copies ready for purchase on this site,