Saturday, July 5, 2014

Fishing on the 4th of July

I have a confession to make. I spend nearly every holiday wondering if I'm a freak. I intently watch others celebrating a holiday, reflect on how I'm celebrating the holiday, and wonder why I don't want or enjoy the same thing.

Yesterday, after knocking around the house all day, my husband and I decided to shake off the cobwebs--to get out of the house for a bit.  But rather than staking out a spot to watch the fireworks, we decided to go fishing.

Technically, HE decided to go flyfishing, which I don't do, but I was more than content to go to a spot where I could walk around the lake with Zeke.

We drove to Medical Lake. Everyone in the town seemed to be at the mansions lining the lake. I could hear children squealing. I could hear adults laughing. There was the constant sound of firecrackers and bottle rockets. I imagined the scent of gunpowder and hot dogs.

And then I felt it--that same feeling I often get. Is it jealousy? Do I want to be at a party? I don't think any of my friends were having such lavish parties--and if they did, we weren't invited. I'm kind of an introvert who struggles to be extroverted even at the smaller, more intimate get togethers our friends have. Am I jealous of the kids writing their names in the air with sparklers?

I'm not even really a fan of fireworks.


I grew up on a farm. We raised wheat, barley, peas, and garbanzos. I remember the 4th as a time to fear. My grandmother's small house was ensconced by fields which by the 4th were tinderbox dry. Farmers feared fires caused by errant sparks or hot tailpipes. So the thought of shooting a Roman candle high into the sky seemed ridiculously risky.

I grew up on a ridge seemingly populated by old grumps. And I was one of few children who grew up in that rural neighborhood. I can recall my grandmother and I driving into Moscow or Lewiston--towns an hour away--to sit in a mall parking lot to watch city fireworks.  I can also recall her allowing me "safe" fireworks at home. I wasn't really impressed by sparklers, which seemed like painful aerobics. It was all fun and games, and you could write in the sky...until the punk burned down to the point where you grasped it.  It seems like all safe fireworks were anticlimactic. Put a match to what looks like a coal pill...and it will grow into a sizzling snakelike pile of ashes. Light the top of a teepee shaped firework, and it will erupt in a 30-second volcanic spark display.

It seems like the only thing that really got my blood going were the renegades--the fireworks that went wrong or the ones that couldn't be predicted. Case in  point: Ground Blooming Flowers. Had my grandmother known what they really did, she would never have allowed them. And thus I loved them. Ground Blooming Flowers remind me of a terrible toy. Do you remember it? It's a ball attached to a string, and that string is attached to your ankle. And the object was to play a sort of half-assed jump rope by fit and spasm until the ball makes circular trip. When it gets to the spot your other foot occupies, you jump.

Light the wick on the Ground Blooming Flower, and it whizzes around with no decipherable pattern. Jump out of the way when it gets close to kissing your ankle. But there were only so many Ground Blooming Flowers, and you can imagine it was a lonely proposition to be the sole child lighting safe fireworks on a faded grass landscape.

When I was a teenager, life on the ridge changed when a hippie couple moved in to the farmhouse a couple miles away. I don't think the farmers knew what to think of them. People reported regularly to my grandmother on their activities. If they didn't see those activities with their very own eyes, they speculated. And so when that couple invited the whole ridge over for a 4th of July celebration, I think every last resident went, if only to finally get to up close and personal to the couple they'd thus far mythologized.

I will never forget that 4th. I never saw so many pies in one place. I never saw so many men looking like boys. Those old grumps were taking turns choosing from fireworks spread on a table like gluttonous pyrotechnic buffet. They'd lumber out to the open spot in the driveway, hunker down, and light a wick. All the while, the other men would razz the one doing the lighting for not doing it right. I'm not sure I had ever seen those farmers move so fast or smile as much.

The McMahon's were perfect hosts. Betty had a pile of crazy quilts she handed out. I still remember the comforting weight of that quilt against my bare legs. I remember never feeling so close to my neighbors as that moment.  I remember feeling a bit sad when the buffet table was cleared and there was nothing more to light. Nothing in my adult experience ever felt quite like that.


I am 39 years old and apparently a party pooper. I have no inclination to go to crowded places. And if all of the trappings I see on this day are part of being patriotic, then I am decidedly not.

However, I am grateful for:

  • bright clumps of sweet pea growing everywhere. 

  • "tough" boys who ride by on their tiny BMX bikes--boys who soften when they see my dog and ask, "What's your puppy's name? Can I pet him?"

  • the ability to study my husband from afar. How often am I side by side with him on some riverbank bait fishing for trout? And yet how different he looks now, alone, cracking the whip that is his line. Deft. Aware. He casts and recasts. He opens the silver box studies the flies with the same reverence some give a particular book with thin pages. This is knowledge too. At one point he, I, and a deer are sharing the same riverbank. I am frozen and so very alive.

  • eye contact with a deer frazzled from the constant gunshot sounds littering the air. She pants. She eyes my dog. I found myself saying to her, as if we shared the same language, "It's okay."

  • quiet time in which to really notice things. Someone has built birdhouses and placed them where birds are fully capable of making their own houses. A bug on the water produces a different circle than a fish. A beaver's teeth are the color of an orange. One person's weed is another person's flower.
This lake is therapeutic. They must have known that when they built Eastern State Hospital behind it. Many times my husband and I have joked insensitively that this would be a perfect setup for a horror movie. What could be scarier than two oblivious lovers being killed by an escaped mental patient?

I find myself wondering if those patients have access to the beautiful view--not because I fear some deranged killer but because I think in the John Muir sense that everyone can benefit from fresh air, bird song, and legs moving simply because they can.


  1. Awesome blog :) Man that photo makes me want to go fishing :)

  2. Wendy, this is an amazing peace. It is so well-written that I felt my blood pressure lower and I became calmer as I read it. I can relate so deeply to the feelings that you describe regarding celebrations. I loved the description "an introvert who struggles to be an extrovert." That is how I so often feel, as probably many other introverts can related, too. I, too, opt to stay away from the groups at holidays, preferring my own company to that of a mass of strangers, but I often have a strange feeling about it.........I must be missing out on something.
    I am thrilled that you are returning to your blog and I look forward to reading many, many more of your posts.
    Wow, you are an amazing artist, as well as, an amazing writer.
    PJ Buffet

  3. I grew up in a situation opposite of you, full of kids, never any adults. Well, they were there somewhere, just not really there. Hiding in a back room smoking pot or something. Your 4th of July memory brought back to me my most favored childhood memory, sort of the day I felt that I thought as an adult, it was quiet, dark, the stars were bright... Anyway, thanks for sharing your nostalgic moment, encounter with a deer, I am sure your voice and kindness calmed its heart momentarily. Sometimes it is best to find your own way to celebrate. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.