KEVIN TATE: Boats laid by for the winter recall summers gone

Kevin Tate

Kevin Tate

The lines had been taken up from the big waters, returned to the foam boxes that held their hooks in order row by row for a season yet to come. Their last haul of the year had long since been cleaned and frozen. The boats stood by on the last warm days too, done for a while, or maybe longer.

Already the memories were sorting themselves into the stories they would support. Some things were interesting, some were impressive, the best were funny, though many of those required the perspective of time and distance to seem so.

Surrounding the highlights were hours and days that didn’t bear mention or, better, simply defied words subtle enough to bring them into tune, times when nothing happened out of the ordinary, but times that created a kind of ordinary that couldn’t have existed anywhere else.

Vocabulary has its limits, after all. How do you describe a peace so simple it felt like nothing, but grew to form the context in which a mentor’s lessons were understood?

Time spent in the shade on the water, for example, dodging a high July sun, tied up and afloat under the willows, dressing the morning’s catch while the lake surface baked and the freshly re-baited lines did their job. We imagined the fish we were catching while we dressed the fish we’d already caught.

The satisfaction of working with our hands and the anticipation of what might already be waiting for us on the next run combined just so. When that combination fell upon someone who enjoyed the status of a man with the responsibilities of a boy, it produced a feeling of accomplishment and well-being rarely matched anywhere else. It was something wonderful, worth going back for, someday when the time was right.

All friends can talk together, but the best of friends can be silent together, and in those times we mostly worked and imagined without talking, alone and together at one. Mentors and friends, old men and boys, they’re all reflections of each other it seems, but in ways too hard to see most of the time. It was all just behind him then, still within a short backward reach. The way was familiar and he could find it again, he assumed, any summer, any time.

As the fall’s first lasting front blew down, the boats sat their trailers like silent hounds waiting for their master’s footsteps, waiting for the next opportunity to chase, to run, to follow instinct and breathe free. Aluminum gunwales reflected the cold gray of the sky, or maybe one just matched the color of the other.

Pecan leaves blew from the trees in mottled shades of gold and brown and the occasional determined green. Some fell onto decks that had looked up from the water into a thousand summer suns, low decks that had held ice chests and bait, live and otherwise, that had carried batteries and gas cans and oddments too many to number or name, decks that had supported the feet of men and boys, carrying them where their imaginations bade them go, that maybe someday would take them there again.

Now, some days find him in the boat’s other seat, passing along lessons, smiling at another boy who learns, working in his own silence while remembering a peace that can’t be described, only found and, maybe, passed along.

Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.