Friday, February 12, 2010

Not just about a fish


John McPhee is one of my favorite writers. His latest piece in the New Yorker's February 8th issue has already been archived, so if you don't have a subscription you'll need to snag the copy at your local library.

Here, he writes about the pickerel, a fierce freshwater fish that I also used to catch at the small pond in Hudson, New Hampshire where my uncle had a camp. I didn't like eating fish much as a kid - except for hot, greasy chunks of deep fried battered haddock.

Catching fish was another story, and I'd go after all of them with enthusiasm.

Pickerel aren't very active in the summer, when we usually fished at night for horned pout. But we always caught pickerel on the tip-ups we set in holes dug through the ice.

McPhee weaves his recollections about fishing for pickerel with those of his father's death from a stroke. The elder McPhee was a physician, and the author writes of the family's first encounter at the hospital bedside:
I was startled by the candor of the doctor. He said the patient did not have many days to live, and he described cerebral events in language only the patient, among those present, was equipped to understand. But the patient did not understand: "He can't comprehend anything, his eyes follow nothing, he is finished," the doctor said, and we should prepare ourselves.

Wordlessly, I said to him, "You fucking bastard." My father may not have been comprehending, but my mother was right there before him, and his words, like everything else in those hours, were falling upon her and dripping away like rain. Nor did he stop. There was more of the same, until he finally excused himself to continue on his rounds.

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