Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Thu 7/18/2002 6:49 AM
Random Thought: Dead Fish

Lordy it was hot this pre-dawn morning. The heat index had to be in the eighties. I thought I'd come in with a severe moon burn. It was really beating down on me. I'm going to rewrite Ogden Nash's ditty: "Only mad dogs and Englishmen and aging professors go out in the pre-dawn moon!" Anyway, after a dehydrating six mile walk, I came into the house, slowly took a couple of reviving glasses of cool water, poured the waiting freshly brewed coffee into a cup, and went out to sit by the koi pond to cool down. Unfortunately, there's no cooling off in this kind of searing weather. The sweat kept pouring out from my pores faster than the water was falling over the rocks in my fishpond. As was watching the smooth sweep of the Koi, I started to think once again of a question a troubled graduate student at a Texas university posed to me over the internet with which I had trouble answering.

She said in a way I could almost see the tears in her eyes, "I want to teach and make some real difference in this world." Her professors, however, "think I'm wasting my time and their time with such thoughts and that I won't get anywhere in the profession unless I publish and publish a lot. One professor told me in no uncertain terms when I went to talk with her about how I feel, 'You can't waste your time on students. We're not training you to do that.' After that I feel as if this professor talked about me to the other professors and I'm being pushed to the back of the academic bus. And they say segregation is over. Not here. Not if you just want to learn to teach. Researchers to the front of the bus, teachers to the back!" Then she asked, as if fighting the urge to surrender, "Is it really so much easier and safer to go along and get along with 'the system?'" she asked. "I feel like it's harder because it's making me be someone I'm not. I don't feel as alive when I try, but that's what a lot of people tell me to do. 'Just go with the flow,' they say when I grind my teeth about how I am now being treated here because I don't want to forsake students to research and publish."

I sat there watching the koi being mesmerized by the hypnotic rhythm of their undulations. Maybe I was in a trance. Then the answer came to me.

Ever have a sudden and unexpected flashback? Ever have a scene from your past that had lain so hidden and deeply buried in the dark, inner recesses of your memory be brought to the surface like some exploding lava in an erupting volcano? That's what happened to me this morning. I felt like Mount St. Helens. Without warning, I suddenly heard a voice "from the other side" I hadn't heard in over half a century, from maybe 1947 or 1948. There, suddenly before me appearing on the screen of the pond's surface was "ole Tim" in hips boots casting for rainbow trout with little me at his side. He wasn't really all that "ole." He couldn't have been more than in his late thirties. He just seemed "ole" to us seven and eight year olds. He was a dark brown-haired local fisherman of my youth who had taught me how to fly cast for rainbow trout in New York's Beaverkill during the late 1940s when I spent my summers at my aunt's upstate bungalow "kucherlein" where my parents sent me to get away from the deadly polio epidemics that ravaged the city.

Suddenly, in such vivid detail that I could feel the heat of the sun beating down on me, I remembered part of one of the many conversations we had while standing in the middle of the stream. Standing wasn't the real word. Tim was standing firm. Little me was fighting against be lifted up and along by the current and struggling awkwardly keep my balance and find some traction on the slippery rocks of the steam bed while at the same time casting with a pole twice my size without getting a hook in my rubbery butt.

Wearing oversized hip boots that made me look like I was bundled in a heavy rubber gunny sack, I asked Tim with the innocence and curiosity of a seven year old, "Why do you let the fly float with the water? Don't the fish go the same to keep from getting tired? How do the fish see it behind them?

For a minute I thought Tim didn't hear me. He didn't say a word. Standing downstream next to me to prevent me from either floating away or falling, he kept casting. Without turning his head, as he was casting, he answered tersely but firmly with his quiet and patient deep-throated baritone voice, "Only dead fish go with the current."

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
                                 /     \__/         \/  /  /\ /~\/         \
                          /\/\-/ /^\_____\____________/__/_______/^\
                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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