Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Father's Day essay at Literary Mama

Literary Mama has just published an older essay of mine, "The Tangle River," in honor of Father's Day.  It's a genuine thrill to be published at the site ("Reading for the Maternally Inclined") which normally only accepts material from writers who are mothers.  Once a year, however, they open it up to men and their work for a special Father's Day issue.  "The Tangle River" is one of the most deeply-personal pieces of non-fiction I've ever written.

So, years later, when my father came to Alaska for a visit and we camped along the banks of the Tangle River, I strung up my rod without saying a word, unsure how to act around him as he busied himself with his gear. He'd begun planning this trip six months earlier, when five tons of snow lay heavy on the waters and the fish slumbered beneath the ice.

There was unmistakable tension between us. After all, I'd entered Paradise before him. I'd moved to Fairbanks in the dead of winter seven months before my father's visit and already I'd cut holes in the ice of Harding Lake and pulled warm trout from the dark water below. Several times that spring, I'd haunted the shores of that same lake, gently assassinating the fish who came to feed at the edge of the ice during breakup. And then there was the early-season salmon trip to Montana Creek, which I didn't even have the heart to mention to my father during our long-distance phone conversations. His voice was already distorted with jealousy. The forty-five-pound king I wrestled out of Montana would surely break his spirit.

But now here he was, on the banks of the Tangle River and bristling like a child on Christmas Eve.

"Take it easy, Dad," I said. "We've got all day and most of the night."

"I'm fine, I'm fine," he said, blowing on the drab fly to fluff the hackle. Nervous spittle from his mouth clung to the tips of the elk hairs.

His fishing vest bulged with nail clippers, hooks, coiled tippets, and enough flies to make him look like a wild fur-and-feather beast. He said his new graphite rod cost more than $400 and by the amount of time he spent attaching the reel and fitting the sections together, I saw he was determined to get his money's worth.

Finally, he said in a voice that chimed like bells, "Let's go hit the water."

You can read the entire essay here.

1 comment:

  1. David, that was a wonderful essay. Every Father's Day I think I should write something about my dad, who's been gone 11-1/2 years now, but I'm never quite up for the task. Yours is inspiring, though, and I think I might have to try again.