The Zen Of Fly Fishing Silence

[by Pete Warzel] My family speaks in shorthand. My grandfather was an immigrant from the reaches of Central Europe—said he was Austrian, spoke Russian, had Polish relatives—a railroad worker in his new life in Upstate New York. He gets the rod high and pulls in the fish with his stripping hand.” ALEX, MY MIDDLE SON, is the epitome of silence. Years ago he wore my hip waders turned down. “Let me touch him.” He wet his hand and stroked the fish lovingly, then handed me the rod, took off the waders, and never fished again. He misses 10, 15 fish, and begins to grumble, perhaps thinking of his first success as a child. We repeat the ritual five times as he gets the rhythm of the cast and hook set, and by God, he is fishing. “Take over,” he says, and sits on a log behind us while I enter the water and cast. “Alex, man, you should have told me they were leaking.” “It’s all good,” he says. The ride home is done in silence.

Like the four-count rhythm of a long fly cast, life can be measured in pauses.

[by Pete Warzel]

My family speaks in shorthand. Let me clarify. The men in my family speak in shorthand, code, minimalist conversation. We also, all of us, are tough guys.

Silence fills more space than syllables. And when the stink hits the fan, action works, words do not. I learned that from my father, who I imagine learned that from his. My grandfather was an immigrant from the reaches of Central Europe—said he was Austrian, spoke Russian, had Polish relatives—a railroad worker in his new life in Upstate New York. I searched the log books at Ellis Island but could not find him entered. There were several records of the same last name, and one with the first name; but he, Josef, was much too young to sire my father in 1910. The others were German, Austrian, Polish, Russian, Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish. Take your pick.

The personality of silence I call Stoicism. My wife calls it insensitivity.

I have three sons, and the first two, 35 and 29, have the same insensitive disease as me. The third, 14 years old now, has taken the best traits from his mother, a separate mother, who is ripe with good traits, and will tell you anything, anytime, anywhere. He is a chatterbox and amuses the rest of us who are stunned to further silence by his verbosity. We simply enjoy the commotion.

It is August, the threshold of autumn, and 90 some years from the start of the Great War that changed Western culture forever. I wonder at the impetus that charged my grandfather to leave the infection of Central Europe. Was he married then to Susan, Baba? Was the intuition of a world gone badly his reason for sailing west? Baba was a slight woman with a gray bun and long, bony fingers that stroked me kindly, speaking only in Russian, though a few English words slipped out.

I have never seen a photograph of my grandfather and only now, in the late stages of middle age, is that distressing to me. That is a true silence and, no doubt, one of his own making. Perhaps he had a tribal fear of image and soul. Perhaps he did not exist.

“Another miss, and then bang!—the pool erupts with water flying, and a small brook trout jumps in a line dance for him. He gets the rod high and pulls in the fish with his stripping hand.”

ALEX, MY MIDDLE SON, is the epitome of silence. He writes, paints, raps, and reads, and then asks questions without allowing any hint of what he is thinking. I received a message on my answering machine not long ago in a creamy baritone voice. “Hello, Peter, this is your son. Trout Stockman.”

What is this? Trout? If only I had been so clever with his given name.

Years ago he wore my hip waders turned down. We were on the river before the fires ruined it for a long…

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