GAFF: And The Land of Plenty
Thoughts of an Old Fisherman
by Lorena R. Peter, Ph.D.*
[as it appeared in the February 2012 Newsletter]
Bobby laughed as he reeled in his second fish of the morning. This one wasn’t giving up without a fight. He was lost in the thrill of it all, yelling to his prey that he would not be bested by scale-covered muscles. The fish on his hook was so strong, the rod bent almost double as he worked it. All the muscles in his arms tensed as he pulled. Then he reeled in the slack in his line ending with a step toward the water. Straining to pull his catch closer and then reel in as much as he could before his opponent could swim back out over the sandbar. Muscles pitted against muscles. Arms against fins. A battle to the finish, if Bobby had anything to do with it. A battle to get his aquatic opponent onto the beach and then into his cooler and eventually home to his freezer. Priscilla would just love this one: easy to fillet. Big and juicy on the table. Tasty.
Gaff laughed, too, enjoying his friend’s excitement. A number of people from up and down the beach were gathering for the spectacle of landing the BIG ONE. This one might even be prize-winning: a great way to start the fishing season. And everyone was cheering for him to finish it off, to best the monster fish!
The splash of fins on the sandbar brought cheers from the crowd. Gaff and a number of the other fishermen ran into the water to see what Bobby had on his hook. Suddenly, several of them turned toward the shore, waving their arms and shouting. Bobby couldn’t make out the words from that distance. He only heard men’s voices mingled with the crashing waves.
Gaff was faster getting in than the rest, “We have to cut the line. Cut the line to let her go!”
The crowd moaned in unison. Chaos erupted as everyone spoke at once, wondering what was happening.
Bobby was stunned motionless. “What?”
Gaff ran to his cooler and grabbed a knife. As he passed, he shouted, “She’s loaded with eggs. Hasn’t spawned yet. Hold the line steady so I can cut it.”
Bobby answered with his own shout, “Cut the line? Are you crazy, old man? This is the biggest I’ve ever hooked. I want to bring her in, finish it. Man over beast.”
Several of the other fishermen were yelling, “Cut the line. Cut the line.”
Others answered, “No, let him bring her in. There’s others. There’s plenty. Let him bring her in.”
Gaff was out on the sandbar now and with a sure swipe of the knife, cut the line. The line went suddenly slack and Bobby had to do some sand dancing to keep from falling. A flash on the sandbar, movement of fins and the fish was out to deeper water.
Bobby yelled at the men on the sandbar, “What right have you to cut my line? That was my fish and I wanted to bring it in.”
Gaff led the other men onto the beach, “She was big and filled with eggs. Fish that big wouldn’t have been this close to shore if she wasn’t on her way to or from the estuary. Only way we have any fish at all is if we let the females spawn.” There were sounds of agreement from the experienced fishermen.
Gaff waved toward Mother Water. “She isn’t just there to serve us. It’s a partnership. We have responsibilities, too.”
Bobby spit out his words, still angry, “Yeah, I know. You harp on keeping the beach clean.”
Gaff interrupted, “We also follow the rules set out by the smart guys who tell us how big our catch has to be and how many we can keep. We do that because we want to leave enough little ones in there to grow into something worth eating. We are stewards of this planet, not just another group of predators.”
There were nods and sounds of agreement from onlookers. Some were grumbling and groups were breaking off to return to their own spots. Some heated versions of this discussion moved away with them.
Bobby was boiling mad. “The birds take more fish out than we do. What about the commercial fishermen? They pull in tons of fish with those nets of theirs. Bet they don’t let the females go.”
Some of the crowd agreed with Bobby. Gaff knew that any response would fall on deaf ears, ears not yet ready to hear, and so he hesitated. In that moment of quiet, Priscilla’s voice preceded her out of the crowd….
……… “I do not perceive my own best interests.”
She made her way to stand next to the two arguing men. “Bobby, don’t you remember the lesson for today? ‘I do not perceive my own best interest’.”
Bobby wasn’t ready to concede defeat yet. “What does that have to do with the price of eggs?”
Priscilla laughed. “The higher view, from what is important for the planet, says it has a lot to do with the price of eggs. If we eat all the chickens, there won’t be any eggs. Even if you were starving, it’s better to leave some of those old biddies scratching around the coop so you can eat their eggs… for years to come. Not just today.”
Bobby started to repeat himself, “But the commercial fishermen”
She interrupted, “Just because someone shoots another person out of anger, does that mean you should shoot me when we argue? You’re pretty mad at Gaff. Should you shoot him?”
Bobby looked at the sand, abashed.
She continued, “I agree with Gaff, that each of us has a responsibility to care for this planet.”
His voice was small, “So we are kind to the planet so that the guys out in the boats can fill their nets.” It wasn’t so much a question as a statement. “We’re only individuals, single fishermen that dot the beaches along the coast. What can we do in that grand scheme of things you talk about?” His words were punctuated by the calls of the gulls and the crash of waves on sand.
Gaff smiled, “We are a nation of individuals, a world of individuals, and each of us has a responsibility to all the rest. I can only decide for me. You have to decide for you. And the more of us doing what we can to protect the planet, the more powerful we become. Individuals become a group become a crowd become a mob. Eventually those guys in the boats out there will get the idea and be more careful, too.”
A voice from behind them added, “I heard the government is thinking about shutting down the shrimping lane to let the population recover a bit.”
Another voice added, “About time, I’d say.”
Then another, colored with bravado, “You know, we can shrimp in the mouth of the Cape Fear River. But just individuals in their own boats. Near the estuary.”
Priscilla laughed, “Why would you do that? So you can deplete the supply faster? Net younger and younger shrimp so that they don’t have time to grow to a decent size and repopulate the lanes?”
She was answered by a soft voice, “Hadn’t thought of that. I was just thinking about how tasty they’d be.”
Priscilla’s voice softened. “Is it wise to eat the chickens or can you wait to eat their eggs for years to come?”
Gaff smiled at this exchange. “So that book of yours agrees with the idea of thinking beyond what you would like to see happen in this moment to what this moment might mean in the grand plan.”
Priscilla grinned. “We’re going through the lessons again this year, one by one. It’s like I’ve never seen some of them. So far, we’ve just been talking about the idea that our interpretation of a situation isn’t always accurate. It’s often based on fears or a belief in scarcity.” She waved in the direction of the ocean. “The book would say that our interpretation of that water over there may not be right. It might be something we’ve come up with to suit our own needs, our own view of the world.”
Bobby laughed, “Maybe Gaff’s way of looking at that water is the best: Mother Water, an expression of the Source. A connection with God.”
Priscilla looked toward the blue-green water. Her voice was soft. “Not just a source of food for the body, but a source of food for the soul, for the spirit.”
Gaff grinned, but his voice was almost reverent. “She’s there to help and guide us by example. Her creatures teach us so many lessons. She is a constant source of nurturing. The sea of unlimited potential.” His words drifted as he watched the swells far out on the ocean.
Bobby chuckled without humor. “OK, OK…the problems start when we humans decide that we know better and act stupid and selfish. But she really knows how to slap us in the face… hurricanes and all.” He, too, sought a connection with the water, the great source of life. Fluffy clouds skittered across the blue sky making a background for the birds diving for their dinner. Waves crashed on the sand, mixing with the calls of the hungry birds. A beautiful tableau to entertain and instruct.
Had Bobby gotten a glimpse of the whole rather than being so distracted by his little slice of that whole? Some old fishermen stayed behind after the others drifted on down the beach. They shook Bobby’s hand and congratulated him, both on the BIG ONE he almost caught and his wisdom for letting her go so she could do her part in adding to the minnow population. More for the hook next year.
*Lorena Peter, Ph.D., writes entertaining mysteries, romances and wisdom books.
All have strong spiritual underpinnings and paranormal elements. She blends a medical intuition and healing practice (and travel) with her writing. You may contact her on Facebook. For her understanding of the Course, she thanks Carmen Cameron and the class in Louisville, KY.