“Time is but the stream I go fishing in”
(Henry David Thoreau)
My two stepsons, Joe and Sam, were keen boyhood fishermen and so naturally Yetholm loch was a favourite haunt. Tackling up, hooking up herring dead bait, untangling snags, tying on spinners, cultivating maggots: we did it all in pursuit of the pike and perch which lived there. Local legend had it that there was a massive pike out there somewhere so lured on by this we even took to night fishing. I can still recall the pike picked out by torchlight as it followed the revolving spinner all the way to the bank. It wasn’t ‘king’ but the size impressed the boys and strengthened our fishing resolve.
Years later in 2007, the younger son returned home for a while, cogitating on his next move in life. We had both been reading “Walden” by Henry Thoreau and in different ways were being influenced by it. For me his garden making in the woods beside the ponds of Walden in Massachusettes, USA, had sustained my own efforts. His “herculean labour” struck a chord with me as I worked hard to reclaim a plot of waste land opposite our bungalow. Also I had planted beans as he had (broad- imperial long pod!) while concurring that any garden making should nurture wildness. “Shall I not rejoice also at the abundance of weeds where seeds are the granary of the birds,” he had written. My diary of my efforts to do just that followed his own example of record keeping.
As for Sam, hindsight shows that he was exploring Thoreau in a different way. As a musician, he was already committed to a somewhat unconventional path and “why not?” asks Thoreau For him there was no place for doubt:
“ If a man does not keep pace with his companions perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears however measured and faraway.”
Thus inspired that drum beat ultimately took Sam to Indonesia, resolved to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life” as Thoreau had advocated. After all, “in the long run men hit only what they aim at.”
As my garden and Sam’s destiny were drawing on the words of Thoreau, a more immediate Walden inspired moment was taking shape. In honour of an author from whom we had both found inspiration, we wanted to follow in his footsteps in a simple straightforward way. Hence as he had done at Walden, we set out to survey our loch. The mythical pike out there in a deep lair had always given the loch an air of mystery so why not explore it in detail? Besides as Thoreau noted “ it is remarkable how long men will believe in the bottomlessness of a pond without taking the trouble to sound it.” So that October, courtesy of the hire of the Lochside farm’s rowing boat and equipped with a lead weighted plumb line salvaged from my father’s old tool box we criss crossed the water taking soundings on the way. The attached cross section and overview chart our results. Uncannily we arrived at the same conclusion as Thoreau had done at Walden; Yetholm loch was like a “shallow plate”. There was no deep lair for any ‘king’ pike or ‘pickerel’, to coin Thoreau’s term, to hang out in. What we had discovered though was a new experience of the loch, a new appreciation of its charm. From the vantage point of a boat floating leisurely above five feet of water we had surveyed the broader vista and seen what Thoreau had seen at Walden: a stretch of water,
“ blue at one time green at another, even from the same point of view. Lying between the earth and heavens it partakes of the colour of both.” At that moment, like him, we had been immersed in “the landscapes most beautiful and expressive feature” a lake or loch…. “ the earth’s eye.”
Thoreau claimed that “a written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself. It may be translated into every language and not only read but breathed from all human lips, not be represented on canvas or marble only, but be carved out of the breath of life itself.”
The “breath of life” had blown through that day in 2007. This account is its humble “relic”.
1. Thoreau. H. D. 1854. Walden or Life in the Woods.
For another account of boyhood fishing and search for an elusive ‘king’ see the story in my e book, listed on the web site, entitled “Being Valiant”.