When I tell people I’ve taken up fishing again, they often ask me, “do you bait your own hook?” When I was a young girl, I didn’t think much about it, it’s just what we did to catch fish. We dug up earthworms, threaded them carefully so that the writhing tail swished in the water, covering the sharp hook, and waited with excitement for the bobber to go under. I caught my first large mouth bass at age six at Ms. Loduska’s pond, a secret, swampy fishing hole hidden down a country road. When I left for college, I left fishing, too, and that’s when a part of my soul went missing.
Today, a lifetime later, I felt the urge to fish again. Fishing is an act of soul conjuring and I have been away for far too long. I am not the first to make the connection between fishing and the soul, Jesus used the metaphor of fishing often to speak of luring the soul from the depths, no longer fishermen but fishers of men, he would tell his disciples. Perhaps he had a different metaphor for the women, or perhaps the women who stayed by his side didn’t require an image for bringing souls into the world from the depths, some things are just second nature. Perhaps they baited their own hooks, too.
“Fishermen Must Register,” the brown and yellow sign read at the Tennessee Wildlife Refuge lake where I decided to take up fishing again. I just assumed the sign meant that even though I’m a woman, I still had to register my intention to pull fish from the water. Like most women, I find that there are many “man made” barriers in this world I’ve just learned to see past in order to do what I need to do. It’s a trick I learned from fishing, you go where the fish are calling, through fences, briars, out beyond signs warning you that you do not belong, sometimes out into the deep, deep water; you learn to listen to what is beneath the surface and go and cast your line there. It’s just how you catch fish.
Like Mary Magdalene, breaking all the rules to find her true self, sensing some route to her very own soul was there at Jesus’ feet. She was not going to let a few men prevent her from throwing herself down and spending everything precious she owned to know the truth, even though she probably knew full well that she would be shamed for it, it was her nature to do so, to go where her soul was calling. Nature is always breaking the rules we set for ourselves to show us the beauty of our souls.
We cannot decide how or when it happens, the opportunity to follow a heavenly light in the world, we can only respond, like fish to bait in the depths, innately, to what is before us, both the casting and the lure to be real in the world, the searching and the being found, to catch and to be caught up at once by the motion of our truest nature. This act of fishing was more than re-enacting a childhood memory, it was another way of loving the beauty inside of me, and maybe I would even catch a fish or two.
There were two retired African American men fishing next to me, just down the trail a bit, and having a great time. They looked to be in their seventies, which meant they had lived through much harder times than I could imagine, more discrimination and shaming than I had felt in a lifetime, most likely. Still, they had mercy on a white woman, giving me three juicy earthworms because my three dollar and fifty-nine cent lure wasn’t doing the trick.
I thanked them; headed past their spot into a more remote part of the bank, I was looking for some solitude and shade. “It’s nice back there,” they said, “but watch out for papa goose around the corner, he’s sitting on a batch of eggs and he’s likely to attack.”
Forewarned, I spoke to father goose about passing and, begrudgingly, showing his long, pink tongue and hissing a little, he let me pass, the mother swam off the shore, just a few feet away to run interference. As soon as I got past the geese, it was as if I had slipped through a veil into a hidden world. All sorts of alarms began going off, large toad frogs signaled my arrival, shouting to one another across the lake, their bellows echoing off the hills. Two more geese flew in, landed on the water and began doing some kind of formal ritual I’ve never seen before, swimming towards one another and turning, in the exact same rhythm, and swimming apart in a straight line as if they were pacing off for a duel. A blue heron flew low; a snake swam beneath my feet dangling from the bank. I had penetrated the territory of the unseen and found it to be incredibly serene, even with all the noise. Whenever I venture into nature, I always find that I am penetrating Eden and my deepest self, simultaneously.
As I cast my rod and reel in a cadence, click, cast, plop, reel, I thought a great deal about mother earth, about what is hidden beneath the surface, calling, in subtle tones, to be revealed. I thought of the many things women are taught to hide about themselves, to be ashamed of. I thought of all the fishing we have to do in ourselves to find those things, to bring them to the surface, all the barriers we have to break down, the intuition we must learn to follow, the briar patches within we have to wade through, the no trespassing signs we must ignore. I thought of the very cycle of womanhood itself, the vulnerability of the emotions in the rising and falling of the various chemicals and fluids that are produced each month in a woman’s body in a seemingly inconvenient and strange ballet of order. The ways in which the difference of being feminine causes so much disorder in the world because it does not fit into the structure of being regularly productive, emotionally together, neat and tidy, it does not even fit on the official wildlife refuge sign.
Sitting on the banks of a lake and casting a line into the deep water, I realized mother nature has a way of revealing what is hidden in gentle and beckoning tones, for those who would take the time to listen. She has a way of ordering what is wild without sacrificing one ounce of wildness, of bringing calmness into chaos without apologizing for her disasters, of finding what has gone missing if you are willing to break through a few barriers for the search. I realized a woman’s true nature is close to the heart of creation, whatever she does in the world, she brings this creative energy to play just by living close to her heart.
At a time in our world when the statistics tell us that one out of every three women worldwide is a victim of violence, it is vital that women (and men) go fishing for the creative energy within themselves, that which heals, orders and renews, giving life to brokenness. It is time to claim a woman’s body for something more than violence. There, in the depths, beyond the barriers, just beyond the veil, a woman’s soul awaits herself.