Playing Hookey

*Author’s Note: This is a republish, well…because I enjoyed writing this. 


So, I don’t know if that term is even used anymore, but one day, when I was very young, my dad drug my brother and I out of school to take us fishing. It had never happened before, but I can say I was quite excited about the prospect of throwing caution to the wind. Although in hind sight, it wasn’t really a big deal to not go to school for one day. It seemed kind of clandestine, though. Who was I to say no to my own delinquency?

Neosho is home to a national fish hatchery. Trout snobs, counting myself among those elites, hate hatchery fish. They have been a boon to the Department of Interior’s plans to raise a lot of money. And Missouri has one of the best conservation departments as well. However, that is not what I am writing about. Anyway, that hatchery was where I saw trout for the first time outside of western Montana. They were rainbows and they were beautiful, even though they were not wild. For a quarter you could grab some Purina Trout Chow and create a feeding frenzy. Now what boy has never dreamed of throwing a line with a worm on it into so many fish? I did. Although, knowing my luck, if I had acted on that I would have been busted, thrown into juvenile detention, lived a life of crime, started a world war, or something. So, I was acquainted with trout at a very early age. And ever since, that majestic salmonid has maintained its mystery to me.

Trout live in beautiful places. We lived in a beautiful place. It was western Montana. Woods Bay, to be exact. Along with all my dad’s family. And there were mountains and trout. Lots and lots of trout and adventure. And it was one of the happiest times of my life.But when we moved from there back to the Midwest, I have to admit, that I didn’t necessarily feel that I fit in. So I kept looking for beautiful places to fish. In a way, I am glad I grew up in a small town. In spite of it’s stodgy and slow-moving change, you can’t really ask for a better place to live. Neosho has some beautiful springs and parks, It is a fertile place for wild hearts that refuse to be domesticated to suburban life You can still sit out on you front porch in your undies.

Southwest Missouri is also known for its state parks which cater to trout fisherman who don’t live in the West or even the East. There is Bennett, Montauk, and Roaring River. We live near Roaring River. It’s kinda roaring. It’s not really a river. But it’s fun. It’s history is really interesting. It’s nestled in a valley about 5 miles away from Cassville, MO, and there are lots and lots and lots of rainbow trout. RR was our destination. But I could have gone to a murky pond for all that. I was with my dad. And he had thought about me enough that he would drag me away from something necessary to answer this need for adventure which resides so deeply in little boys. But that’s because my dad had it too.

We rode in his ’72 Chevy. Don’t remember that we talked about much other than fish. I do remember glowing and feeling pretty amazed and excited all at the same time.The world was wider then. The sun seemed to burn more brightly. A sense of danger and risk. Boys crave that. Our world has changed. We have traded risk for domestication, the wild for the tame, dirty fingernails and torn blue jeans for smart devices, never realizing that we are dying on the inside. To borrow Thoreau, “lives of quiet desperation.” But not this day. My dad felt it important enough to put away his responsibility and answer his own deep need for the outdoors and to invite his sons into that journey. And I remember he looked for it a lot. Heaven help the man who forgets who he is on the inside and stops looking.

We fished all day. I think I caught one fish, quite by accident. I got more sun than fish. And it hurt. I was sore from the sunburn. But I remember the joy coming back home. Real, deep happiness. And I slept well that day. My dad smiled too.


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