Of fish and men

I went on a fly fishing trip to northern Michigan with three friends last weekend.

I think women wonder what men actually do on fishing trips. Their thinking is — why would four otherwise intelligent guys want to spend an entire weekend doing nothing but fishing?

I’m sorry to confirm a woman’s worst fears, but I have to tell the truth.

When four men travel out of town for a weekend like this, what they do is — fish. They fish all day. And when they’re done fishing for the day, they’re so exhausted they can barely get through dinner before falling asleep so they can get up very early the next morning and fish all day again.

After being blown all day by the winds whistling up the Manistee River on Saturday, my friends. Larry, Stephen, Troy, and I were all tired. Troy, who is Stephen’s son-in-law, had reason to be tired. He caught four steelheads on the river and returned them to the cold water, in the tradition of catch and release. After casting all day, the only things the rest of us could claim among us were two steelheads, a pulled shoulder and a swollen hand.

In fact, as we had climbed out of our boats and left the river at the end of the day, the sound that I heard was unmistakable. You can choose to believe me or not, but I know what I heard and I know what it was. It was fish laughter. And if you’ve never heard it, be thankful. It is not a pretty sound.

We went back to our rooms, cleaned up and spent the next hour deciding where to go for dinner. “Where do you want to go?” “I don’t know, where do you want to go?” “I don’t care. Anyplace is fine with me.” This was followed by 20 minutes of silence and then we started the same conversation all over again.

We finally settled on the Tuscan Grille, right on the river in Manistee where it straightens to empty into Lake Michigan. Troy didn’t feel well, so he stayed behind.

The Tuscan Grille was a great choice. It’s designed using the bare brick walls of century old buildings with modern design inside; windows that let in the sunlight and open views to traffic on the rushing river.

It was prom night in Manistee and we enjoyed seeing large tables filled with high school students dressed up for the biggest night of the year, out for dinner before the dance. Our conversation went something like this:

“That last fish I lost wasn’t my fault. It was never really hooked.”
“How could anybody expect us to cast in 30-mile-an-hour winds like we had today?”
“I don’t think girls looked like that when we were in high school.”
“Sure they did. You just can’t remember that far back.”
“That was a 10 pound fish that got away. I’m sure of it.”
“Do you have any Advil. My shoulder is killing me.”

Larry and Stephen ordered sushi for an appetizer so I decided to join them. About 10 minutes passed and the waiter said our sushi would be out soon, they were just adding the wasabi — which is kind of a Japanese horseradish. A few more minutes passed and the waiter brought us three white plates with beautiful pink, raw tuna. On each plate there was also a tiny bowl filled with dip and a delicious looking cube of green wasabi.

It actually was as close to real fish as I had been all day.

No one said a word, but we each went to work, slicing the rolled tuna into smaller pieces to make it last longer. I stuck a piece of tuna on my fork, dropped it in the dip, took off a corner from the green wasabi cube and put it all together in my mouth. The taste was instantly exciting and wonderful.

What followed a few seconds later was a growing sensation that a bonfire had been started inside my mouth. It roared around my gums, burning off all my teeth before attacking the roof of my mouth, passing up into my sinuses and finally roaring flames out through my nose. I think it was at that point that my head exploded.

I grabbed for water and looked at Larry to warn him. I tried to shout, “It’s too late for me. Save yourself!” but I couldn’t speak. And it was too late for him, too. There were tears rolling out his eyes and smoke pouring out his ears. We both looked at Stephen whose eyes had glazed over. He looked like he was going into shock.

Ten minutes and a pitcher of water later we were able to speak again.

“The wasabi is a little hot.”
“I think I have third degree burns in my mouth.”
“We should use this stuff for bait.”
“I really don’t think girls looked like that when we were in high school.”

We finished dinner, returned to our rooms and checked on Troy.

“How was dinner?” he asked.

We told him it was great and we insisted that next time we went to the Tuscan Grille we really wanted him to go with us and order the sushi.

“It’s that good?” he asked.

We told him it was probably the best wasabi on the face of the earth and to be fully appreciated, it had to be eaten in large chunks.

So, to be honest, I guess fishing isn’t the only thing men do for fun on these trips. But this other stuff only happens when the fishing is slow— and when one guy is catching a lot more fish than the rest of us.

The problem is, Troy could probably out-wasabi us, too.

International friendships

My wife and I had a wonderful time last week with our house guest, Lula Tewfik, from Ethiopia. Lula, a communications officer with the United Nations, was one of four African professionals touring Indiana as part of the Rotary International Group Study Exchange Program. My wife, Jeanne, is active in Lafayette Rotary and serves on the board. A Rotary group from the United States has been touring in Africa at the same time.

Bob Scott has a great story about this in the Lafayette Journal and Courier today (4/22/08), ay (4/22/08), www.jconline.com

Our four international guests had an amazing itinerary that included stops in Danville, Fishers, Anderson, Kokomo, Lafayette and Muncie. Not many people visiting from as far away as Africa get those places stamped on their passport! I told Lula there are a lot of people who live in Indiana who haven’t been to all of those places. But I believe in these Indiana cities our guests had an opportunity to see what America and Americans are really like.

Lula had the impression that the United States was one huge city. She was surprised as we drove through Tippecanoe County farmland, still rough with fall corn stubble, and heard me explain that most of the country is like this: big, open, expansive.

We took Lula to typical American events: a dinner in Indianapolis hosted by the Soybean Alliance where Purdue student-entrepreneurs showed their talent for creating and marketing new products made from soybeans. Our daughter, Jennifer Nordland, is project manager of the Student Soybean Product Innovation Competition. Lula saw her first soybean and tasted ice cream with a waffle cone made from soy. She also sampled her first shrimp and crabmeat appetizers. She preferred the soy cone. I personally made five trips back to the soy ice cream waffle cone booth.

While here Lula and the others visited Chicago and Indianapolis, toured the Tippecanoe County Courthouse, the Journal and Courier press building and Purdue University. They got to see a real blue grass concert by Cherryholmes — and it was tremendous. We introduced Lula to American haute cuisine — like chile and root beer floats.

During their visit our new friends from Africa had the opportunity to see Americans cheering together, working together, playing together and disagreeing together. At the Cherryholmes concert, Jere, the leader and father of the family musical group, praised our U.S. soldiers and quoted the Bible: Greater love has no man than that to lay down his life for another. The audience cheered loudly.

When the cheering subsided someone in the audience near the front shouted: “What about ‘Thou shalt not kill!'” There was a mixed — but mostly negative — reaction to that.

“I’m no politician,” Jere said. “I just believe we should support our troops.” Huge cheers. And the music went on.

So our African friends got to see America just as it is in this 2008 election year as we go through this process of debating and evaluating what we’re doing and where we want to go next. They even got to shake hands with Barack Obama in Muncie.

In the Journal and Courier Lula is quoted saying: “I did not expect America to be like this. It is the most welcoming nation in the world. (But) It seems Americans don’t always have time to eat.”

Unfortunately, she didn’t that get impression because I look so thin (because I don’t). She told us Americans are very busy. And she’s right. We’re way too busy and don’t take enough time to enjoy life. Even our relaxing is hurried. We eat on the run.

Lula introduced us to Ethiopian coffee. Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee. It was delicious. She also introduced us to a great mixed nut snack. On her last morning with us she made the coffee in an Ethiopian pot and said the tradition in her country is to drink the coffee, then prepare another pot and drink it, and then a third pot an drink it, all the while sharing friendship and conversation.

Unfortunately, after the first pot, we had to tell Lula it was time to leave for her next scheduled appointment — proving her point.

Programs such as this sponsored by Rotary are wonderful opportunities to bring people together. We have a great deal to learn from one another, a great deal to offer one another — if we just take the time for one another and sit down and drink some coffee together.

Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

I believe you can also begin to bring the world together, one small, thoughtful, committed group at a time.

Golfing with grandchildren

I went golfing today with our oldest grandson, Jake. Golfing with a grandson is one of the truly great gifts from God. But then, doing anything with your grandchildren is a gift from God. We have two other grandchildren, Matty and Kirsten, and I love them all. I’d like to teach them all to golf and one day we can have our own family foursome. I’m hoping if I take them golfing now that one day, many years from now, they’ll come pick me up and take me golfing. And hopefully, when I’m on a fixed income, they’ll pay for it!

Jake is a very good golfer and I love it when he does better than me, which is most of the time. When you swing a golf club and the swing is good and the club hits the ball true, it makes a sweet sound and you understand instantly — this is going to be something special. And it is. Whether its a tee shot that sails over 200 yards or a 5-wood hit out of the rough that lands on the green, seeing a grandchild succeed is great fun. I guess, even more than seeing him succeed, what I enjoy is seeing the pleasure he gets from this.

At 14 years old, he’s a good bit taller than me and I like looking up at him. I am very proud of our grandchildren. I admire the young men and woman they are becoming. I look up to all of them in every sense of the word.

My grandfather loved to golf. He was a preacher and he usually golfed on Wednesdays when many golf courses in Chicago offered free rounds to preachers. He died when I was 11 years old and I never had a chance to golf with him. I regret that, but it was in the 1950s and times were different then.

The first time I golfed I was about 12 and I went with my cousin, Tim Wright. We went to a par three course named Salt Creek in Wood Dale, Illinois. I borrowed clubs from my Aunt Giggs. The grips were pink, but I was happy to play. I left her nine iron beside a green and she sent us back with instructions to find it or pay the consequences. We found it.

My dad was happy I had started golfing, but I think he really wanted to be the one who got me going. He took me golfing many times and I never had a lesson. He taught me himself. I remember one day when he told me I would have to learn a new grip. “This is a better grip than what I told you. It’s new. Do it this way,” he said. I did. It’s the grip I still use, now endorsed by the pro has given me, and Jake, lessons.

I had a wonderful father and I remember golfing with him in great detail. I can remember the courses and driving to them and driving home. Almost fifty years later I can remember individual shots. I can still see him chipping in from off the green. I can taste the hotdogs we had at lunch. I can hear his laughter. These times with my father are treasures that can never be taken away from me. They enrich my life beyond measure.

I hope Jake feels this way, and I think he does. On the golf course we can communicate a lot without even speaking. While we want to do good, I tell him it doesn’t really matter if our shot lands on the green or in the sand trap. We golf for fun. Don’t ever mistake golf for work, Jake. Tests are work. Writing is work. Golf is something we do together for fun. And in doing that, we build memories.

I’ll tell you a secret, Jake, that I’ve never told anyone before. Sometimes when we’re on the golf course, and we’re hitting good and laughing, I feel like my father is there with us enjoying it, too. That it a very special feeling to me, Jake. It spans the generations.

Don’t dip your left shoulder when you swing, Jake. Hit your chip shot to the green exactly how you practice it. Check the roll of the green very carefully before you putt. And remember that whatever happens I love you, Jake. Grandchildren are the hole in one in my life.

Earthquakes and things that shake the house

Being a totally Midwest kind of guy, prior to last Friday I had never felt an earthquake. I know there have been a couple that shook my home town before and members of my family felt them. But I didn’t. Maybe when those earthquakes hit I was watching the Chicago Cubs on TV and I could only deal with one disaster at a time.

I felt the earthquake Friday. I felt two of them. My wife and I get up early and I was sitting reading the paper when the house started to tremble at 5:37 a.m. At first, I thought the clothes washer was just out of balance because that kind of shakes the house, too, and I was supposed to get that fixed. But we weren’t washing clothes at time of the morning and I quickly figured out what it was.

“Did we just have an earthquake?” my wife asked.

I turned on the TV. It took about 10 minutes for the TV stations to start broadcasting the information, but once they got into it, they were in full earthquake mode. It’s really amazing how fast they can tell us exactly where the earthquake hit and how strong it was.

Last week we had a wonderful young woman from Ethiopia staying with us on a Rotary Club exchange program. It was her first trip to the United States. I told her we had just experienced an earthquake, and while she felt it, she was quite surprised to find out what it was. I think after a few weeks observing this country, she just expected that every once in while the whole place would start shaking loose for awhile before coming back together again.

The night before we had all gone to a terrific blue grass concert at Purdue by Cherryholmes. When it was over we had a root beer float in the Union.

“Do you realize,” I told our friend, “that in the last 10 hours you have seen a blue grass concert, experienced your first root beer float and an earthquake. You have really seen America on this trip. I don’t think there is anything more we can show you!”

One of the neat things about earthquakes is it gives you something different to talk about at
the office. Again and again at work Friday morning we all went over where we were when we realized what was happening. And when another one hit at 11:15 a.m., we all gathered to talk about it again. It sure beats work.

I noticed a headline in the Los Angeles Times that kind of had fun with Midwest people getting all excited about a 5.4 earthquake. My California friends also thought it was amusing.

“I’ve had bigger earthquakes than that in my backyard,” one of them told me.

We’ve had a 7 magnitude shake at our house before, too. But that was when the clothes washer first started going out of balance.

I guess the good thing about the earthquake is it reminded me that one of these days I have to get that fixed.

Complaints about winter

This has been a terrible winter in Indiana. It’s been cold and wet and winter has gone on and on. Every time I wanted to go outside it took me ten minutes just to find my scarf. I finally just started wearing it 24-7, even when I was in the house. It got a little warm sometimes, but it probably saved me a couple hours of scarf searching this winter.

The weather is breaking now, but we’re all behind in our spring yard work. The other day I was out working in the yard and I saw one of our great neighbors. I hadn’t seen him since November when we both were raking leaves. I went across the street to talk with him.

What I really wanted to do was tell him about all the problems I’ve had this winter: flu, colds. lost scarves. My wife declared our house a no-complain zone in early February and I had a lot of pent up complaining to do.

“It’s been a terrible winter,” I said when I reached my neighbor.

“Tell me about it,” he said. “I’ve had four colds. I had the flu three times. I’ve had pneumonia twice and I was in the hospital both times. And on top of all that I’ve had two surgeries since Christmas.”

I decided to keep quiet about my problems. I wasn’t even in this guy’s league. He totally out lousy-wintered me and made all my complaints look silly.

“You see,” my wife said. “It’s good to talk to other people and realize that your problems aren’t nearly as difficult as what they have to deal with.”

I guess that’s one way of looking at it. But as far as I’m concerned, not being able to complain about my problems to people is just one more thing to complain about!