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March 20, 2019 by The Citron Review
by Geoff Martin
They slept with their bird feet gripping the thinnest of branches as we took turns spotting one at a time with a searching beam of flashlight while the other lined one up in his sights and pressed the trigger towards a manhood neither of our fathers would have condoned.
It startled us as much as we startled it. A sudden bustle of undergrowth at our feet followed by a fat swiveled run, his needled body darting ahead for further cover. We gave immediate chase, scrambling off-trail with our tree-planting bags flapping at our legs and our small spades horned overhead like spears.
I caught up just as the first shovel swing landed like the thump of a drum. Looking down at the stunned and palpitating breath of the thing, I hesitated.
No way, he said. You go next.
We did it for the dogs—on our boss’s orders. His pair of border collies kept yelping back into our bush camp with snouts like a quiver of arrows. Three of us would pin them to dirt, trying to run calm through their fur with our free hands while he levered the pliers, twisting each barbed end up through splitting skin and blood-matted hair. After the third round of quills, he gritted his teeth in disgust: kill them all, any that you find out there.
Still. Do you know how many shovel whacks it takes to kill a twenty-five-pound porcupine?
We spent the day in the reeds, stepping the shoreline and waiting for one to jump. Then it was all slow-motion toes-in-mud until sudden, plunging fingers caught—or missed—the slime and squirm of another frog. We boasted a bucketful by dinner. They did not croak, only jumped occasionally off the heads of those below. Their glassy eyeballs were sliced by the convex horizon line of the pail, a hundred blue-sky circles staring back.
At dusk, we set the pail in the boat and climbed in with our poles and life jackets and bailer bucket. On the far side of the river, we idled up against the rock face and cut the engine. Our metal boat, like the blade of a knife, trembled in the stillness above and below.
We hooked frog after frog, their limbs kicking slowly while mosquitos feasted at our ears and necks. Everything was DEET sweat and sticky. And the frogs, they kept disappearing, swallowed off into the depths with only the faintest tug on the line. The trick was to loosen our grip. Poised lightly, the rod hummed with sunken action: the pull of the current, a bump of log, the definite nibble. Then a snap of the wrist and one was hooked.
And then it was on. We reeled in small and largemouth bass, some pike. Even more bass, including one we snagged a second time. It was as though we were fishing with dynamite. We saved the two largest ones for ourselves, set them listless into the puddled water of the hull, but the rest we threw back. As long as there were frogs in the bucket, we kept on casting line into the night just to see what we might pull in next.
In the morning, we breaded and fried four fillets and prided ourselves on catching breakfast. In the blanched sun of the day outside the cottage window, a throatless silence emanated from the shoreline. When we found fewer frogs the next summer, we caught fewer fish. Which really spoils the fun for a boy on vacation with nothing to add except a will to take and to take and to take.
Geoff Martin’s newest place-based and environmental essays are forthcoming in Boulevard, Slag Glass City, The Drum, and The Common. He currently lives and writes in Western Massachusetts. Find him at www.geoff-martin.com or @gmartin9