Mooselookmeguntic, August 4th, 1982. Day 37. Wind calm. Temperature in the 60s at noon under cloudy skies. Fished all morning and caught two landlocked salmon. Landed one and freed the other. Ginny not feeling up to a few cold hours in the boat so she tagged on after breakfast and we went out again. I knew it would be no good. The fish are done biting by then. But she wanted it that way and I set her up with pillows and her favorite camp chair. Didn’t broach the subject of the day and I sensed she was as happy as I to avoid it. Her pain is increasing but her ability to withstand it is on the rise as well. I watch her face like a lost man reads a map. According to her there are three gradations of pain and they all bring a kind of meaning to her life. I don’t understand this and I’m smart enough not to ask for an explanation. She wants meaning and I do too—who doesn’t? You could say that’s why I go out early in the boat and put a line in and hope to find a fish on my hook, even if the freezer’s already full and we no longer have friends or family to give to. Used to be anyone would jump at the gift of a landlocked; now those anyones are gone or far away or just plain not interested in our choices or our conditions. Mine and Ginny’s, that is. Well, let’s be honest: Ginny’s.
This is what I think about: Why do we humans run from suffering while animals tend not to. That first salmon, the one I kept this morning, gave me a good fight then turned itself over to its own ending. Human suffering comes from not turning ourselves over to our own ending. I don’t just mean death, I mean wherever we’re headed, wherever we are. Ginny says what do we know about the suffering of animals, and she’s right. Maybe their acceptance keeps them clean of it and maybe not. The second salmon, the one that went free, had a hard mouth—they say that of horses—and fought less and knew somehow it wasn’t bound for our freezer, I swear. Recently I’ve been waking up without the same lust for fishing I used to have. I go out in the boat and look into the water and, this is crazy I know, and I haven’t mentioned it to Ginny, I look right down into the lake, into Mooselookmeguntic Lake and I talk to the fish and I tell them, You’re not doing me a favor by taking my bait, boys. I may have had enough of mortality. I don’t mention my wife. I don’t mention anything except what they need to know, which is: Life doesn’t look the same to me as it once did. And dying is something I’m trying to get used to.