This is not my photo. Sometimes, at the end of a long day, my mind turns homeward, back to Jacksonville, and I find myself looking at pictures of the river I love. I look out over this river and I see my own history running through the current.
Sometimes memories of my dad’s fishing buddies flow in ripples and eddies on the far shore. One of the waves washes a brief but rich memory over me of riding in the back of a pickup truck, one interminable summer Saturday afternoon, beer cans rolling around the bed, hair tousled and burnt by wind and sun. Over and through countless bridges and marshes we rode to the mouth of the river, where I rolled with languid Atlantic waves on the ocean side of the jetty listening to them talk about work.
Dad’s friend asks me to manage the fishing pole while he walks down the beach for awhile, and I take the rod from him with gravity, eager to stand in the surf with purpose. I feel a tug on the line. A joyous weight pulls against the end of the line and I know the fish is hooked. I let out a little yelp as I reel the fish in from the surf, turn by turn, until I see a silver flash just beneath the roiling surface a few feet away. I did not know then that I would remember that little Whiting 25 years later, so I simply took the fish off of the hook and put her back in the water as I had been taught. Some people say it’s not right to catch a fish and throw it back. I don’t have an answer for them all these years later. This is how I was taught, over and over again, right here on this river.
Later that night I felt the waves in my body as I fell asleep on the couch, the warm tones of a PBS documentary and the struggling air conditioner laying down a pattern of white noise that was suitably oceanic in its own way—a way that continues to whisper home in my ear whenever I stop to listen.