The one that got away!
Johnny Vic peered upwards toward a noisy flock of seagulls. With one hand clutching his fishing pole and the other shading his eyes from the bright sunlight, he watched three of the feathered creatures squabble over their favorite perch–a thin, wooden pole at the end of the dock. The birds bickered and bounced and fluttered and flounced until one of them won its chance to settle upon the pole. It squawked triumphantly and the others quickly soared toward the rocky end of the beach. Johnny wondered if there were rules to this daily ritual that he dubbed, ‘the bossy bird’s proud perch game.’ It always ended with the losers flying to the rocks. It’s like they’ve been banished from their favorite fishing spot, he thought.
A large boat sounded its horn and soon Johnny Vic was bracing himself against the gentle sway of the dock as the lazy waves lapped at the pilings beneath him. High overhead, puffy white clouds eased their way southward. Johnny Vic studied them.
“Hey, Uncle Ben,” he said. “One of those clouds looks like a dog with his tongue hanging out–can you see it?”
Ben looked heavenward.
“You’re right, kiddo–I see it. Looks like Lucas, don’t you think?”
Ben took a deep breath and reveled at the panoramic scenery. Lake Champlain stretched as far as the eye could see toward the north and south. Across the lake, the gorgeous fall foliage of Vermont, the Green Mountain State, etched a colorful path along the eastern edge of the Champlain basin.
As he often did, Ben uttered an oath of thanks to his Creator for days like this. And for projects like this, he thought. Here I am, fishing and swimming, boating and diving–and it’s part of my job!
BENJAMIN VICTOR BRADLEY was a well-known author and journalist who had recently been hired to write a lengthy feature story about Lake Champlain. He planned to reveal the life of the lake, from 1609 when Samuel D. Champlain made his famous discovery of the pristine waterway, to its not-so-pristine existence today. He had leased a cabin on the New York shore, and as he often did, he had invited his nephew, Johnny Vic, to join him. Thoughts of the boy prompted him to glance once again toward the north side of the dock.
With a crooked smile, Ben said, “Looks like you’re just a bit tangled there, kiddo! Need some help with your line?”
“Nope. I can get it . . . I think.” Johnny’s cheeks burned, but his eyes sparkled with humor.
“Okay,” Ben said, “but I’m here if you need me.” He secured his bait, then gracefully cast his line southward. Within nano-seconds, he had a strike. The line snapped tight and the tip of his pole quivered with angry jerks. He exclaimed, “Hey! I got one already, Johnny Vic!”
The boy dropped his own fishing pole and hopped across the warm wooden planks to watch. “Wow, it looks like it could be a big one, Uncle Ben!”
“I hope you catch him . . . hey, why is your reel squealing like that?”
“It’s designed to give a little so I don’t yank the hook out of his mouth–you know what I mean, Aboline?”
“Yuppy yup, Buttercup.”
Johnny Vic dropped to his knees. “Hey, he’s giving quite a fight!” The taught line slashed through the water as the franzied fish dashed this way and that. Johnny Vic sucked in a gallon of air when the fish suddenly stopped struggling. Has the fish given up? he wondered as he watched Ben carefully reel it in. With a happy grin, Ben plopped to his own knees and reached down to retrieve his catch.
Unfortunately, the fish had other ideas. It gave a mighty flop and pulled itself free.
“Oh no! He got away!”
“That’s okay, kiddo. I’ll hook another one sooner or later. He did put up a pretty good fight, though, don’t you think?”
“He sure did, but I bet you get a bigger one the next time, Uncle Ben, and I bet he’ll be a record breaker, too.”
Ben gave his nephew a soft tap on the shoulder and said, “I like how you think.” Then he glanced at his watch. “Oh, oh. We’d better go back to the cabin and grab some lunch. Eric will be here soon.”
Ben reeled in the fishless hook and asked, “Are you ready to go, Bongo Joe?”
“Yessiree, Boogie-Dee . . . soon as I get my line free.”
“Here. Take my knife.”
Clean and Clear
Eric Smeltzer was an environmental scientist who was working on the State of Vermont’s program to clean up the water in Lake Champlain. He was the first person Ben had spoken to when he began making contacts in Vermont and he had proved to be very helpful. He arrived at the cabin just as Johnny Vic was stuffing the last bite of his sandwich into his mouth. Way to go, guy, he thought. Uncle Ben won’t want to do the dishes now that you’re here . . .
But Johnny Vic’s musings were rudely interrupted when Ben said, “Hey, Eric! Good to see you again. Take a seat while we clear up this mess.”
Ben ignored Johnny Vic’s groan and said, “Want a cold drink, Eric? Or a coffee?”
“I’d love a cold one, Ben.”
“Okay, well, let’s see. We’ve got iced tea and a few sodas in the fridge here. And some cups are getting frosty in the freezer–help yourself.”
“By the way, this young lad here is my nephew, Johnny Vic.”