Taking a moment’s rest against a weathered pier railing, my eyes are drawn to the magnificent sea lion in the water below. How graceful is its private ballet, rolling – spraying vapor from the lungs, flippers first carving the water – then slicing through fog that clings to the ocean surface – sets it swirling – leaving a trailing memory of the animal’s passage.
A child’s squeal breaks the spell.
My line of sight drifts toward a rocky embankment where the locals are spread about – their fishing gear in hand, and I see him.
Maybe 4 years old, the boy stands next to a man I guess to be his father.
The little guy is dressed in jean coveralls, wearing a cap with escaping shocks of fluttering golden hair. Both knees hinging; moving excitedly in a bobbing motion, one arm pointing across the water. His squeals of excitement bounce off the rocks, tumbling with soft sounds of sea breeze.
The arc in the end of the father’s fishing rod says this isn’t a big fish, but the others pull in their bait out of courtesy nonetheless, voices muted and a few smiles forming on faces, mine included – watching a mounting anticipation in the little guy.
His right fist clutches the fishing net almost as large as he, but then releases it to bounce on the sandy shore after his father’s instruction.
I walk a bit closer as I sense this is all brand new for the boy.
My mind drifts way back in time; and for only a split second it is again – all so fresh – how endearing it was to first witness the rite of passage in a child; my child.
Shoving my hands deeper into the pockets of my windbreaker, not wanting to miss anything – I wait.
His dad brings in the catch. The fish rises out of the water, the boy stands transfixed for only a few seconds – then quickly retreats two little steps as the flipping of the tail, the body twisting on the line in a final escape attempt catches him by surprise.
The dad lowers the tone of his voice to one of reassurance. “This one has more time to go, and places to see … we need to give him back, son. Hold out your hands and we will turn him loose together, OK?”
“Now” – I think to myself … ”Now is the moment.”
The boy cautiously steps forward with his little chubby hands held straight out – palms up. His dad smiles – removes the hook from the lip, lets the fishing rod rest against his shoulder and lowers himself down on one knee.
Placing the fish in the middle of the boy’s hands and encircling them with his own large ones, he gently explains, “We have to hurry now; he doesn’t breathe the way we do.”
Together they submerge the fish in the water. “OK, Jake … let go now, son.”
They both stand and watch the fish move – first slowly – then with renewed vigor into deeper water.
Jake tilts his head up to the towering figure of his father – one hand raised as a shield against the sun’s glare.
“Like that, Dad?” he whispers.
“Yes, Jake. Just like that.”