RUFFIN-IT: FISHING AMONG THE STARS, A MEMORY
The western sky having fallen to full dark, it’s well into the night now and I am walking along a field road at the Winship ranch in Segovia, near Junction, going fishing with my son, age ten, who’s facing a homework-free weekend. He is taking the absence of homework well, I think. He has not complained about it a single time.
Tomorrow we’ll be scouting for leaves, though, to complete his science project. While I am off in San Antonio at a conference, Uncle Bob, as he calls Winship, will roam the hills with him in search of leaves we cannot find in East Texas. It is all the schoolwork he is willing to bear on a trip to the ranch.
But tonight we are fishing. And what we are fishing for cannot be found in the crystal clear river that cuts across the corner of Bob’s place. Or maybe they can.
See, we are fishing for satellites. Out here there is little competition from the glow of civilization, so stars stand out so bright and sharp that they almost hurt the eyes. The glare of Segovia Truck Stop, maybe five miles off, is only a minor nuisance.
We assume our spot high in the rocks at the foot of Hill Three, the northernmost hill that stretches back from the river valley like a stubby finger. Germann, Bob and Shirley’s dachshund, is with us, and he is standing guard against all evil, two-footed or four or none or more. He checks in with us every few minutes to let us know that all is safe on the northern front. We are armed with only my Leatherman tool, which puts us at poor disadvantage should Kiowas or Comanches spill down out of the hills. It has all the appearance of a peaceful night.
To fish for satellites, you need only a set of eyes, which you cast here and there in the broad expanse of Texas sky, drag slowly across, reel in, and cast again, and you do this until against that great speckled dome you see something moving, a simple point of light that zigzags a little, like it’s weaving its way among the stars. You must be certain it has no green light or red light attached to it, a sure sign it’s a plane. This is the way it is done.
You see how many you can spot in an hour, maybe make it a game with your companion. It’s a fine form of fishing, since you don’t have to lug cumbersome tackle or haul a heavy stringer back or get all messy cleaning what you’ve caught. Sometimes out here my father-in-law and I will lie back in the bed of my pickup and have a couple of beers while we’re fishing. (Of course we have to sit up to take sips of beer–anyone who tells you you can drink beer lying down is simply lying another way.) We’ve done the same thing on his boat off the Mississippi Coast, but the lights of Biloxi and Pascagoula interfere. Out here, though, out here . . . .
I want to tell the boy that when you spot a satellite you are seeing the sun reflected, like the moon–the sun is still shining over the curve of the earth and deep into space and the little things we send up there throw back its light; but I know from decades of dealing with literature that to over-analyze is to risk the loss of magic, so I keep my mouth shut and wait for him to ask if there’s something he wants to know about what we’re seeing. He says nothing.
Then he gets the munchies–fishing always make you hungry, you know–so I rummage around in my vest and find a box of Altoids and bag of cinnamon jellybeans one of my graduate students gave me; he votes jellybeans, so we split them. Germann politely turns down both. He’s probably thinking as he heads out to scout again, “Always candy and breath mints and stuff. Don’t nobody tote bones nomore. Don’t nobody think about the dog.”
As I lie back on a boulder and cast across the sky, I get to thinking about how down at the river we could study the stars on the surface of the big still pool behind a sandbar and maybe spot a satellite scooting through the water, but I don’t mention it because my son would want to go down there and try it, and it’s already late and the river is all the way at the other end of the property. So I keep quiet and fish on into the night, while he lies beside me doing the same. Lord knows what he’s thinking. But I hope it’s good, and I hope he’ll remember this night sometime far off in the future when maybe he takes his own son out under a wide Texas sky to fish among the stars.