Yet another reflective story as winter seems to wind down now, ice-out perhaps coming very early and ponds, lakes and reservoirs remaining open hereafter. My best friend from my teens emailed me from California last night, and suggested I write a story around the four-pound smallmouth he caught in Stony Brook, Princeton Township, back when we were 15 and 16.
"Steve, you're dreamin'!" I replied. "It was 2 1/2."
Something flashed through my mind when I read his request. Now it occurs to me the theme involves concrete essence, a most radical idea introduced by philosopher Aristotle about 2500 years ago in ancient Greece. All the more radical, when you consider his best friend was Plato. For Plato, essences or Forms were out of this world. But instead of agreeing with his mentor that the body is a prison, Aristotle seemed never to forget the enjoyment of his partying days, and pointed to ordinary things and creatures as important.
About that riotous youth he enjoyed, when he got it together after long, hard nights to mind business, peddling herbs brought in the money.
When I look at the photograph of my second-favorite Stony Brook spot, the Bend, it makes me want to be there, slate knocking under my feet, assuring me of life's value as I cast a mellow yellow Mr. Twister, a foot-long smallmouth hammering it.
Now imagine if I were Platonic, had died and escaped the "prison" to dwell among the Forms. According to Plato, you're supposed to behold the Forms when you're dead. Suppose I did something naughty and looked the other way, back down to earth, to see something "corrupted" like this photo. What if, for all the Platonic High, what if those weighty rocks, supposedly no good for their tendency to go downward, made me remember how good it is to be somewhere? Plato's eternal Forms aren't really in any place since they're not concrete.
I'd come straight back to earth and be reborn, if I had the choice.
My favorite Stony Brook spot is called the Eight Foot Hole. A number of us still call it that on rare occasion. A spring release at bottom is good for both bass and holdover trout. Sometime during the past decade, my nephew once caught four rainbows there in August, and it's where in 1977 Steve caught his 2 1/2-pound smallmouth.
A number of us camped in the woods streamside, and on a number of occasions. Fair bet kids don't anymore, and even back then, there was never anyone else, but no one ever troubled us. Steve caught his bass in the evening, and I had come prepared with a wire-mesh catch bag for just the event of a big one caught. We also caught some 10-inchers--back then legal size was nine inches--and put them in the bag, too, keeping them in the water overnight.
And then before dawn, we got up, fixed scrapple and eggs by a nice fire, and hiked the mile to the Princeton Day School ponds...with the smallmouths that survived the near-jogging pace, to be stocked in the lower pond. We know they lived, because I caught the big one a year later on a Hedden Plunker off the surface. We even loaded a section of water with rocks, hoping the bass would reproduce.
We had permission to fish the ponds. The school Headmaster sang in the Episcopal choirs I sang in. But stock them? Well, we were kids.
Who knows. Maybe both Aristotle and Plato are right. Maybe this earth gets "stocked" with naughty people from Nowhere.