Sunday, February 21, 2016

River Styx Parallels: Could be Ice Fishing's End this Year

Can't remember specifically when I last fished a really mild day on the ice, but they've always been enjoyable in a sort of special way. Yesterday, four of us came to Hopatcong, five of us including Tracy, who joined later, and Jason's Doberman and my Labrador. Ice five and six inches thick had not yet begun to rot, except at the very surface, which allowed for good boot traction. Temperatures rose to at least 60, felt a lot warmer, and as usually happens, the lake region felt vibrantly alive with social activity. Other people came and visited us, and a tavern on the northern side of the bridge bustled actively with guests outside happy to pay keen attention to goings-on atop the hardwater.

This is Lake Hopatcong's River Styx, ultimately named by an ancient Greek for the boundary between our life and the underworld after death. I had come in my car, Joe in Jason's. And then Homer arrived, or so I learned by chance this is Paul's nickname. River Styx happens to be the last place Odysseus visited on his return home in Homer's great ancient Greek The Odyssey. Homer seemed every bit as full of stories as is a writer, but he tells them, just as The Iliad and The Odyssey began as oral traditions. He and I sat in foldout chairs and I felt refreshed to hear such a high and precise vocabulary speak. I look forward to a Delaware River float trip in the future, which Paul and friends do every year in kayaks. Homer's known Joe since Joe was teenaged, both of them growing up in Berkeley Heights. I plan on buying two kayaks this year.

Currents in our culture do run as deep as ancient time, but you have to get close to nature to connect. Nevertheless, a name given to a place can really help, although the full history of that name, including its modern application, implies the complexity of modern responses on many levels compared to only the very deepest.

As always, I'm amazed at Joe's expressiveness, Joe with a natural actor's talent and many others besides. At one point, Homer and I traversed ice together and as we conversed, he said, "Joe has so much talent, he could do anything."

As I set nearly 15 tip-ups, I caught Joe, about 20 yards to my side setting another, glancing skyward, calling out, "In the name of Bob Neals, let's catch some fish!" So here we have River Styx, Homer, and invocations to the gods, just like the ancient Greeks, all of this spontaneous, without my mentioning the parallel between this narrow cove of Hopatcong and the ancients, until at one later point I did find it appropriate to voice an attribution. But after all, however and whoever decided to name this section of the lake, the fact remains that the source of the name is very long ago, yet central to Western Civilization, and although America is something new, the constitution never could have been written without the studied work of British philosopher John Locke, nor could Locke have produced his philosophy without the ancient Greek Aristotle prior to him.

Bob Neals died last year from cancer, only in his 50's. Homer pointed to a brown house about 200 yards from where we sat, on the bank of River Styx, telling me that Neals had lived in it for a time. Neals was Joe's ice fishing mentor, who once told him, in 20-degree weather, to place his bare hands in the water exposed by a cut hole, and then wring them out in the wind, so they won't feel cold for the rest of the outing. Neals caught the New Jersey state record, 42-pound, 13-ounce muskellunge through the ice of Monksville Reservoir, and I'm told this fish is the world record ice-caught muskellunge.

Jason caught a few perch jigging; that's all the fish we caught.

Just before I had to leave early, letting Joe care for my tip-ups and power auger so the rest of them could fish to dark, and then again, Joe and another friend today, I caught sight of Marty checking out our scene from the bridge. He's featured in the post about the sunglasses story.  I hadn't seen him since, nor had Joe, although Marty had tried to get in touch with me from Laurie's a couple of times when told I was out on the lake with my son.

Marty on the Bridge


  1. This got me thinking about how ideas take hold and progress over the centuries - Aristotle, Locke, Madison et al. But it is interesting that this happens within a civilization - in this case Western Civilization. Geographical and language boundaries limit the number of people exposed to and ultimately indoctrinated by the ideas that eventually become values The internet eliminates those barriers today. How long will it take to overcome the inertia of the different value systems that have developed over the millennia, such that value systems bridge civilizations?

    1. Profound question. (And I love how you include Madison just after commenting on Virginia Trails, that itself exemplifies the web a little.) But there's one thing I'm aware of...the web is like a prologue. I use it, like most, for research all the time, but when I need to delve deeper into something, I'm going on Amazon to buy a book or headed to the library. Also, we need to take these values you mention to the streets, or out on the ice...I see a participatory global democratic society in our future, which is truly cultural, art and science a vibrant shaping power by which people become fully human in a redeemed environment.


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