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Treasures of the Heart – by Diana Autumn
“Give me a fish and I eat for a day. Teach me to fish and I eat for a lifetime.”
That’s what Uncle Larry used to say, especially when he took us fishing. He wasn’t really my uncle, he was Cathy’s, and a bachelor uncle at that. Not knowing what a bachelor uncle was, since I only had regular uncles of my own, I didn’t really know what Cathy meant when she said her “bachelor uncle.” I just assumed it was an uncle who liked fishing. That’s what Uncle Larry liked. Each summer he came up to stay with Cathy, and he took us both fishing. I don’t know why it was that I was so lucky to go along, but I guess it was because we always did things together in those days, Cathy and I. So if she went fishing, so would I.
I remember the excitement when he came. I would run home to get my fishing pole from the attic where it had lain with its tangled line since last year’s visit. Uncle Larry would patiently help us fix our lines and assemble some tackle. Then we would ask for the required permission to stay up late, so that when the stubborn summer twilight would finally give way to night, we could go looking for night crawlers. Then with our bait can full we would set out eagerly the next morning.
I don’t remember catching very much. One time I did catch a fish, and a very unusual one at that, according to Uncle Larry. He would always mention it. I guess that’s what kept me so interested in fishing. Probably it was the outing that we liked most of all. Cathy and I needed little excuse to spend the time roaming through the southern New England woodlands, exploring every brook and river. Uncle Larry knew all the places and so did we. We would arrive at our spot for the day, bait our hooks, cast in the lines, and then wait. That’s what fishing seemed all about to me. After a while, Cathy and I would get restless and start exploring around, leaving Uncle Larry patiently watching the lines.
Our favorite place to go was the North River by Till Rock. There this tidal estuary, which meandered through the salt marsh on the way to the sea, touched solid ground where we could sit and fish. There was a hill there from the top of which one could command a fine view of the countryside. When one faced east with the pine woodlands at one’s back, one could see the river flowing to the sea. The slopes were full of blueberry bushes, which in the summer were full of the most delicious berries. But best of all was Till Rock itself. It stood mysteriously at the very top of the hill, much taller than I was, looking ever toward the sea. Legend had it that under this rock was the hidden treasure of a notorious pirate. Fleeing from his pursuers, the pirate had come up the river to hide his treasure before he was captured and hanged in Boston. Needless to say we never found this treasure, although a visit never went by that we didn’t search for it. When we were tired of this endeavor, there were always the blueberries – a more sure and available treasure.
I don’t know how it happened one day. I guess we were getting older and we were bored with fishing and bored with our diversions. We sat on the bank watching the tide turn. It was just about full tide. The waters had surged with the tide in from the sea. Now the river was full and the waters swelled its banks, the current seemingly suspended. Soon the current would change directions, and the waters would be pulled back again to the sea. I think it was Cathy who finally voiced it, but I am sure it was what we were both thinking.
“What’s the point, anyway?” she questioned. “The point of fishing. We never catch enough to eat.” But Uncle Larry seemed unperturbed. It was as if he had been waiting for the question over the years.
“It gives me time,” he answered, “to think with my heart.”
We were not prepared for that kind of answer. For me, at least, my inner life was a vast unexplored territory. I had never heard anyone refer to it, let alone “thinking with the heart.”
“What for?” I questioned. “I thought you thought with your mind.”
“It’s too busy-the mind. Of course you think with your mind, but you can also think with your heart.”
We remained in silence for awhile as a breeze stirred the pine needles above our heads. I don’t think I knew exactly what to say.
“There it is quiet,” he continued. “It is as still as the river at full tide, when the current is suspended, before it turns from one direction to go another. Very still and quiet.”
Being unconscious of my inner movements, I was dubious whether this was an advantage. But he continued.
“If you listen to your mind, it is going all the time. One thought follows another, and another, and another. There is no peace, no quiet. In the heart you can get beyond all desires. There you can find quiet.”
I didn’t even know what a desire was, so I asked him. He didn’t mind answering such a question and he made it simple so that even a child could understand it.
“You know when you want something. You want dessert, or to stay up late, or to run faster than your brother, or to get there first – to get that pirate’s gold. That’s a desire. They’re always going on, driving you to do something. Sometimes I get a little tired of this driving, so I go fishing and listen to my heart.”
This didn’t seem so amazing to me, I guess it was because I was still a child and it is easier to understand such things. So I asked him another question. “What do you think about with your heart?”
“Souls?” That was another new word for me. I had heard about sole, a kind of fish, but this time I didn’t think Uncle Larry was talking about fish.
“Souls are just people for me, all kinds of people, but no kind in particular. Just people. In my heart I have all people. People who laugh, people who cry, people far away, people close by.” He smiled and then gave a sigh, looking attentively at his line.
My eyes must have bugged out as I looked unbelievingly at his chest cavity, trying to imagine a heart that big.
“My heart is that big because I love. Love can’t fit in a small heart,” he answered softly.
“And what does all this about the heart have to do with fishing?” Cathy asked abruptly. She was always the more practical, and after all it was her uncle.
“Fishing has a lot to do with the heart,” Uncle Larry replied. However, he was unable to explain his answer for awhile. The current no longer was held in suspension. The tide had turned, and now the water had definitely begun its race back to the sea. It had carried our lines with it and Cathy’s had snagged a log. I lay back on the bank and looked up at the sky while Uncle Larry and Cathy struggled to unsnag the line. I saw the moon looking like a thin wafer in the blue afternoon sky. I smiled thinking to myself about all the trouble the moon had caused with the tides. The snag untangled, the two resettled on the river’s bank.
“Listening to the heart is a lot like fishing,” Uncle Larry continued. “It’s just like that. I have a question, or need a solution to a problem, so I think ‘Listen, heart,’ and simply cast the problem into the heart, and wait. Perhaps I will catch a solution. I go about my everyday life, my chores, my work, the usual things, while I wait to catch something.”
I really had to laugh. Thinking about Uncle Larry in an everyday life seemed more strange to me than listening to the heart. I only thought of him fishing.
“Any luck?” I queried.
“Usually,” he answered. “I’m usually more lucky than when I’m fishing. A creative answer or solution usually comes up sooner or later. It’s just like that when you listen to the heart.”
I was still thinking of all those people in there. Maybe that’s where he got his help. Maybe this was the whole soul of the matter. But I didn’t really know, maybe I’d ask my heart.
It was getting late, so we reeled in the lines and packed up our gear. We said goodbye to Till Rock and its pirate gold. But somehow I knew that Uncle Larry had given me a treasure far more valuable than any pirate’s gold. His words remained buried within me for many years, to emerge when I was ready to listen for myself to the treasures of my heart.