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Shannon Bardwell: Life’s not a picnic


Shannon Bardwell



In my family, life was a picnic. Everything we did as a family somehow revolved around eating. As a young girl my dad would take me to hunting camp with him and the extended family. Everyone was loaded in jeeps and pickups; each hunter supplied with a brown paper bag filled with breakfast biscuits (the homemade kind) sausage, ham, cheese, assorted snacks and a thermos of hot coffee.  


We were delivered to a deer stand well before dawn. By that time, I don''t think Dad cared two hoots about hunting. I think it was more about being with me, the family and the biscuits. The picnic that was to last us the day was gone within an hour. I have great memories of fall and winter days lying on my back watching clouds go by, the sunlight streaming through the trees, and talking to my dad with biscuits in my mouth. 


Nowadays I''m married to a fisherman. When he says, "Let''s go fishing," I immediately pull out the Gatorade and start packing a picnic complete with sandwiches, chips and granola bars. "You want turkey or pimento cheese?" I ask. He has a pained look on his face. "We''re losing our daylight hours," he says. One day I realized that to this fisherman life was not a picnic; it was all about fishing. 


With marriage vows came fishing vows, and they were every bit as serious. I could never reveal to anyone his fishing holes. I didn''t think this would be a problem since they all look pretty much the same to me. The only ones I could differentiate were the one with the castaway television set and the one that had two ladies'' leather boots floating upside down. I always wonder about those boots. How do they stay in the same place? Makes me wonder if there''s a lady upside down underneath them. Once I poked at them with the pole end of a fishnet but nothing moved or surfaced. Just as well. 


At first I wouldn''t fish; I didn''t know how. I just watched the fisherman. He''d snap his wrist; the line would fly back, then forward, landing with precision. "You gotta get close to the structure (that''s the stuff under the water). That''s where the fish are," he assures me. The sun backlights his hair drawn neatly into a ponytail. "Set the hook like this," he says. "Hook sets are cheap." His serious mouth breaks, "Oh yeah! It''s a good one, 13 inches at least. Get the net." I do, and he grins at me, "I can''t believe you won''t fish. How can you stand it?" 


"I like to net," I say. But really, I like to watch him standing on the front of the boat. It''s rare to see someone with such singular joy ... water, sun, breeze, trees changing with the seasons, the squawk of a blue heron rising in flight. The reflection of the sun on the water causes him to squint, creating deep crevices on his face aged by time, sun and wind. 


"Get the net! It''s a big one!" Eyes flash, grin breaks, creases deepen ... "I can''t believe you won''t fish," he says again. 


I net his fish and then break out the Gatorade, sandwiches, chips and granola bars. I look at the fisherman. The path of the setting sun creates a sparkling path on the water behind him. I''m thoroughly convinced that my family was right; life is a picnic.


Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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