The Polk Progress was a Nebraska treasure that ceased publication in late 1989 after 82 years as a weekly newspaper. From 1955 until its last issue, the editor and publisher was the late Norris Alfred. In its last few months, the Progress had 900 subscribers in 45 states. Alfred was a remarkable Nebraskan with an uncanny eye for connecting the present with the future. Prairie Fire has collaborated with the Alfred family, the University of Nebraska School of Journalism and the Nebraska State Historical Society to locate and archive many of Norris's writings. We are capitalizing on our good fortune to present many of the Norris Alfred writings to our readership. We believe that his observations are as fresh and relevant to today's world as they were when originally written.
“An Evening Spent Fishing”
June 17, 1971
There are moments memorable when the conjunction of time, place and activity are harmonious; when the psychic is sensitive to soothing stimuli; another way of describing the pleasure and contentment we felt while fishing at the Polk County Wildlife Club’s sandpit, north and west of Hordville Wednesday evening. Overhead, the clouds were supersaturated and would loose brief showers as the wind drove them from the south into a darker and more threatening north. Between showers, we (the writer and Lyle Dornburgh) would leave the car and return to the fish poles.
Finally, the sky partially cleared, insuring an hour or more’s respite from the rain; the breeze continued from the south, insuring a minimum of discomfort from mosquitoes and gnats; and we were able to stay by the poles, watching the bobbers for the tell-tale motion that betrays the intentions of a bullhead to gulp the bait. We watched and watched and watched.
A glance to the west showed the gray edge of a rainstorm angling at about 80 degrees to the earth, which sight is always a reminder of a painting by John Marin, done in New Mexico, “Storm Over Taos,” in which he made grand use of that stormy angle. A patch of blossoming grasses with large, feathery yellow heads waved color in the breeze and we thought of those words under a picture of Marin, published on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth, “The wind was made visible.”
A line of reeds marked a shallow area of the pit and we cast a line in that direction, hoping to find the meeting place of those gregarious fish. The frogs were beginning to sing and we tried to distinguish individual voices. The amphibious choir was serenading the setting sun and darkening sky with its flashes of lightning in the north, when Lyle caught the first bullhead.
The line of reeds failed to produce fish and we were wondering where to try next when Lyle said, “Try over there to the west near the shore. That’s where the fish are.” We were skeptical of that confidant assertion, but, having no better spot in mind, cast the bait to the west. Fishermen have to think like fish to catch fish. We tend to think like a carp, the fish we most often catch; it is possible Lyle thinks like a bullhead.
We set the pole down, leaning it on a scrub bush near the water’s edge, turned to tell Lyle our doubts of a fish being within a hundred feet of that bait, when he asked, “Where’s your bobber?” We looked and couldn’t see the bobber. It was a small bobber and the wind rippled the surface enough; it was possible the bobber was just hard to locate.
There are many instances when the adage, “Out of sight, out of mind,” is valid, but not with bobbers. “Out of sight, fish in mind” and we reeled in the slack until the tightening line revealed the tug of something alive at the hook end. We would soon know if Lyle thought like a bullhead or maybe a turtle, which we had seen poking its head out of the water several times in the vicinity of the bobbers. It was a bullhead, and before the long June evening ended the pit’s piscatorial population was less by an even dozen. There would have been a baker’s dozen (we have never seen a baker’s dozen. If the package states one dozen cookies, doughnuts, rolls, etc., one dozen is there) but the gunny sack, in which we put the fish, had a hole in the bottom and one bullhead swam away. He must not have been a leader. The rest refused to follow. A leader must have followers. This is a Great Truth.
Between rain showers and bullhead bites and the munching of sandwiches with gulps of liquid refreshment, the conversation waxed philosophical. A mosquito hummed near our ear. A slap on the ear ended the humming and left the ear ringing. We recalled what someone had written about the hum of a mosquito: “There was something cosmical about it, a standing advertisement, till forbidden, of the everlasting vigor and fertility of the world.”
We both agreed that what people want most is to be left alone—to work out their lives and problems with a minimum of interference. (Now, if we could just convince mosquitoes of our sincere desire for that serene solution. Maybe bullheads would like the arrangement also.) It’s leaders, determined to have followers, who are upsetting everyone’s world. Why follow?
The sun had long since set and with darkness there was mutual agreement to reel in the lines and go home. We packed up and as Lyle turned the car around, he said, “I wonder how we get out of here.” The car lights picked out indentations in the grass and we said, “There’s a track. Follow it.”