This is a sad post that was supposed to be a joyful one. As in, I’d meant to write about the fisherman last week—when he still existed—and never got around to it. But now that he’s gone, I’m moved to write. What’s that thing they say about absence and the heart?
I came upon the fisherman quite by surprise a couple of weeks ago, while walking the dog around the pond. Having traveled that same path nearly every day for over two years, I knew immediately that I’d never seen the guy before. Yes, lots of people fish in that area, but none quite like him. He—and I’m going to refer to him as male, because almost every human I’ve ever seen fishing in that pond has been male—was a simple but beautiful sculpture made of pieces of wood from a dead tree.
He brought an immediate smile to my face. How cool, how clever, how lovely of someone to chop up the dead trees on the ground—victims of our harsh New England winter—and make something so lovely and sweet. I pulled out my phone and snapped a picture to show my family, and smiled inside for the remainder of the walk.
The next morning, out on the trail again, the fisherman was a popular topic of conversation among the various dog walkers. All of us were adults who’d seen our share of artwork over the years, but there was something about the fisherman that made us all so happy. “I took a picture of him,” I said, only to discover that all the other dog walkers had done the same thing!
We learned that he’d been created by a scout troop as part of a public art project, which explained the precision with which he’d been built, and the attention to detail. Despite the fact that the fisherman wasn’t nailed together, it was clear that he’d been put together carefully; he’d been designed to stick around for a while.
And so, during his brief lifetime, I had at least a dozen conversations about him. People out walking or jogging would turn the corner and be surprised to come upon him sitting there, fishing so peacefully with his unruly hair, oblivious to the fact that his line didn’t quite make it down to the water.
I’m sure he evoked many different thoughts in many different people. For me, it was memories of my son when he was little, and absolutely obsessed with the idea of catching a fish. Now as my son grew older, he actually did become quite a skilled fisherman, but I’ll never forget the days when I’d take him down to the pond with his little fishing rod from the five and dime, and stand with him on the shore as he waited for a fish to come along. That’s what the fisherman sculpture reminded me of: that innocent, patient optimism.
But yesterday afternoon, as I turned the familiar corner with the dog, I saw that the fisherman was gone. In his place was a pile of logs and the clump of dried grass that had been his hair. The sight broke my heart. My first thought was to try to reconstruct him, but I was in a rush to get home to make dinner, and besides, I had no idea which parts went where.
Who would do such a thing? was all I could think. We haven’t had any violent storms in recent days, so the fisherman’s demise wasn’t the work of Mother Nature. Someone destroyed him willfully, and I can’t get my head around that.
All those people whose days were brightened by that silly, inanimate guy. What will they think now, when they see what he has become? Perhaps some won’t notice, as they jog by, trying to burn off calories, steam, or anxiety. Others will be engrossed in conversations, either face-to-face, or on cellphones. But for me—and I assume for others too—his loss feels like a small tragedy.
But then again, like Shelley’s Ozymandias and all other art made by humans, the fisherman wasn’t destined to live forever. Perhaps part of the reason so many people were touched by him was because of his ephemeral nature. Thinking about him now, I realize that although he probably would’ve survived some good rainstorms, a hurricane or Nor’easter most likely would’ve knocked him over.
And yet, he’s gone way too soon, and I’m angry at his destroyer or destroyers, whomever they may be. So maybe, if I have some time later on, I’ll go over there and see if I can reconstruct him, at least partially. The world certainly seemed like a nicer place with him in it.