In an attempt to become a better steward of my time, I bought a small notebook. I figured if I kept track of what I do day to day, hour to hour, I’d provide my professional and personal lives with some needed order.
The entries are revealing. I spend an inordinate amount of time on the computer. I suppose I waste enough time on so-called social media, like Facebook or Twitter, but much of my time is work: translating, researching, writing, maintaining websites, managing communication. Point is, much of my life is spent staring at a screen.
This is not necessarily good, but it’s the way it is for most of us. I’ve been reading Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, and I think we have cause to be uneasy. With copious anecdotes and research into the brain’s plasticity, Carr suggests the Internet is changing us. I feel it; I’m more irritable, less patient, and lacking concentration. When I sit down to actually read a book, I find my mind wandering here or there and wondering if something new has popped up on the ‘net, or if an email is sitting cold and lonely, desperate to be read, while my MacBook Air gently weeps.
Most of all I worry about becoming a functional Gnostic, plugged into this new matrix, this new pixelated irreality. My reality easily becomes the screens, and the interactivity of hyperlinks means I can go where I will and create my own personal submatrix thereby. If Walker Percy had lived into this millennium, surely what we do on the Internet to attempt re-entry from our estrangement from the world would have found its way into Lost in the Cosmos.
Speaking of matrices, I’m finding I have an option between two pills, the famed “blue pill” and “red pill.” In the film The Matrix, Neo is told about the reality of reality: They’re all trapped in an illusion. He’s then given a choice: He can take the blue pill and “wake up in [his] bed and believe whatever [he] want[s] to believe.” Or he can take the red pill and see the world as it really is—a world in which human bodies are trapped in dungeons, functioning as generators powering machines—and join the resistance.
My red pill is the discipline of angling. Fishing, I mean. Having relocated to my native North Dakota, to Bismarck, the capital, two hours south of my hometown of Minot, I find myself fishing the same waters I fished as a youth on the Missouri River system—Lake Sakakawea, Lake Audubon, and the Missouri River itself.
Fishing is my means of reentry. If time on the computers is largely my mind absorbing pixels, then fishing is how I bring my body back into play with nature. Fishing takes our nature as bodies situated within creation seriously. I suppose other things I’d heartily recommend would work well for others seeking reentry into the reality of material creation—cooking, oenophilia, gardening.
Fishing nowadays involves sophisticated technology. Boats and motors have gone very high-tech, and fish finders help the hapless angler locate fish under the water using robust sonar technology. But at the end of the day, fishing puts you at the mercy of nature. The fish I chase most often, the walleye, Sander vitreus, known elsewhere as the pike or pickerel, is a moody bugger, a fussy eater, a tease. Subtle changes in the weather will shut down the bite, or resurrect it, and so one needs to become an expert in watching weather patterns. A walleye fisherman must also know how his favorite lakes and rivers function—where the current makes walleye holes, where the thermocline is and when it turns, how the temperature of the water and the light diffusion produced by the wind’s effects on sunlight or moonlight affects walleye behavior. The walleye also picks its plate, as it were. Unlike some fish which hit hard and hold on, the walleye sucks in the water around the prey, sucks on the prey itself, and decides whether to let it go or swallow it down. The fisherman thus needs to develop fingertip sensitivity to little nibbles, knowing just when the walleye might have the bait in its mouth so that the fisherman can set the hook.
I’m most in nature when fishing when I’m wading in the Missouri River with the waters up to my chest. I have to feel the bottom of the river with my feet so that I don’t fall and keep my balance as the current, gentle but steady, runs round me. Wader fishing also puts one quite close to fish and other creatures. I’ve often caught beavers and other fauna swimming or running behind me, and perhaps my most sublime moment in the water came when I thought I snagged my lure either on my boots or something on the bottom—a rock, a branch—right where I was standing. My line wouldn’t move at all. I was about to reach down and try to tug the line loose, when ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ goes my reel, my line racing out towards deeper waters. It’s not a snag but a fish, and a large one. I gently reel slowly, coaxing the creature in. It approaches my belly—remember, I’m wading—and I see “it” is a 36-inch northern pike, with big nasty teeth, looking like a prehistoric monster. It runs out again, a few times, I coax it in a few times. It swims behind me, around me, as I try not to fall into the moving waters, which in waders is dangerous. Finally I land the beast. Just a few pounds shy of the whopper club, but still the biggest fish I’ve ever caught, and I marvel at its complexity, its beauty, and its role in the system of nature.
Thus, fishing is a discipline, a complex art to be mastered, involving detailed knowledge of the patterns of nature and the habits of fish. It’s also great for familial or fraternal (or sororal) camaraderie. In teaching children this discipline, this art, parents bond with them. In sharing time together in nature, friendships deepen as well.
The technopoly in which we live is not going away, and I’m convinced it estranges us from ourselves, from our neighbors, and from God. Reclaiming our place in the cosmos—living in harmony with ourselves, our neighbors, and God—will ever more require corporal acts of resistance putting us in touch with nature, God, and neighbor, from which technology estranges us. Your means of reentry may be something else, but as for me, well, piscor ergo sum.
Leroy Huizenga is Director of the Christian Leadership Center at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota. His previous “On the Square” articles can be found here.
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