Lake Fausse Point, Louisiana

May 3rd, 2003

By Roger Emile Stouff

Not far from home is a small pond I've been fishing regularly since last April when I first discovered it.

Nestled into a subdivision project, on the fringes of the area under development, it was hardly, if ever, visited by anyone other than me. Perhaps two acres and only about four foot deep, it was a magical, secret place, not far from the main highway but far enough to be unnoticed by those passing in cars. That was to end before long.

We came to be friends, this little pond and I. Full of small bass and the occasional respectable big boy, I could count on it for nearly guaranteed catches only five minutes from home. The fish were bold and brazen, unaccustomed to tackle, and they struck at my offerings with a zeal I had seldom experienced before. Even writing about it, I carefully concealed the location of my little sanctuary, but knew it would only be a matter of time before my secret would be out. Now and then, the errant jogger or four-wheeler rider would pass nearby and notice me.

But until this spring, this little pond and I had a perfect secret between us, a cherished, treasured thing to be turned over in the mind late at night and savored. I would go there after long days at work, desperate for peace, and the small bass would answer my plea eagerly, almost obligingly. In a year of fishing it, I learned its unseen contours, its moods and its personality. Few guests were ever invited to accompany me: Cousins from out of state, the most trusted of best friends, my girl. People I knew would hold this secret place to heart.

I guess I caught hundreds of small bass there, and a dozen or more very nice fish, a handful of true trophies. I often wondered if I had caught the same fish more than once, but near dusk on warm summer nights, the frenzied risings on the pond's surface verified for me that my little pond was abuzz with life. All were native largemouth, and all were isolated to this lonely pond on the edge of the subdivision's steady, relentless encroach. I used to stand there on the bank and watch the cars stream by to the west, aware of the creeping advance of utilities, concrete and manicured lawns to the east. These little fish gave me such joy, and I sensed a brotherhood with them. Their little pond reminded me of the reservation, the surrounding of it by industrialization and greed, and each struggling, frantic largemouth that I brought to hand reminded me too much of myself to not respect and empathize with it.

We shared quite a year, that little pond, its fish, and I. I could throw my bag and a couple rod tubes into the truck and be there in minutes, and the bass responded to my presence almost as if they knew it was a game, a counting of coup. They'd nip at my Clousers, roll at my muddlers, toying with me. They'd savagely attack my poppers and rubber spiders, bending my rod and making my reel sing. They'd ignore anything I offered some days, strike at the line-leader knot on others, just to infuriate me. I'd finally bring them to the terrestrial world, unhook them gently as I could, thank them for the coup, and release them. We knew each other as well as old friends, and when I'd pack my bag and tubes and walk away to the truck when the light was gone, they'd splash and strike in the darkness behind me, almost as if in farewell.

Or at least that's the way I like to imagine it. But in the end I betrayed them. In the end, I doomed that little pond and its occupants.

Of course people saw me. Of course they noted my rod, my tackle bag. There weren't many passing near enough, but word spread. The property is private, but the landowner cares nothing of who fishes there and who doesn't. This spring, my little pond has been overrun with anglers. Each time I pass there, there are people there, throwing tackle, with white five-gallon buckets or ice chests nearby. I know what they are doing. I know what they are holding inside.

There is the anger, that my sanctuary has been taken, but perhaps that's just greed. There is regret, that I don't have that place, those childish, innocent largemouth, to count coup with when I wish.

But worst of all is the guilt. The gnawing guilt that rests bent and cold in ice chests and five-gallon buckets, staring glassy-eyed and dead into a sky which will turn orange with dusk each night, prompting the fitful risings, the joyful striking at insects and minnows, but never to be seen again.

I find myself wishing I had never found it, never gone there, and those friends of mine would still be unmolested, unencumbered, free. When I can get there alone now, the strikes are rare, the rises infrequent. I cast and cast, hoping to feel redemption, even forgiveness, at the end of the tippet, but all I hook is regret. Where once I looked over this pond in the last moments of the day and I saw a microcosm of the magic of all earth's life, now I see only waste and greed. What estranged companions may still lurk, lonely and wary, in those scant few feet of water may see my offering pass then by, but turn away from it, betrayed.

Perhaps I'm making too much of it all. Sometimes I sound even to myself like a crybaby and a whiner. I have an entire river basin to fish, places to explore, waters enough for a lifetime. I'll never see them all, never cast into them all, never know all the occupants beneath them.

Still, the guilt chews at my bones with icy teeth. What I treasured most I destroyed without intending it. The path to hell is so paved. The delusion I cultivated and molded is being carried away in five-gallon buckets and ice chests, and there's nothing I can do to defend it.

The funny thing is, now, so quiet and still, the little pond feels even more like the reservation than before. It seems so much a reflection of a time I did not live, but exist within still. So quiet and still, the joy and magic of it evaporated, sliced down, mined, relocated, murdered and raped.

Soon I'll stop trying to go there, stop searching it with long lines and longing heart. I can't bear it much longer. In days long gone, my people thanked their kills for the sustenance provided to their families. In this way, the animal's spirit was appeased and the Creator knew the goodness of the hunter's heart. Perhaps, in this same way, I can ask for forgiveness of this little pond and its occupants.

It's the vanishings that hurt most. The ancient old growth cypress stands, the dried-up marshes and swamps, the dammed and gated canals; the asbsence of the wild muscadines, the yellow finches, black panthers and fragrant irises. And the ways of a life, of a people, of a man, who have no more place in this world anymore than a lonely, shallow pond dying one bucketful at a time. ~ Roger

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