Well, I'm back.
You probably didn't know I had been away. After all, I made sure to meet my column deadlines well in advance, so it was business as usual as far as you were concerned.
But I have been away. And now I'm back.
I took off for a week of fishing in Ontario, at a remote lake only a few miles from where the roads end and only things with wings can venture further.
My wife's sister, Debbie, came in from Atlanta to stay with my wife in my absence. Debbie said that she was looking forward to spending some time with her only sister, but I knew that she also wanted to volunteer her time and efforts to buy me a bit of relief, because I have been my wife's only full-time caregiver since her devastating strokes two years ago. It's a lot of work, but no more than we promised each other when we said "for better or worse, in sickness and in health,"43 years ago.
And so, with Debbie in the house, I hopped in a car with my buddy Jim, who had been our next-door neighbor for 27 years, but now lives in Phoenix.
We drove north until the edge of the road map was only inches away. There we stopped and fished for a week at Perrault Lake. The map says that it's near a town called Perrault Falls, but the "town" is a general store called Dutchies. The only real town with houses and stop signs is 20 miles away. It's called Ear Falls, which is about as big and bustling as the name suggests.
The week was a bit warmer and windier than we would have liked it, but we didn't mind. We enjoyed every moment on the water, even if it meant that we would have to forsake the prime pike, walleye or bass spots and tuck into a sheltered bay to fish for perch.
When the perch weren't biting, we sat and watched the gulls pester an eagle, or we spied on a beaver that had felled a birch sapling and dragged it to the shallow water at the shore to munch on the tender new branches. A cow moose stood halfway out of the forest and blinked peacefully with the morning sun on her face. Loons lilted their mournful cry, which echoed off the face of the granite cliffs that plunged into deeper pools of the lake.
Each day at noon we returned to our housekeeping-plan cabin, where we prepared all our own meals. Our big meal was always lunch, where we dined on fresh fish sautéed in butter and dusted with lemon pepper. We ate potatoes and onions fried to just a hint of crunch, and finished off the meal with an apple or a crisp carrot. In the afternoon we napped before hitting the lake again in the early evening.
At night we fell into our beds by sunset, which at that latitude came at about 10 p.m. Sometimes we were tucked in and snoring while the sky was still light. And I slept all the way through the night for the first time since my wife's sister came to visit last year.
And I wore a smile on my face all week long.
One evening we chose to have dinner at the lodge, where the American plan guests dined. On the American plan, all their meals were provided. Though Jim and I had chosen to eat and fish according to our own schedules, we wanted to chat with some of the fishermen whose daily schedules were so different from ours that we rarely saw them.
At dinner we sat with four older gentlemen who, like Jim and me, were once neighbors but who now lived far from each other. We chatted about our luck on the lake, our families, our hometowns, and we even caught up a bit on the news of the world if one of us had happened to hear something. There had been a few Supreme Court decisions while we were in the wilderness, and we sorted out the details as best we could.
But we were careful not to editorialize as we did it. After all, that's sort of the point of going fishing where the roads end, isn't it? You want to go someplace where the differences that define and divide you every day are far away and forgotten for a while.
In fact, after an evening of chatting, it would have been hard to guess how any of the six of us might have voted in the last election, judging by our words.
All except one guy, who clutched his anger, fear and bitterness so close that he couldn't leave it at the border when he drove through International Falls.
When somebody mentioned hearing something on CNN, he barked, "Oh, you mean the Commie News Network?" When one guy said that his daughter had been dating a professional soccer player from Denmark, he snorted, "I hope he enjoys paying 60 percent taxes over there."
Each time he did it, the conversation stopped dead. Even though the six of us at the table had almost certainly cast votes on both sides of the aisle, there was an awkward silence as we all waited to see if somebody would rise to his bait to agree or disagree. But nobody did. Sometimes you're glad that nothing is biting.
Anyway, as I say, it was nice to get away for a while. Some folks, like my sister-in-law, helped to make it happen. Others, like our supper-table curmudgeon, never wanted me to leave.
But, despite him, I have been away, and it was wonderful.
I'm back now.
- - -The author splits his time between Naples and Chicago. Not every day, though. Contact him at email@example.com. Why wait a whole week for your next visit to Planet Kerth? Get T.R.'s new book, "Revenge of the Sardines," available now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other fine online book distributors. His column will appear every Friday.