Firstly, if gardening was like dip netting, we’d all plan on getting big dividends for relatively little output. That and we’d also have enormous, unwieldy nets at the end of a fifteen foot poles scattered about our garden shed. Happy thought indeed.
I entered the gardening world with the same naivety I first had for this strange subspecies of fishing: short-lived. I have learned that it is just as much art as science, and certainly plenty of hard work to put a net in the rushing river and expect a half dozen fish to swim in. My first seeds tossed into the dirt and watered once over the course of the summer for some strange reason failed to germinate. I was discouraged. (Now, rather too many seeds germinate: dandelion, chickweed, etc.) Disappointment certainly applies to fishing: you get skunked, and drive home for three hours thinking about your wasted day and all the jerks that took your spot on the bank and had success. Or, you catch thirty salmon and wonder how you’re going to be enjoying freezer-burned salmon in six months.
My early experiences with this truly unusual past-time were as a kid and it was so enjoyable I haven’t been back in twenty years. Make that twenty five. Mother keeps telling me I have early onset Alzheimer’s (which is in our family, unfortunately) so I’ll blame the foggy memory for my recent decision to try the grand old Alaskan activity once again.
How could I forget dip nets cost an arm and a leg? Some nets were priced around two hundred dollars! For an aluminum stick with a net attached. My felco pruners were expensive, but are used almost every day in the spring, summer, and fall. The dip nets would be used once a year and then retired to the garage. Not to worry: nets were borrowed, financial crisis was averted, and I don’t have to find a space in the garage to store them. Hooray.
And how could I have forgotten the crowds on the bank? The term “combat fishing” is used here disparagingly, and for good reason. When the fishing runs are good, people beg, borrow, or craft their own dip nets and off they go in droves. Sighted in the hordes: plenty of duct tape on homemade nets. Also a few crutches taped to the end of poles. We’re nothing if not resourceful here in the Great Land.
Never been? No idea what to do? That doesn’t stop the crowds at the river. When the prize is Alaskan salmon, even the jaded are converted. I’m a big fan of salmon, and use it in the garden in various forms. Rusty silhouettes as artwork, processed guts and skin as fertilizer. I’m not making this up: salmon is good for the garden! Oh yes, and the palate, of course.
The spot where we camped is world famous (in Alaska, at least) for it’s salmon fishing: the Kenai River. You can dip net on both banks. The north bank is easily accessible by vehicle and you can pitch a tent right on the beach so as to be ready for action when fishing opens at 6am. The other beach is only accessed by 4-wheel drive vehicles or ATV’s, is a long drive from town through some serious road construction, and allows motorized vehicles on the beach, to everyone’s joy that is trying to sleep when fishing closes at 11pm. Guess which one the Last Frontier Gardener camped at? That’s right…the noisy, insanely busy, diesel engine and ATV plagued south beach. I guess everyone needs a little excitement in their life occasionally.
The idea of wading out into a rapidly moving, deep, and glacial river is daunting. But the idea of falling into the same river is worse. Worst of all, having to wear speckled (or is it blotched?) waders that resemble leprosy and could accommodate another person, wade out into the fast river, and then fling a long, heavy pole out into the murky water and try not to get drug out to sea or lose the pole. Always with one eye out for grizzly bears or Fish and Game agents. I enjoyed myself immensely. Though camouflage is not generally seen on the runway in Paris, you will see more of it here than anywhere else in the world, and worn with pride. I myself had camo waders and hooded jacket, and was even offered a camouflage fanny-pack, but declined. We are far from Paris here but I have to draw the line somewhere. Sunglasses preserved what little shreds of dignity I had left and had the added benefit of keeping sand and water out of my eyes.
And so I conclude gardening is not vastly different than my dip netting experience. There were dangers anticipated, successes hoped for, humorous situations, thrills, specialized equipment, and a big payoff. And I was smelly and wet for hours. Reality hit when the realization of how long it would take to process (read clean, fillet, and package) all those fish set in. Many, many garden dreams have gone from blissful dreaming to seemingly endless back-breaking labor in a similar fashion. Fish on!
Is gardening like fishing? Should it be?