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Kitzmann Column: Fishing for understanding

I come from a family of avid fishermen. Nothing better exemplifies this fact than the 11-pound walleye, which hangs in my father's study.

He caught it about nine years ago while ice-fishing on New Year's Eve, and gets noticeably excited when recounting, with vivid imagery and surprisingly realistic sound effects, the ordeals he went through to capture the specimen, how it barely fit through the hole he had drilled in the plane of ice separating his world from the fish's. Now, the fish serves as a wall ornament and the perfect representation of my dad's favorite hobby.

A love of fishing, however, is a family trait that largely was lost on me. It's not that I condescend or have any moral issues with the sport; I've just never been patient enough to be on the lake (usually in the blowing snow or driving rain, because that's when the fishing is prime) and wait for some gullible fish to come by and take the bait.

Besides, I've always prided myself on being an "intellectual" (for lack of a better word), one who would much rather spend an afternoon using my computer, listening to music or reading a book than braving the elements in hopes of bringing in a fish or two.

Thus, I was less than excited when, last Saturday, my dad suggested, or rather commanded, that my brother and I take the family canoe out early on Sunday morning and fish while the sun rose. Aware of my previous successes with fishing, or lack thereof, he added, "it really doesn't matter whether you catch anything or not; this experience is going to be about reconnecting with nature. You might even learn something."

I complied, but not without letting him know how unhappy I was about the whole business.

When my mother woke me up the next morning I wanted to do nothing less than fish. It was dark and cold outside, I was tired, and worst of all, this was happening on a Sunday.

I've always felt that Sundays are meant to be enjoyed, and it seemed to me a pity to ruin my favorite day of the week when it was unnecessary to do so. And at the time, I didn't think this fishing trip quite met the qualifications for "necessary."

I hobbled to the kitchen, and though not yet entirely coherent, bade good morning to anyone listening before heading off to the restroom to begin my morning rituals. After that was taken care of, I dressed (quickly -- I needed to be on the lake before the sun rose), gathered up the necessary supplies, and accepted a lunch bag from my mother before heading out the door.

When I began my fishing excursion, my overall satisfaction with life was at an all-time low. I was shivering cold (not to mention wet -- we had a little problem getting the canoe in the water), still not completely awake, and worst of all, my brother was apparently happy as can be. It made me sick to watch him smile and whistle cheerfully while I wallowed in miserable self-pity, and I was half-tempted to wipe that smirk off his face for him.

I refrained, though, and instead asked if he would kindly be a little less ... pleasant. "Okay," he said in a friendly manner, and it was settled.

As the immediate feelings of coldness and resentment melted away, it occurred to me that something very significant was missing from my life. I thought and thought, but still couldn't pinpoint it until a song started playing in my head and I finally realized that I had spent almost two whole waking hours without any form of electronic media being broadcast into my head.

My mind was playing its own music to lessen the impact of media withdrawal. I felt strangely incomplete without headphones in my ears, a screen in front of my eyes or even a book, which would at least provide some entertainment, in my hands.

But as I sat in the boat and began to watch the birds flit cheerfully about for a while, reflecting the glassy stillness of the water, it occurred to me that, despite the fact that I hadn't had any takers for the bait strung onto my hook, I was beginning to feel a form of completion wash over me that the media could never provide.

And when the sun finally rose from behind the trees, bathing the lake and surrounding landscape in its warm glow, I looked to it and it came to me that my father had been right all along. I had learned from this experience: that understanding can sometimes be more important than knowledge.

Nathan Kitzmann is a sophomore at Detroit Lakes High School.