Friday, August 10, 2012

Fishing on Black Pond

"Do you want to go to my dad's camp with me this weekend?".

I paused.

We had just been dating for a month.  A weekend with my girlfriend, her dad and his sketchy girlfriend at a cabin in the middle of nowhere in Vermont might be a tough one to swallow.  Its not like going clothes shopping or sitting through a chick flick as a peace offering after I had blown her off the night before to go drinking with my buddies.  This was all weekend, Friday through Sunday, in a 200 square foot cabin with the man whose daughter I am defiling and his coke snorting skank, who, the first time I met her, offered me some crystal meth, casually, as if it were a cup of tea. 

"Can we bring beer?".

The 2 1/2 hour ride to Black Pond went by quickly.  Lori drove while I sat in the passenger seat with some Budweisers.  I never let other people drive, being a control freak, but I didn't mind Lori driving.  I trusted her, plus it was her car. I was content to watch the trees get bigger and the sky grow closer as we headed through the Green Mountains.  We reached the camp just before sunset.

Black Pond is tree lined, speckled with cottages and cabins on the eastern shore. The western side of the pond has an access road that leads out to the the Half Moon State Forrest.  Located 20 miles north west of Rutland  and 20 miles east of Lake George it is remote.  Black Pond in no misnomer.  The water looks like a newly paved parking lot, flat and black . The sun was still hitting the tops of the trees that surround the pond adding to the contrast between dark and light, making the water seem like an endless abyss.

Bobo and Mary were already there having left from Northampton at noon, stopping on the way to buy some beer and groceries.  They were sitting in some Adirondack chairs down by the dock having some drinks. Lori and I checked out the cabin. It had electricity, but no indoor plumbing. It had one sleeping area, a kitchen area and a screened in porch.  It was clean and quaint, but rustic. "This might not be too bad", I thought to myself as I took a swig off a beer that Bobo shoved in my hand as soon as we arrived.

Lori and I took out the row boat while Bobo cooked up some steaks.   The temperature had dropped quickly since we had arrived and it was chilly out on the water.  It was now dark and we had to navigate by following the various campfires and lights from the cottages dotting the pond. We found our way back to Bobo's dock just in time for dinner.  We ate on the porch, looking out at the pond.  The food was just enough to satisfy my hunger without killing my buzz.  After dinner, Bobo and I had a few shots of Jack and drank some more beer.   Lori told me that he hated me.  Probably because I was three years older than her. More likely that he knew that I was a horny 21 year man sniffing around his daughter.  I would have hated me too if I were him.   He was actually sociable and friendly.  More than likely the Jack Daniels helped him to forget that I was the enemy.  Just when the small talk had run its course he jumped up and declared that he was hitting the sack.  Mary had already headed into the back room, likely to do some lines, but I was just happy not to have to deal with her.  Lori had been sitting with us the whole time.  I hadn't noticed her there.  She had been watching us for the hour since dinner sizing up the situation, bored by our intoxicated banter, making sure her dad didn't kill me .  We were sleeping on the porch on a pull out couch so when Bobo went to bed we set up camp for the night.  A few deep breaths of the cool night air combined with the alcohol and I was asleep in seconds.

In the distance I could hear a woman screaming.  I pinched my arm thinking I might still be sleeping. I was awake. I peered out into the darkness and could see some dim headlights coming from a car parked on the access road across the pond.  The screaming was interrupted by wailing, crying.  The sound seemed to funnel directly across the pond right into our porch. Lori checked her watch and informed me that it was 2 AM.  I threw on a T shirt and headed out to the dock to get a better look.. Bobo startled me as I exited the cabin.  He too had heard the curious screams and followed me down to the dock.  We hopped into the row boat and made our way across Black Pond.  As we got closer to the western shore I could see a woman standing at the edge of the water.  Behind her were two children standing huddled together.  Her car was angled across the dirt road to face the pond, as if shining the headlights out onto the water, in search of something.

I yelled from the row boat "Whats wrong.  Are you OK?".
"He's in the water", she bellowed frantically.  She had both hands wrapped around the back of her head, jumping up and down frustratedly. "I can't swim and neither can he" her voice trailed off as if she were handing off her burden for us to carry awhile.

"Where is he?" I asked.
"There", she pointed out into the water to her right, our left. 

We rowed in that general direction and came upon a half-sunk canoe.  Floating next to it was about five empty cans of  Miller, a fishing pole, some plastic bags and a baseball hat.  Suddenly I could feel my hangover.  The adrenaline had been pumping hard up until this point and now that I knew what we were dealing with it shut off without warning.  My head was pounding in rhythm with my heart. The canoe had a line of trout still tied up to one of the gunwales.  All good sized keepers. There was no one in the water.  I did the math quickly.  I had been a lifeguard for years at a summer camp.  In my training I knew that the brain could only survive about 3-4 minutes without oxygen.  We had been on the water for at least 10 minutes and who knows how long she had been screaming before it finally woke us up from our drunken sleep.

He was dead for sure.

Bobo and I each took an oar and starting poking around the canoe. We were not touching bottom.  I knew if I hit something it was going to be a body.  Every swipe of the oar was filled with tentative anticipation.  I kept remembering the scene in Jaws when Hooper goes under a wrecked boat in his scuba gear to see what had happened and had a head pop out at him.  I took a break from searching and looked upward to stretch my neck which had a crick from straining while looking downward into the pond searching for the dead fisherman.  The sky was filled with stars,  The milky way was as clear as I've ever seen it.  The sobbing from shore brought me back to the task at hand. I continued to skull and poke and peer into  the black water.

I am not sure how long we were on the water before the rescue team arrived.  I'm not sure how they knew there was an emergency.  Maybe another resident of the pond had a phone line in their cottage.  Being 1986 there were no cell phones and even if there were I doubt there would have been service.  They urgently put a boat in the water and made their way to us.  They asked a few questions like how long we had been there and what we had observed.  They then started to search using the same method as us but instead using ten foot long poles.  Exhausted we decided to make our way back to the eastern shore and Bobo's cabin.  We met Mary and Lori on the dock who were waiting to hear what had happened.  I described the scene.  The crying wife and scared kids.  The empties floating in the water.  The fish on the line.  We all head back into the cabin.  I fell asleep in seconds. 

What seemed like only a minute later I woke up to the sound of a machine working from across the pond.  I went out to the dock.  It was daybreak and light bathed the pond making everything visible.  There were various rescue personnel walking around the shoreline drinking coffee and chatting.  Two rescue trucks were parked on the access road one of which had a winch on the back.  It was pulling something up from the water.  It was the fisherman. The wife was standing at the top of the incline leading down to the waters edge, waiting.  There were no sign of the kids.  Before his body made it above the water line I turned around and headed back to the comfort of the pull out couch.

The rest of the weekend was uneventful.  We drove around the surrounding area doing some sightseeing.  We had some drinks. We sat on the porch looking out at the water.  We had some more drinks. Bobo had heard from a neighbor that the guy dragged his family out for some late night fishing.  He stood up in the canoe when reeling in a fish and fell into the darkness.  Thank god his wife and kids had stayed on shore.

Years later Lori and I became parents of two boys.  Bobo promised them that when they were old enough he would bring them fishing for the weekend at his camp.   Lori and I had not been back to his camp since that weekend in 1986. I used to joke around all the time about how I went fishing once on Black Pond and didn't catch a thing.

Bobo never got to bring the boys fishing at Black Pond.  In  2011, he had a serious illness which had him hospitalized for three months.  He eventually recovered, but was never quite the same. He and some friends went to his camp on Black Pond for the Memorial Day weekend.  He fell while there and went to the hospital.  They gave him some medication for his pain and sent him on his way.  Once back at the camp he was incapacitated by his pain. All he could do was sit on the porch and look out at the pond.  His friends brought him home a day early because he didn't seem right.  When our oldest was born we bought the house next door to Bobo, in the neighborhood Lori had grown up in as a kid.  The night his friends brought him back from the camp she spent most of it shuttling back in forth between our houses, checking on him.  Something was wrong.  The next morning she got a call from his roommate Dave that Bobo was unresponsive and breathing funny. I drove the kids up the hill to school.  When I got home a few minutes later my wife and her sister were trying to get their dad out of his house and into my sister-in-laws car.  I ran over and grabbed him by the waist and hauled him in the passenger seat.  I knew he was gone. 

In the years since my wife and I had gone to Black Pond Bobo had sold his half of the camp to his friends Pam and Rollie.  He had offered to sell half to us or Lisa, Lori's sister, but we knew we'd never use it.  Lisa didn't want it either.

2 and 1/2 hours away , an outhouse , no thanks. 

In the September following Bobo's passing Pam and Rollie hosted a party in Bobo's honor at the camp.  Lori and I hadn't been there in 25 years and thought it would be great for the kids to see it and maybe fish there, since Grandpa never got to take them. Rollie and Pam threw a great party.  They had fixed the camp up.  It still had no indoor bathroom, but it was updated with new paint and furniture. It was nicely landscaped and there was a larger open area down by the docks complete with kayaks, canoes and the row boat.  They invited all of Bobos friend from home and from VT, past and present, most of whom had spent time at the camp.  We spent the day listening to bawdy stories about Bobo.  Lots of laughter, food and drink. All his grandchildren got to fish off the dock and from the row boat we took out numerous times throughout the day.  There was swimming, even this late in September with the air hot and dry and the water warm and inviting. Before dark, my wife, her sister and two of Bobo's best friends Mike and Ritchie took the row boat out to the middle of the pond with Bobo's ashes and a handle of Jack Daniels.  As the entire group of party goers watched from the shore as they sprinkled Bobo's ashes and submerged the bottle of Jack not to far from the spot where Bobo and I went fishing that star filled night 25 years earlier.

Back on shore the party got cranking, The days drinking and festivities were catching up to many of the party goers; lots of stumbling and swearing.  A group gathered around some guys playing guitar by the fire pit. The fire fought off the early fall chill that had swept in from the pond. The smell of cannabis mingled with the burning hardwood, bringing back a flood of memories from Fall nights long forgotten.  Lori and I decided to get the kids out of there before we had more explaining than we were prepared to do that day. We said our goodbyes, which took about a half an hour with Bobo's friends needing to find closure in Lori's arms. We went into the cabin and looked around one last time.  Pam and Rollie told us we could go up any time, but I knew the chances of that were slim to none.  While gathering up our things we saw a calendar on the bedroom wall.  It was from 1986. We scrolled through and saw that there was writing on one of the dates in May. 'Man drowned on Black Pond' was written on May 31st. 

It hit me immediately. 

Bobo had died exactly 25 years to the day that he and I went fishing on Black Pond.

I walked out to the dock and looked out into blackness. "Bye, bye Bobo." I said aloud, while making the sign of the cross.  I turned and walked back toward the crackling fire and my waiting family.


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