Zen and the art of Key West flats fishing

When I first started fishing in Florida in the mid-1990s, I’ll confess that I kept score: if I was trying to land a monster tarpon in Boca Grande Pass or hit a school of snook in the mangrove fringe in Charlotte Harbor and I didn’t succeed I was disappointed. Yes, I knew it was “fishing” and not “catching,” but I approached it more as a competitive sport than as a relaxing pastime.

Perhaps it’s the natural mellowing of age, but I’m more focused on the experience now, not the results—the delight of spending a day on the water has become enough. I’m thankful when I get a chance to escape and go fishing, and I find myself more observant of all that’s around me, now. Call it Zen and the art of flats fishing? By Zen, I mean the relaxed, meditative pursuit of enlightenment. (Which reminds me of that old joke: How many Zen masters does it take to change a light bulb? None. A master can only point the way…a light bulb must find the roots of change within itself.)

I had a chance to practice this mellower approach last week, when I went flats fishing in the shallow waters on the Gulf of Mexico side of Key West last week with my oldest son. I hoped to catch some bonefish (a species I hadn’t encountered before) or tarpon. Our good-natured fishing guide, the cigar-smoking Captain Lenny Leonard, took us to a series of shallow-water spots near the Mud Keys and Snipe Key, where we fished from his flats boat with spin rods.

Sharing the Zen

We found clear blue skies and the unrelenting southern Florida sun awaiting us as Leonard let his boat drift over the flats, where the water stands only two or three feet deep. For the first several hours we were alone—no sign of other boats or people in our line of sight, the landscape looking much as it must have when only the Calusa inhabited the Keys. We cast jigs and plugs, hooking (and releasing) a number of jack crevalle. The lingering shoulder bursitis that’s robbed my tennis serve of whatever power it once had has also forced me into casting side-arm instead of overhand—leaving my casts well short of my son’s (to his amusement).

There was much to contemplate. Around and above us, the birds: a bald eagle sitting proudly in a nest on a mangrove islet, the pelicans, herons, terns and gulls soaring and diving; in the water, an occasional jellyfish or small shark floating over the turtle grass bottom, and on the floor, loggerhead sponges.

We had no luck with the bonefish—their typical haunts along the mangrove fringes were barren of the Gray Ghost, perhaps because of the slightly cooler water temperature—but we finished with a flourish–my son caught a barracuda with light tackle, bringing the fish to the boat for a quick picture before releasing it. Then, back to Key West Bight, with a resolution to return to the flats (sooner rather than later), and the hope that the Babylonian proverb is true that the gods do not deduct from man’s allotted span the hours spent in fishing.

Copyright © 2009 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved

October 2009: Fuzzy stimulus math, mixed signals on free speech, Hannity’s sad double standard, and other observations

A tip of a Yankees cap to the late, great New York newspaper columnist Jimmy Cannon for borrowing his signature phrase: nobody asked me, but…

THE WHITE HOUSE ANNOUNCED THAT FEDERAL STIMULUS SPENDING HAS “SAVED OR CREATED” 640,329 JOBS SO FAR. Not 640,328 or 640,330, but 640,329. Of course this is nonsense—there’s no precise way to accurately calculate any job creation or job savings impact and the Obama Administration opens itself up to mockery for its fuzzy math.

The problem for President Obama is managing perceptions: after passage of a $787 billion spending bill the Administration claimed would keep national unemployment at 8 percent, the reality has been jobless figures in the 10 percent range and fears of a jobless recovery or a “W” shaped recession, despite GDP growth of 3.5 percent in the third quarter of 2009.

Has economic stimulus spending worked? The impact of cash-for-clunkers, first-time home buyer tax credits, and other cash injections into the economy clearly impacted the third quarter growth numbers. As to the other stimulus spending: a focus on propping up education and public sector employment, rather than heavy investments in infrastructure projects, may prove misguided in the long-term. If unemployment remains in the 10 percent range, voters will punish Congressional Democrats in the 2010 elections.

THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION IS SENDING MIXED SIGNALS ON FREE SPEECH ISSUES. In early October, the U.S. delegation to the U.N. Human Rights Council decided to “support Egypt in recognizing limits on free speech for those who insult or denigrate religion,” a move law professor Jonathan Turley and other free speech advocates denounced as ill-advised pandering to Muslim nations. Near the end of the month, however, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signaled that the U.S. will resist a push for an international convention barring “religious antidefamation.

Are members of the Obama team too comfortable with international legal standards that suppress free expression? Stuart Taylor Jr. of the National Journal Magazine warns that the U.N. resolution concession is representative of an administration “seeded with left-liberal thinkers who have smiled on efforts to punish speech that is offensive to favored racial and religious groups.”

IF SEAN HANNITY OF FOX WANTS TO PROVIDE FAR RIGHT AUTHOR JEROME CORSI with a platform on his cable show, he owes it to his audience to disclose Corsi’s extremist views. Corsi, who turned up on Hannity’s Oct. 13 show to promote his latest book, is a Birther and a Truther—that is, Corsi questions whether President Obama was actually born in Hawaii and consequently his eligibility to hold high office, and he has supported the “9/11 Truth Movement” in claiming that jetliners did not bring down the World Trade Center towers.

Hannity’s double standard is troubling: he challenges those on the left who voice 9/11 conspiracy theories (Sean Penn, Rosie O’Donnell, Mark Cuban) but remains silent when right-wingers like Corsi express similarly noxious views.

IS RUSSIAN PRESIDENT DMITRY MEDVEDEV’S REJECTION OF THE CULT OF STALIN A SINCERE DISTANCING FROM “PUTINISM”? On October 30, the day of remembrance of victims of political repression in Russia, Medvedev “called on Russians to remember the political terror under Soviet leader Josef Stalin, distancing himself from the historical ambivalence of his mentor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin,” according to Lucian Kim of Bloomberg News.

Will Medvedev’s comments make a difference? The recent arrest of Mikhail Suprun, a Russian historian researching the fate of Germans sent into Stalin’s Gulag during World War II, and the seizure of his personal archives, raises questions about the openness of Russian authorities to confronting the past.

FROM JAY LENO’S ROUTINE (Oct. 26): “Former Vice President Dick Cheney accused the White House of “dithering” over the strategy in Afghanistan. Today the White House said they’re thinking it over, and they should have a response within six to eight weeks.”

THIS MONTH’S WORDS OF WISDOM COME FROM THE BIBLICAL KING SOLOMON (Proverbs 29:23): “A man’s pride shall bring him low: but honor shall uphold the humble in spirit.”

Copyright © 2009 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved