There seemed to be a thread in all this much deeper than just the fishing and hunting, and working. Being in these places, brought with it being around a lot of different men. And not just talking. But doing things with them. There would be the conversations about wind direction, and spray patterns, and all these things they were telling and explaining to me about. But I was picking up more by just watching than anything else.
Each man had a unique piece to offer and teach, whether they knew they were doing it or not. Carlos was the master sprayer, and knew his way around every inch of a house. John was a more technical painter, and always concerned in the details, much like Timm was on the water. Seeing fishing at times as a science to master and understand. But Ron, was more a lover, and had five stories of fish for every hole on the water. He was teaching me about the experience of it all. And why I needed to kiss the trout each time I caught one. Timm was showing me how to actually catch them.
I started to realize, although I was looking for one man to do it all, it was really all of these men offering a part of what this was all about. A community of men, that didn’t know each other, but were involved in raising me, teaching me, guiding me in spiritual matters, and fathering me in these small pieces. These parts that were starting to fit together in this great puzzle, and in this large story that was making more sense. I didn’t need just one man, I was needing them all. Each of their parts of the wisdom to help me.
It started making more sense after I sat down one day for lunch with a man, Dan Rieple. A fine furniture maker. He looks out of This Old House, with his farm land and woodshop that contains the wonder of his own hands creation. He listens to Bach and Mozart, the classics, as he bends, and carves, and cuts the wood into beautiful masterpieces wearing his carpenters hat, and custom made leather apron. He is simple, straight forward, and practical. He plants in his garden the seeds from the food he eats. Leftover watermelon or beans, put them in the ground. In his eyes, why would you not?
We sat on his long porch, chewing on some sausage. He told me that men used to learn by other men. Even during the time of the renaissance, boys who had talents and gifts would be taken to schools or shops to learn trades. A father understood he needed to let his son learn from others. The boys would work for years as the helper to the masters in the shop. Often doing the most menial of tasks. Shoveling hay, removing trash, fetching food. But over time, they became close, they learned at the hands of their master. They were considered apprentices. It wasn’t just a summer internship it was often 7-8 years of doing this. A long process of learning, he explained.
The young apprentice didn’t just emulate and copy the master. The goal was uniqueness and originality. The master knew that he needed more than just his way and skill. And so the master of the craft, sent them to other masters around the area to stay, and pick up new parts, new techniques and skills they did not have themselves. These young men journeyed around, and lived and worked with these other masters in their workshops and home. They were called “journeymen.” When he had combined all these skills, and spent enough time coming into their own, he was considered a master. But only after he created a “master piece.” A piece that was created after the hands of many men had guided and taught him how, and was fitting enough to be considered a master.
As he spoke, it made so much sense. Of course. We needed all that help. Many talented and gifted men to teach us, and lead us into our own way, and how God created us. It was fascinating. Because it made me think of how our families and societies have become. We live in such small worlds, with so few other men. I had looked to my father, but not many other men. I had not been at the hands of others, or experienced other men growing up. And it seemed as I talked to guys, they were in the same boat. They saw their father, but very few other men. We had never journeyed away from our own home, and rarely been around many men at all, and often not even our fathers workplace.
It kinda made sense why so many guys were blaming their fathers, and angry at them. There was only one finger to point to. There wasn’t a community of men, teaching and raising them. We seemed to not even know that was a part of it. Dan was teaching me this stuff, like it was just part of how things work, I was listening like I was experiencing a history book. It seemed so distant from my life.
It also seemed that most of what I was learning and picking up at the hands of men, was being passed, less by words, and more by being with them and watching, learning in their presence. As a man I asked in the fields of New Mexico, a fifth generation Chili farmer. “I just walked with my dad through the fields. He would point to things, and look at things. I just picked up by watching.”
It seemed how hunting experience was gained as well. Learning how to walk through the woods and not make a sound, by walking next to a guy who was modeling it. Same as watching Ron sneak up on a river to keep the fish from being disturbed. And watching Carlos spray a house. Just marveling at it, and watching. It seemed as much as being near, and watching. It was almost this great secret. To shut up. And observe.
My cubicle friend Steve wrote this after a day with his father-in-law,
We woke at 6 a.m. to begin smoking ribs and brisket for our Fourth of July cookout. We spent the entire day together and probably said about 50 words to one another. That included an hour and a half trip to the barn to check on his cows. The man broke four ribs two weeks ago and it was all I could do to keep up with him. When you’re not talking you notice things. His skin, for instance, is like leather. We were messing around with sharp wire and fencing while at the barn and I scraped myself several times. His hands however were like a pair of Carhartt gloves. I thought to myself, “if he had opened that knife that cut you, it would have slid right over the surface.”
All in all, I learned to listen and watch. I learned that a brisket is not supposed to be turned while smoking, just sat fat side up so it marinates itself. I learned that a wasp will not sting you if you just sit still and let it get bored of sitting on your arm and fly away. I learned that sitting in the shade with your eyes and mouth shut, even if it’s just for a little while in the back yard, can be more relaxing than the softest bed in the ritziest hotel.