While the kettle grew cold and the embers died fly fisherman, Anthony Baggott, listened and learned to the stranger at the camp fire and learned more in an hour than any book on philosophy or religion had taught him in lifetime.
The cuckoo sounded mockingly from the high trees of the Twin Islands on Lough Carra as we pulled the boat in for lunch.
It was the merry month of May many years ago and a gentle breeze ruffled the lime juice waters of this special lake.
The mayfly hatch had been sporadic that morning but as usual it had been enough to bring up some of the bigger trout in the lake, including the one that was now swimming away after breaking my cast and depriving me of possibly my best fish to date.
I had seen him cruising down a wind lane, taking spent flies in a leisurely fashion with that typical splashy rise.
I cast to his path, he took my mayfly imitation and jumped in fury showing a thick silvery body with coal spots.
He hit the water shaking himself and I felt that sensation that every angler hates, the feeling of the line going slack. I retrieved my line to find that the reason I lost that fish was a badly tied knot that failed under his great power.
So it was a grumpy and irritable angler that built the campfire and set the volcano kettle boiling. My angling partner stayed quiet, knowing that words aren’t much consolation to an angler at a time like this.
At that time the brash younger me was a competitive, confident angler who liked to perform well in angling competitions and had little tolerance of anyone who wasn’t as focused as I was.
Looking back after all those years I realise now that there much to dislike .
As I chewed gloomily on my sandwich, another boat pulled in and a man alighted. He greeted us and sat on a flat stone at our fire.
A fine build of a man, but somewhat stooped although he seemed to be only in his 60s. My friend offered him some boiling water which he gratefully accepted and brewed a mug of strong tea for himself.
“Any good lads” he asked cheerfully, as he stirred his tin mug. We compared stories and of course I was soon in with the story of my lost fish and I squirm now as I remember my attitude and my complaining tone as I recounted the battle.
He regarded me thoughtfully and sipped his tea. “Ah sure it could be worse” he said, “sure he will be there for next year, and you will be back to try and fool him again."
I was on the verge of snorting when I saw him take a bottle from his lunch bag and carefully pour a measure into the cap. I saw the name on the bottle and recognised it instantly as a medicine I had seen in my career many times, a morphine based pain killer usually given in palliative care of cancer patients.
Our eyes met and he saw that I recognoised the name on the drug. He nodded slowly to my questioning look.
I sat back and he talked. He was a well known musician, having brought his band around here and abroad for many years. He talked of using the time you had been given, the importance of family, the acceptance of adversity, the importance of love and peace and many other things.
He poured out his philosophy while the kettle grew cold and the embers died. I listened and learned, learned more than any book on philosophy or religion would ever teach me.
When he got up to leave I stood and shook his hand, gripping it tightly. This isn’t a fairytale so it would be a bit of exaggeration to say I left that island a totally changed person, but I left it a different person .
A few months later I read his obituary in a local paper. When I think of the lessons I learned in this life, that hour on the island on lovely Lough Carra with a brave man was a fine tutorial.
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