Readers write in for guidance from the Paddler.
When I get on the river with my two friends, the “Type A” friend, Aaron, wants to paddle as fast as he can and reach the end so that he can either go to the gym for an extended workout or drink Margaritas with some Argentinian women he knows. The other friend, Zachariah, wants to paddle lackadaisically and look at things - beads of water on lily pads, snails as they make slow progress along a log. He is in no hurry to reach the pull-out, haul his kayak onto his car, and go home to reread the Houston Chronicle obituaries. Zachariah lives with his mother in a confined space. I find myself always unhappily oscillating - trying to decide whether to revel in the rigors of paddling with Aaron or to enjoy the infinite present moment with Zachariah. What should I do? - Strung Out
Dear Strung Out, You have posed the age-old question asked almost exclusively by men. Is it better to abandon the abject and compete with the hypercompetitive, or to abstain from foolish strivings and be companionable with sensitive souls, who are often quite lonely. You wouldn’t be asking the question if you knew who you were. The next time you sit through five or six traffic lights waiting for a massive string of bicyclists to go through, notice that they too are separated into the spandexed strivers and the street-clothed laggards - the latter including hipsters in costumes and people in wigs towing speakers blasting music. Strung out between these are the vast mass of people who don’t know who they are. The people in the middle have a little bit of compassion and a little bit of competitiveness, but not overwhelming amounts of either. The Paddler suggests you could devote some health-care dollars on therapy to determine who you are - unreimbursed by your health insurance provider. Or you could wait. Most people age themselves into compassionate humans. Put a different way, the paddlers way out in front develop chronic shoulder problems and eventually become frail enough to notice others, and scenery. The Paddler would hang back with Zachariah knowing that you are providing Zachariah needed human contact. Aaron will eventually reel himself in. - The Paddler
I am a Game Warden and a Fruitarian - I only eat fruit. Sometimes when I’m out paddling I see drop lines - stout lines tied to tree branches, pulling down and meandering around. I pull them up and find fish on them - generally catfish. Occasionally turtles. Whether it’s turtles or catfish, I set them free. Is this ethical? - The Grapefruit Game Warden
Dear Grapefruit - I will treat your inquiry as a three-part question, the first part not being a question. I have always admired fruitarians but I don’t know how they do it. Gandhi was a ‘wet’ fruitarian, but came to see it created excessive gastric phenomena, and so switched to dried fruit supplemented by nuts. This worked out all right but he grew skinnier and skinnier. Ultimately it was a nut that killed him.
Part two is an actual response to your question: yes and no. Is it ethical to free a fisherman’s caught fish? I suppose you’re aware that it’s kind of legal to use those drop lines - and kind of ethical to fish with them, if you make sure to check them. (That’s if you accept that fellow organisms feel pain and shouldn’t suffer, etc., which still will get an argument here in Texas.) Fishing more than any other activity is an activity tangled in uncertain outcomes. Will the fish bite? Where? Will this bait work? Will it rain? When will the boat motor give out? Will I lose my favorite lure, snagged in the roots? To all these, you are simply adding one more uncertainty – will a fruitarian come along and free my fish? In the Paddler’s opinion, the fisherman assumes all these risks. You are but one more vagary of chance confounding the fishermen.
Part three. As a game warden, you can do whatever the hell you want. You can walk into private homes and take stuffed lynxes off the mantelpiece at gunpoint. You can impound alligators, alligator-skin luggage, elephants and legs infected with Elephantiasis. You can pull over pirate ships. Game wardens serve higher principles than ethical principles, they serve principles of responsible hunting, fishing, gun safety and sportsmanship. You wear a bulletproof vest, for God’s sake. Do what you want. Let the devil take the high road. - The Paddler
You are a pompous ass. You are my sister-in-law’s husband. You have not the slightest capability of answering any moral question, and as to canoeing, you can’t tell the difference between a canoe floating right-side-up and upside-down. You’ve been making wrong decisions since you wrecked your first car (so many wrecked cars ago), caused your first heartache (so many heartaches …), and falsely represented you’d mastered fourth grade multiplication. You made choices which squandered your family’s respectable social position and considerable resources, and probably killed Mom from worry and disappointment. – Richard the Lionhearted
Dear Poor Richard, Did you ask a question? I didn’t see one. In the birth order sweepstakes, you ended up the roaring hypercritical fifth kid, thinking he never got his due. But I love you, Five. Did you see how, in the first letter above, I revealed sympathy for the fellow who lives in his mother’s basement? There is so much in my life that I wish I had done differently, Five. Part of living is making those mistakes and then having a chance to examine them. I‘ve lived and grown and make all my mistakes slightly differently than the way I made them before. I wish you had gotten a better lot in life, and gotten out on the water more. I feel that the family should have sprung for a seventh kayak, instead of leaving you always standing on shore, or trotting along after us. I feel for you, Five. But please pull yourself together. Your loving brother, The Paddler