A Typical Morning on the Black River

Recounting the daily routine of life where I live.

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December 28, 2023

By Mike Stilling

an impressionist style oil painting of a man and dog sitting on rocks by a river during sunrise - image generated by MidJourney
Using MidJourney

Here, white pines determine the daybreak. Still torn from the early, heavy snow of the previous winter, what’s left of their body stays humbly at work.

While drowning out the noise of man with their needle-filled limbs dancing and whistling in the breeze, they shelter our bedroom window from the morning sun. All of this in an effort to give the most caring woman in the world a few good minutes of rest past her third snooze.

These trees are survivors. Positioned on a steep grade that’s been continually ravaged by floods from the river below; their ancestors were washed away or clear-cut decades ago. Left with nothing but acidic, sandy soil—they have found a way to thrive.

An impressionist style painting of a pine tree limb in front of a large moon
An old white pine in front of a Harvest Moon (MidJourney)

Despite their effort, these pines can’t trick a dog from knowing when it’s time for his morning feast. As the first traces of blue-ish illumination creep through the windows that line the backside of this home, a restrained cattle dog begins his quest.

He blurts out the first warning, a noise similar to that of a dog looking for a fight. Startled, I unfold my crossed legs, realizing one is fully numb from sitting like an ass atop a bar stool at the kitchen counter for the past hour while consumed within a MacBook screen.

Simultaneously, while taking a sip of what is now mildly cold coffee, I point toward him, frowning, and whisper-yell “No!” Having been a breed that spent a century or two getting kicked in the head by tough, burly bovine, he persists.

An impressionist style painting of a cattle dog waiting to be fed by a man sitting on a stool in loungewear
A much more patient dog (DALL•E)

As I close my screen and step away from the stool, the dog’s two other cronies join in his impatience. Busting through the dim calmness of night, their nails begin clacking against the floor like hail on a tin roof, as they hop around, nipping one another, belting out short howls of excitement—this annoying ceremony initiates the morning chores. Meanwhile, I panic to keep them quiet and ramp up the whisper-screams.

It’s not that waking up Kerry will lead to our demise. She deserves the peace and quiet. Her dreams are only allotted time after already taking care of the rest of us, typically after 8pm. This love, shown through service and action, results in a decadent life for the hounds and myself—free of real want and/or dire concern.

Kibble is the only solution for quiet. After fixing up their bowls, the dogs devour the food in seconds then proceed to boastfully stumble around like a drunkard with a cigarette. As I slide the back door open, the dogs shoot out. Transitioning from stupor to squirrel killer, the eldest dog tumbles down the porch stairs.

After scaring away every squirrel within an acre radius and amassing a deeper sense of fullness via consuming at least 10 acorns a piece, the gang slowly makes their way back to that same sliding glass door. Upon reentry, two satisfied mutts plop back to sleep on the couch.

An impressionist style painting of two exploring dogs surrounded by pine trees, squirrels, and acorns
Smokes' and Gus' perspective of the yard (DALL•E)

Remember that fierce cattle dog from earlier? Belly full, he transforms into a baby human that longs to be nuzzled up, sleeping by his mother’s side. Quietly, I crack the bedroom door open as he scurries through, leaping onto the bed, giving a quick kiss to Kerry before collapsing alongside her.

Having completed my laborious morning routine, I gear up for the reward. Exiting through the garage, I slip on a pair of sandy Crocs, slinging a musty backpack stuffed full of tackle over my shoulder, while grabbing at least two rods: It’s time to go fish.

Making my way down the massive set of wooden stairs that lead to the river in our backyard, the sun has started to peak over the pine-filled hillside across the tannin-stained water. With every step, a velcro-like noise emits from fragrant, fallen pine sap sticking to my foam soles.

Completing the final flight, I tip-toe, gently laying my luggage down on the plastic of our floating dock. This dance, an effort to prevent scaring off any fish. I fire two, empty-handed casts; one to the east, and one to the west, both along an underwater ridge. This process quells the fear that I might miss a nearby lunker before deploying the kayak.

An impressionist style painting of a man descending wooden stairs toward a river in the early morning
A bit embellished, but you get the point (MidJourney)

This next part is season dependent… For the sake of storytelling, we’re going to go with said season being late summer or early fall… Otherwise, I’m likely coming in without a single bite…

Now, knowing there isn’t a single fish nearby, I rush back toward shore to grab my small plastic vessel—an army green, sit-on-top style raft that provides just enough stability and space for myself, light gear, and a potential underwater adversary.

My minuscule arms bulge as I lift the hunk of polyurethane. Any distant observers surely view what looks like Paul Bunyan emerging from the riverside. I breathe a sigh of relief as the boat splashes down alongside the pier. Then, begins the process of expertly selecting which plastic baits will accompany me in search of smallmouth bass.

An impressionist style painting of a man holding a green kayak on a floating dock
Paul Bunyan in joggers (DALL•E)

Arriving at the same baits as yesterday, a collection of weighted hooks threaded through a rubbery, blue-ish gray, bug-like specimen (commonly called a ned rig), my oar pushes off of the dock. Putting paddle to water, my owl-like head scans for any breaching behemoths.

A disturbance marked by faint ripples in the otherwise calm water appears. My alert angling senses inform me of the fish’s location today—along with the fact that I caught fish in this same spot the day before… The spot, a protruding slab of blue granite that extends deep below the water’s surface.

The kayak slowly wedges against the rock face while I cast in parallel to it. Allowing my bait to slowly make its way to the jagged bottom, my hands act as sensors—waiting for any tug-like motion the braided line would generate as it pulls through the rod’s eyelets as an unsuspecting fish inhales my rubber companion.

Hand-turning, my reel begins to retrieve the bait. Making its way back to the safety of the raft, I carefully drag the weighted hook through every nook and cranny the depths provide. In the blink of an eye, the rod tip drops. A shot of dopamine rushes to my brain as my arms blast toward the sky. All the while, my reel screams. Fish on.

An impressionist style painting of a man sitting in a kayak fishing
Waiting for a fish to bite (DALL•E)

Amongst a picturesque Northwoods morning, chaos ensues. The braid buzzes back into the reel as it rotates faster than a stand mixer on high. The attached, flailing bass shatters through the glass-like surface. It’s big.

The base of the rod stays pointed towards the heavens, while its tip curves violently toward the water. My hand holding the cork grip trembles as the other reaches for a net that lays in the front of the ship. The beast’s tail, now within inches of the boat, slaps the water, sending it splashing in every direction.

Clutching the net, my arm swoops toward the fish. I scoop it up and rest it between my knees. With a few final spasms, the fish calms. Customary to the bass species, I grab the fish by its lower lip, placing my thumb into its mouth while the fish hangs in the air vertically. My other hand swiftly grips and pops the hook free. I toss the hook back into the water in an effort to prevent re-hooking the fish or myself.

Clear of the hook, I now place my free hand below the fish’s stomach to support it. Its scaly body feels warm compared to the cool morning air. My eyes glance over the brownish bass, admiring its size, beauty, and being. It appears to be around two pounds, not my biggest catch, nor worth pulling out a scale to weigh it.

An impressionist style painting of a man sitting in a kayak fishing
DALL•E couldn't distinguish large/smallmouth 🤷‍♂️

As quickly as it came, I delicately lower it back into the water—thankful for its fortitude while serving my simple hobby. Now, my mind sorts through next steps.

Do I return to civilization, resuscitating the green bubble next to my virtual avatar? Or, can my livelihood spare another ten to ninety minutes while I repeat the process, sitting atop this kayak, enjoying the fresh air, and soaking in the sun, sounds, and smells provided by the Black River?

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