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Years ago, I made peace with the fact that I’ll never score a touchdown in the NFL or hit a homer in the majors. I always enjoyed playing sports, but church league softball doesn’t come with a retirement plan and I’m okay with being an armchair athlete.
What I’m not okay with is being incompetent at things I think I should be really good at. Specifically, I’m talking about throwing a cast net, tying knots and recognizing constellations.
With the cast net, it’s a simple matter of practice. I’ve beaten and banged and bungled my way to the border of competence, but I’ve never gotten good at it. That’s usually not an issue when it comes to catching bait. The problem is that I also like mullet. That means I have to throw a bigger net, farther and make it open wider. It would also help if I could actually control where it lands.
I do all right as long as the mullet are no more than five feet away and remain completely still. But any further and it becomes an experiment in geometry. So far, I’ve achieved every net shape conceivable – triangles, rectangles and even the occasional trapezoid at times – but rarely the neat circle I want.
* * *
I still have a lot of hope for my cast netting abilities. On the other hand, tying knots apparently requires using a part of the brain that I either never had or that I killed off with a combination of beer and bad decisions.
I know the basics: square knot, overhand knot, fisherman’s knot and whatever you call the knot you use to tie your shoes. Get past those, however, and I’m a lost puppy.
For example, in Boy Scouts, we learned that a bowline was a good knot for a lifeline to throw someone who’s drowning. Yeah, right. I decided at that moment that I’d better become a really good swimmer because I’m pretty sure you’d be long dead before I remembered if the “rabbit” went through the log or over the hole or whatever.
Make no mistake, plenty of people tried to teach me to tie knots. My father was a long-time Navy man and could tie knots I never heard of before or since. He spent a lot of time showing me how, but the lessons just never stuck for some reason. He told me I had a short attention span, but . . . hey, is that a quarter under the chair?
* * *
Let’s see. Where was I? Oh, yeah . . .
Another thing Daddy tried to teach me was astronomy. His actual job in the Navy was navigating ships, back in the day when that was done with charts and sextants and compasses and (I’m guessing) witchcraft. As a result, he knew every constellation in the sky and could tell me why they were significant.
He’d say, “You see the North Star, right?”
“Yes, sir.” (Meaning I knew which way north was, and I did see a lot of stars there.)
Then he would explain how to use that star to find one constellation, then another and so on. But all I would hear would be something akin to Charlie Brown’s teacher for a few minutes. “Wa wa wa wa wa . . . “
The conversation would end with something like, “ . . . and then you measure the angle between the star and the horizon and plot it on the chart and then you know exactly where you are. See?”
The problem is that I never “saw” anything more than white specks of light against the darkness. Orion? Just a random collection of stars. Perseus? Andromeda? They’re Greek to me. He saw patterns; all I saw was sparkly dots.
Years later, in Officer Candidate School, I learned the difference between grid north, magnetic north and true north. The instructor reminded us that there was only one of those things you could always count on to be with you – that was the North Star.
I still remember the note I wrote when he said that: “NEVER, EVER lose compass & maps.”
* * *
I’m going to keep working on throwing the cast net and I suppose I can force myself to learn at least a couple more knots (just in case the old “granny” fails me at some point.) However, I’ll always feel the same way about the stars in the sky as I do about the stars in Hollywood. There are a lot of them and they’re pretty to look at. But I don’t understand them and only a tiny few are worth remembering anyway.