Islet near the River
Playing at the edge of Xihu Pond—a Luowodang just like a pot, I stepped on sand from its edge towards bottom, with water overflowing my head. Two men were sitting on large stones nearby, which look like lying bulls, cleaning their bodies casually.
Struggling to emerge from water, I sank beneath the water again horribly before asking for any help. After being choked into a light sleep, I was secured by a man called Yuan Mo, who became my savior. He put my head on the lower side of a smooth stone, making river water in my stomach flowed backwards from my mouth along with guts.
Some unknown neighborhood with a loose tongue told the news to my mother. After a while, she rushed from her office. Seeing that I was still alive, she gave me a sound beat ahead of my father.
Instead of being scared, I preferred to come near river without any hesitation whenever there was even a remote possibility, even at the expense of playing truant. One day, I came into water from a shoal downstream and swam into the pond. I never really regarded myself as the master of river until that time.
In those days, we had to take from river under the motivation of hunger.
这种索取有时候是非常野蛮的。正十年浩劫,区公所当权派都成了走资派,整个机关处于半瘫痪状态。我跟几个孩子 “藏猫”,偶然跑进一间黑屋子。在一个敞开的柜子里,我发现了一些 “子弹壳”。
This kind of demand might be very barbarous sometimes. In the Ten Year Calamity, all authorities in district government became capitalist roaders, and the whole agency remained semi-paralyzed. Playing hide-and-seek game with some children, I ran into a dark room by accident, and found some bullet shells in an open cabinet.
I took some toward my older cousin Chen Anxiang in the street for identification, who recognized immediately that they were exploders. Then, I found some explosives and fuse ropes again in that dark room. Under the guidance of my cousin Chen, we placed explosives in an ink bottle, installed exploders and fuse ropes, and crammed the bottleneck with yellow mud, finally making the bomb successfully.
We played the first shot in Jiang Jia Yan Tang. With a loud crash, huge rocks near the shore were blown and overturned. I was a little scared, yet looking at a slice of white fish above the river, I was more excited.
Maybe the society was too messy and everyone was settled, our action was not found by adults. Getting bolder and bolder, I shortened the fuse rope toward two fingers long, which was actually less than an inch. That meant as long as we hesitated for a moment, we would fail to throw the bomb into water in time, which may explode in our hands. Most fishermen I knew lost their arms in this way.
Once, I failed to find a glass bottle and used a bamboo tube instead. The bamboo tube was too light, so I tied a stone with it. Yet when we threw the bomb into water, its smooth pebble fell off, and the bomb kept floating on water surface.
Thankfully, the bomb did not explode. Although we had laid down immediately as we learned from movies, if it were not a blind shell, we would have no time to lie down at all, and the consequence must be either dead or wounded.
Perhaps God wanted to punish us, I baked the damp detonator in a hole of hot-pepper roasting stove, and the detonator exploded, destroying one corner of the hole. The truth was revealed, and I was soundly beaten by my father. Finally I ended this dangerous game.
但大多数时间,我们向河流的这种索取是充满诗意的。Most of time, however, our demands for river were poetic.
用一个锥体的竹篓,竹篓里放上诱饵,诱捕一些没有什么见识的如 “白条”“火烧斑”之类的小鱼,这种捕鱼的方法叫 “懵鱼”。而顾名思义,懵鱼的竹篓叫 “懵篼”。懵鱼的诱饵必须是 “椿颠粑”。
Using a pyramidal bamboo basket with baits in it, I caught some stupid fish such as “hemiculter clupeoides", "fire groupers" and so on, and this kind of fishing was called "Meng Yu". Just as its name implied, the bamboo basket for Meng Yu was called "Meng Dou"(a container made up of bamboo, vane and willow), and the baits for Meng Yu must be "Chun Dian Ba"(one kind of food consists of Chinese toon, rice and flour).
General Mie Jiangs(craftsmen making articles from bamboo strips) could make Meng Dou, whose raw materials must be fishscale bamboo, which was flexible and water-resisting with faint aromas. Squashing tender leaves of Chinese Toon together with rice, mixing a little flour and kneading them into a ball, so that Chun Dian Ba was made.
The pond for Meng Yu could not be too deep, its water could not be too rapid, and there must be a bench-land near water. Clean pebbles covered all rivers and bench-lands in mountains of northern Guizhou. Coming to the beach, people twisted off a piece of Chun Dian Ba wrapped in pumpkin leaves, and put it in Meng Dou together with some stones, so as to ensure that Meng Dou would not float up.
Then, went toward the pond and put Meng Dou into water. Finally, piling up a heap of stones around Meng Dou, returning back to the shore and digging a bunker near water, which could either let water in or keep closed like a pot. After doing all these, people waited in the distance patiently until fish was tempted by aroma toward Meng Dou. When most shoals of fish had swum into Meng Dou, the hunter bowed and stalked his prey.
Fish in the bamboo basket were enjoying their delicacies without any hazard awareness, then people hurried to cover basket mouth with one hand and pulled out stones around with the other hand. Not until that time, did these fish suspect danger and poked hunter’s palm with their small mouths persistently, hoping to escape.
But it was too late, and Meng Dou had been lifted above water. Fish struggled in the bamboo basket and were poured into bunker filled with water. Then people deposited a layer of fresh Chun Dian Ba as fishing lures and placed Meng Dou well in water.
Again, they went back toward bunker and crouched near it, getting fish out one by one. They pinched and squeezed fish’s stomach, start cleaning work, and then dried them on cobblestones. If the weather was good and the place was right, one Meng Dou could catch from dozens to hundreds of fish at one time.
Usually, after a few hours’ work, people could go home with a basket of dried fish. Cooking them with veritable pimientos de padrón, it was an ideal dish for both meals and wines.
捕大一点的鱼则要用 “壕”。这里的 “壕”,只是一个读音。我觉得它应该从竹头，因为它跟懵篼一样是竹编的。可字典上找不到这个字，也就只好借土旁的 “壕”代替。
As for big fish, we had to use “Hao” (a kind of fishing tool)， which was just a pronunciation. I thought its radical should be the bamboo radical, because it was made of bamboos just like Meng Dou, yet no such a word was found in dictionary, so I had but to use another word “壕” instead.
Different from Meng Dou which was like a ball, Hao had strip structures, prongs, round belly and sharp thin strips inserted in its neck, just like a barb. As long as fish got into it, they could never escape again. Fish-hunting with Hao was called “Sai Yu”.
There were many stones in river, half were exposed above the water and half were hidden. When sands were washed by water, most of these stones were empty, which formed “Yinzi”-the home of fish. Some fish were too lazy to move and always stayed in Yinzi, such as peach blossom fish, red tail, onychostoma, spot fish and so on.
People collected some straws in the field and formed a circumference, leaving only two holes. One hole was to install Hao, and the other was for drugging. Usually the medicine was pueraria peduncularis benth from mountains, which was pounded into slurries and foisted into the hole. After sluries diffusing in Yinzi, fish had no way but to be driven into Hao.
Sometimes calces was also used, which was relatively mild like pueraria peduncularis benth, and would not cause death generally, so that fish driven into Hao were usually alive.
壕还可以用来 “追滩”。山里的河流滩多水急。我们用石块带谷草在滩头砌一道 “八”字堤，留一个喇叭口安壕。做好格局，人便从上游往下赶鱼。
Hao could also be used for "beach chasing". Water in rivers and bench-lands in mountains was often swift, so we used stones as well as straws to build a 8-shaped embankment on the beach, leaving a horn mouth to install Hao. After all work were done, you could begin herding fish from upstream to downstream.
Usually, several people would work together. They threw stones into river, made tinkling voice and approached Hao gradually. These frightened fish fled in any path they could downstream, and finally were driven into Hao.
But beach chasing was time-consuming, especially embankment construction, which was often adults’ work, so that we tended to borrow others’ labor products at that time. Despite this, fish we caught was few, and we often came home empty-handed.
Some people combined Hao and Meng Dou, put delicious rubsen cakes and heavy stones in it, then tied it with coir ropes and threw into deep ponds for one day or two. It was said that they had even caught soft-shelled turtles with several pounds.
There were few big fish in small rivers, so I seldom saw people spearing fish. One night, however, someone put in poison downstream. Seeing scattered lights up and down the river, father found a fork out of nowhere and took me to the beach.
Holding a flashlight with one hand and the fork with the other hand, I went slowly upstream, and saw fish attached to the riverbed unmoved in yellowish lights. With a sudden fork, I stuck fish on my fork bloodily.
To be honest, despite my experience of blasting fish, I still felt a bit bloody for this face-to-face killing, especially for those fish attached to the riverbed unmoved.
Seeing my clumsiness, father snatched the fork away and speared fish himself. Actually, during my twenty years life in two cha coves, it was my first time to use fork.
Later, I heard from some insiders that, potion in river only flowed in water surface, so that fish attached to water bottom remain unmoved. As a matter of fact, fish were quite intelligent.
Yet facing hungry people, they had only two choices, either to be poisoned or to be killed.
Taking advantage of business travelling opportunities, my father bought a few laps of “Chanjin” from city, which was actually a kind of line, transparent and flexible.
Many of us felt that it was a tangible high-tech at that time, so we called it "chemical line". My father wanted to weave a lapping with “Chanjin”. After long times of knitting and tearing, finally he found the way.
For his busy work, he taught me how to weave so as to speed up working process. At the beginning, sitting in the window with a two-finger clip and a shuttle, I weaved with an air of importance. But children are born restless, after a few days of work, I turned sluggish. Unwillingly, father had but to return to this work.
Sometimes, I woke up at midnight and saw him weaving under shaded lights. When the drainage network with three feet in height and ten feet in length was to be finished, we all enjoyed a kind of indescribable excitement. At the every beginning of weaving, we had started to collect toothpaste tubes.
So at this time, I melted these toothpaste tubes on fire one by one on a iron ladle, then made a mold with yellow mud, inserted a thin bamboo raft in between, and finally poured melting tin water into the mold, so that a net weights was completed. As for the bobber on mesh ropes, we made with garlic stems.
After almost half a year of work, we completed one lapping. In my impression, this lapping didn’t help catching too many fish. But because it was the first net made of chemical lines in the town, so that its reputation spread far and was borrowed by many people. Before long, it was in shreds and patches. After several times of mending, father lost heart and gave up mending.
Of course, the most common way was with fishing poles. In summer, we waited in hope for swelling. Hearing a burst of thunder and rain getting louder and louder at night, we knew that the river was going to flood. With the break of the day, we got up in a gulp and hurried to dig earthworms, which were often kept in bamboo tubes.
Then we grabbed a handful of dirt inside to prevent their escape. Taking a pole, we ran toward river as if flying. At that time, as long as staying at one backwater bay, you could catch for a while. There was a kind of fish called "Ci Huanggu” with two thorns like ox horns on its cheeks and one thorn all over, which tasted very delicious.
This kind of fish usually stayed in Yinzi with little movement and was difficult to be caught. Yet at the time of swelling, after a sumptuous meal of muddy water, their body began to swell and was easier to be caught. After one day’s fishing in muddy water, almost all fish we caught were Ci Huanggu.
Water receded and river became clear again, red tail and onychostoma simus became particularly active at this time. I hurried to remove stones in water and looked for caddis worms as baits. As long as caddis worms could be found, we need not worry about catching these two kinds of fish.
The number of caddis worms founded determined our fishing times, and there was no danger that nothing would come in each fishing. If you had good skills, you could even catch a few fish at one time.
But the best fishing skill was “karate”(fishing with hands only). There was a people named Zhao Xingguo in town, who was not much older than us. In summer, wearing a pair of shorts and walking in river for a trip, he was able to catch a large string of fish. Carrying fish in hand and walking through street, he was admired by all of us. I once saw him catching fish by mainly looking for Yinzi.
He had long arms and long fingers, and the most important thing was that he could hold breath for a long time. Once he found a Yinzi like a barb, so he fumbled in it with one hand, but failed to pull his hand out. Feeling suffocated, he tugged hardly, and a bloody hand was pulled out.
Another time, I saw him catching a water snake from Yinzi, being scared to turn pale and throwing it far away. There were one legendary people called Huang Tanzi, who lived in a place called Fushi Pond downstream.
Many people said that he was the reincarnation of fish, which could jump into bottomless Fushi Pond, forcing fish to have nowhere to hide but to be captured obediently. Hearing that Huang Tanzi was to catch fish, I played truant and followed him for a whole day shell-shocked. For decades, his appearance still passes in front of my inner eyes in great details nowadays.
I also learned how to catch fish with hands later. Based on Zhao Xingguo's lesson, I seldom muffled my head in water. Despite several times of successful fishing, I always failed to find the right feeling.
Not to mention Huang Tanzi, who was a star within sight but beyond reach in my mind. Catching fish was risky and chasing fish was difficult, so I could only “Teng Yu”. On beaches, many fish hid themselves in small Yinzi.
As long as moving a stone and throwing it on Yinzi, fish would be stunned either to death or faint. Fish and crabs always hid in the same place, so we called catching crabs as carrying crabs. Teng Yu, together with carrying crabs, could also bring us appreciable gains. One thing we should observe was that fish and crabs couldn’t be put together, because crab's claws would mince and break up fish.
Some people regard childhood as the source of unpolluted rivers. Metaphor is nothing more than a mirror, which provides us a means of understanding things.
While river, especially river in hometown, is closely related to one's childhood. So some people compare it as mother and nanny, some as companion and friend, and some others as mentor and intellectual...
As for me, it's more like my restless soul and unfettered dream.