Father feathers and the lost senses

Text and photos by Frank Steinmann

Father feathers and the lost senses

We all went through it in our childhood: the quarterly coffee gathering with grandmas and aunts. In addition to diffuse, sometimes multi-layered cake creations, the smell of coffee and 4711, and the unnecessarily recurring spit-up handkerchief, the standardized saying ” My, how you’ve grown” came into effect! Incomprehension, about this “big” and a slight touch of pride were mostly the associated emotions on my part. Time was then a completely different entity than what we understand it today – and how it now passes for us and we perceive it.

About growing up

Today, this is exactly what our own children reflect to us, and only now, as a father, have I understood what the meaning of this “you have grown up” may be. Our relationship to time and life has changed drastically. Our time is running out, rapidly and inexorably, seemingly a little faster every year. Our children grow up in the midst of this subjective perception of time, and the moments we share with them are precious and irreplaceable. Perhaps we adults even feel a little wistfulness every time we recite that little saying about growing up. And besides the carefree sense of time, there is another thing that seems to have slipped away from us: our senses! Whether we have lost them, have given them up or just don’t pay attention to them anymore, I am not able to judge. In fact, however, stimuli experienced in early childhood, sensual experiences, feeling, smelling, tasting, seeing and hearing accompany us, even unconsciously, into adulthood. Both in the form of beautiful memories and traumas.

Of being small

August, which I experienced as a 5-year-old, smelled of damp earth when grandma watered the flower beds with the watering can in the evening. The blackbird sang his unmistakable song and the sun disappeared behind the edge of the forest. The neighbor leaned, quite late Roman, in the night robe on the window sill and her unrestrained breasts pierced the last evening light. Sensual impressions that I gathered then without knowing it, but carry them with me to this day. Observing my eight-year-old daughter today, I become aware of sensuality personified. A diagnosed “hypersensitivity” does not necessarily make life easier for her, conformity is already demanded in the early school day, individuality and differentiation are hardly considered in the performance-oriented institution. Nevertheless, Alba is a strong and self-confident child. Her imagination is boundless and her perception incredible. Moods, smells, sounds, no matter what kind, are processed unfiltered by her small brain, which is always at full throttle. She is constantly experiencing a firework of emotions, sometimes a cacophony of sensory impressions that makes her despair. Then I take her in my arms and try to calm her down.

In the realm of the senses

Nature is the place where she can let her senses have their way. That’s why I’ve been taking her fishing since she was confident on her feet. I have been able to soften her initial skepticism about the “violence” I do to the fish. A healthy understanding of nature, which considers us humans as a part of nature, and not as rulers over it, has always been important to me in matters of education. Alba supports me with her perception outside. Through her I relive sensual experiences that I thought I had lost for a long time. She reflects forgotten and beloved things to me. Every moment we share is precious and irretrievable. Time slips away. I take all the time I need to spend with my children. Work and career have long since been sidelined, but my senses are rewarded and my time feels fulfilled and invigorated. Alba knows the flowers that now bloom along the creek, she feels them, smells them, and tastes them, the latter while following the agreed upon rules for dealing with poisonous plants. Dead trees are transformed into the fictional homes of mythical creatures, drowning mayflies are rescued, and her clothes are already soaked before we put on our waders together. I want Alba to experience what water sounds like in spring, what damp moss feels like under the soles of her feet. Why does the stream smell so different in the fall? The melancholy rain call of the chaffinch announces a precipitation we can’t even feel yet. The shiny scales of a beautiful brown trout in the sunlight, the grim look of a bullhead, all these are impressions that I hope she will never forget.
We lie together in the foliage and experience the „macro level“: tiny worlds and habitats open up to us, chaos and violence often reign here, marauding ants, scurrying springtails in a tangle of detritus. You have to get lost in it to understand it. Alba finds a dead buzzard before burying it under a layer of leaves and moss, she gently removes a tail feather and tucks it into her hair. “The soul of the buzzard is not here now anyway and the ants can eat the rest, this one feather I wear in memory of this bird, the feather father!” It’s just these moments that fill us ” big ones” with love – and pride, make us feel we’ve done something right, on our odyssey called parenting.

Alba’s love for the little black bugs

On a warm May evening this year, we set out together to our creek to see if, after the long cold spell that besieged us in April, the trout might finally be in a mood and snacking on flying insects. The sun was already low and the fresh green alders, beeches and ash trees cast long shadows on the water. The light was fantastic, warm and golden. Clouds of insects danced above the stream and we became aware of some rings left on the water surface by the feeding trout.

Alba observed the scenario closely, darting back and forth, catching flies and viewing them in her hand by means of her large blue-green eyes. Meanwhile, I prepared her rod and tied on a large mayfly. When she became aware of this action, I earned angry protest, whether my choice. “This is the wrong fly in any case, and in any case she has the right to decide for herself what she wants to catch a fish with.” This statement left me ashamed and feeling intrusively. Even a short monologue about traditional values of fly fishing, adapted entomology and the highlight, the dry fly season with ephemera and co, did not leave Alba with any insight. Thus, I handed her my fly box and let her choose for herself. The result was a rather disheveled and nondescript Caddis creation with long legs of pheasant feathers, a friend gave it to me a few years earlier on a trip together.

“That’s the one, it looks just like all the flies buzzing around,” Alba informs me, emphatically knowing. Very well – I let her tie on the little ruffled black one herself and we lie in wait. Not long ago, next to a large mountain of dead wood that piled up during the winter flood, a deep pool was created by the stream’s own dynamics. The sweeping current looks promising, however a fast flowing channel just upstream of this “pool” is the sure way to know the fly will be unnaturally accelerated.

Awe and release

Alba ignores my apprehensions and is already in the process of bringing the line to the necessary length. I can already see the sodden fly in front of me, disappointment, anger – whatever emotions may be coming. There the small structure from hair and feathers sails already into the eddy water, where it lands gallantly on the surface. Three seconds later, the fast current has caught the line and begins to drag the fly across the surface. Attentively Alba follows this unnatural movement and just when I try to ask her to take off the line, what you want to call a coincidence but actually isn’t one happens, a fish goes after the fly and misses it. It leaves its deep pool and slips behind the prey into the rushing current, the tail fin strikes powerfully and makes him accelerate one last time before the small black morsel disappears from his field of vision, and at the same moment Alba raises the rod. It immediately bends and the visibly astonished fish rockets down the stream with the current. We jump, climb and trip over the basalt boulders after it as fast as we can. Alba has seemingly stretched all limbs skyward and gently expedites the large trout into calmer water. I recognize an exceptional fish and nervously prepare for the landing net maneuver. If I flutter now, it could lead to emotional outbursts that I would not like to endure. Alba brings the fish up to me, the tip of her tongue peeking out between her lips, a sign of the highest concentration, and I maneuver the wildly flailing fish into the landing net. Breathe! All three of us do this with increased frequency. My attempt to hug the daughter is rebuffed, her primary concern now is to care for the fish. It is a magnificent animal and the biggest trout I have seen in the last two seasons.

While Alba carefully removes the hook from the animal’s upper jaw, she gently caresses it with wet hands and whispers something softly to it. She smells her fingers and smiles at me superiorly. She knows very well that I expect to succumb to a verbal abuse of my wrong choice of fly, but she says nothing. Carefully she lifts the fish out of the landing net and releases it.


Together we sit down on a fallen log and look out over the water as the sun sinks. We listen and smell, taste and feel. And in the end, I am left with nothing but hope. It is the hope that my daughter will carry her early childhood senses inside her as long as possible. That she will collect and archive them, pass them on one day, knowing their value, and then everything will make sense.

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