anais's blog

In 1978, I attended the Third International Suzuki Conference, held at San Francisco State University. My most extraordinary memory of that conference was meeting Dr. Suzuki personally in a most unusual way. I must digress here for a moment to make a comment on the SFSU cafeteria. Anyone attending the conference knows what I am talking about. Dog kibble would be a five star meal by comparison. The food forced me to be creative by supplementing meals with anything I could find at a nearby jiffy store. Apples, over ripe bananas, nuts and anything else I could purchase were welcome additions to the ghastly fare!

Anyway, one day, fresh from the nearby jiffy mart, I was in the cafeteria loaded down with violin, purse, a bag of whatever I had purchased, as well as my lunch tray upon which I had a bowl of soup. Balancing all this was precarious, but the bigger problem was that I could not find a place to sit down. I walked around looking for an empty seat, when I spied what seemed to be an empty table on the far side of the room. I headed for the table, squeezing between tables and chairs. I edged closer to the spot with bags, books and Bertha [my violin] swinging from her back strap. It was about this time that the violin strap fell from my shoulder and caught in the bend of my elbow, which was also holding the bag. At the same time, my left hand was trying to balance purse (still on the shoulder), bag and violin hanging from my elbow – and violin case dragging on the floor. The tray was precariously balanced in both unsteady hands.

In my panic, I noticed that a single man was sitting at the table I was struggling to reach. He was watching me. I looked down and saw to my horror and amazement that it was Dr. Suzuki! I was frozen to the spot. It was like a dream when you need to run and can’t. The only thing moving was my tray, which was slowly tipping right over his head. He calmly stood up, took my tray, and smiled; then he indicated that I was to sit next to him. I can only guess, but he must not have liked being alone at the table.

The time we spent having our lunch was precious for me, and challenging, too, as I struggled to understand his English. He would talk and laugh, then would talk and laugh; I never felt uncomfortable or intimidated. He was not there to impress or intimidate (even though I was both impressed and intimidated!). When we left the cafeteria, my impression was having spent a half hour or so with a truly great man with a truly great spirit.

Now you know my first one-on-one meeting with Dr. Suzuki, who not only saved my tray, but also saved my dignity!

I attended several workshops with Dr. Suzuki before this memorable incident, but in subsequent years - whether we met in large groups, small groups, or privately - my respect for him grew. He was helpful, insightful and insistent about everything he taught. Those things never changed, no matter the situation. I loved hearing, “This is my new idea; please try it!”….and we all eagerly tried everything he suggested.

I don’t remember when I didn’t fish. In fact, when I was only about six years old, my mom would pack a lunch in a paper bag [complete with milk in a Skippy Peanut Butter jar – which always tasted a little suspicious and was consequently thrown out] and all the kids in our entire neighborhood would be off to the park for several hours.

This adventure was always preceded by some very taxing work on my part. My work consisted of making a “fishing net” out of a wire clothes hanger, the end of an old nylon stocking, and sometimes a long piece of wood, or a stick. The hanger was cut and straightened out, then a loop made from one end and the wire twisted around to secure the loop. The next step was to cut off the foot of the nylon stocking and carefully turn the cut edge around the wire loop and whip stitch the stocking toe and wire loop together. The result was a crude, but effective, fishing net. If time allowed, and a proper stick could be found, I would nail the long end of the wire to a stick, which increased my ability to reach further into the pond at the park and catch the “big” guppies that were more than a few inches from the bank. The peanut butter jar served as a “live tank” into which the unfortunate guppies were dropped from the net.

By the time I was about eight or ten years old, my fishing adventures had changed considerably – including the preparations, which were much more sophisticated. By this time in my life, my parents had purchased a lot on a lake in northern Utah, called Bear Lake. This was a magic place to a young tomboy of my age. The edges of the lake just had to be fished and explored. While my father spent his time building our cabin, I spent my time gathering left over lumber and nailing and tying boards, planks and logs together to make my own raft. That was a great raft, and it lasted the entire summer! I don’t have a photo of it, but I think it was about six feet long and maybe 3 feet wide, which was plenty room for me, a long pole to use to punt the raft along in the reed beds and a cinder block tied to a rope to use as an anchor. Other necessities included a bucket of worms, a fishing pole, a line to string the fish, and my lunch, which was packed in the usual paper bag and placed in the worm bucket to keep it safe from falling into the lake. I can’t tell you how much ribbing I took about that in subsequent years!

I never went out that I didn’t catch fish – mostly carp and chub, but occasionally a trout was dumb enough to bite my worm. I even remember catching a few bullheads, which always made me stop fishing so I could inspect the prehistoric- looking fish.

In my family, catching meant cleaning, so I cleaned all the fish I caught. This was a time of incredible interest, as the cavity of the fish was filled with a wonderful – and sometimes colorful – combination of entrails, all of which were inspected and identified. My best girl friend at that time, Jeanne Braithwaite, would wrinkle her nose in disgust and find some less odious occupation like roasting marshmallows over the burners of the old gas range. In the end, the fish were either eaten by us or the local cats, and I always had an adventure and an elementary lesson in ichthyology.

About the time I was fifteen or sixteen years old, my father was my fishing partner. We weren’t fancy fishermen, but we loved the sport. Surrounding the lake were plentiful rivers and beaver ponds to which we eagerly hiked and fished, but most of our attention was centered on various modes of lake fishing. Those times were magic, and served to form a strong bond between father and daughter.

My parents both enjoyed fishing, and as my own children grew old enough to be interested, it became a multi-generational activity, usually including camping, camp fires, cooking and fishing. Some of it must have rubbed off on my children.

Sarah, my youngest daughter, often went fishing with my parents (her grandparents) during the summers she spent with them at the lake. She still talks of those precious memories and the fun they had together. Their summer rituals involved driving down Logan Canyon in Grandpa’s camper, selecting a likely spot by the river, setting up camp and spending a night or two. Fishing was the main event during the day time hours and, like me, Sarah followed her Grandpa along the river, or pond banks, from hole to hole.

My oldest daughter, Melissa and her husband, John, currently live in the cabin my father built. They love Bear Lake and they are both avid fishermen. John, my son-in-law, who is the current Mayor of Garden City, sends regular e-photos of their fishing adventures in the same spots I fished as a child. They are more high tech than I ever was, but the technology seems to pay off on a regular basis. I have included a couple photos and a letter John sent me.

My son, Jeff, is a Coast Guard credentialed captain of large commercial fishing vessels in the Bering Sea. He is married to an elegant lawyer who crewed on his boat last summer. Turns out, she loved it, and they loved being together! Jeff not only makes his livelihood from fishing, but also is a fabulous cook, who can do wonderful things with any fish he happens to have on hand. He also taught me the “proper” way to skin a large salmon, and made it look easy.

Fishing, and being around the water, is part of my soul. As a child, it was an adventure that provided freedom, wonder and curiosity. As a teenager, it was like a glue that tied me to my family - especially my father. As a mature woman, it continues to be a glue that binds me to my children – hence, it binds them to each other, to me, to their grandparents and to their Scandinavian heritage.

There’s something exhilarating and calming in fishing that helps me find a quiet center, bonds me to my family, and also helps me find the mirror that reflects who I was and who I am now.

Susan's first turtle, "Ed"

As a youngster, I practically lived in the out-of-doors. I learned to snow ski, water ski and ride horses. The country was my passion and I became an enthusiastic fisherman and advocate for the preservation of wildlife and wildlife habitat. My parents used to laugh at me because I always had a squirrel in a net, fish in a bucket, toads in a box, or snakes in a can. I remember receiving a hunting knife, hatchet and fishing gear for Christmas when I was 12 or 13 years old, which makes me chuckle to know how unusual those gifts were for a girl that age.

I am sure those experiences influenced my unusual academic interests after high school. The vioIin and animals of all sorts have always been a constant. Zoology, however, led to nursing, which led to human anatomy, kinesiology, neuroscience and cognition. The study of music performance drifted into art, poetry, 17th century literature and cultural anthropology – all of which have augmented my understanding of learning and teaching. This fact still amazes me today.

When my children were growing up, our home was shared with a variety of creatures - the usual dogs and cats, but also ducks, rabbits, tarantulas, tadpoles, crabs, guinea pigs, frogs, toads, ants and fish. It is still a point of amusement with friends and family when a spider is found in the house, because it must be corralled in a paper cup and put outside – except for black widows, which meet their doom immediately!

Turtles came when my daughter and her husband decided to move to a rural community outside Albuquerque. In preparation for their move, they had their old home xeri-scaped, which means a lot of rocks were put down. The day after all the rocks had been placed, she saw a turtle wandering back and forth in her driveway. It was understandable, since the new landscaping had probably destroyed his home. She called me on the phone and said, “Mom, I am bringing a turtle over to your house, you’re going to love it!” Thus, “Ed” arrived. About two days later, she called again, and told me that another turtle was wandering in her driveway and her dog was playing with it. “Little Girl” arrived that afternoon.

Realizing that my knowledge of turtles was lacking, I looked up the Rio Grande Turtle and Tortoise Club and gave them a call. After an interview, they agreed to come do a yard inspection and promptly sent me home with three rescued turtles.

I have had a wonderful time creating habitat areas in the yard, and love to see where the turtles decide to hang out. I also have added a new house “pet”….two plastic tubs of meal worms….with all three generations: larvae, beetles and worms wriggling and crawling inside.

Each meeting of the turtle club is like a new chapter of a book I am dying to read. I am learning so much, and love being a student again. Besides, I feel a real interest in these turtles, and when I retire, I will have much more time to spend with my backyard buddies!

Photographs of Susan Kempter's Bisiach courtesy of Robertson & Sons Violin Shop