On Daughters and Time

Canyon Ferry Grass (copyright © m.a.h. hinton)
Canyon Ferry Grass (copyright © m.a.h. hinton)

This past month my eldest daughter turned 18, she is officially an adult. When I turned 18 in Montana 33 years ago, the drinking age was 18. So besides being able to vote, I could also walk down to The Mint Bar and have a ditch (the Western term for a whiskey and water) or a Rainier beer. And I quite often did. Though to be fair, since I already had a beard and was living in Montana, going to a bar was something I had already been doing for awhile anyway. But at 18, I was official.

Times have changed and the Midwest isn’t Montana. But for that, Montana isn’t really Montana anymore either. Now you turn 18 and all you get to do is vote… and get a tattoo. That is what my daughter’s friends and cousins have done, that is what she is planning to do. I think I would prefer that she went to a bar and had a whiskey and water. But so it goes.

My daughter has grown into a smart and interesting young woman. When she was 2 or 3, my mother-in-law summed her up perfectly in a christmas card she sent to family and friends: “a tiny mite with a mind of her own.” And so she remains.

At no point in her life has she wanted to be told what to do. It is a trait I admire… but also one that leaves me to worry at times. Since that kind of stubbornness and contrariness is an ingrained Hinton trait, I know the darker side of that tendency. I point to myself and my brothers and say, “sometimes things work out better if you are willing to jump through hoops.” But since it is not natural to learn from other people’s mistakes, she will have to learn things on her own.

Growing up in a house of boys in the West, a world of sports and drinking and fighting and the outdoors, having only daughters has always been… a delightful challenge. One I am continually thankful for. That my two daughters have turned out to be smart, interesting, well-balanced, and beautiful is… a delightful gift I am also thankful for.

When I turned 18, I had biked to Canada and been to Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon, and California. That is it. My daughter has been to Europe twice. She knows so much more about the world and things than I ever could have at that age… at twice that age. But that is yet another way the world has changed.

18 years goes by quickly. When she first entered my life I was a skinny, young man of 33. My hair was thick and my beard still red. Now I am planted in middle-age. I promised myself when she first came into my life that I would try to pay attention every day and take nothing for granted. I hope it has made a difference in her life that I have tried to do that. I know it has made a difference in mine.

In the fall, she will head off to college… something she has been wanting to do for a long time. She has been ready to be her own person for years. And so she is. She loves talking about politics and current events and music and literature… and occasionally, though reluctantly, theology or religion. She is more than ready to take on the world. So in the fall, I will need to let her go.

But for this summer, when she is around… not doing the thousand things that occupy her time, I will continue to work on paying attention, to taking nothing for granted. For if 18 years have passed so quickly… how quickly will 3 months?

Poetry Review: “The Clod and the Pebble” by William Blake

"Creator" by William Blake
“Creator” by William Blake

Thanksgiving is past. It is the first Sunday in Advent. The themes for today’s readings are light and hope. William Blake seems appropriate somehow.

“The Clod and Pebble” is one of Blake’s more familiar poems. It also happens to be one of my daughter Dylan’s favorites. And one of mine. She first read the poem in a high school English class. Most recently, however, she read it again from a little volume of Blake that I picked up in a used bookstore in the French Quarter in New Orleans in 1985.

I remember where I picked up a number of the books I own and love: Yeat’s Autobiographies in a little bookstore in Boston near the Boston Commons; One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in a store in downtown Spokane, Washington; Auden’s Selected Poems in Hyde Park, Chicago, on a shelf just above and to the left of the complimentary hot water and tea bags table…. The list goes on. Books as souvenir, reminders of places I have been… places where I have read.

I carried the little volume of Blake and the poem “The Clod and the Pebble” with me on a cross-country Greyhound Bus Pass excursion across the South and the Midwest and back to Montana. It reminds of that trip and a time long gone.

My daughter reads now out of the same volume. A gift from Blake to me… and now to her.

The Clod and the Pebble

“Love seeketh not Itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care;
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.”

So sung a little Clod of Clay,
Trodden with the cattle’s feet;
But a Pebble of the brook,
Warbled out these metres meet:

“Love seeketh only self to please,
To bind another to Its delight,
Joys in another’s loss of ease,
And builds a Hell in Heaven’s despite.”


The One That Got Away

Every summer we spend a week with my wife’s extended family in Wisconsin. It is a week of fishing, family, and relaxation. The past couple of summers we have been staying at a place near Hayward, Wisconsin, on Big Chief, part of the Chippewa Flowage.

Those who know their fishing records know that the Chippewa Flowage is prime muskie country. Since we have kids running ages 4 to 18 (this year’s ages) we do not fish for muskie –  primarily crappies and blue gills. But the muskies are there, and so are big northerns.


This year my daughter Dylan and I talked grandpa Dan into driving the boat for us while we fished weed lines for our favorite prey, bass. Dylan inherited her mother’s good looks but she inherited my restless preference for casting and moving while I fish. (Her mother and sister prefer the more sedate and patience-requiring “bobber” fishing.) Since Dan likes his family and likes to be out on a boat on sunny, warm days… it was not a hard sell.

It was a picture perfect afternoon for casting, watching herons fish, and for getting sunburned… it was not, however, a good afternoon for catching fish. Dan was game though and Dylan was patient, and so we soldiered on. Over the afternoon we transitioned away from weed lines and bass to whatever came our way: a perch here, a blue gill there.

When it was time to head back-in for dinner and something colder to drink, Dylan tried one last cast to a spot I had already tried a few times myself, a small, sandy patch  between a weed line and an old tree that had been in the water for a few seasons at least.

I was in back of the boat putting gear away with Dan, when we heard her excited scream, I turned toward her in time to see the rod bend quickly and hard. This was not just another sunny.

By the time I wrestled the net back out of the hold where I had just put it, she had the big fish up next to the boat. By the time I got up to the front of the boat, the Northern was just breaking the water, shaking its big head and teeth. She screamed again and the line broke.

For a few seconds she sat looking into the water where the fish had disappeared. Then she looked at me and said, “my hands are shaking.” Dan and I laughed.  The northern may have got away, but I will remember that moment and that afternoon for the rest of my life.