Steve Maginnis, photo of entrance to Verona Park

Note to my readers: This is not exactly a “note from the studio” or explicitly about my “tai chi journey.” It is about an experience from my childhood that continues to resonate. I hope you enjoy reading it.

I remember one time going fishing with father on Easter Sunday at Verona Pond. Easter Sunday happened to be Opening Day of fishing season that year. I’m guessing it was around 1965, so I would have been seven years old and my brother Jon would have been five going on six. We were the two oldest of the four Brooks children at the time–my youngest sister would come along in 1970–and it was a special treat to accompany our dad on one of his favorite activities. A public school wood shop teacher by trade, my father Jack loved the out-of-doors. He had to know that bringing two young kids fishing meant some noise and chatter but the outing was never just about fishing–he was taking time to do something special with us and maybe giving our mom a bit of a break too.

Verona Park was about five miles from our house in West Orange. It was a short trip down local roads with just a few stop lights to punctuate the drive past familiar landmarks like our favorite local pizza shop and the junior high where my dad was a teacher. At the intersection of Pleasant Valley Way and Eagle Rock Avenue there used to be a corner store. It was one of those local places that had a news stand, soda fountain, and various and sundry items. My dad pulled the car over to the curb, parked, and went into the store. He came out with styrofoam cups of steaming hot cocoa for me and my brother and a cup of coffee for himself, light and sweet the way he liked it. It was an early April morning and the air was sharp and cool. We were dressed in layers–jeans long-sleeved shirts and jackets–maybe even mittens and wool caps. We were ready.

Our Lady of the Lake Roman Catholic Church, Verona, NJ

Right across from Verona Park on Lakeside Avenue sits Our Lady of the Lake Roman Catholic Church. As my father drove along, I looked out the car’s side window and notice a steady stream of children and adults walking down the sidewalk next to the church. They were wearing fancy hats and colorful spring outfits, and I was fascinated. When I asked my dad why they were so dressed up, he told us it was Easter Sunday. I suddenly felt like a rebel. Never mind that we were a Jewish family, albeit non-observant. Perhaps I also felt a sense of freedom to be doing something fun on such a serious holiday.

Next thing you know there I was, sitting beside Verona lake, watching my fishing line. it was cold enough to see your breath! My dad put the wriggly earthworm on the hook. I didn’t have the heart to do it. I imagine he helped my little brother too. I sat staring at the lake, hoping to feel a tug on my line. As I sipped the burning hot cocoa, I gazed at the water, the sky, and anything else that caught my eye, I felt a calm and peace settle in. It might have been an early experience of meditation although I had no words for it at the time.

vintage postcard, Verona Lake, NJ

Verona Park Lake is a partially man-made body of water with a lovely bridge and paths so you can walk the perimeter. I remember it as somewhat murky and lacking biodiversity but even as of 2020, the state still stocks it with trout. We did not catch any fish on that April morning but it didn’t really matter to me. Remembering back to that Easter Sunday of my childhood, the security and calm I felt in my father’s presence was the real treasure. Recalling that morning from my childhood reminds me that spirituality is something to be discovered. It is not something we receive like a lesson or sacrament. In that chilly April morning I felt so much joy–for the adventure of fishing on a cold Spring morning, for time spent with my father, and for nature itself.

My father has been gone for twenty-four years. He passed away in the early morning hours on Easter Sunday 1997, His death came just two weeks after my son Ben, his first grandchild, was born. Although he has been gone for some time now, I still feel his presence in my life. I no longer go fishing, but I credit some of my passion for the natural world to my father.