Dateline: Fish Creek, Wisconsin.
For those of you who are not from the midwest, Fish Creek is in Door County, Wisconsin. To get here you turn northeast from Green Bay and head up the little finger of land that creates the bay out of Lake Michigan. This quiet little town is almost at the tip of that finger. Still on the bay side, the water is lush and clear.
Where we are staying is next to the lovely (and huge) Peninsula State Park. We took a 10 mile hike through the park the other day and saw nature in all its beauty: countless varieties of trees, wildflowers and shrubs. We sat by a lighthouse built in 1868 that is still active today, lighting the safe path for ships for over 145 years. It was quiet, calm and beautiful.
This town was the perfect spot to get off the grid, ditch the cellphone and not think about work for five glorious days.
So, other than to gloat about it, why am I telling you this?
Because last evening we met a man who personified Passion in his work and life in a most unlikely spot–at a traditional Door County Fish Boil.
What deep dish pizza is to Chicago, creole is to New Orleans and Chowder is to New England….a Fish Boil is to Door County, Wisconsin and to Fish Creek in particular.
So, Dr. Chris and I made our reservation at the Pelletier’s Restaurant and Fish Boil. Instructed as we were to show up ½ hour before our scheduled time to eat, we dutifully got in line to pay for our 7:30PM dinner at precisely 7:00 PM. Being very early in the season, there was not a long line (and really no reason to get there that early) we were already sitting outside with a beer in our hands by around 7:05.
For those of you not familiar with a Fish Boil, allow me to share what we were outside waiting to experience: “Every evening beginning at 5:00 p.m. “We specialize in serving the most Famous Native Dish of the Door County Peninsula. The feast that has come to be known as the “Door County Fish Boil” is a tradition unique to this area. The settlers of centuries ago came to this wilderness to seek their fortunes in the heavily timbered forests and bountiful waters of the Peninsula. Out of their resourcefulness and spirit of cooperation, the “Fish Boil” evolved and the fishermen and farmers provided sustenance to groups of hungry lumbermen and settlers.
In preparing the “Fish Boil,” technology has found no way to improve upon the equipment and methods of centuries ago. The authenticity of our “Door County Fish Boil” is assured, as the technique has been preserved and passed down through generations, from Matthew’s Grandfather, to his Father, and now him. The Fish Boil is relished by all who love a good fish dinner and often enjoyed by those who claim they generally do not like fish.””
Now I am fairly certain you are still asking yourself, “What is the point of all this? Why do I care?”
The answer is simple. While we were outside relaxing and drinking our beers, sitting about 20 feet from the steel pot suspended over the wood flame, we met Matthew.
Matthew is a burly man, with a short buzz cut, short scruffy beard and an open and easy smile. His big hands were stained almost charcoal from working with the #1 fuel oil and the smoke from the fire. As he was rearranging some of the wood and hosing off the large steel strainer, he began to talk about fish boiling.
Someone in the crowd asked him how long he had been boiling. “For 29 years,” he replied, “7 times a day, in season, everyday.” I joked with him that he must have started when he was 10; he laughed and quickly corrected me, “Sixteen. I was 16 when I did my first boil. My father had a Fish Boil restaurant and when I turned 16 he said I had to begin boiling.” He thought a moment and then added, “I’ve only missed 3 or 4 days during that time, two last year when I entered a BBQ cook-off in Sturgeon Bay and one or two others before that.”
Think about that for a minute. Twenty-nine years, from May through October. 7 times a day. 7 days a week. By my calculations that is 37,352 fish boils (not including any special parties which he also spoke about). 37,352 and he has missed 3 or 4 days. Let’s say Matthew’s memory is faulty and he has missed twice as many as he remembers. Heck, let’s say he has missed all of ten days. That would mean he missed 70 Fish boils out of 37,352. WOW.
What struck me as he walked away to begin to put the fish in the pot, moving the wood around and later running towards the fire, a can of fuel oil in hand, yelling out for all to hear, “Fish Boiling!” the flames engulfing the pot, was that through the dark black smoke you could see that easy smile of his as he watched with a very special gleam in his eyes the flames raising and the smoke billowing.
His Joy and Passion seemed to radiate from somewhere deep inside him. Here was a man who was living his Passion. One he learned from his father, and his father had learned it from his father. After 37,352 Fish Boils, this had not gotten old for Matthew. His Passion was still burning as high as those flames the fuel oils was inspiring.
As we were eating the results of Matthew’s efforts, he was standing behind the bar with a beer in his own hands. That smile was still visible, his eyes still beaming. His day was done, only to start again early the next morning. As I observed, I couldn’t help but realize, ‘he’s a living definition of Passion.’ That look in his eye. That smile of his. That Joy that was apparent for all who would see.
It put me in the question: What is it that after you have done it 37,352 times you would still have that Joy for? Whatever that is, that is what you should be doing for a living. That is what your life should be about.
Matthew was doing it, and he was making a living at it. . . . . . boiling fish. Boiling Fish.
Once again, . . . . . there’s nothing that you have a Passion for, that you cannot make a living at.