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A friend and colleague

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It’s been too easy, I think, during the long recession to forget about things such as why we got into this business to begin with. Or why we first fell in love with boating or fishing or sailing. We lose track of the importance of family time; the fishing trip you promised a son or daughter gets pushed back, and suddenly the season is over. Next year, you tell them — and you think for a moment of turning away to avoid seeing the disappointment, but you don’t. Your father worked hard, too, so now you know the feeling from both ends — as a child, as an adult.

Tinkering with time is the work of the gods, not mortals. That point was driven home suddenly and unexpectedly last week when Soundings Publications lost a talented, popular and irascible colleague. For 10 years Brian Caldwell worked as a writer at the monthly magazine Woodshop News, a sister publication of Soundings and Trade Only. He was a veteran of TV, radio, newspapers and magazines. And he was a member of the tribe — he loved the water, had a passion for kayaking, caught his share of fish over the years.

If our water-cooler discussions weren’t focused on the ups and downs of a Boston-based sports team, we were likely talking about creatures with fins and scales. Or something to do with boats — maybe some quiet little backwater where he and his wife, Becky, could glide into with their kayaks and surprise a fox or an eagle.

At his wake, totems pointed to a rich life: photos of family and friends, photos of Brian holding fish, an autographed baseball and cap (Red Sox, of course), a Bruce Springsteen T-shirt. And lots of friends.

An avid saltwater fisherman for years, Brian stopped in the mid-1990s when his close friend and fishing partner died suddenly. After that, fishing Long Island Sound was just too difficult, his wife told me. Too many memories.

So he took up kayaking. Brian surprised Becky one day, showing up with two kayaks on the roof of his car. “We spent many weekends and vacations in our kayaks and often chose destinations because we could kayak, either by bringing them or renting them,” Becky told me in an e-mail. In addition to exploring home waters in Connecticut, their paddling destinations included Maine, Florida, Hawaii, Costa Rica, Eleuthera and St. John.

Brian often spoke fondly of his nephew Tyler Gilbert, who graduated from The Landing School in Maine, worked for a time at a shipyard in Australia and is now at the Brewer Pilots Point yard in Westbrook, Conn. And Tyler’s father (Becky’s brother) is having The Landing School build for his family a Flyfisher 22, a handsome open sportfishing boat that will be on the water this summer.

The new boat, Becky says, was going to be the impetus for getting Brian back out fishing. Brian was 56 years old, a month older than me.

None of us knows how much time is left. That alone should be reason enough to take a break from worrying about the state of the world and tending to more important matters, such as taking a child or friend or significant other out knocking about on the waves. Brian understood the redemptive power of being on the water in a small boat with a friend or loved one. That was heaven — sun on his back, wind in his face.

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