Near the bank of a fishing pond in Columbia, an epic battle is taking place. Thrashing and fighting, straining against the limitations of being a toddler, Kalea Zielinski is struggling to fish.
Kalea wants to catch the fish. Not Dad. Kalea.
At almost 2 years old, she is a budding angler who practices as often as she can. Barely able to run yet, Kalea can reel in the fish. By herself. Not Dad. Kalea.
Today she is fighting her father for the right to hold the pole. Her tenacity is strong, but her interest is short-lived.
“Every chance we get, we fish and we hunt,” said Kalea’s mother, Rhonda Zielinski.
Nearby, Zielinski and her other daughter, 4-year-old Moriah, sit casting and fishing.
“Do you think we have too much worm on here, Chris?” Zielinski asks her husband, who is still wrangling with his younger daughter.
Zielinski flicks back the pole and casts again. Moriah snuggles into her lap — golden sunbeams filter through her wispy, blond locks. Moriah owns a Tweetie Bird tackle box and fishing pole and learned how to cast in the creek that runs through their property.
“Moriah likes blue gill the best because they’re small and put up a spunky little fight,” Zielinski says.
In addition to the creek, they fish in farm lakes and at the grandparents’ place in Auxvasse.
“It’s halfway eaten,” Zielinski says as she examines the end of their line. Moriah jumps up to bring her mother a new night crawler, watching as Zielinski slips it on the pole and tosses it back in.
“The wind’s blowing too hard,” Zielinski says. “These poor fish must be moving in circles.”
'God made dirt, dirt won’t hurt'
Nearby, Kalea has broken free from her stroller and totters along between her parents. At her mother’s feet are handfuls of spilled popcorn, popcorn they dedicated to the birds. But Kalea drops to all fours and laps up the fluffy kernels as if she were a dog. But the low growls she lets out identify her as a bear cub.
“God made dirt, dirt won’t hurt,” Zielinski laughs. With a loud growl, Kalea crawls off.
With mud-stained knees and dirt-smudged cheeks — one of which is adorned with a fading fake butterfly tattoo — Moriah leans against her mother’s back, wrapping her arms around her neck.
“Are you having fun?” Zielinski asks her daughter, pulling her into her lap and kissing her dirty face.
“You betcha, Mama,” Moriah says.
In addition to fishing, Moriah loves to go hunting. She and her family hunt rabbits, squirrels and her favorite — deer. “It tastes juicy,” Moriah says, smacking her lips.
The Zielinskis have three dogs, two guinea pigs, two cats and six pet fish, as well as one Jersey wooly rabbit names Mrs. Snuggles-Wuggles.
“I’m being responsible for them,” Moriah says. “Doing all that work doesn’t be no fun. I don’t ever get to play.” But she’s getting used to all that hard work, because she wants to be a veterinarian.
Nearby, Kalea, the little bear, has relinquished her pole to her father and given up on the popcorn, though a few stray pieces of grass stick on her shirt. She tries to pull herself back into the stroller. “Sleepy,” she whispers.
The Sunday afternoon, the family’s special day of togetherness, is drawing to a close. They pack up the poles and reluctantly put their socks and shoes back on. They haven’t caught anything today, but never mind.
“(Catching fish) always makes it more exciting,” Zielinski says, “but the best part is being with your kids.”