Walking the Walk
During his fishing days William “Billy” Packer, of Newburyport Massachusetts, was quite a local icon. He was well known as a captain and a harpoon fisherman bringing in more tuna and swordfish to the local fish market, than any other fisherman in the area. Recently, Billy wrote a book called The Fisherman’s Call, To Awaken the Heart of Compassion. I had the pleasure of meeting with Billy to discuss his writings, at the “Fishtail Diner.” The little diner was too crowded and loud for us to hear each other, so we sat at a table that Billy had found before I arrived. The quaint table and chairs seemed to be waiting for us to relax in the shade, and enjoy our conversation. It was located at the end of the main dock behind the diner. The environment was much quieter there, with the breeze blowing off the “Merrimac River,” and the seagulls calling in the background. Every once in awhile the “Route One Bridge” alarm would siren its warning, that it would be opening to allow a taller boat to pass by.
Let’s talk about Newburyport back in your fishing days,” I said to Billy. “Yaaahhh!” he said, in his native New England accent. “I had a lot of different fishing boats, probably the one that was best known, was called the 'Blue Fin Too,' which was my best tuna boat, that’s the one I had when we caught a hundred and twenty-one giant tuna that year.” Billy looked past me into the air and said, “It seems like another world, another lifetime now; that was a long time ago you know.” “How many years were you out on the boat fishing?” I asked. “From the time I was in my early twenties until I was forty years old. I sold my boat and left the sea and started on this journey of awakening and it has lasted until now, and now the book is involved, so it’s been a long trip.” One of the passages in Billy’s book, from his fishing days tells of one of his last fishing trips, before selling his boat. “We woke to the finest kind of harpoon fishing weather and conditions. Crystal clear skies and glassy, flat calm, ocean with little schools of baitfish showing around the boat in every direction – as far as the eye could see. With these baitfish came the predators and as we started to look further we saw shark fins, marlin fins, tuna fins, whale fins and swordfish fins, a harpoon fisherman’s heaven! Ya H-o-o!!” (Pg. 32, Fisherman’s Call.)
Billy smiled and said, “This is such a great place to be interviewed, because you know, Wilber Rodgers and I built this dock. It was just pilings jutting up out of the water back then, and we also built the diner, which was the old 'Agawam Diner.' We bought it from W.E. Atkinson Co. I like to see them doing such a big business now,” he added. Billy and Wilber created this marina and diner for a place for fisherman to gather, tell their stories and get a bite to eat. Billy’s first wife Joan (mother of his four children) named the diner.
So I asked him what had inspired him to write his book? “Well you know what, I’ll show you,” said Billy, as he pulled a well-worn soft-cover copy of Black Elk Speaks, by John Reinhardt out of his bag. The front cover was partially torn and what was left of the image was well worn, but I could tell this particular copy was the actual book he found in the mountains of Oregon, which he mentions in Fisherman’s Call. I could tell this copy meant a lot to Billy, as he still carried it with him. “This book changed my life forever!” he shared excitedly. “After tomorrow I am heading to the University of New York in Albany, where they published this book.” I asked him if he had also read The Teachings of Don Juan, by Carlos Castaneda as well? “I read that when I was fishing!” said Billy.
I had to admit to Billy that I hadn’t read his book yet, but I planned to read it before writing this article. However, I had read Black Elk Speaks, when I was in art school and it had changed the way I looked at the world as well. In fact the visions of Black Elk inspired my artwork, and prompted me to seek a more natural existence, so I knew the depth in which he was speaking. Billy was on a spiritual path that turned his life from fisherman to environmental activist and spiritual messenger. Billy began his search of the natural laws and order of the earth, in search of compassion for all living creatures. He couldn’t fish and kill giant tuna or swordfish anymore, it wasn’t showing compassion, and that was what Billy needed to find within his heart. This is what he found within the pages of this weathered and worn book, that he still held so dear to his heart.
“I’ve been writing little books and handing them out for a long time. I never really thought I could write, in fact I could hardly write a letter! I had once heard someone say, 'You don’t become a writer because you want to become a writer, you become a writer because you have something to say.' So through Black Elk I felt I had something to say, that would help people and help the planet,” said Billy. “I hardly slept last night, it was partially about the trip, but mostly because I was meeting with you, this is a big thing to me in a way,” he shared. I was flattered that he was excited for an interview with me, to help spread the word locally of his work and Black Elk’s law and how it had changed his life. If he only knew how excited I was to meet with him! I even went out and bought a new digital tape recorder so our conversation wouldn’t be interrupted with me having to flip the tape over!
I later read Billy’s book, “The Fisherman’s Call.” He had given me a signed copy and I really enjoyed the stories of his travels into the wilderness and experiences with the animals, that would approach him and his compassionate heart and spirit song. “It makes me cringe now when I think of killing all those giant tuna,” Billy admitted. One of the animal stories he shared with me was regarding a bull buffalo, on his honeymoon in Wyoming. Billy and his wife Phyllis went camping and while hiking they came upon a big bull buffalo. They stood and watched it for a while and went along their way. Later when they had drivee a bit further and stopped to have lunch, they suddenly saw this bull buffalo again, munching his way up stream. This time there was some mist in the air and when he looked at this majestic creature, the sun shone behind him and a double rainbow appeared directly over the animal’s head. Billy thought this was such a magnificent sight, that he started spontaneously singing to the bull for about fifteen minutes. The buffalo just stood there eating and listening. “When I finished, the buffalo had munched its way upstream and disappeared into the forest. We decided since it was such a nice night, we would sleep out under the stars, so we rolled out our sleeping bags and fell asleep. The next morning at gray dawn, Phyllis woke up and said, 'Bill, Bill, look!' I woke up this morning and thought that this big boulder had suddenly appeared overnight that hadn’t been there before, but look it’s the buffalo!” Overnight the buffalo came back and had lain down, to sleep by their side. “Even now I get a chill in me just talking about it,” said Billy. I mentioned that this buffalo must have had much trust, to lie down and go to sleep beside them. “I was so honored! I loved that buffalo and I think he knew it. A friend of mine told me that animals can sense when you sing to them from your soul, and I think that he sensed this,” shared Billy.
Billy was born and raised in Newburyport, MA and still resides there with his wife Phyllis, when he’s not traveling, visiting friends and family or spending time in the wilderness. He has four children, Jeff, Brenda, Gaylynn and Mindy Packer, with his first wife Joan. He once worked as a design draftsman and then fished for many years until he began his thirty-year journey of spiritual awakening. “The Happiest time of my life was when I was living in the wilderness with nature, camping in my tent, sleeping on the ground. I’d get up and make coffee and watch the many birds and creatures. Having nothing but the basic things and living with nature made me the happiest I have ever been,” shared Billy.
He is now on his way across the country to visit loved ones and to promote his book to those who may be interested. Billy’s book starts out with his adventures on the sea combined with horrific storms he survived, and amazing catches that surpassed even his own hopes, to miraculous moments during his time spent living in the wilderness. One of the many moments that comes to mind from his book, was in the Arizona desert, “Praying by a stream in the Arizona Desert, the incredible feeling of joy came over me giving birth to the very same melody. After I sang to the desert wilderness for about fifteen minutes, a string of native boar walked right up the stream to me. I had never seen such creatures before. Then the sky filled with ducks and geese. But where had they come from? I thought, this is the desert! Then I looked over toward my tent and there were two large owls sitting in a nearby tree. They were not there before.” (Pg. 111, The Fisherman’s Call.)
For those who enjoy sea adventures and stories of personal transformation, that include an interconnection to the earth and nature, Billy Packer’s book is sure to be an uplifting message of peace, harmony and a hope for the earth’s future, one that is greatly needed in a world filled with so many troubles. As Billy Packer would say,
“Compassion first for all living things.
Please open my heart.
Please help me to feel.” (Pg. 110, Fisherman’s Call)
William “Billy” Packer’s book can be found at “Jabberwocky,” in downtown Newburyport, MA. It can also be found at “Barnes and Nobles,” or online at “Amazon.com.” Fisherman’s Call can also be found on Facebook. Copies may be ordered directly through the publisher, iUniverse at www.iuniverse.com.
May you have a safe and amazing journey filled with many more moments to treasure, as you travel across the country Billy!
In the last 4 years, my friend/co-author, Janet Keefe and myself, Jennifer Cole, have been working on a musical called "The Hat." It is about Empathy, Synchronicity, Faith, Hope & Love. We presented it to The Players Ring this Spring, and it was accepted for the 2009-2010 season. Our musical will be performed at The Players Ring on 105 Marcy St. Portsmouth NH. on August 21, 22, 23 (Late night schedule) Featuring music from local musicians, George Brown, Cynthia Chatis, Shawn Russell, and Dennis Callahan. The main characters are humble migrant workers from Jamaica, working in a NH apple orchard during election year. In an innocent whimsical way they change the course the world is on, with the aid of a simple yet supernatural hat blessed by our Creator. This musical takes place during a presidential election year. Our intentions in writing this musical, is to help open people's eyes to the way things could be... also to cast hope for a change and a better way of life. I thank our Creator for all that I have... and for all that is and will be... View our blog page for "The Hat" at: http://spiritsistersproductions.blogspot.com/