In the spring, at the west end of Third Street
Before the outgoing tide slackens
And the sun reaches sky back behind you
You may see one or few aging fishermen
Scurry like sand crabs
Round the rocks
And under the docks
At water’s edge along the slim beach.
Some will zigzag north toward Fifth
And others south toward the marshland
Each according to starting point or inclination
And each directed by guarded mental map
Drawn from distinct experiences
Including such notations as
When to pause
And where to cast
And how many times
Into the shallow waters before dashing on.
They hunt, of course, the flounder that
Lie in wait for prey of their own.
Behind Nix Boatyard and up Oyster Creek, across from the southeast corner of Creekside Restaurant’s dirt parking lot, past the wood pile, through the trees, and over the damaged docks lining the creek on this bank, clean over to the landing on the creek’s far side, you will see, should you choose to look in that direction upon exiting your vehicle, the two-masted schooner, Resilience out of Rhode Island. Under repair by its owners after being battered in October’s hurricane, Resilience will not set a northward course home for at least one more month. However, you might predict – and more than one seaman has already agreed – that, once she is under full sail, she promises to be one of the most beautiful sights afloat. Furthermore, you may, however briefly, be filled with calming courage and a spirit of adventure, and square your shoulders with casual confidence and determination as you stride toward your appointment for dinner.
She had expected an orange horizon over Salt Run’s eastern dunes as a prelude to the sun’s arrival. But as she stepped up onto the deck, she was greeted instead by a dense fog rolling in over those same dunes, hiding any evidence of daybreak, hiding any evidence even of the waterway 100 meters from where she had moored her sloop.
This fog was a very big problem for her, one with classic domino consequences. She was scheduled to set sail early this morning; a must-do if she expected to anchor in Melbourne by dark. And, if she didn’t make Melbourne today, then she wouldn’t make West Palm on Tuesday, and then she wouldn’t make Miami on time, and so on all the way down the line of ports of call to Cienfuegos. A prearranged, prepaid drop-off to a contact at each port; assurances given; no way to update the other players: no phone numbers, no email addresses (too risky, she had maintained).
The fog would have been but a manageable inconvenience had she followed the itinerary she herself had drawn up and moored in St Augustine Harbor (well dredged, well lit, well marked, open) instead of this tributary (quieter, able to relax, catch up on sleep).
But, here she was, and the fact remained that she did not know Salt Run’s narrow channel well enough to maneuver safely in the very limited visibility available, especially not with this cargo. She rummaged through her memory for elements of a plan B, a trick to get her boat to the inlet blindly without grounding, but its futility was made evident by the spinning in her head of unrelated, random memory fragments and increasingly fantastic and frightening images of what might be her near future. She remained helplessly stuck in her mind’s dangerous gyre with only one small remaining rational part of her watching objectively as her nightmare unfolded. That part eventually concluded that there was nothing she could do presently to influence the course of upcoming events.
There was nothing to be done.
Oddly, the tension in her gut loosened. Her breathing deepened, slowed. She regained some control of her reasoning ability. She found that she was comforted by the silent fog that swirled about her. She lingered where she stood. She felt the Earth-bound cloud caress her face, her neck (moist, cool, refreshing). She became mesmerized by the sight of suspended water droplets in the beam of a deck light (millions – no, more – countless). She tracked the fog as it thickened here and thinned there and then reversed itself as it swirled and drifted southwestward slowly, slowly.
She heard a whispering somewhere below her, so she leaned over the railing to find its source. She saw that it was the current, and it spoke to her softly, unhurriedly, even as it slackened in the turning tide, its message further quieted in the heavy, water-thickened air. It told her that she was safe for now. It told her to ponder, for now, her place in this world of hers right here. It told her that this was enough for her for now.
Nearest to God is he
Casting in Sunday’s waters –
I sit and read in a cabin in the mountains of North Carolina, my dog sleeping at my feet. The two of us are alone. When I stand to get something from the kitchen or to use the bathroom, he slowly gets up to follow me, only to return to his original curled up spot here when I return. I suspect that he senses something has gone wrong inside him and that I am his best bet for righting the matter.
But, there is nothing I can do for him – he is slowly dying from a bad heart. I think of him as a leaf falling in the wind: sometimes he is lifted upward, but overall, inevitably, he is headed down toward his flight’s end. For the last several days, including yesterday, he had been lifted upwards. On lifting-up days, I forget he is dying. Today he is falling and I am reintroduced to my sorrow yet again. On falling days, I never know whether there will be anymore lifting-up days for him (and for me as well, I suppose).
We had rented this place to be with my daughters’ families for the weekend. My youngest has since returned home with her husband. My wife and my oldest daughter’s family have gone off for a hike on a nearby mountain. I would have liked to accompany them, but I could see that my dog would not be able to walk any distance, and I felt uncomfortable leaving him here by himself. You might say I worry too much about him, but that’s just the way it is, and I can’t change that. So, I’m going to sit here with him today as long as I can in case this is the day he lands and Death comes to lift him up and take him from me. It is the right thing to do, and I hope someone will sit watch with me when I begin my own descent.
Sunrise is an hour away, though the sun won’t be seen by anyone in or around St. Augustine Harbor this morning: the incoming fog will see to that. The crews of the moored boats will slumber below decks longer than usual while the watery air muffles the usual a.m. sounds.
The Nasty Habit’s engine revs, then idles, then coughs and revs again, her captain endeavoring to keep her from drifting back into the inlet as he waits for the Bridge of Lion’s master to raise the bridge’s central section. The boat’s belly is fat with shrimp, both more so and sooner than most days, so she is heading home early, sated. The crew, to a man, is sharp awake and diligent in their duties, though each steals a look toward the buildings along the quay to the far side of the bridge, and each constructs his own day’s promise.
The old man saw first that the nearest boat was for sale, even through the confines of his camera’s viewfinder, even through the fog, even through the sunless grey of early dawn. And, though he was of insufficient funds, and of strength (and of remaining time), he struggled to make out the contact number.