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.
How is it that a sub lieutenant of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve rests for eternity in this national cemetery of ours? And, who is it that still comes here to leave a stone of remembrance and respect? And, why is it that this story I will never know has touched my soul so?
So listen to this. I’m fishing on the beach yesterday, early morning in front of that house with the collapsed stairs – you know the one I mean, right? – and I’m trying to cast out past the sand bar instead of aiming for the slough because the water’s been warming – close to 70, I read – and I’m trying to reach cooler water. So anyway, I wade in up to the bottom of my trunks and cast – I’m using shrimp – and I walk the line back to the sand spike and slide the rod in. Then I do the same thing with the other rod – I only took two rods yesterday. So I’m waiting – maybe 20 minutes, long time, almost ready to quit – and I get a hard hit. I give it a few seconds for the hook to set and then lift up the rod and start reeling. From the fight, I’m thinking it’s a blue fish – you getting a lot of them lately? Some guys actually eat them. – but it’s not. It’s a pompano. A pompano! They’re supposed to be gone by now, right? Up to the Carolinas, right? Anyway, so I drag him onto the beach, and get the hook out, and hurry back to my mat and backpack cooler where I keep my tape measure.
Well, there’s an egret standing by the mat, and he doesn’t move even when I get right next to him. I’m going fast in case I need to run back to the surf to release the fish, otherwise I’d stop to take this all in. Anyway, I get twelve inches and a little more. I’m good, I figure, but I reach into a backpack pocket for the size limit chart anyway because it’s been over a year since I hooked a pompano, and it says fourteen inches. That can’t be, I think, so I check again. Pal, I’m keeping my finger on the page so I’m sure I have the right minimum lined up with the right fish: fourteen inches. This is crazy, I’m thinking! This is a good-size fish, maybe two pounds. So, now I’m thinking maybe I’ll keep it anyway. I look up and down the beach: no one. I’m actually reaching for the cooler zipper when the egret catches my eye. He’s looking right at me, like right into me with those eerie yellow markings around the eyes, and it comes over me that I’ve got to release the fish. So, I run back down to the water and I do it. Actually, I feel better for it, good even.
That’s when the second rod bends down and starts jerking. So I race over and grab it and reel. It’s a pompano! No kidding! And it’s got to be the same size as the first one, twelve, thirteen inches. Don’t ask me why. but I look toward the mat, and there’s the egret, halfway between me and the mat and he’s looking right at me with that yellow around his eyes. It’s like there’s an invisible beam cutting into me. And he’s still, totally still, like a lawn ornament. So, I bend down into the frothy water and let the fish go.
But wait, I’m not done. So I fish some more without a hard hit until, with the last of my bait, I catch a third pompano, a really big one; fourteen inches at least, I figure. And what’s the first thing I do? I look for the egret! Crazy, right? But he’s not there! I look up and down the beach. He’s gone! So I go to the mat and stick the fish in the backpack ice. And, here’s the reason I’m telling you this: I’m collecting my things to go home, right? And, when I pick up the size limit chart to pack it away – don’t ask me why I do this – I look up pompano again – I can tell from your face you already get it – and it says eleven inches. Eleven! You can check it yourself!
And that’s the story. Crazy, right?
Beer? Oh, let me show you this welk shell I found in the sand yesterday. It’s perfect! It’s over here in the kitchen. Here, look!
*Fiske med Loki
Topping the protective dune, we froze, speechless in wonder to see the birth of the day laid out before us.
Surrendering to the schooner’s inability to tack against the increasing strength of the northeast wind in the narrow channel, the captain told his first mate to turnabout just south of Porpoise Point and return to St. Augustine’s harbor. Jacques, overhearing the order, glass of wine in hand and chatting amiably with fellow passengers, silently began his calculations for jumping ship.