Saturday, January 14, 2012

Tidal Catch

Early in the morning, just as the tide would be its lowest, I would wade out into the water with a bucket. The morning air held a light breeze but the summer sun was already enough for me to go without a shirt.

I was ten, or twelve, and my summer skin had set in. I was never nearly as tan as my cousins or sisters but by the end of the first week at the beach house, I barely would need sunscreen. A little diligence at keeping myself out of the sun during the hottest hours and I could wander the landscape without fear of a severe burn.

My sandals were nearly useless, and by the time I made it inside the bay to the shallow tidal pools, I had removed them. My feet had become calloused in only a matter of days. Rocks with barnacles were merely a nuisance. Besides, the other layers of sea-life generally provided me with sufficient cover against the sharpest rocks.

Inside the bay was a huge array of life. Crabs walked by swiftly and if I wasn’t careful I could easily step on them. Small schools of fish followed the swift current of the tide moving out. Seagulls called out as they found a clam that had become revealed by the tides.

In the shallow waters near the shore, little rock fish darted back and forth between the rocks avoiding my footsteps. Every now and then I would encounter a great many sea stars; red, blue, purple, orange, green, and a great many other colors.

The real treat was a sun star; enormous starfish with eighteen or more legs. They moved through the green seaweed slowly but surely, devouring anything in their path.

The water slowed and it became slack tide. The sun suddenly seemed warmer. A low wispy cloud lazily passed over me. The sky seemed bluer and the pines seemed greener. I plunged my hands into the knee high water. It shimmered in the light.

I kept my eyes out for my target; it was a matter of patience. First you spot the fish, then you learn to move close enough to it to grab it. The final motion of grabbing was the most difficult part. It required speed and concentration. I had worked with my cousins to become good at this practice, and over the course of several summers, we were able to capture large populations of the fish.

They were always small and inedible. The largest were silver dollar sized. The act of catching a fish was the achievement. I imagined myself to be a Native American; capturing the bounty of the sea and gratefully returning it when I was done.

I spotted a pipefish, a long thin snake-like fish that looked like the reeds it called home. I grabbed it, pulled it out of the water and felt the coarse scales. I filled my bucket with a little water and put the fish in.

I continued this practice of spotting fish and sea-life until the tide shifted and water started flowing into the bay. The water was much cooler. it filled the bay slowly and the tiny temporary islands that the low tide had revealed, were immersed. Atlantis disappeared and my bucket was full. I headed home to study them; when I was done I released them and went inside to eat lunch.