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The remarkable story of Grandma Gatewood!
Water figures a great deal in my life, always has, yet I’ve written little of where I’ve spent so much time, on or in close proximity to oceans. Many of my travels in Tasmania have been along the largely undeveloped or wild coasts, often for weeks at a stretch. So, over time, I thought I’d post some thoughts and images, changing the photos every few days.
One of my favorite walks is from where I pahk my cah out in the neighborhoods of Brookline,Ma, and stroll along Beacon Street to Fenway Park to watch the boys of spring, summer, and fall, the Red Sox, play baseball. Stopping at O’Leary’s Pub for a Harp or two and conversation with Angus, Aofie, Lisa, Dave and Davey, sweet Bobby drinking Cape Codder’s, who once told me of a favorite cow he tended as as a young man on a dairy farm in New York State wih tears in his eyes, waiting out the traffic at Audubon Circle with its bird sculptures on the lamp posts before continuing on, stopping for a moment to bullshit with my scalper buddy John in the parking lot across from the park from where I join the crush of fans on Yawkey Way, its a trip I’ve made many, many times and it’s never grown old. Those walks do however, at some point during the baseball season, end.
When they do I recall the words of the late Bart Giamatti, Commissioner of Baseball, President of Yale, Red Sox fan, and a true renaissance man.
The Green Fields Of The Mind
It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops. Today, October 2, a Sunday of rain and broken branches and leaf-clogged drains and slick streets, it stopped, and summer was gone…
I’ve been fortunate to have traveled to some great places, but few have as powerful a presence about them as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington,D.C..
The man had built the fire in the angle of two rounded rocks that came up out of the sand and when he lay down he closed the fire in. From on his side he fed it with twigs, eucalypt bark, and a few larger pieces of wood he’d found on the beach. It kept a good flame and wasn’t too smoky and the man was pleased to have the little fire, feel it’s heat on his face and stare into it’s mystery.
The Ray came along the shore languid and effortless in it’s movement through the quiet water, the tips of it’s wings breaking the surface as it slid along.
It passed the man, turned back with an arching glide, tracked an oval in it’s path, then another, before settling motionless on the bottom facing the man. The man watched the Ray and it was a long time before it moved again. With a shudder of it’s wings that caused puffs of sand to rise from the bottom it turned away and continued on the way it was headed before.
The man watched it’s dark shape move like a shadow over the sandy bottom, it’s wings throwing off ripples as it went, until it passed the rocks at the end of the beach.
Without the Ray the water and the beach became as it was. The man watched where the Ray had gone no longer but went back to the little fire he’d lit when he first came along the shore to the narrow crescent of sand, bracketed by rocks and the forested hillside behind.
Lying before the fire the man thought about a woman. A woman who saw the sea. He saw her eyes watch the swell and he knew that she knew the sea like the Shearwater birds that swept the swells crest to dip and speed through the trough on stiffened wings.
She measured the sea, the length, and breadth, and strength of the swells, and he saw how they carried her along.
The long swells came born from winds far away in the Southern Ocean where there was no land, but now had found land where the sea met the tall columnar cliffs of the island. There the swell would rise against the land before it fell back and away into the sea. It’s surge held for a moment by the cliff and it’s own destiny, as the soft thighs of the woman would hold the mans face as her body rose before, like the sea itself, they spilt open.
The Night Sky
The flames grew lower as the nights darkness closed in until, one by one, they fluttered and were gone and only the soft glow of the coals remained.
The man lay back. He lay over the footprints made by a thousand generations of people that had walked this crescent of sand before the ghost men came, men like he was. The man looked into the night sky, to the stars he could see and beyond those stars to stars he couldn’t, and no longer thought of the Ray, the swell borne by the Southern Ocean, or the woman who saw the sea.
The truck swung off the paved road onto a dirt one, past the place where others parked, across a small stream and over a rough stretch where the rocks in it were smudged with grease from oil pans until it pulled over beside the track in a grassy spot and was stopped.
The man got out and reached into the truck bed for the old fly rod he’d put there earlier that day. With some difficulty he threaded the light monofilament leader through the snake guides of the rod and with greater difficulty still attached one of the small red hooks he’d brought to the line. After securing the hook behind one of the guides he took up the slack in the line using the reel and laid the rod against the side of the truck where it slid with a light metallic scraping sound to the ground. The man hung his arm over the trucks bed rail and felt for the little blue tub of worms bought when he’d stopped for gas. Picking them from the truck bed and then the rod from the ground he took a moment to look around.
Out of the sunlight where the truck had stopped, on the other side of the old woods road, was a stand of Hemlock trees. Through the trees he could see the brook as it slid over ledges, forming a series of waterfalls. The man listened to the sound of a breeze in the feathery tops of the hemlocks that he knew was really an echo of the sound of the brook in its cascades. Thinking that there wouldn’t be any of the little trout in the pools so close to the woods road and the campsites under the trees the man began to walk to where he’d always fished although it had been more than most of his lifetime since he’d been to this place where the brook came cold and clear down the mountain and the little multicolored trout rested in its pools.
The man walked the road up to where a trail left it to follow the brook, then the trail to where it left the brook to return to the road which he knew was now itself a trail. He stood and looked where the brook was to where it no longer could be seen and he wondered how it could look the same as he remembered and if it would always look as it did now. The brook had been there a long time, longer than the trees that shadowed it although they themselves had grown old in the little valley where the brook ran. The man had come to realize that when trees grew into their maturity they didn’t seem to him to change in appearance, only in their early growth and decay after death could he see the changes in his time.
With the reel end on the ground and the rod pinned under his arm the man slid the hook from behind the guide and popped the top off the tub of worms. With his index finger he scooped through the cool back soil in the tub to bring the balled up worms to the surface. He pinched one in half and threaded it along he hook smaller than the nail on his little finger so that on end was on the clear line the hook was attached to while the other end of the halfworm whipped blindly in the air beyond the curve of the hook.
With the rod in his hand and the bait an arms length of line below its top the man crouched and moved slowly over the loose gravel and water slicked grey rocks in the streambed toward the first pool upstream. The man did so though he knew that the little trout, in their caution alarmed at the footfalls of mink, even now sensed his presence.
The man watched the pool for a moment before reaching the rod forward to flip the still writhing piece of worm into the boil of water as the brook slid into the pool. Instantly a black shape, no longer than his largest finger darted out from under a rock in the pools side and as quickly returned, the line moving with it. The man lifted the rod and the trout as the little fish vibrated impossibly fast before it was in the mans grasp. Cold as the stream itself he felt its power instilled by a life spent facing into the current resist his hold. Quickly he unhooked it, put a finger in its mouth, and bending its head back snapped its neck. He looked at it, still in his palm, before he lay the little trout that had come from an egg laid in the gravel of the brook and known only the pool through winters ice and summers plenty on water soaked moss beside the pool. Taking a knife from his pocket the man cut a small branch from a witch hazel shrub, stripped the shaft clean of leaves to where the branch y-ed, stuck the shaft under the trouts gill plate and out it mouth and let it fall along to the y. There were other trout in the pool and in the sterile mountain flow the man knew they would put their wariness aside and continue to come to the bait, but, carrying the trout on the stick, he moved on upstream to the next pool.
By the time the man came to the pool that was below the spring house on the bank above that fed water through a pipe to a farmhouse on the paved road he had four trout on the witch hazel branch and had lifted many others that had come to the bait from their hide-e-holes, some hardly longer than the wormpiece itself. He let those he didn’t want hang in the air until they shook free and dropped back into the flow to dart back under the overhanging rocks and into the submerged roots of trees scoured free of soil by spring floods to face into the current and begin their watch for food carried to them by the brook again. As this was his favorite spot on the brook he forgot about fishing and instead crouched on the moss and watched in the green sun dappled light the water and the bits of foam it carried tumble into, across, and out of the pool.
The man twisted his body around from where it faced he pool to see two men sitting on the low corrugated metal roof of the spring house.
One was his Uncle Warren, thin and tall, a pork pie hat shading his face, with his grey and black framed glasses,and ever present pipe clinched in his teeth. He was opening one of those cheese and cracker snacks you bought in a gas station where they were displayed in a rack next to the machine that dispensed salted peanuts with skins. His canvas creel lay at his green rubber booted feet and the rod and reel he used for all manner of fishing rested upright against the spring house. He really enjoyed fishing but never seemed to care whether he caught anything.
The other, who had spoken, was the mans father, hatless and tanned, thinning hair slicked back and dressed in a belly bulged coffee stained white t-shirt and well worn green Dickey work pants wet to the knee. A trouted branch like the man had was beside him on the spring house roof. He smiled at the man.
“Ready to go ?”
The man opened his mouth to speak but stopped the words before they came. He looked long at the two men and saw that they were happy.
Then the man turned back to where in the green sun dappled light the water slid into and out of the quiet pool and the unseen little trout born from within the gravel faced into the current.