In July

oh, for goodness sake. What do you expect when parents decide they can ‘trust’ their 14 and 16 year old kids to keep the house shipshape and Bristol fashion for 21 days in July while they jot off to Jamaica. We stood in the driveway next to my mother’s Thunderbird. She was sitting in the passenger’s seat for the trip to the airport. Dad always drove. Right now he was leaning on the open driver’s door and going over his list of rules again, wanting to make sure that we understood all twenty five of them. He covered Locking the doors, collecting the mail, bed times, no parties, assignment of chores and the other very specific enumerations of how it was going to be. My sister stood there doe eyes and nodding, wishing he’d stop talking and get it the car and go. He got into the car and shut the door. Yes!  Then he powered the window down and said maybe he should go through it one more time. My mother spoke up suggesting that  they needed to catch their flight and no telling how the traffic would be. My dad nodded and then pointed first at my sister and then at me. “Don’t let me down.” he said. With that, the window slid up and away my parents went, echoes of calypso music in their heads. The car disappeared around the corner and my sister said “dibs on the phone!” I nodded in agreement. “Dibs on the sea skiff!” I replied.  My sister nodded in agreement. She needed the phone to call her friends to arrange a party and I wanted to take the Duet, a 30 foot Henry Lures Sea Skiff, out for a party with my friends. I walked over to my friend Toby’s house and used their phone to call together out little six man crew for some fishing, junk food, and sleeping in the comfy bunks. One unlucky participant would have to sleep in the bows, a triangular sort of bunk thing that was usually a pile of life jackets, water skis, tow ropes and water toys. The parents readily agreed;  if my mom and dad had confidence in me to do an overnight fishing trip then they saw no reason to be a wet blanket. Plus they knew I was all over the sound with my Boston Whaler, going so far as taking it into the Atlantic to go up to Nantucket. When asked where we were heading to fish I replied we’d be going up sound, which meant ‘east.’  Fact were, we had no idea where we were going. We’d just set a few trolls and and run before a following sea. Gentle and smooth. We cruised more or less randomly, the throttle in ‘troll’ position. It gave us about 8 knots of forward speed. The wheel could pretty much be ignored, it didn’t matter if our course wandered a little. It might deviate one way for a bit and then the other. Our trolls garnered a few good hits on bass, perch and a dogfish. The dogfish looks like a little shark and they aren’t very good eating. With only two fish in the cooler, we cut the engine, a 200 hp Mercury Marine inboard, and tried for some bottom fishing. We had better luck, managing to come up with a few flounders and a couple of cod. We pulled up the wax table, a piece of plywood with a roll of waxed paper stuck to the end, and went to work cleaning the fish.  We got  about 14 decent fillets that looked so good that we just had to set up the barbecue. We had regular and BBQ flavored chips and with a choice of orange and grape crush, coke and seven up, we were ready for some serious eating. It’s surprising how much of an appetite you can get fishing the ocean, and just how tired you can get. We’d managed to troll and drift our way almost to the Connecticut River, just about where the crush began. The crush was where Long Island bent itself toward Connecticut and ended the sound in favor of the Atlantic herself. I took us withing a mile of the coast and dropped a pair of anchors, letting one go and then giving line and drifting back about 50 yards and then going forward and off to the right even with the first anchor. This created a V of anchor lines and guaranteed we’d be right where we left us in the morning. A couple of us had a cigarette, demonstrating our clear alpha status as adults. I made sure to have two. My boat, after all. We all found our bunk space except Donny. He’d drawn the forward mat and there was too much crap there. Dog took pity on him and said if they could have the master bed, which was the biggest, they could share. Done deal. We talked between ourselves for about another hour and finally we all winked out.  It seemed like just a moment later that we were all awakened by loud noise. Clumping motor, groaning and creaking pulleys and cables, and maybe a radio too. Suddenly the boat was yanked 180 degrees, throwing us all to the floor. Awake and frightened, we scrambled up to the deck. There was a mussel dredge about 60 feet in front of us and one of my anchor lines pointed straight at it. “Jeremy, Toby, go pull the second anchor before this jerk rips us up.” They hopped to it, winding the anchor line onto  winch and hauling it in. Luckily, it didn’t bind up on any rock and they soon had it on the foredeck.  Meanwhile I was yelling at the dredger that he snagged my anchor and he needed to stop and cast it loose. His reply was to shoot me the finger and yell back he wasn’t going to break his dredge line for some punk kid.  Donny, Doug, Toby, Jeremy and I stood in a huddle and Jeremy made a suggestion about a trick he saw in a movie about Greek fishermen. Toby fetched a fender and fifty feet of hemp rope to tie to one end of it. The idea was to speed up and pass the dredger a little and then throw the fender across in front of his bow. If we timed it right, he wouldn’t be able to stop in time to keep the prop from getting fouled by the rope. I took the wheel, cranked up the motor and steered us up even with the dredge. He looked over at us and gave us the finger again. I waited for him to turn away to tend a line or something, and when he did, I stabbed the throttle forward and Jeremy, whose idea this was, tossed the fender. It was a perfect shot. Toby was holding the fee end of the rope and immediately started taking up slack and we all watched the rope as it slid toward the stern of the dredger. The old fisherman must have seen the same movie because he figured out what we were doing right away. He jump to slam his transmission into neutral, but it was too late. Toby let the line go as it wrapped up on the dredger’s prop shaft. There was a lot of threats and a lot of curse words, but with five of us and one of him, we could cut loose our anchor and move on. The dredger didn’t know about how dim a view my dad would take of a lost $200 Danforth anchor. We told him to raise his dredge and cast loose our anchor without cutting the line and in return, we’d dive under his boat and cut the rope off his prop. He grudgingly accepted the deal. We could have taken our anchor and left him, but a deal is a deal and in spite of my friends calling me a wimp, Toby and I dove in, each of us with a filleting knife. It wasn’t too bad a knot. We had it cut loose on a single breath and swam back to our boat and climbed up the skier’s ladder. “You’d have better cut me loose!” yelled the dredger. His response was five boys shooting him the finger as we cruised westward back to Rowayton. Comparing note with my sister that night it appeared that we both had a good time. She and her friends had gotten a little tipsy on beer and danced in the living room, playing demon rock and roll on my dad’s precious Fisher hifi. The boys were gentlemen and left at the appropriate time and the girls stayed over and helped clean up in the morning. My friends were equally helpful cleaning up and Duet. We still had 19 days to go.

A Fishing Trip

I enjoyed the rocking of the boat. I lay on an air mattress and looked up at the night sky, which, away from shore as I was unfolded like black velvet behind and explosion of stars. The moon was a waxing crescent low to the horizon, too low to contaminate the sky with its illumination. I lay there and wondered about the people who sat up at night and counted stars, puzzling how they kept their place when they had to stop. I then wondered what happened to the star counters when the rotation of the sky moved their counting spot below the horizon. As a fourteen year old, I had yet to understand the concepts of scientific sampling, merely counting the stars in a defined area and extrapolating it to the full sky produces a reasonable expectation of the total number. What I knew of the night sky came from science fiction books and my little telescope and star finding book. In my youth it seemed that all boys at some point studied a bit of astronomy and had their own telescopes. Today there’s Google Sky; see the day and night sky from any perspective on earth. That’s all many years from now, as I sat in my rocking boat and looked at the stars.

My boat was a twenty foot Boston Whaler rigged for fishing. I’d pulled the front board seat out to create the pit I slept in. The boat had a little cockpit affair amidships. A wooden structure with a Plexiglas windshield, it supported a dashboard of sorts with a compass and speedometer above the steering wheel. The throttle and gearshift were affixed to the side of the boat. It was powered by a pair of 60hp Mercury outboards that each sucked gas from a pair of 6 gallon tanks. I had about a four hour cruise range, half that pulling skiers and screwing around jumping wakes. True to form I had a deep sea rod and reel set and tackle box full of hooks, weights, leaders, and other paraphernalia. I had a built in cooler that currently contained a few bottles of soda pop, some sandwiches my mom had made, a bunch of grapes and a pint box of night crawlers.

Low in the boat I was shielded from the 10 knot wind blowing. It was a steady wind rather than a breeze with lulls. It wasn’t enough to anger the water, but enough to raise wavelets that gently frothed at their peaks. The frothing also excited the microbes and bacteria in the water, making it fluoresce and glow where the winds toyed with it. Swimming at night was never a favorite thing of mine to do. I felt it was creepy to see the water around your friends glowing almost radioactively sometimes. Then again, Night swimming meant black skies and black water, an overdose to the senses that are frightened by the unknown. What, hidden in the inky blackness was rising even now to rip me to shreds? In the boat, I had no issue, but I spent no time tailing my hands or feet in the dark water.

The boat tugged on the anchor line as the waves bobbed it up and down and the wind pushed on it. Descend, rise, jerk. Descend, rise, jerk. It was mesmerizing, just as the view of the stars above me and I stared at it until the stars faded behind closing eyes. When I woke up again, the sun was orange and peering over the horizon, pointing the way east, the sky was blue, but dulled and grayed still by the departing darkness. Gulls wheeled and hovered, squawking disapproval –I guess that I wasn’t a fish to eat. Or perhaps just annoyed that a place they planned to park a while was occupied by a scarecrow in a tee shirt and trunks. I made breakfast from a sandwich, oddly unaffected that wrapped only in waxed paper it had survived the melted ice and floated atop chilly water. I washed it down with an Orange Crush, making sure to have my morning orange juice. A healthy boy needs his orange juice as my mother would say.

I pulled at the anchor line, taking it in a yard at a time and coiling it between my hand and bicep. Managing line, my father had drummed into me, was paramount for safety and utility. After some hundred odd feet of nylon rope was stowed in the locker with the anchor, I fired up my motors and took a turn around Green’s Ledge Lighthouse before aiming the boat at my home, visible on the Connecticut shore a few miles north. I pulled my equipment from storage and set a line in the water, having the worm bleed across the back of my hand and down my wrist as I skewered it with the hook. Daylight, I washed it off leaning over the gunwale. At the slow troll I was making, it was two hours later that I pulled my line back in and found the worm still intact.

Evening fishing and dawn fishing had been a bust for me. I hadn’t a thing to show for the trip. It was no matter. In a couple of hours I would go crabbing with my friends and it was virtually impossible to go crabbing and not bring home a bucket of blues.


Curse of the Jellyfish

I was pondering the mysteries of life last night. Laying in bed in the darkness, I was just thinking in free form as I waited to fall asleep. It suddenly dawned on me that I didn’t like jellyfish, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what part they played in the ocean. What they eat is eaten by lots of other sea creatures, so if all of the jellyfish were suddenly plucked from the sea and piled on an island  the only environmental impact would be a large area of land that no one wanted to visit for a while. It would smell bad and be sticky to walk in.

I think the reason I was thinking about jellyfish is because I saw a program on the television about how some areas off the coast of Japan was being overrun by these slimy blobs. They were driving away the fish and fouling fisherman’s nets and screwing up water intakes for various industries. The large bloom of these creepy things has set off a lot of research, trying to figure out why there are so many of them all of a sudden. In the end, a multi-million dollar study decided that a half degree rise in water temperature was responsible for the sudden increase in population. I think they should have spent the money figuring out how to kill off the excess of these things. Science only goes so far with me, especially when the subject is icky, slimy, smelly jellyfish.

When I was little I was swimming off a California beach near Carmel. I found this gelatinous blob on the beach and scooped it up and dragged it over to where my parents were sitting on a blanket. I say dragged because hanging out behind it were all of these tendril things draping back maybe 12 to 15 feet. Anyway, both my mom and dad got upset the minute they saw me with it and told me to carefully set it down –away from me. They said not to touch it anywhere else than I where already had. I dropped it splattering onto the beach and I asked what it was. My dad said it was a Portuguese Man o’ War and that the long tendrils were stingers. Neither of my folks could believe my luck that I hadn’t been stung, and admonished me against picking things up from the beach. Of course, their next suggestion was to go for a walk and see if we could find things on the beach we might take home as souvenirs. But I had a nightmare that night about a jellyfish grabbing me as I swam and pulling me to the bottom of the sea so it could sting me to death. I’ve never liked jellyfish since then. When cruising later in life out on Long Island Sound, I would make it a point to run over the jellyfish I would see with my boat.

So now I’m wondering why the Japanese don’t just start dragging their nets to pick these things from the sea and getting rid of them. Maybe they would make a good fertilizer or something. Anyway, somewhere during my thoughts I fell asleep and so I quit thinking about the things. I kept having ridiculous ideas about what to do with all of those slimy glops, running the gamut from towing icebergs to Japan to setting loose a fleet of underwater Cuisinarts to seek out and mince that damn things. I hate it when my brain turns out ideas only a Jerry Springer audience could love.

But it actually is a problem and one that should be taken more seriously than my brain seems to want to. I have always loved the oceans; it was a life-long dream to retire next to one, living so I could hear the sound of its waves and smell it in the air. My years on Butler’s Island in Darien, Connecticut pretty much sold me on coastal living. The thing is, most of the imagery of the coast is from my youth, and the coasts are the same but vastly different now. Many of the fishing fleets moored in the inlets and coves have depleted or vanished, their fishery now barren and unable to support industry. Cargo ships have increased in size to floating counties, each one able to carry the output of hundreds of factories –assuming we still had any of those. My view of the oceans is idyllic and unblemished by the realities inflicted by time and human intervention.

I used Google Earth one day to go focus on my childhood home perched on the rocks by the inlet to Five Mile River and Rowayton. The Tokeneke and Wee Burn beach clubs still existed, but what was nestled between them on Butler’s Island bore no semblance to the images in my memory. The stately colonial homes perched atop the short cliffs were gone, replaced by even larger homes, the dense evergreens and hardwoods eradicated to reveal the obese structures. The place I once lived is no longer there; it was replaced by something that took it over, making it ugly in my eyes.

So maybe that’s what bothers me so much about the jellyfish. They are changing and despoiling what once was. A blight brought about by the hand of man trying to improve on what was a well working system. Mankind’s contribution being the half degree of warmth that triggered the change of a Japanese fishery into a slimy glut of gelatinous goo. Of course, I see that the changes have also made me resentful, something else I don’t like to see. What was a warm memory has been changed for me; when I think of the sea I think of jellyfish and unappreciated change. My memories suffering a half degree of difference that contaminates my memories, once so faithfully there and calming. The mental happy place I could hide when life was just too callous has suffered deforestation like the pines, oaks, maples and birch of the island. A reminder that there is no escape, life is a one way street, and that signs ahead mark the warning “Road Ends.”


Gone Fishing…dominating Life

The fight last summer was focused strictly on aggressive treatment to dominate Myeloma, but this summer it has turned to smallmouth bass. After 3 years of thinking about and taking on Myeloma with heavy treatment, and at times, a heavy heart, this summer feels like it is a rebirth of passions that are part of a thick core of who I am.

The cancer forced me to re-evaluate everything, specifically where I spend my time and energy, not banking on that I will have the next 30-40 years to figure out life. Through this process of reflection spent during chemo infusions up at B1 and two week hospital stays on 8A, I have discovered what I am good at, my strengths. That has been helpful, but I have been lacking an ability to simply enjoy life. Much of it has been centered on domination, and not vacation. Below is me at age 7 showing the recent fishing domination.

I had a breakthrough by spending over a week up north (northern Michigan for non-michiganders) with my family at a park that has been the relaxing vacation spot for the Brabbs’ family all the way back to my great-grandfather who would take my grandfather up there when he was a boy. Here are some photos of my revisiting one of my passions…camping/fishing up north. I am thankful that my focus can now move towards dominating life by enjoying one of my greatest pleasures.
The big kids and me heading to get ice cream at the store.
Me catching crayfish underneath rocks up at the dam. We use them for bait.
Iris and me relaxing on my parent’s pontoon as we go for a boat ride.