It’s Always Something

We were anchored in a cove off the Wye River when Gilda Radner came to mind. We had arrived after sunset, and once the hook was set and the engine silenced, all around us came the sounds of the water at night, the flicker and whisper of tiny waves against the hull, the occasional whack of a fish and the slapping of skates everywhere. They were flopping like enormous flapjacks, having a rollicking good time making baby skates. It was June and I thought, Gilda—Roseanne Roseannadanna, that is—was right. It’s always something.

All winter I had longed for spring, shoving my kayak through skim ice to reach clear water, watching the birds. A fleet of canvasbacks had assembled in the creek, and every time I paddled by they took off in a flustered ensemble, and every time I came back there they were again. There were Canada geese, gulls, hawks and bald eagles, a wintering loon or two, the blue heron who seemed like a kindred spirit, poised on the edge of things and waiting, just waiting. One morning, two days before St. Patrick’s Day, I looked up and there was the osprey, right on time. That was March, and I knew spring was real.

In April came the rockfish. I couldn’t see them but I knew they were there, running like a secret silver river in the Bay, and so did Johnny and my brothers and every other fisherman who took to the boats with their breath steaming in the damp morning air, watching the sun rise pure and hard over the water, waiting to feel that primal power on the line. That was April.

In May, the perch returned. They were a little late this year, since spring was cool and rainy, but they came all the same. We caught them by the dozen—let most of them go, but kept a few to fry up. That was May.

Then came that June weekend with the skates. My daughter and I wheedled the kayak among the deadfalls along the shoreline, aiming for the smoky brown plumes where they dredged the bottom for clams. Six inches off the water, our fingertips dangling, we would wait for the soaring wings to rise out of the darkness like prehistoric birds, and we’d try to touch them. One morning we floated over a shoal for half an hour watching them dance all around us and beneath us, their wingtips breaking the surface like tiny dorsal fins and casually waving. That was June.

In July came the sea nettles. People say they are beautiful in their ghostly, graceful way. I say, yuk. That’s July, though. On the other hand, July also brought us crabs. First we found their empty “sheds” on the beach, and we knew it wouldn’t be long. The grass was growing thick in the cove and the river this year, and I imagined the crabs down there in the waving forest, peeling and doubling and brandishing their claws.

August and September brought us more crabs and nettles, and then October’s light awoke to find the osprey gone. The sky seemed emptier without them, though the hawks returned and the fledgling eagles flew with the same heavy-shouldered fierceness as their parents. Now comes November, the big rockfish are running hard again and our breaths steam in the morning chill. Next month, after the boats are tucked in for winter, I’ll be back in the kayak, watching. And waiting, because it’s always something.