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Fish tales and other bounty

Posted Oct 27 2010 12:00am

The sun rises hot. A giant golden ball sprung full force from the horizon. it consumes air. Scorches water and burns every surface it touches.

I say a prayer of thanks for the early morning breeze drifting in from the water, for the fan turning above me.

We are ready when the taxi driver arrives to carry us to the dock where our fishing adventure is set to begin. We are excited. And I am somewhat leery. I don't really want to catch a fish. I just want to spend a day on the ocean.

I get my wish. Five fisherman went out to sea. One came back empty handed. Me.

And it didn't matter.

While the others sat on the boat deck waiting in anticipation for the first pull, I sat up top in the wind and salt air watching for flying fish and chatting with our blue-eyed captain, Peter.

Seventy years old, Peter was born and raised on the island. He's proud of his five generations of Bajan roots, "My family was from Ireland," he tells us. "They came as white slaves. Don't know if that really makes me Bajan but I guess it does."

He watches the sonar, steers with one hand, his long tanned sinewy body comfortable and relaxed. "I'm skirting the edges of the reef," he tells me, after the others have gone down to the deck in anticipation of catching 'a big one'. He shows me on the screen above his head the reddened areas that show the treacherous reef below. "You must pay attention to the sea," he says.

Danny, his deckhand, put the lines into the water as soon as we left harbour. We're not expecting anything right away but, as Andy finishes off the last page of The Globe and Mail a line suddenly goes taut and the excitement begins.

We can't see the fish but Peter and Danny right away know, 'it's a big one'.

Almost forty pounds when the Kingfisher is finally reeled in. He didn't want to come in easy. Put up quite a fight. Andy is exhausted and happy. He's caught a fish.

The energy on the boat grows. Peter sees it as a good omen that within our first forty-five minutes at sea we've brought a big one in.

Me, I don't care. I know the minute I see the Kingfisher brought on board I don't want to catch one of my own. If I did, I might cause a mutiny by insisting on throwing it back to the sea.

We keep motoring further out, further south along the coast. We pass Oistins, the area everyone has told us we must go for 'real Bajan' nightlife. Further along, past The Cranes, a luxury resort for the stars. Peter points out Long Beach and I tell him about our Long Beach, 21 miles of undisturbed, deserted beach on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It is as long as this island in the sun. A startling thought.

He tells me about his daughters. Two of them. One still on the island, the other living in Florida.

"We had planned on going for Christmas this year. All of us. My wife. Daughter. Grandson. Me." He pauses and glances at the sonar. Searches the ocean beyond. I see him swallow. His blue eyes squint against the light of the sun sparkling on the water. "But my grandson died six months ago," he tells me quietly. "He would have been twelve in August."

I'm not sure I understand. Above the sound of the motor, the wind whipping through my hair, the waves slapping at the hull of the boat. I'm not sure I understand, but I do.

"I'm so sorry," I tell him. "That must really hurt."

He nods his head. "It was so senseless. So..." he pauses and then continues on a rush of breath. "Criminal. It was his father. He's a gun dealer and my grandson had gone to spend time with him. He loved the guns. Loved to help his dad clean them. And nobody knows for sure how it happened but one of the guns had a bullet in it. It hit him in the chest. Anywhere else and he might have had a chance."

He looks out to sea again. I look at his face. Deeply tanned. Bright blue eyes barely visible beneath the brim of his baseball cap.

"He loved to fish. Like me," he said.

I asked him how his wife is. His daughter. The ex-son-inlaw.

"Nobody's doing too well," he says.

I have moved closer to the wheelhouse to hear him without straining. He continues on telling me of their struggle. Of the gift of the sea in helping him deal with such loss. Of his wife's struggle to come to grips with losing her only grandson. "She doesn't work," he says. "She has too much time to contemplate what has happened."

He tells me of taking her whenever she asks to sit at their grandson's gravesite. Of doing the best he can to help her and his daughter cope with their loss and sorrow and anger.

"I am 69 years old," he said, "and never have I experienced anything so painful in my life."

And then, a line sharply dips, spooling out in a hissing volley of sound that wakes the entire boat into action.

Jack is at the ready. Reel in hand, dipping and pulling back, he cautiously pulls another Kingfisher in.

I stay up top. Watch from above the action. The excited calls of my boatmates carry up on a gush of wind as the fish gets closer and closer to the boat.

"A twenty-five pounder," Peter states. "The younger the fish the sweeter the meat. Like veal or lamb. Younger is better."

He too has caught the excitement. Another boat radios in to ask how the fishing is where we are. "They're biting good over here," he says in his sing-song lilting island voice over which I still detect a hint of 'the old country'.

He puts down the radio and tells me he likes to share his good fortune with other captains. "It's good when we share the bounty of the sea," he says.

And bountiful it is. Tammy catches a barracuda. Jaws snapping. Razor sharp teeth gnawing at the air, he squirms and jackknifes his body as he is pulled onboard and into the fish locker.

Tammy and I say a prayer of gratitude to the wind and the sea and the universe and the fish for giving his life to us.

C.C. the largest Kingfisher of them all. Over forty pounds, he is iridescent blue and green and beautiful.

And then it's my turn. I move down from above onto the deck and take 'the hotseat'. I don't want to catch a fish. I don't want to reel anything in. I watch the wake. Listen to the chatter of my friends and think about loss and love and pain and sorrow and the sea and its powerful force to give and take life.

We motored onward, turned back towards the pier. The lines stayed empty. I gave a silent prayer of thanks to the sea and the fish for staying safe, for keeping away from the lures trailing behind.

We pulled into harbour, took the prerequisite photos of man and catch and unloaded our bounty. We left behind the 'big one' for Peter and Danny to divvy up and carried on home.

C.C. spent the next hour gutting and slicing with the help of Ann and Angela. Fish was parcelled up and shared with staff and neighbouring staff and the gardener and put in the freezer for future meals.

And I am grateful. Grateful for the Barracuda, stuffed with rice and garlic, perfectly grilled upon the barbecued, a day of sun on the water, laughing and sharing not just stories of the sea, but stories of life. For our dinner table, candelit, beneath a twirling fan, the sky strewn with stars, the night air filled with fire-flies dancing all around.

A world of stories being spun upon gossamer threads of love and joy and hope and sorrow and laughter that bind us all together. one human race. One earth. One planet spinning through space.

We all have a story and, as I told Peter, sometimes, in the telling we find healing. Sometimes, all we can do is talk it out until there is no more pain to let go of, only the memories of love that support us and uphold us and surround us as we move on, move through time flowing all around us.

I received a gift yesterday. A gift from the sea. I didn't need to catch a fish, I only needed to stay silent and listen to the voices around me to know, we are all connected. In our pain and our joy. In the promise of knowing when we swim in the waters of life together, we share more than just a tall tale of the sea. We share our stories of life. Giving and receiving, the bounty of the universe flowing all around us.

Nameste.
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