I began to cast,
dropping the big surface plug, an Atom Popper, into the white water around
boulders and into the tumbling backwash of waves. I watched the boats heading
home and wondered if Gretel had managed a comeback. During the day I had
learned that an old friend of the family was in Fall River recovering from a
heart attack and that his lobster pots still lay inside the course of the cup
race. I wondered about that and cast until I began to have those first
insidious notions that I had miscalculated the situation.
right in front of me, bait was in the air and the striped green-and-black backs
of bass coursed through it. It is hard to convey this surprise: bait breaking
like a small rainstorm and, bolting through the frantic minnows, perhaps a
dozen striped bass. They went down at the moment I made my cast and reappeared
30 feet away. I picked up and cast again, and the same thing happened. Then the
I had blown the
chance by not calculating an interception. I stood on my rock and rather
forlornly hoped it would happen again. To my immediate right baitfish were
splashing out of the water, throwing themselves up against the side of a
sea-washed boulder. It occurred to me, slowly, that they were not doing this
out of their own personal sense of sport. So I lobbed my plug over, made one
turn on the handle, hooked a striper and was tight to the fish in a magical
burst of spray. The bass raced around among the rocks and seaweed, made one
dogged run toward open water, then came my way. When he was 20 feet from me, I
let him hang in the trough until another wave formed. I glided the fish in on
it and beached him.
The ocean swells
and flattens, stripes itself abstractly with foam and changes color under the
clouds. Sometimes a dense flock of gulls hangs overhead and their snowy shadows
sink into the green translucent sea.
Standing on a
boulder amid breaking surf that is forming offshore, accelerating and rolling
toward you is, after a while, like looking into a fire. It is mesmeric.
All the while I
was here I thought of my Uncle Bill, who had died the previous year and in
whose Sakonnet house I was staying, as I had in the past. He was a man of some
considerable local fame as a gentleman and a wit. And he had a confidence and a
sense of moral precision that amounted for some people to a mild form of
tyranny. But for me, his probity was based almost more on his comic sense than
his morality—though the latter was considerable.
He was a judge in
Massachusetts. I have heard that in his court one day two college students were
convicted of having performed a panty raid on a girls' dormitory. My uncle
sentenced them to take his charge card to Filene's department store in Boston
and there "to exhaust their interest in ladies' underwear."
terrific cautions of my cousin Fred, my brother John and me and would never,
when I fished here as a boy, have allowed me to get out on the exposed rocks I
fished from now. His son Fred and I were not allowed to swim unguarded, carry
pocketknives or go to any potentially dangerous promontory to fish, which
restriction eliminated all the good places.
And he had small
blindnesses that may have been infuriating to his family, for all I know. To
me, they simply made him more singular. By today's or even the standards of
that day, he was rather unreconstructed, but this makes of him an infinitely
more palpable individual in my memory than the adaptable nullities who have
replaced men like him.
will be perceived in the following: he invited Fred and me to his court in Fall
River. To his horrified surprise, the first case before him was that of a
300-pound lady, the star of an all-night episode of le sexe multiple, and
included a parade of abashed sailors who passed before Fred's and my astounded
eyes at the behest of the prosecution. Unreconstructed in her own way, the lady
greeted the sailors with a heartiness they could not return.