On my way to the car I see the patrolman who questioned me get out and look over the railing. Then the amber light is flashing and the driver is out, too. Together they lean over the side, pointing.
Frank's blue sedan comes down off the ramp and turns south. When I reach him, he is untying his boat and I begin to do the same. In a few seconds we will have them in the water. In order to launch we must trespass. The land belongs to the state of California and although I've never been verbally warned off, any number of KEEP OUT signs are posted.
For seven or eight years I kept a boat locked up behind a sign reading CABLE CROSSING. Once a year someone would repaint the sign, getting white paint on the chain. Some yards away in a blockhouse belonging to San Quentin penitentiary, trusties worked during the day. Each season they raised a handsome vegetable garden that I was careful never to disturb.
I often talked to one convict in particular. After fishing it would take a few minutes to put the boat back behind the sign and carry everything else to the car. If he saw me, he would call out in greeting and I'd perhaps comment on the progress of the garden. Then he would ask about the fishing. He said he liked to go after stripers before he got Inside.
One December we had a severe storm, accompanied by especially high tides. Afterward, I went over to check the boat and all I could find was the chain. I was poking around the beach when I heard my friend's voice.
"Looking for your boat?"
"Guess the storm got it," I replied.
"No, I saw it break loose the other morning and caught it. I dragged it up there," he said, pointing. "Only thing I couldn't find was the seat." Beyond the garden I could see my trim little El Toro upside down on a pair of two-by-fours.
In recent years there have been no inmates at the blockhouse, and the garden lies fallow beneath wild anise. In a sense this has meant more license to trespass, but I stopped keeping a boat behind the sign when I knew there would be no trusty to look after it.
The morning is windless, overcast. Sunrise is only an hour away, yet the eastern horizon above San Pablo Bay is still dark. Bursts of flame glow against the cloud ceiling over Point Molate, for behind its quarried headlands lies the Standard Oil Company of California's refinery, petroleum's ode to the Cubists with its sprawl of cylinders, cones and rectangles. At Point San Quentin the flaring fires have become a familiar greeting, much like the glistening dew on a chokecherry bush that starts off the trout fisherman's day in the Rockies.