Shark!

- by Linn Barnes

This morning I went out a little late to the same spot I began fishing with my father maybe 75 years ago. It is just off the south end of the Bethany Beach boardwalk. The weather had cleared and it was a perfect September morning with a cool and building breeze from the NE. There was one other fisherman and his family on the beach. I watched him as I was setting up my rod and chair and he was not engaged.

I baited with bunker I had filleted the night before, threw a pretty fair cast, and almost immediately got a hit and pulled in a very small blue, which I thru back. Several casts later, with the sea and wind rising, I got a substantial hit, let him go for a second or two and hit him hard and it was game on. This was a powerful fish who I had to play very carefully for about ten minutes. Although he was strong, I could tell by the way he fought that he was neither a blue, striper or weakfish (sea-trout). I knew he was a shark by the way he moved and used his weight to fight me. Out of nowhere a small crowd of on lookers had assembled just as I was bringing the fish to shore. I saw him in the waves and confirmed that he was a sand shark, and looked to weigh about twenty-five pounds or so. Without too much trouble I was able to drag him onto the beach. The trick at this point was to get him unhooked and back in the sea without harming him. I got him on his back and was able to extricate the hook with pliers that I carry for just that reason. This critter may have been small, I guess less than the 'lethal' version of sharkdom, but you did not want to allow that mouth full of very serious looking teeth anywhere near you. All went well, a nice guy took a couple of pictures and off he went.

Nothing else appeared the rest of the morning. I packed up and went back to the house. I would soon be back.

Fishing in September at Bethany

- by Linn Barnes

Tomorrow we leave for 10 days at Bethany Beach, Delaware, where I learned to surf fish with my father almost 70 years ago. Allison and I go twice every year, once in June, then again in September. June is usually a bomb for me, but September has had it's high spots. The fishing can be very good, or, as I suspect it will be this year, thanks to Ms Florence, non-existent. However, that will not dampen my 'will to fish' ( wonder if Freddy N would approve?). I shall be en place chaques jour sur la plage, same spot, same bait, same everything, as I shall do until I can no more. Those of you who fish will understand this sentiment. Those of you who do not fish will probably get it too, only for other reasons, mostly pathological I would guess.

I am hoping to work on the fishing book as well. I've had some good luck with writing at the beach. I think I'm about four chapters from finishing the first draft. If the weather really closes in I'll be at it. If it's nice, and if I'm lucky maybe I'll get to it anyway. Best plan is no plan.

We always take a bucket of musical instrument and even some recording gear. In the past we've come up with some new stuff, stuff we've liked a lot and later recorded. It's also a good moment to plan and create the winter programs for Dumbarton and Castleton and anything else that materializes. 

Sometimes There is Nothing

- by Linn Barnes

Sometimes There Is Nothing

by Linn Barnes

I got to the beach once again very early on what promised to be a good day.  The wind was steady, off shore on the oblique from the east and slightly to the north.  It was late September and good to be alone at five am, in the early starless morning waiting for the light to take the edge off what was left of the night.  I set up my little camp as I had done hundreds of times before, surprised at how much I always enjoyed the simple ritual of installation which always brought me a degree of comfort and ameliorated some of the ever present discomfort with the close to total darkness I had to operate in.  It was as if I was establishing a perimeter, a safe fortress against whatever might materialize in the dark.  First the rod spike to hold the very long surf rod was installed in the wet sand, while I unfolded and planted my canvas chair, equipped with back, arms and cupholders.  Then I removed my vest, a fresh water fly fisherman’s vest, with many pockets to hold all the gear I needed.  This made it possible to not bring a tackle box, one more heavy item to lug along over the considerable stretch of sand to the water.  The vest, which was loaded with assorted rigs, lead weights, extra knife, glasses, cut and whole mullet for bait, anything I could imagine I might need for the morning, including a couple of pieces of thick buttered dark bread that my wife, Allison, had baked the day before and a small thermos of strong black coffee, was dropped over the back of the chair to keep it from blowing away should the wind pick up.  I planted the thermos in the sand next to me next to the bait board.  I put on the windbreaker I had brought along tied to my waist over my hooded sweatshirt and finally sat for a moment.  I poured myself a small amount of the strong coffee and listened to the ocean, hardly discernible in the dark, the waves breaking a mere ten yards from my encampment, which I would soon have to move back further up on the sand as the tide gained ground. This was the perfect time to be here, installed and ready for what the sea might offer on an early Fall morning.

My father used to scale the mullet before threading it onto the hook.  I did so for years, until I finally realized that the scales if left on the flesh would help anchor the bait to the hook and, in addition to securing the bait during the cast, make the attacking fish strike more deliberately to get to it, which would in the end help me to properly set the hook.  Most fishermen talk about ‘which’ bait is correct, but it seemed to me it was much more important ‘how’ you baited the hook, how much bait to use, the size of the hook and how to most effectively thread it on the hook.  If you were convinced only small ‘snapper’  blues were your prey, keep the portion of bait small, as well as the hook.  On the other hand, if you had any evidence of larger fish, you used larger hooks and larger baits, up to, with certain special rigs, an entire mullet.  You wanted the fish to attack the entire presentation, bait and hook, before you reacted.  Otherwise, if the bait or the hook was too big you were doomed to a day of ‘nibbles’ and ‘nudges’, which would after even a long session result in nothing but annoyance and frustration at a lost morning.  Like everything else, deliberation and careful analysis really mattered.  And, perhaps more importantly, you had to be willing to change what you thought you had perfectly figured out.  Eyes, ears, migrations of porpoises north and south and flights and concentrations of sea birds were your tools.  One thing was certain, this was not a passive activity, as people sometimes thought fishing to be.  Not in the least.  Full concentration was the order of the day.  Anything less, and you were just ‘on the beach’, which, of course, had it’s place, but not for the serious fisherman.  Fishing seriously had a way of bringing you not just ‘onto’ the beach but ‘into’ the ‘idea of the beach’ and the sea, scribing a pallet of manifold possibilities, both exterior and within.

I made what I thought to be a good cast into the dark, listening for the weight to hit the water, but hearing nothing but the wind and the waves.  I could tell however that it was a good cast by the amount of line that had peeled off the reel.  I let the rig anchor itself, waited, standing, for a couple of minutes and returned to my chair and coffee, after securing the rod in the sand spike holder next to my chair.  I always arranged the rod close to my right arm so that I could be in constant contact with the rod even when I was having coffee or eating.  It was absolutely necessary that you consider the rod an extension of your body equipped with all the requisite muscles and nerves.  Of course, it was possible for a fish to hook itself by the ferocity of it’s attack driving the hook firmly into the flesh of its  mouth, but not as likely as when you were in control of the many variables which were presented to you on any given occasion. 

I waited a long time.  And, then a very long time.  I reeled my line in, checked my bait and concluded nothing had touched it.  I cast again.  And I waited, again.  Nothing.  Not a nudge, not a nibble.  Nothing but waves and encroaching tide, now forcing me to pull my camp further up on to the beach.  Re-situated, I poured myself more coffee and made myself comfortable for the long run.  Time went by, slowly.  The sun was rising and burning into my face.  I pulled my hat over my eyes and my collar up against the increasing wind.  The sensation of heat from the direct sun  and the cold wind simultaneously assaulting me was a little bewildering, but I had seen it before.  It was only the ocean, sun and wind, no more, nothing else.  Although it did give me the impression that I was not welcome on this morning.  Unwelcome by who, or what?  I felt a little unglued, but in control, nevertheless.  I checked the line for the tight bond I needed with the bait and weight on the other end.  And then I did it again.  And, finally I began to relax, to sit back in my chair and let the sea have its way.  It was all way beyond my control.  The truth was simple.  I was happy enough just being there, a witness to all of it.  I thought about how much everything had changed since my arrival before dark, and how long ago that now seemed.  I had the clear sensation of evolving with the morning, changing with the tide, the sand and the wind.  I felt more akin to the gulls floating on the wind near me and the fish in the sea not far from me than my own now foreign and distant world of things and fellow humans.  I began to imagine myself strapped to my chair, an obligatory witness to all events unfolding before me, the sirens in the waves singing madly - strange melodies unimaginable by any human, known only to the sea and the fish I was there to kill and devour.  Once again the tide was coming close, my feet now covered by the encroaching waves.  I wanted to move back, but I did not.  The sea was gaining ground and I chose to stay in place, for what reason I had no idea.  Finally when I glanced at my feet now submerged in the water, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that my thermos of coffee was afloat and about to be carried off by the tide, and, only then did I break the trance like state I had fallen into, rise from my chair, recover my errant thermos and retreat further back up on the beach with my rod, rod holder and chair now on safer ground above the reach of the incoming ocean. 

I sat for a long time.  The passivity and therefore persistent danger of the ocean dominated my thoughts.  It was all a question of ebb and flow, no more, just the tides.  There were no metaphysics involved, no volition, no plan. The ocean was overwhelming, sometimes shocking and more dangerous than you could imagine, without ever being anything more than what it was.  It was a very strange thing to say, ‘The sea giveth and the sea taketh away’, which you frequently found in various sea going cultures.  This is a serious confusion, ascribing a form of consciousness to what is the weight of water and the moon rocking around our tiny orb, a speck lost on a distant wing of a minor galaxy, but one which is our very own.  To understand our existence here and now requires no more than an understanding of the elegance of a good cast and with luck the retrieval of a beautiful fish. 

But not on this morning.  No matter the wind, waves and tide, all perfect.  No matter the bait, the line, the weight and the cast, all perfect.  On this morning there was nothing, as it so often can be, in spite of the wind and waves and perfect tide, in spite of all things, there was still nothing. 


The Angry Sea

- by Linn Barnes

The Angry Sea 

Linn Barnes


An angry sea

Thrashed mercilessly

The tidal remains of

Another day in the foaming surf


The sky burst from

Bundling clouds above

The wind howled as

Seabirds attacked the waves


Lightning murdered the shore

Exploding the boiling sea

In waves of roaring thunder 

In bolts of dying energy 


And then it was over

The evening sun appeared

Low in the western sky

The storm raging out to sea


Leaving only blackened sky

Thunder and retreating whitecaps

Storm shadows fleeing east

Lightning hammering distant waves


Nor'easter

- by Linn Barnes

Nor’easter 

by Linn Barnes

The wind has been blowing hard out of the north east for the last five days.  Meteorology bets we’re in for two more days which may include a lot of rain.  It’s not perfect, but it will have to do.  It could be thundering, with shards of lightning knifing the dark sky and raining in horizontal sheets.  But it is not.  It is a major blow out of the north east, that will not let up for a while, and that’s that. 

But, I came to fish.  And, fish I have, each day, in a raging surf which is letting me know in no uncertain terms that I have no business out there.  There has been very little optimism about my fishing endeavors.  Most of the cognoscenti I’ve spoken with in these parts are down and out about the whole deal.  Some have said the ocean is ‘unfishable’ until this storm passes, while others swear it’s November we must wait for, when the large fish make it to shore…There has been a lot of talk about fishing the back bay at high tide, hiring a boat for the day, or casting from one or the other of the jetties, either north or south, at Indian River Inlet, which as far as I’m concerned is as close to certain death on the rocks as I can imagine, especially in the kind of wind and high seas we are having.  The place is a menace.  If you fall between the rocks, you don’t just break your leg, you break your leg off.  Then, since nobody else is around, and why would they be, it’s into the drink for a final swim with the fishes, who without any doubt or hesitation, perhaps even with a wry, saltwater fish-ish grin, will welcome you with open greedy jaws, once you’ve stopped twitching, and that won’t take long.  But, so far I’ve managed to fool all of them, even the sea, by catching a few small blues each day and having them for our lunch.  I’m easily satisfied.  I don’t need trophies, but I do like fresh fish, when I can catch them myself.  But, it has not been easy.  I’ve been using eight ounces of lead, that’s a half a pound, for godsakes, and still not holding bottom in the ferocious tide.  I usually try to fish the high tides, but not now.  The water has been eating up the beach, leaving nowhere to stand, except in the water, and eventually being pushed back into the dune fences, which can get tiresome.  So, I’ve been fishing the low tides, and still getting a few fish.  The low tide works in my favor at my chosen spot:  as usual, south of the south end of the boardwalk, more or less opposite Journey’s End, the ancient Inn.  At low tide a shelf of sand is exposed making it possible to walk out fairly far before it drops off to six feet or more, before casting.  This gives me reasonably good position, if there’s anything around, which, I admit, is not especially likely, but the glamour is nevertheless there.  However, it can be dangerous, although worth it since a decent cast will get me in fairly deep water.  On the other hand a slip and fall can land you in serious current, where just about anything’s possible.  So, I stay on my toes, and cast quickly once in position, and I’ve spotted a lull, however minor, in the cavalcade of waves, and retreat to the edge immediately following the cast, peeling line out as I make my way back to the safety of my chair, my tube and spike rod holder buried next to me deep in the wet sand.

Sitting in my chair at the edge of spectacular turbulence in full force is better than most anything I can think of.  The waves are tumbling and crashing right in front of me and washing up to my feet.  The overwhelming impression is of a strange warmth and cocoonish communion.  The world behind me is no longer part of my perceptible reality.  I have north, south and east, while land and the west are dim memories.  And I have the wind gusting to thirty and forty knots creating a wall of spray with the  pounding waves, which arrive in unpredictable sets.  Sometimes there are as many as three of four waves incoming before their retreat, lined up one after the other, like maniacal charging waves of Napoleonic hussars doomed at Austerlitz to not much luck, then falling, dying, the decimated remnants drifting back out to be re-claimed for the next assaulting charge of white water, rising higher than the last in the unrelenting and screaming gusts of wind, the ocean’s clarion call to battle.  This drama is repeated again and again, the rhythm an incantation bringing you into intimate contact with the core of the sea and the power of the storm.  It will continue until the storm finally blows itself out.  There will be no end until it folds up and dies, vanishing into the vast wilderness of turbulence, tide and wind, wind slowly backing out of the northeast, swinging this way or that, finally deflated for a breath or two, before being reforged to blow from another quadrant, perhaps more mercifully, perhaps not.


September Alone

- by Linn Barnes

September Alone

by Linn Barnes


The beach before any light early

Dark and loud the ocean a mystery

The late night early morning wind

Spiking you to the very core of you


You dig in your sand spike

Secure your rod in the tube

Unfold and dig in your chair 

Arrange your bait and board


Then you sit for a moment

Listening to the waves

Shuttling in the morning tide

About an hour to full flood


You bait a single hook

The sea is agitated but 

Not rough in the rising chilly wind

Three ounces of lead will suffice


Then you cast for the first time

Always the most promising

When everything is possible

Into the mysterious dark and beyond


Once the lead has reached bottom

You trim in some and check the 

Star drag firm but not too tight

As you stand waiting in the dark water


The waves washing over your waders

In the cool September sea

The tide flooding fast now

On a growing north east breeze


The dark begins to yield to a glow

A lightening shadow piercing the east

A long low line at the horizon

Emerging and picking up speed


This birthing of new light

Feeds your fertile imagination

Now synched to the generative force

All bringing the day into being


The light is sparking more wind

Cutting through your outer shell

The wind is pouring in the tide

Now crashing into your legs


The lead now freed from the bottom and 

In motion bouncing slowly to the south 

You keep the line tight and focused

Seeing only the now rising light

 

A fiery red saber on the horizon

Cleaving into the night 

Bringing the new light

On a collision course with the day


Then a nudge a tentative taste

A scent for something out there

Hungry in the rising light

Focused on the fresh cut flesh


Nothing for a long instant

Then a hit doubling the huge rod

You wait not daring to strike back

Until you do burying the hook deep


The strike staggers you back in the sand

You recover and dig in your boots

The fish is swimming through the drag

And you let him have his way


There is a lull and you reel 

Recovering some lost line

The fish swims for the deep

Fighting the punishing drag


The fish stops and then 

Turns north parallel to the shore

The line peeling out

As you tighten the star drag


This is a great new weight

Which the fish does not understand

He knows only this strange slowness

Where all he knew before was speed


You sense his coming weakness

And pull the rod high to recover line 

The fish turns toward the shore

For a moment free of the pressure


You now reel as fast as you must

To sustain the deadly symbiosis 

To ensure he cannot spit the hook

He is probably not even aware of


But the fish is no where near finished

He turns hard to the south with the current

Vectoring at maybe forty five degrees

Off the shore back toward the deep


Now you must turn him again

You tighten the drag punishing him

You reel in with all your strength

Your arms and legs on fire now


He turns again toward the shore

Then north parallel to where you stand

He is now closer to the crashing waves

And the fiery new light is rising


Then in the spray now clear in the wind

The fish leaps into the salted air

Twisting and shaking his perfect body

And crashing back into the spray and the waves


You use his leap to recover more line

Now with the rising sun burning into your face 

You manage to muscle him past the breakers

And into the shallow water in front of you


He is a beautiful large striped bass

Maybe fifteen pounds maybe less

With the rod in your right hand

You dive for the huge fish


You first grab him by the tail

But it is too slippery for any purchase

You spin his head toward you with the line

And stab into his gills with your left hand


The fish is still fighting madly

As you drag him to shore

Knowing you could easily lose 

Him with the merest hesitation


But you do not lose him

You administer the coup de grace 

With the priest hanging from your right side

And you collapse spent to your knees


Into the wet sand and shallow surf

The waves booming with the rising wind

The  sea spray mercifully anointing you

At this fiery dawning of another day


Surf Fishing Novel/Memoir/First 2 chapters

- by Linn Barnes

BETHANY BEACH

Surf Fishing

I

The Beginning

by

Linn Barnes

I think my imagination was initially kindled by the picture of my mother, Alice Barnes, and Carolyn Hughes standing in the doorway of an Inn at Bethany Beach, ‘Journey’s End’,  called ‘Fort Maggie’, for ‘Auntie’ Margaret Hughes, the proprietor during the war years when the husbands were otherwise engaged in Europe and Asia.  The Delaware national guard was busy guarding against the possibility of a German invasion on the Atlantic coast, so the Inn had been, at least, partly,  ‘mobilized’ for the ‘duration’.  The two young women were dressed in semi military attire, grinning and saluting the camera.  It’s a great picture, full of life, humor and, maybe most important, a healthy dash of silliness.

My very first memories are of Bethany Beach, although I can’t really be sure, of course.  I was born during the war in 1943.  When my father, Ned Barnes, an officer in the OSS, shipped out to Burma and India, Alice, my mother, and a couple of other women in Washington, who were lucky enough to have been friends of Carolyn’s, discovered they could move to Journey’s End in Bethany with their infant children in a few cases, for a large chunk of the year.  They went from March to November.  Everything was cheaper there, war rations for everything went further and the companionship they shared in that lonely time was wonderful and rare.  Carolyn Hughes, who was married to Marcellus Hughes, a US Army officer who was taken prisoner by the Germans in North Africa in the battles against Rommel early on, was a sorority sister of my mother’s at The Western High School in Georgetown.  Their son, Christian, was almost exactly my age, and, from what I understand, my best friend…This all smoothed the way for extended and very inexpensive stays.  There was also Caroline Aitcheson, from Washington, everybody’s best friend, also from the sorority at The Western High School, and Betty Thompson and her son, Toby.  Her husband, Charlie, or Chic, was a doctor serving in the Navy, landing and dealing with the on going nightmare in the North African and Italian campaigns against the Germans.  We were all packed into dormitories, and apparently nobody seemed to mind.  We kids were a mutually guarded and reared semi-feral mini pack of infants at that time, crawling all over the place, on or off the beach.  Days were spent on the sand and in the water, eating and sleeping our way through the cool of Spring and the Summer heat and sometimes stormy weather and high seas.  While I don’t remember specific events, I have had strong impressions and deep associative feelings about Bethany, forever…  But I suppose that would have a lot to do with the fact that I have continued throughout my life to come to Bethany Beach as often as possible, both with my parents and brother and, later, with my wife, Allison Hampton.  When I look at infant photographs of me groveling in the sand with a bucket and a shovel, my mother sitting with her hat pulled down in the summer sun, grinning  and talking with her friends, it just plain rings a very true bell. 

My father returned from the war in late 1945.  From then on, until 1953, when we de-camped for Paris for three years, some portion of each summer was spent at Bethany.  But first we had to get there.  After carefully packing the car in Washington with every imaginable gadget that might be useful at the beach, including, one time, even the garbage, we would drive across the city to the Annapolis road.  The trick was going as early as possible.  That way we would be at the ferry dock across the bay before the lines began to form.  If all went according to plan we’d be among the first to board.  The five nautical miles over the water began at the spot the bridges now span and was wonderful and exhilarating for both adults and kids and took about an hour and half.  And, more importantly, the sea voyage drove home the fact that we were going to an altogether different land, the ‘Eastern Shore’, a land as mythic as ‘Xanadu’ for the small boys, and, for that matter, the adults, who were all spellbound by the glorious Chesapeake Bay, birds diving at the ship and fish leaping all around them, while the boat plowed through all manner of seas, calm or rough, until they finally landed on the far shore, the other place…  When you drove off the ferry, and especially if there had been any weather, it took  a moment or two to get your land legs, further driving home the indisputable fact that you were on foreign soil.  All things seemed instantly different, an anotherness.  The change affected everyone, including my mother and father, for whom there appeared to be a palpable relief at being now truly distant from all the things that the drama of Washington, DC represented.  Then, in 1952, the bridge was completed and it was goodbye to a lot of that…

It was the summer of ’47, when I was all of four years old, that I became a serious and lifelong surf fisherman, under the capable tutelage of my dedicated and obsessed surf fisherman father.  Our lives were all about bait, tackle, coolers, water temperatures and hunches about the tides.  At first, in my fourth year, I would be handed a light rod that had been successfully cast to what I perceived to be an unimaginable distance, well beyond the breakers to the sea beyond where the ‘big ones’ lived.  I anchored the rod in my leather cup belt rod holder which fit around my waist, after a fashion, although to fit me it had to be cinched impossibly tight.  But, it was sensible, even for a child.  If you got a strike, you had a solid post and grip.  And, then, if you set the hook properly after the strike, you could begin the retrieval of whatever unfortunate fish that figured your bait was his dinner who was now on his merry way to being yours…  We did really well.  It seems we always had fresh blues or croakers for dinner, or, maybe the occasional striper, which was a fairly rare gift.  Sometimes, and only sometimes, one of us would land a nice big flounder, the great delicacy of all the seas.  My very savvy mother, had somewhere heard about the famous French recipe for ‘sole meunière’, which had the fabulous fish fried whole in a large pan swimming in browned butter, filleted at the table by my father, first one side, then the center backbone removed, and then the other side, creating four beautiful and delicate fillets which were doused with a sauce of additional butter, a little very dry white wine, parsley and lemon slices, all of which was dazzling and maddeningly delicious.  This was a good part of the compelling impetus that got us back on the beach early each morning. 

Fishing on the beach in the surf became a way of life.  Everything about it drew me into the fold.  We rarely hired a boat to go ‘deep sea fishing’, or, bought day tickets on the ‘head boat’ out of Indian River Inlet.  My father instilled in me the love of the quiet, the wind and the crashing surf.  The waves lapping at and burying your feet, the birds diving for your bait, screaming and battling each other in the air when we occasionally threw a desiccated mullet head to them.  We really did not talk much, at least not until I got a strike.  Then, he went into action, coaching and encouraging me to let the fish have his way for a while, especially if he seemed large.  I began to learn how to play the fish carefully and not let the fish break the line.  He taught me how to use the star drag to make sure the fish could pull away from me, but also tire in the process.  My favorite moment was  ‘swimming’ the fish through the breakers to shore, and carefully getting control before he had a chance to spit the hook out.  It was tricky, and lots of fish were lost, but before too long, lots were taken.  When a good fish was caught there were congratulations all around.  But, it was done in a reserved manner, maybe a quiet kind word, a sincere smile or a handshake, that’s all.  He seemed to think that humility when taking a life was very important, and honored both the fish and the fisherman.  He further taught me to dispatch the landed fish with a short heavy club he carried with his other tackle which he a called a ‘fish priest’, never allowing the fish to suffocate on the shore, in the dry sand and hot sun.  Many mistakes were made my first couple of childhood years fishing, of course, but, because of the intensity of the experience, and, mostly, my father’s unwavering passion for the event, most were not forgotten and established the beginning of a kind of on going life’s log of these important experiences.

By the time I was six I was beginning to really get the hang of it.  I’ll never forget the first time I actually got a respectable cast just a little beyond the breakers, but good enough.  I looked over at my father who was fishing right next to me, with a big smile.  He responded with a smile and an affirmative nod.  A moment later I had a solid strike, bending the light rod in half, almost picking me up, he gave me a quick concerned look, but then nodded once again and motioned  for me to set the hook and fight the fish to shore, which after a while I managed to do, to my great delight and satisfaction.  It was a respectable blue, about three pounds.  After I landed him, and, with my father’s help, removed the hook, I gave him a final tap with the ‘priest’, which my father solemnly handed me with a serious nod.  Later on I scaled and cleaned the fish right there on the shore, in the running tide, the waves breaking just beyond me and the birds overhead swooping in for whatever might be left behind, which I would throw in the air for them.  There was never a better dinner than that wonderful, beautiful blue, the entire fish, the head left on, grilled over a very hot charcoal fire.  It was perfect, and remains an important and powerful memory.

The following year my brother, Ned was four, and it was his turn for the apprenticeship in the sand.  He had the advantage of witnessing my foibles and mistakes for a year or so.  He was a happy little kid when our father strapped him up with a rod holder, cast a line for him and went through the same set of instructions I had received a couple of years earlier.  Much to my dismay, he was a lot luckier than I had been at that stage.  He just plain had the knack for fishing, and even that young he was very strong.  The three of us on the beach with Marcellus Hughes, now liberated from a German POW camp, and his and Carolyn’s son, Chris;  ‘Chic’ Thompson, who was, by this time ‘everybody’s’ doctor, and his son, Toby;  Jimmy Masters, a USMC officer, who would eventually become a three star General and commandant of the Quantico, Marine Corps base, and his son ‘Champ’, were all a tight knit gang of dedicated surf fishermen never missing an early morning or an evening right off the south end of the boardwalk, opposite Journey’s End, where we always set up our camp.  The women, Alice and Carolyn, and her and Marcellus’s daughter, Marcie, ’Aitch’, Caroline Aitcheson’s nickname, Betty Thompson, Dottie Masters and many other families and friends would join the group and cheer on the fishermen when things got hot, when the blues ‘blitzed’ down the coast and we couldn’t get our lines in the water fast enough.  Those were the miracle days.  There would be great fish fry dinners after sundown, the adults having cocktails while we kids raced around telling wild tales of the sea, our sea, to any and all who would listen.  It seemed each miraculous fish you cooked and ate was an important and sacramental part of your life and subsequently, your history.  We celebrated each fish with its own elaborate story, who caught it, and, especially in minuscule detail, how.

While others body surfed,  splashed and swam, sun-bathed, paraded up and down the boardwalk, threw footballs and baseballs and set up badminton and volleyball nets… 

A small, but steadfast band of brothers, fathers and sons each wonderful day until the end, and then, again…and again… 

We fished.

II

Early Teen Years

In 1953, my father, a former OSS officer during the war, who now worked for the Central Intelligence Agency, was transferred to Paris, France.  We spent three very nice and very bewildering years there.  My brother and I went to French schools, at first in the countryside, in La Varenne, then the following two years in Paris, proper. 

When we returned, much of my ‘Americanism’ had either vanished or been effectively subsumed by the intensity of living so very much exclusively in French culture.  It was very odd, even shocking for me in the Spring of 1956, the year we returned to Washington.  I mostly wore short pants, I spoke English with a French accent, I had no idea who Bill Haley and the Comets or Elvis Presley were and I did not have a ‘coonskin’ hat.  I was a bit of Monsieur Camus’s ‘Stranger’, although less dramatically…and certainly way younger.  School, in Washington that Spring, was confusing and foreign.  The ties that bound my schoolmates were long established, while I had been uprooted at an important time for normal social integration when you’re a kid.  I was kind of ‘group-less’, I guess, and I felt out of sorts.  My parents, noticing some of this, decided I needed to learn to play the guitar.  I was not sure why, except that my uncle George was a fine musician and I idolized him very much.  Lessons were arranged with Sophocles Papas at the important redoubt of classical music on the guitar, The Guitar Shop, on M Street, in Washington.  I loved playing, and took it very seriously.  The focus you must bring to a musical  instrument is a sure fire remedy to a great many psychological problems, especially at thirteen, although I have found this to be the case throughout my life.

That August, we moved to Bethany for the entire month.  This changed things dramatically for me and for my brother who, while three years younger, was experiencing some of the same ‘malaise’.

Quite amazingly Bethany proved to be the exact panacea to whatever was ailing me and my brother, and I imagine, at least to a degree, my parents.  My feelings  of connectivity with the ‘Beach’ were so strong and immediate, that I felt quite improved after only a couple of days.  However, I’m pretty sure it was the fishing that really did it. I clearly remember walking with my father and my brother to ‘our’ spot just south of the south end of the boardwalk, opposite Journey’s End, and casting.  I had not fished in three years and I was shocked at how far my cast propelled my bait, and what a great joy it was.  The ocean was a little high that day, so we were using about five ounces of weight to secure us to the bottom.  Even so, there was some movement, but not enough to make much difference.  The tide was pouring in, which is what we had calculated for, and every few minutes we had to dig out of the sand which was drawing us in with the passing of every wave.  When I walked out to about chest level to cast, the force of the riptide made itself known and threatened to take me down.  This was, of course, happening to all of us, so we kept a pretty good watch on each other each time one of us went a little deeper to cast.  I remember the clear blue sky, the way it always is after some weather has passed.  It was mesmerizing in the warm and comforting August wind, slightly chilled by the remnants of the storm.

Then, while still in this reverie, I saw out of the corner of my right eye, my father’s rod all of sudden buckle over.  I watched him wait a second or two, then strike back, setting the hook firmly into whatever kind of fish had so forcefully taken his bait. The rod stayed bent almost double.  The fish, whatever it was,  was running full speed for the deep blue water out beyond the sand. His line was peeling off at an alarming rate.  I watched him tighten the star drag, which apparently slowed the fish some.  Just as he was about to run out of line, the fish turned parallel to the shore and began swimming towards me.  I pulled my line out of the water as fast as I could, as did my brother on his other side.  My father walked slightly to the north with the fish to try and recapture some of his line, which he successfully did.  Then, the fish turned again and began to swim full bore toward the breakers, trying, we all believed, to relieve enough pressure on the line to eject the hook.  This was a trick we all knew well.  But, it did not fool my father, who kept the line tight and focused.  It had to be a blue, and a very big one.  Once nearly into the waves, the fish turned south and, then, we all saw him in the crest of a breaking wave.  It was a very large blue, and he was tiring, his beautiful shinning body outlined and illuminated by rainbows of color spawned by the crashing spray from the breaking wave.  My brother and I stood silently witnessing this battle.  I showed my father that I had grabbed the gaff from our tackle, and he nodded his approval.  He was bringing the huge fish closer and closer to the point where the waves would work for him, to where he could ‘swim’ the fish into the sand.  The gaff I had was a short handled device, with a great hook at the end of a shaft of hard wood, which meant I had to be very close to secure the fighting fish.  When the fish finally appeared in the shallow water inside the waves, I lunged for him, planting the gaff firmly into his tail section.  Between my father pulling him with the line and me with the gaff, we finally landed this wonderful blue.  He weighed in at close to twenty pounds, and was the most beautiful fish I had ever seen.  Ned ran over to our father and handed him the ‘priest’,  with which he finished the fish with one heavy blow to the head.  We took the great fish further onto the shore, and, along with a growing crowd of amazed witnesses, took in the otherworldly beauty of this perfect blue.  We shook hands with my father, who remained quiet and pensive, as if he may have slightly regretted taking this beautiful mature fish.  But, that didn’t last for very long, especially when my mother and our many friends ran up to congratulate him on his great catch, after which he was all smiles, although it was clear he was still a little shaken.  It was all a bit overwhelming, but, more than anything else, infused with high drama and pathos.  My brother and I were lost in the glory of the moment, and proud, beyond all understanding, of our noble father, the great surf fisherman.

My brother and I cleaned the huge fish in the surf, one holding the fish by the tail, and the other cutting from the anus to the gills, and removing the insides, saving the heart, the liver and the roe.  It was a female.  The rest of the entrails we left in the wet sand for the eager gulls flying at arms length from us, crying out and fighting each other for the best position.

That night my father and mother cooked the huge fish, stuffed with herbs and olive oil, salted and peppered, with its head still on over an open fire trench, the charcoal banked to make sure the fish would cook through.  They oiled the fish on the skin to make turning on the metal grate, also lightly oiled, easier, without losing chunks of skin.  The trick was to make sure the first side had firmly charred so it would not stick.  Once we successfully turned the fish, we covered it with a couple of frying pans and sheets of tinfoil to create the kind of pervasive oven like heat, which would ensure, with the banked charcoal, a thorough cooking. It took a while.  And, it was worth it.

My parents invited everybody they knew for the feast.  People brought corn, tomatoes and green beans, all at the height of their season.  There were soft drinks for the kids and buckets of freezing cold beer for the adults.  There were toasts and praise for the fisherman, who, very generously, included me and my brother as his indispensable mates.  Life was indeed very good at Bethany Beach, in the summer of 1956.

Then I discovered the boardwalk.  I mean the boardwalk for kids.  And, of course, by that I mean the bowling alley on the boardwalk, the center of the known universe for teens of every age at the beach.  It was located toward the north end of the boardwalk and it faced right out on the ocean.  The bowling was the ‘friendly’ variety, that is, ‘duck pins’, not the larger, more intimidating, ‘professional’ type of bowling balls with holes for fingers to hold and release them.  Anybody, almost any size, could get a good grip on these smaller, much lighter hole-less balls.  They were great fun!  The prestige job for a kid was  ‘pinboy’, since they’re were no electronic devices to re-set the pins after a ball was launched and they were knocked down.  These were jobs almost impossible to get unless you were on the inside of something, somewhere.  It was hands on, and the pinboys, leaping around the balls and resetting pins with speed and grace,  were sort of celebrities.  Everybody played, young and old, and the competition was friendly, but fierce.  Families played families, and people just plain chose up teams, like you might for a pick-up basketball game. 

But for the young it was much, much more.  They had a built in social club at the bowling alley, which everybody belonged to.  I quickly got to know hordes of kids my age, and younger, and older.  Every evening after dinner, I would walk, usually by myself, although sometimes I would take my brother Ned with me, to the bowling alley.  Occasionally, I would play, and other times, actually, maybe most of the other times, I would just hang out with my new pals.  We’d drink cokes and listen to the ocean, in the dark, in packs on the boardwalk, on windy nights, the cold spray soaking the night air.  When there was very little light left, the breaking waves flashed momentarily, picking up the last of the setting sun in the west, silvery crescents rising and disappearing with the perpetual booming of the waves, the glorious orchestration of our timeless sea. 

The next morning at dawn we would be on the beach in our usual spot.  First light, when the tide is right, is the best time to see the Bottlenose porpoises ranging up and down the coast, sometimes well within casting range, although there was never any fishing them.  They would swim right past our baits.  My father explained their enormous intelligence to us.  He seemed to think they could have ‘shore fished’ for us, had they taken a notion.  They were, and still are, among my favorite shows.  I never tired of them, and they were always performing in some new and fascinating way.  Sometimes, it seemed, they would drive the fish we were after further out, when they were swimming close to the shore.  Or, when they would pass us at two hundred yards out, we got more strikes, it seemed, from the smaller fish fleeing in toward us to escape them.  I often wondered if they were playing ‘tricks’ on us.  I am pretty convinced my father thought so…In fact, he every now and then intimated that a proper prayer to the porpoise Deity would not be a wasted effort.  He used to joke that if we only knew their language, we could make a deal, and be up to our eyeballs in blues and stripers, croakers and flounders, weakfish and even sharks, day in and day out…Now that got some laughs.  But, I remember mumbling various spontaneous ‘mumbo jumbos’ just in case any aquatic critters might be tuned in.  Never seemed to ‘work’, but one time…

Watching the birds became an obsession.  One or two seabirds cruising overhead was normal and didn’t get our interest.  However, gaggles of gulls close to shore, either north or south of us was, as my father would say, ‘actionable intelligence’.  If the birds were diving again and again, it was not for sport.  The big fish, almost certainly blues, were driving the terrified bait fish to the surface, right into the voracious beaks of the diving birds.  The bait fish, the menhaden, mostly, got a very bad deal, but they told us a lot about where the blues were, and what direction they were taking.  All we could do was wait.  When we felt sure they were on a trajectory that would bring them within range, lines were quickly brought in and baited hooks were exchanged for buck-tails, spoons, Hopkins lures or any shiny lure to catch the fancy of the maddened blues, gorging on anything that moved.  Jimmy Masters, the Marine General, always advised a little ‘gypsy fish bait oil’  on anything, including cut up old shoes, during the blue fish feeding frenzies.  I  remember him once ‘anointing’ all of our bucktails as we waited for the feeding fish to approach.  Lure fishing was different.  There was no casting and waiting.  It was highly energetic, even athletic, casting the lure and immediately retrieving as fast as possible to imitate one of the panicked baitfish.  And then, casting again.  When they were in range and we were dropping the lures in their midst, we had a fish almost every cast.  We needed, and had, a ‘ground crew’ to deal with the captured  fish, while we ran down the beach along side them casting and catching them until they finally vanished, or, we simply fell down from exhaustion.  As when I was younger, before Paris and all of that, this was the crowning moment for we fishermen, as maddened by the out of control harvest as the voracious blues were about their unrelenting feeding.  At moments like these, time compressed and virtually stopped.  We were suspended in a ‘warp’ between the land and the sea.  Later, I wondered if this was anything like the experiences some of the medieval mystics described, the suspension of temporal reality, and the ultimate dissolution of the ‘Self’ into the vastness of the great and, in this case,  watery universe. 

      

      


what if

- by Linn Barnes


what if


what if what if were not allowed anymore

what if that were so

what would we do if things got so bad

that all we had left was not even a shadow of hope

what if things looked like they might get better

what if and then what would we do

if we were unable to grasp that things could get better 

would we be obliged to see plainly and clearly

in front of us all around us above and below us

that things are getting much much worse

what if what if were not allowed anymore

what if that were so


Before the Flood II

- by Linn Barnes


Before the Flood  2

-Linn Barnes

The rain has collapsed the sky,

the river is bellowing  below us,

the woods are sagging, clumped over 

exhausted dancers, with no respite,

soaking a torrent down the ridge.

 

Small creatures will be driven from the safety

of their nests by the coming hostile assault 

to a watery death while grasping for roots 

and snapping branches in a final schuss to oblivion.


While from far out at sea lumbers great fear, 

destruction and possibly many deaths 

among the coastal souls who’ve chosen to stay

in the direct path of this roaring giant.

It is certain we mountain folk will get our share,

we will not be spared the howling wind, driving rain. 

Trees will collapse, littering the back roads, 

cutting power lines, dread and fear to the old and ill; 

generators will be ignited and roar their familiar tune.

We will certainly get a mirror of the tidal surge

when all the rivers will flood their banks and 

eat into the wooded borderland, creeping up 

the draws and climbing the hills where we will wait it out. 

These days, now darkening, water and tins of food 

safely hoarded, waiting for the wind to rise to a scream,

for the rain to knife horizontal through the demon air.


Before the Flood

- by Linn Barnes


Before the Flood

-Linn Barnes

The rain is collapsing the sky,

the river in bellowing  below us,

the woods are sagging, clumped over 

exhausted dancers, with no respite,

soaking a torrent down the ridge. 

Small creatures are driven from the safety

of their nests by the hostile assault

to a watery death while grasping for roots 

and snapping branches in a final schuss to oblivion.


All this, while far out at sea lurks a great

fear, death and destruction to the many

in the direct path of the coming hurricane.

And, it is certain we will get our share,

we will not be spared the wind and the rain. 

We may even get a mirror of a tidal surge

when all the rivers will flood their banks and 

eat into the wooded borderland, creeping up 

the draws and climbing the hills where we will sit it out; 

these days, now darkening, waiting for the wind to rise…




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