There’s a certain rhythm to living near the ocean that most people don’t understand. You see it a lot with city slicks who come up for vacations. They push against everything. In the traffic, on the causeway, down to the beach. Push, push, push. They always want to be getting on.
But every Dumbo knows the harder you push against the tide, the weaker you get. In life, you gotta let the current take you where it wants.
Granddad’s the one who taught me that. The week after Mom left, I wanted to tear the shingles off the roof. I wanted to drag Da on a plane and staple-gun the two of them together. I wanted to make them see sense.
“Nothing in this world is forever,” Granddad told me. “Don’t worry so much about the next day or the next. The sea has a way of sorting things out.
I was rolling this sentence over in my head as I nosed the Rita Anne down the Fisher. The sun was taking it easy and the whole world felt like it was emptying itself into the ocean. Even the red-tailed hawks were playing games in the trees.
In fact, if I squinted my eyes real hard, it was pretty easy to imagine what it was like before the idiots showed up. When there were forests and fish clear cross America.
Back then it was simpler. You hunted, you ate, you pooed, and you slept. If your rod broke, you made a new one. If you got tired of staying in one place, you headed for another.
I think Mom might have been happier if we lived more like that.
I remember one weekend when she decided to take us camping in the White Mountains. Da was working, so Mom said she’d show me a place where we could find our inner child. She said stuff like that a lot.
Anyway, there we were squishing mud through our toes and doing yoga around the campfire when suddenly, out of the dark, steps this old grey wolf.
And he stares at us.
And I remember Mom saying,
“Jim. Don’t move.”
So I didn’t.
But then she did! She took one little step towards him and stopped.
And the wolf did nothing.
She took another.
And the wolf did nothing.
She got within a foot of its head and then she did something really strange. She nodded. Not a big nod. Just a nod you’d give to a truck driver who needed to get into traffic.
And I swear on the grave of Grandma, that wolf nodded right back! Like he knew her! Then he turned around and disappeared into the woods.
I asked Mom why he hadn’t eaten us, and she said the wolf was her spirit animal.
I asked her what that meant and she said:
“A lot of cultures believe that you’re linked to a certain animal. This creature comes into your life and teaches you things you need to know about yourself.” Her voice cracked some. “Wolves like their freedom.”
When I heard that, I told her I wanted to have a wolf too.
“It doesn’t work that way. Your spirit animal finds you, not the other way around.”
“How will I know it’s my spirit animal and not just a turkey after our beans?”
“You wait and see.”
Though you might not expect it from the peace and the quiet, remembering about wild animals was starting to make me a little uneasy.
Sure, I was sure Mom was aching to be home. But when was the best time to catch her? Should I leave her be for a few more months to get good and lonely? Wait for the currents to drag her closer to shore?
Or should I stop ignoring the fact that folks had invented fishing rods for a reason?
I probably would’ve been debating this problem ‘til the end of infinity if the outboard hadn’t made a noise exactly like the one Granddad makes when he gets ginger ale down his windpipe.
“Ehhh, ehhh, ehhh.”
Then it died.
I threw the shift back into neutral, adjusted the choke, and yanked on the starter rope.
I banged a bit on the top and tried again.
I told the engine that if it didn’t get off its duff and do something useful for a change, there was gonna be almighty doolally to pay.
That didn’t work either.
So I did what any battle-hardened man would do.
I decided to check the fuel filter.
See, the thing about old outboards is that they’ve got these little plastic filters hooked up to the gas line. Filters are designed to keep crud from gumming up the flow of gasoline from the tank to the engine. But because they’re small, they tend to get clogged. Then you’ve got to go in and clear the crud out.
It’s a finicky job, but it’s no big deal. In fact, I was surprised that Da hadn’t thought of it before. The boys at the boatyard would have a huge laugh if they knew Pete Tucker was bringing in a “squirrelly” engine with a clogged filter!
You can’t check a fuel filter while you’re drifting, so I went looking for the anchor. It was right where Da always stored it, near the bow. I picked it up and chucked it overboard.
Now, tell me, if you were stowing an anchor, would you leave the end of it loose? No, you’d know that it would get used again. So you’d tie it to something fixed. Like maybe, say, the BOAT?
Yeah, you might do that.
But apparently Da didn’t.
Because that anchor line flew right off the deck and right over the side. I was just in time to watch the end of the rope go swirling into the dark. All the way down to the bottom of the river.
To make matters worse, when I looked up, there was a big white boat bearing down on me. A boat I didn’t recognize. A boat that was headed straight for my bow.
I guess the Coasties could make it up the Fisher after all.