September 2007 - Volume 12, Issue 2

Catch Of The Day

By Janice Alonso

Photo of a red fishnet containing several silver colored fishIf you surrender to the wind, you can ride it.
– Toni Morrison

The sun rose over its watery hurdle, blazing down on a small boat swaying against sloshing waves. The craft bobbed up and down while two men maneuvered a leviathan-sized net through the water. A salty breeze stroked my face, leaving a thick, tacky glaze as I sipped the French roast, savoring its potent flavor. The coffee steamed down my throat, scouting a warm trail into my stomach. With staccato jerks a seagull's beak poked the water as he goose-stepped through the mushy sand searching for morsels to fill his belly. Like the gull, I too was searching for nourishment.

After months of writing I'd landed only a stringer of disappointments. Familiar surroundings cast no bait to tempt my hungry spirit-no subject lured my imagination. Convinced the mundane had suffocated my creative breath, I fled to the seaside, yearning to consume exotic delicacies and gorge my inspiration-starved appetite.

The fishermen stretched the net just off shore. As the boat edged closer, one man jumped into a wave and pushed the dinghy the remaining distance. Once the boat was beached, a wispy youth, clad only in a pair of cut-offs, leaped ashore, hauling several buckets. Blond hair spiked up from a clean-shaven face, and two silver hoops dangled from his left earlobe. White sun screen streaked beside squinted eyes that observed the confident motions of his partner's hands guiding the net inland.

The older man, his leathery skin seeping sweat, sported a thick gray-streaked ponytail at the nape of his neck. A T-shirt advising "Save Our Wildlife: Drive a Drunk Home" topped his swim trunks.

As if acting out his part in a long-running play, each performed his respective role, oblivious to the curiosity seekers congregating. Together they tugged until the net joined them ashore. The growing audience watched mes- merized as the net's contents spilled out to a chorus of oohs and aahs.

I'd assumed nothing of interest could be captured so close to shore but decided to go see what had initiated the rumblings. On the sand lay a conglomeration of the strangest creatures I'd ever seen. The fishermen began tossing some fish into buckets while returning others to sea. It appeared that the unusual creatures were freed while the ordinary ones were saved. Those in the buckets seemed too small for any retail value.

A woman wearing a wild floral shift spoke. 'What's that over there?"

The older fisherman glanced to see which fish had been singled out. He scooped up a tiny, flopping fish. "A robin fish," he answered, raising it for inspection. "It got its name because the flippers on the side look like wings." He pitched the little fellow into the water. We watched as the miniature "wings" fluttered its escapee away.

"Look," called the boy, holding up a stingray, "looks like we've caught this'n before." He laughed and pointed to a stinger laced straight-pin style in the ray's back and then said to the onlookers. "We remove the stinger so the ray won't hurt anybody. We don't kill any fish we don't need."

"Just what is your need?" I blurted out.

Without pausing, the man explained, "We collect food for a seabird sanctuary that nurses injured birds back to health. When a bird can survive on its own, it's freed. The boy and I feed the nursery. It takes a lot of fish for those babies. We work every day collecting the food--their very lives depend on it."

He set the fish-filled bucket on their boat, then grabbed another bucket and resumed the sorting.

I watched until the older man straightened.. He gazed down the boundless coastline before he nodded at the boy. They walked the boat out to sea, jumped in and then rowed out farther, beginning the process once more.

As I witnessed their diligence, I envied their competence--soon realizing it was their diligence that created the competence. Like the gull, I'd feasted on tidbits from the sea that morning. They weren't the delicacies for which I'd longed, but rather the ones necessary to nourish my ailing writing. I'd waited too long for serendipity. I would return home to begin my daily seining and sorting, becoming a fisher capturing the words needed to give flight to my writings, fledglings of creativity.

Used with permission