October 28th, 2016

What’s Between the Rocks?

By G. E. Shuman
Once again, a few weeks ago, I had the wonderful good fortune of spending a day, (or two) depending on how much I think you need to know, at my favorite spot in the entire world. I seem to write about this place at least once each summer, so I guess this column will be that ‘once’, unless I have a chance to get back there before fall.

The place is the beautiful granite breakwater extending out across the harbor in Rockland, Maine. My extended family and I have been going there, to fish, and to just enjoy the rocky Maine coast since I was a young child. In fact, some of them have been going there since my father was a child. Somehow, the granite never seems to age, or change. That could be part of its attraction, for me.

I was at the breakwater due to the kind generosity of my dear wife, who actually suggested that I go there while she attended to some important family business ‘inland’, in that great state in which we both grew up. I do appreciate Lorna very much, and am truly thankful that she had the idea for my short solo trek to the coast. Now, enough of the introductions.

The first day of my little excursion I arrived in Rockland, took my rod, my bait, a lunch, and my camp chair, and walked out to about the halfway point on the nearly mile long, ancient breakwater. It was so foggy that I could not see the lighthouse at the end, and could barely see the water. A smooth layer of sea smoke hovered over the small, rippling waves on that very calm June morning, and I proceeded to set up my fishing spot in this overwhelmingly peaceful place. I was quite alone, and somehow surrounded by the sea, the scents, the soft breeze, and the calls of the gulls and lonely blasts from the lighthouse fog horn. It was, simply, magnificent.

I sat in my chair, baited my hook, and cast out onto the harbor side of the rocks. I was not anxious about hooking the mackerel I was accustomed to catching here, other years. It would be nice if I did, but I love this spot, with or without the fish. That was a good thing, as I caught none that day.

Suddenly, and somewhat sickeningly, I heard a faint, metallic, slipping-scraping sound, as if something had just fallen into a crack between the huge granite pieces. That is because something had just fallen into a crack between the huge granite pieces. I immediately felt in my pocket for my brand new iPhone, and was relieved beyond belief that it was still there. (Lorna would not have been quite so amicable when I returned to her side, if I had returned without that phone.) You see, over the years, we have come to realize that what the breakwater takes, the breakwater keeps. The two or three inch wide crevices between the stones are wide enough to accept many sacrifices to the ocean, and are happy to do so. Those granite blocks, weighing many tons each, are there to stay, no matter how many phones may slip down between them.

What I had heard, tinkling, lightly scraping, making its way down, a yard or two, to a nearly eternal spot between the stones, was my favorite, like-new, sporting knife. It was, or is, depending on how you feel about something that is lost forever but still exists, a beautiful, steel blade with a very smooth, polished wooden handle, and it was a thing that just felt ‘right’ when held in your hand. I had, only moments before, decided to ‘fish or cut bait’ and pulled the small knife from its sheath on my belt, to cut the bait and then get to the fishing part. My line was in the water, I had settled back in my canvas chair, and then I heard that sickening sound. Tank-tink-scrape-tink, as my knife left me, as surely, and as ‘for forever’ as if it had left the planet. The loss did not affect the fishing at all. I had another knife.

As I, eventually, gave up on the idea of actually catching anything that day, I packed up my gear and headed back off the rocks. One of the very few other people out on the breakwater stopped and asked if I used bait, jigs or lures to fish. I told him that I had used them all, one year or another. The problem was, in fishing, and in life, it really doesn’t matter what you use for bait, when there’s nothing there to catch.

Stepping over all of the cracks between those very old stones, I began to wonder just what really might be between them all. Surely, the knives, and line, and hand reels, hooks, bobbers, and more hooks, and lures, and more lines upon lines and hooks upon rusty hooks, and sinkers of other amateur fishers, were there. Indeed, the hand lines I had used as a child, some fifty years ago, and had let slip out of my hands were, surely, still there, and so were whatever small things my dad might have lost while fishing with his aunt, some thirty years before that.

I continued to wonder, as I walked back to shore, about time, and the record of change, captured in the things we own, and use. Surely the breakwater was now in possession of lost things from many generations, from cell phones, paperback books, small radios, sunglasses of styles long forgotten, faded Coppertone containers, cassette tapes, zippo lighters, maybe even a few 45 rpm records from some 50’s teen parties, and more than a few fishing knives.

Someday mankind may dismantle this great monument to his past efforts to keep the sea from destroying this harbor town. I wish I could be there if they do, but I actually hope that they never do. If it happens, they will find a cache of wonders, in a many-layered record of sunny or foggy family fishing days since the very start of its construction in 1881. And they may even find my knife. For now, that knife belongs to the breakwater, the best fisher of all, for it catches all.

(Note: You may have your own spot where memories are kept by the sea. If not, I will gladly share mine with you.)

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