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TideWriters Tales
Spring on the Chesapeake
By Ann Sale
     Does the end of winter find you feeling like a piece of shot elastic? You’re probably too young to have even seen shot elastic but the dreariness of it all has caused me to start to sing-a bad sign I know. I’m lonely for you and while I know spring eventually turns up everywhere I feel compelled to share with you the magic it spreads over the Chesapeake Bay. Already the osprey have arrived, they get here every year on or about the 10th of blustery March. They’ve driven from their nesting buoy all potential interlopers, celebrated their togetherness after separate migrations and are awaiting the coming of the first egg. When we do venture out in the boat we cover our heads-not in fear of what you might think-we’re trying to avoid the splat of slimy falling fish. ‘Tis the season for finding fish flapping on the roadway, dead and disgusting in the yard and reeking on the breath of every cat and canine cavorting on our island. Thankfully osprey parents get a little more careful after the babies arrive and most meals reach the nest intact.

     We’re washing the humming bird feeders. Those tiny souls haul up from the rain forest and tap purposefully on the window around the second week of April. They’re weary and want to be fed. We rush to oblige. Our reward you know is some tiny specimens tippling from a parent’s personal feeder-humming birds are not good sharers otherwise.
Blankets of gold spread magically over bare, water logged fields. Daffodils, survivors from the long ago era when Gloucester/Mathews counties were the Daffodil Capitol of the World, are everywhere. They carpet our woodlands, smother stream banks and dapple roadsides like abandoned pots of gold. We throw a big festival in appreciation. Barbecue and Bluegrass-our specialties-their scents and sounds eddy together and oh, it’s so hard to go home.

     We can always tell winter’s tailing off when we catch our pound net fishermen spreading “the big net”. It covers a whole field and lays there for all the days it takes them to patiently mend the tears. Cold, gusty days make them more active. Then they cut and sharpen trees for the line of poles. When everything is ready they move out onto the water, the only boats on the bay-broad, beautiful ghost boats alone in the mist. By the time the first violets catch us by surprise the poles are “planted”, nets hung and our fishermen present the first catch. It’s a mixed bag and we’re waiting on the wharf all eager to see what sea creatures are around already-and to eat them. From the pile in the bottom of the boat, they’ll throw you a fresh sweet croaker, or a weird flat flounder. You catch up with them later to pay.

     April 1st brings out the rest of the work boats. It’s a race as the crabbers rush to drop their baited pots in the best locations and the empty bay is suddenly studded like a biker’s belt with the color coded floats marking each pot. Every man chooses a different color and many a shot has been fired when the hand pulling the pot wasn’t ‘legal’. Crabs will be scarce for while yet, and thin after wintering in the mud but pretty soon after eating there’s one thing they all have to do-molt. Oh yeah, it’s then we get the soft crabs-plucked from the water just as soon as they back out of that tight old hard shell. We hardly touch them, removing only ‘the dead man’ (the gills) and the eyes too if you’re squeamish. Touched by peppered flour, they sizzle momentarily in hot bacon grease. Crisp and fresh like that you just don’t want anything else night after night after night.

     Sometime during this eating orgy the baby ducklings appear. Tough ole watermen, rough talking bums all pass the word…"baby ducks today-first on the island”. It’s the beginning of everything fresh and new-like you. Oh how I love spring-how I miss you. 

© 2001 Ann Sale All Rights Reserved

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