By GC SMITH
Shrimp are runnin’ and the Jimmies are fat. Living off the land and the bounty of the estuarine system is the Lowcountry summer.
I filled the cooler with ice and beer and a couple of plastic bags full of sandwiches. I toted the load to my boat, a sixteen foot Wahoo with a fifty horse outboard. Boat draws less than a foot of water with the outboard's foot up. She’s great in the shallow flats and the small back creeks.
A half hour on the intracoastal and I took the boat into the Whale Branch at red marker number two-o-six. About a half mile in I cut the engine and let her drift. I ate a sandwich, baloney with tomato and onion, and drank a cold beer. That done I dumped some ice in a bucket and got the cast net from the well at the back of the boat. I drifted for several hours, throwing the net and sorting shrimp. Twenty count went on ice in the bucket, smaller ones went back in the water for another, later day.
The sun was lowering in the western horizon. An osprey headed home to its nest winged past the boat. Great white herons in the marsh began to make their guttural evening calls. I’ve always imagined they were calling out goodnight to each other. It was time to head for home. I tidied up my gear, pulled the cap from a beer, and cranked the engine. Tried to crank the engine that is. The battery was dead. It looked liked like I was going to spend the night on the water.
Off in the distance evening sun-shafts glistened off Spanish moss that draped massive live oaks on a fair sized hummock. I poled the boat toward a sandy beach. As I got closer to the beach I could see a faint outline of a cypress shack behind the trees. I beached the boat, tying her off to a tree. That precaution is necessary in the Lowcountry where ten foot plus tide-swings at flood will submerge the beach and at ebb take an untended boat away. I walked toward the shack.
She was on the porch. She wore a light cotton shift and when she moved it was clear that the shift was all she wore. She smiled. “It’s been a long time, stranger.”
“It has been that,” I said. “What are you doing on this hummock?”
“It belonged to my gran’ daddy. When he passed it fell to me. My home now.”
Her name was Esmerelda and we did indeed go back a long way. We played together as small children. Memories flooded, her sauciness and how she was always ahead of me. Things she taught me, or tried to teach. But then we grew to adolescence and our playing together was no longer to be countenanced. My mother and her mother ensured our separation. Still, there had been experiments before we were parted.
She smiled, perfect white teeth glistening. “You here to finish what began so many years ago?”
Tongue tied, I stammered some unintelligible gibberish.
She stepped back a foot or two into the room. She stopped, lit by the setting sun, framed in the doorway. She laughed softly. “Well, come on in. Could-might we’ll find what wasn’t.”