I awoke to a dull but persistent sound of freight containers being offloaded at the Port of Charleston. “That’s the sound of money,” I had once heard someone say. I was tired from travel. Coming home was always a mix of excitement and exhaustion. Friends and family; a beautiful city by the sea so steeped in history. Long before me centuries of tides had moved life-sustaining nutrients, boats, people, and commerce through meandering fingers reaching deep in to the heart of permeable shores.
But it was 6:00am and time to rise for a fishing trip with my father. Having spent so many years living great distances from him, I was looking forward to spending some slow time exploring narrow creeks and marshes in pursuit of redfish and trout. In the days proceeding, bending rods and screeching reels filled my imagination and intensified the anticipation. I hoped my suppositions would become reality.
I was a little dismayed the day before when I came in to town and witnessed the impending storm clouds on the horizon. When it began to rain in buckets, I thought the trip would be canceled for sure. A somber call to Dad allayed my fears somewhat. He’d been studying the weather and felt confident we should give it a go. I hung up the phone and noted the rain gear in my suitcase.
Despite my doubts, dawn rose fresh and brilliant. I looked across the harbor to see Charleston filling with the flow of men and women making their way to work. I felt fortunate to have grown up fishing these waters. Before I could even walk I bounced around in a basket at the bow of my father’s John Boat. In those days my mother would have been younger than my wife is now.
Exploring the fringes of one of America’s oldest and most beautiful cities was always an adventure for a young child. The biology of bringing up a seine on a mud bank, catching a shark, getting caught on a barrier island in a fierce thunderstorm, or heading shrimp till my fingers bled. These are just a few of my memories.
We arrived at our first fishing spot. The marsh grass gleamed green against the backdrop of palm, live oak, and pine, and somewhere in the brush a warbler welcomed the day. I spoke of friends, money, and new developments that are further protruding and forever changing the landscape. We could see countless new homes from the boat where, before, we could have never conceived of their existence. Now I think we feel hypocritical for simultaneously wanting environmental protection and economic improvements. But we know the solutions must be there. They have to be. Who doesn’t want their children to experience the same natural beauty that we shared with our parents?
The entire time I spoke, my father simply listened. At first I wondered why he didn’t readily join in. But then it occurred to me that he always listens to me, providing feedback when necessary; guidance when required. While the amount of talk is not the measure of quality time spent together, I hope he knows I am there to listen to him as well.
I watched my father make a cast close to the bank, and in an instant his line went taut. There were no jerky movements, foolish displays, or wasted effort. Instead, his actions were smooth and practiced. Dad pulled in a beautiful bass; and then promptly released it. The day was far from over, so we made our way to several other spots. We caught some, lost some, and all the while soaked up the landscape that has helped to shape the lives of each of us.
On the way back in we followed the “Winds of Fortune,” a shrimp boat returning with its days catch. At one time my grandfather operated two shrimp boats, the Carol El and Princess Anne, the latter of which sank out at the jetties with him on it. It was a different time back then. Much of the area was forest and farmland. Then a bridge was built.
I tried to picture what home was like in those days. What it was like for my grandfather to fish with his father. I wondered what it would be like to fish with my son.