We suit up, he in trunks and fishing shirt, I in a full body UV-protective suit, hardly a square inch of my Lupus-endangered skin at risk in the Texas sun. I shrug off the twinge of anxiety over furtive glances and even blatant stares at my swim attire.
Then we shuffle into the surf—pushing at the sand to spook stingrays and crabs as gently as possible and to avoid the sudden holes ploughed by wave action.
The journey out is an emotional rush for me: the brush of fish against my suit, sargassum scraping hands and toes, breakers that splash and slap, hard stones and sharp shells under heels, now and then the suit-attenuated sting of a jellyfish. Yet somehow it is all joyful, that first walk out to the second sandbar where suddenly the shore break is behind us, the beach partiers are hushed, and peace sets in.
We get into a rhythm: bait, cast, wait, lose bait, bait, cast, catch a keeper or not, on and on. All while digging our feet into the sand, right then left, to stay upright.
Around us sea birds perform their survival dances. Seagull argue over scraps from beachgoers. Terns squeal, squeak, dive into the sea, and emerge with tiny fish then chase each other in twists and loops. Yards away, Brown pelicans soar slowly, dip their heads, then fold wings and plunge, coming up with a shake to swallow their catch and rid their pouch of water at the same time. On a good day, the pirates of the air, Magnificent Frigatebirds, float high until they find a victim, a gull or another Frigatebird, and chase it relentlessly until it disgorges its meal midflight. On a particularly entertaining day, dolphins play and do their own angling close to shore.
Later, bait running low, a handful of fish in the cooler, we are not so much fishing as feeding the pigfish and hardhead catfish. It may have been an hour or four hours. We can never tell. We long ago gave up on “water resistant” watches. Time has both stood still and rushed by and generally lost meaning here. My face is raw despite my efforts to protect it. My suit is like so much sagging skin. My legs are drunk-weak. I am ready to simply swim on my back and look up at the deep blue Texas sky.
It is an illusion/delusion of course, this time on the second sand bar. Time is passing as always and life is changing. Eventually we will have to leave the surf—not just for the day or the week but possibly for good as age makes us vulnerable to nature’s risk factors and any ability to heal from the assaults of catfish fins, stingray barbs, and wayward fish hooks wanes or becomes vanishingly small.
Statistics favor neither of us—he is several years my senior but I have a wonky immune system. Neither of us wishes to leave the other on shore either literally or figuratively.
What lies on the horizon when viewed from the shore vs. from the peace of waist deep in the sea will surely seem as different and limited as we believe it to be. This is the brutal truth of aging. But there are other horizons: grandchildren, new avenues of knowledge and creativity to explore, new parts of the island to know that don’t require sinking ourselves into salt or sand.
That time hasn’t yet come. We still have time left on the second sandbar.