Archive for October, 2012

Oct 30 2012

Aftermath

Published by under Weather

I was surprised to see the full moon shining through bright skies at 10 pm last night. A few rags from the remaining storm clouds scudded over the trees and the brown seed pods from the honey locust curled and crunched underfoot. All was well. We never lost electricity save for a couple micro-flickers that shut down my desktop PC, reset the satellite TVs and made all the alarm clocks blink “12:00.”

The motorboat now sits in the front yard, her bilge choked with leaves and sticks, waiting to be relaunched later this afternoon for a quick patrol of the harbor and a return to the Bald Eagle (who was fine when I last set eyes on her at 5:30 last night, right at the predicted peak of the winds). I think the actual peak at Cotuit came around 3:30 pm, when I ventured down the lane to the landing for the obligatory Churbuckian Storm Patrol (over the objections of my wife), ducking under the police barricade at the head of Old Shore Road and hurrying down the tree-lined tunnel to the boat ramp at the bottom, convinced a tree limb would come crashing down on me at any second. The winds were flowing right up the road in huge gouts of warm tropical air mixed with salt spume blown off the wave-tops in the bay. Standing on Main Street before ducking the yellow tape I could see the wind and spray blasting up and out of the intersection like a firehose of storm.

Having made the 200 meter jog without widowing my wife under a fallen Norway Maple, I joined my neighbor Steve at the boat ramp and felt the full force of Sandy head on, leaning into it,  waves breaking overthe road and washing over my boots.  A tree went down beside me, a slow lean as its roots softened in the flooded bank. The Split Ticket, a familiar catamaran, was dragging ashore a little to the south of the ramp; I imagine she’s on the mudbank this morning. But otherwise the harbor had been stripped of the last of the summer sailboats, with only a half-dozen left on their moorings to work things out on their own. A pickup truck appeared, with an overly exuberant driver jumping out and screaming into the wind, proclaiming that only a true Cape Codder would face such a storm head-on. Whatever. I don’t like the rubberneckers who clog up Old Shore Road during storms and cause traffic jams while the boat owners are trying to get their trailers down the ramp and their dinghies off the beach. Sure it’s nice to watch the storm — it’s the ultimate primitive special effect — but when the DPW and the police cordon off the road, well, respect the cordon people and watch it on television.

The best part of the scene at Ropes Beach was the big white clouds of spray the gusts would gather from the water and blow across the water in swirling 60 mph walls. The waves were little because the wind was coming overland, from the east, and there wasn’t enough fetch for the water to kick up like it did a year ago in Irene. I’d say Sandy had higher gusts that Irene and a much longer period of sustained winds in the 40s, but Sandy was much more of a nonevent because there wasn’t a summer crowd to come gawk at it, the moorings were stripped of their boats two weeks ago, and all that was left was a couple commercial fishing boats, and a few big sloops like mine. Sandy was definitely a Townie Storm.

I wanted to get a glimpse of my boat, but she was  hidden, tucked around the corner of Handy’s Point and the beach from the yacht club out to the Little River marsh was gone under the surge. I hurried back up Old Shore under the groaning and tossing canopy of trees, was amazed to see a mother with her three kids walking downhill (they need helmets, I thought), but told myself not to be a judgmental old fart and waved hello.

I marched down Main Street in my Grunden raincoat and boots to the Town Dock. The water was way into the parking lot, so I waded out to the beginning of the pier and tried to get a glimpse of the boat around Lowell’s Point, but that wasn’t possible and I wasn’t going to risk taking a wave over the boottops by walking onto the submerged dock. Funny how 54-year old brains get all cautious when the 19-year old version of me would have been out there up to my knees hanging on for dear life while trying to chug a Budweiser in the wind.

I took some phone video, saw what there was to see, and went back to the house for the car and quick drive up Old Post Road to a bluff with a good view of the Inner Harbor and the boat riding on her 2,000 pound storm mooring. A couple limbs in the streets which were slick with blown leaves and pine needles, but no big trees were down. The lights were still on at the Coop — the local grocery — and a bunch of skateboarders were hanging out in front looking unimpressed and bored.

The boat was riding very well and was perfectly situated under the lee of the bluffs around the Narrows and Grand Island. She wasn’t hobby-horsing or looking in any danger. Other than some scudding to and fro in the gusts as she took the strain on the mooring yoke across her bow, she looked like she would live to sail another season. I took a few more videos, hopped back in the car, and decided to explore the High Grounds to the south of the village center. The lights were out south of School Street and a couple utility crews and tree-surgeon trucks were at work under their bright lights. It amazes me that Cotuit– at least my part of Cotuit — kept its power through Sandy, just as it did through Irene. Bob in ’91 plunged us into a sweaty darkness of rotting refrigerators and cold water showers for what felt like a week of medieval hardship and hell. Oceanview Avenue was blocked by a fallen tree, but I found a way to Loop Beach and paused on the hill in front of the Judge’s place to look at Sampson’s Island in the failing light. The tide was high, the beach was rimmed like a margarita glass with a verge of white salt, but there were no major beach breaches or hydrological events that I could see. Loop Beach was covered with bales of washed up codium — the rubbery seaweed also called Deadman’s Fingers or Oysterthief — and some kids were playing in the wind. The light had failed, it was evening, and time to get off the roads.

I came home, declared to Daphne that the boat would live again and settled down in front of the Weather Channel to watch poor NYC get pounded. My partner Ben on the West Side texted me through the evening with updates as the Battery and West Side highway flooded, electricity began to fail, transformers exploded, and highways were closed. I am writing off any idea of returning to the office in midtown this week and will spend this morning rescheduling my appointments.

The big winner in this storm, if storm’s can said to have “winners” is the scientific models and digital information systems that identified Sandy when it was still well south of Jamaica last week. I started following the storm six days ago — on Tuesday, October 23rd thanks to an email alert from the National Hurricane Center — reviewed the various predictive models with their Monte Carlo simulations and various algorithmic preferences, historical data sets, and unique assumptions only a person familiar with things like isobars, dropsondes, shearing winds, eyewalls and thermoclines could care about.  I eavesdropped on the chatter of those professional and academic meteorologists on storm2k.org, and by Wednesday I was blogging that I had a bad feeling about this storm. For four days prior to Sandy coming ashore the professionals were predicting — with very good accuracy in turns out in day-after-highsight — the time of the landfall, the location, the intensity, the size of the surge, the estimate of the damages …. all with the usual disclaimers and qualifiers, but all right on the money down to the prediction that Sandy would break records as the largest storm in history as well as the lowest in terms of barometric pressure. The news reported by the New York Times last week that we face a gap in this kind of coverage and detection as our polar weather satellites are retired and replaced came is worrisome given that weather technology seems to have finally come into its own.

What is interesting is the concept of hype and media in storms. I think it’s human nature to get excited by the prospect of a major weather event. (It must be a genetically coded fight-or-flee kind of response that tells animals when to seek cover or cavemen to flee the surge and hide from the wind. I know the extremely low barometric pressure had a physical impact on me yesterday. I had a throbbing headache and even felt a little nauseated.) The Weather Channel — which my friend in the Keys jokes is a conspiracy owned by Home Depot — is probably the top source of information, and other than their weather studs in their silly L.L. Bean windbreakers (L.L. Bean is last place I would shop for foul weather gear) being morons on the beaches and piers, there isn’t a lot to be learned except for when some true weather scientist from the NHC is interviewed and slips into the science. NOAA and the National Weather Service did a disservice by following a semantic process and issuing confusing statements that declared Sandy was going “extra-tropical” which the mainstream media morons initially took to be a downgrade, when it fact the storm was getting stronger, just no longer meeting the technical requirements of a tropical cyclone. That’s when people around me started the usual macho bravado of proclaiming, “Ah, it’s not going to do anything. Just more hype.  I’m salty and I don’t care.”

I thought the officials in the mid-Atlantic and New York were slow to react. It appeared that Governor Cuomo stepped into the political vacuum left open by Mayor Bloomberg’s seeming insouciance (recalling his infamous advice during a blizzard that New Yorker’s relax and take in a Broadway Show) when he started making moves on Sunday with the transportation system. New Jersey is going to be pointing a lot of fingers at one another I imagine. But the existential reality of storms is this:

  1. Forecasts are imprecise and a lot of storm warnings are “chicken-little” misses.
  2. People won’t evacuate. Shelters must suck.
  3. The media loves drama. It’s all about the boat on the rocks, the waves over the breakwater, the big tree down on the car. Don’t expect your local paper to teach you about storm cones, the difference between the eastern and western quadrants, steering currents, etc. Their job is to tell you where the shelter is, what to do with injured wildlife, fill your bathtub, use flashlights and not candles, etc.
  4. All storms are different and in the end, other than the drama of nature’s fury, the real reality comes the morning after when the coffee maker is dead, the Internet is down, and you face a $5,000 wind damage deductible because your insurance company really doesn’t care about you.

Finally (enough bloviating, I have to work) the big winner was the “Euro” model — the predictive analysis model run by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. This is one of a few dozen models run by various organizations such as the National Hurricane Center to the US Navy, and according to the weather nuts, was right all along in calling the unique circumstances that make Sandy a Frankenstorm. A great resource for seeing all the “spaghetti” of the various models can be found at, of all places, the South Florida Water Management District.

I know today will reveal a lot of hurt to the west and the south. Best of luck to all in the mid-Atlantic and Tri-state areas. You probably won’t read this for another few days until the lights come back.

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Oct 29 2012

Some quick Sandy video

Published by under General

I ventured out on a storm patrol at 3 pm just as the wind really began to build.

Commentary to come later.Things are wild here now.

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Oct 27 2012

Utter indignity

Published by under WTF?

The wife and daughter have conspired to further anthropomorphically torment the poor dog by dressing it for the Halloween holiday.  She cowers, she winces, she endures. This makes my fillings ache. So much for being a manly man with a manly dog.

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Oct 27 2012

Sandy – two days to go

Published by under Weather

I stripped the sails and dodger off of the Bald Eagle Too yesterday, taking her into the town dock so I could back the car onto the pier and load it up with sails, canvas, cushions, pillows and bedding left over from the summer. The boom came off easily and I cut off the rigging tape from the turnbuckles, pulled some cotter pins, but left the clevises in as it looks like I am not going to get hauled and the boat will have to ride things out on a hurricane buoy in the inner harbor.

I’m not too freaked out by this one. The assistant harbormaster was on the town dock and predicted three inches of rain but prolonged conditions worst than Irene a year ago. He’s ex-Coast Guard and said his buddies at the Cape May station are staring a big one in the eye as Sandy is predicted to make a perpendicular landfall somewhere between Delaware Bay and Sandy Hook on Monday.

The discussion between the professional meteorologists on storm2k.org is generally too technical for me to follow, but a few of them are making some pretty dramatic statements about the one-of-a-kind confluence of circumstances that gives this storm the potential to really disrupt life for a lot of people in the mid-Atlantic states. When some of the professional voices in that forum start to make grave pronouncements that this is going to be a monster, I start to pay attention.

 

As of today (Saturday morning), they are in general agreement that Sandy is pulling a rope-a-dope by declining in power from a hurricane (sustained winds over 70 mph, tropical temperatures throughout) to an “extra-tropical storm” or “northeaster” as it gets sucked in a question-mark shaped course out of the usual cyclone pattern of moving from the southwest to the northeast along the Gulf Stream. A weather system coming east from the mid-west is causing the button-hook maneuver and will bring it abruptly west along the shipping lanes into New York City and the Chesapeake right into New Jersey. The professionals say it will intensify as it meets the low pressure system over Ohio and Pennsylvania, with its barometric pressure dropping potentially to a low level below that of the infamous 1938 Long Island hurricane. Low pressure means intense winds, the collision with the mid-west weather means Sandy will get held in place and start to dump a lot of rain on the Delmarva Peninsula up to NYC.

The effects on Cape Cod will be mostly wind from an extraordinarily large wind field — it looks like those winds will be hitting us from the southwest and west on Monday night through Tuesday. The reasons the forecasters sound more freaked out that usual are:

  1. The “perfect-storm” scenario of a tropical storm meeting a big low pressure system over the most heavily populated section of the US
  2. This would be one of the few storms to strike, as opposed to glance off, the shore.
  3. It is hitting on a full moon.
  4. The barometric profile in the models suggest it will come ashore with exceptionally low pressure, pushing a considerable surge in front of it as high as ten feet.
  5. The confluence means it will stall over the tri-state area and “grind” away before slipping off to the north. This means a long prolonged period of soaking rains and high winds.
  6. The trees in the mid-Atlantic are still heavy with leaves, so knock-downs are inevitable, causing power outages.
  7. The mid-west system could cause winter-like conditions later next week, a bad scenario if lots of people are without power.
  8. Some professionals are saying this could be a “4.2” out of a scale of 6.0 in terms of damages. The most hysterical are saying it will be the biggest weather event since 1938, most agree it will cause damages in the “billions” and could exceed Irene in terms of impact.

It’s gorgeous here today, so I’m off to the beach to make the most of it and to fiddle around on the boat and essentially do what I needed to do anyway later next week when the boatyard comes to haul me for the winter. I’m supposed to be at a meeting in NYC on Tuesday and other outside of Philly on Wednesday — doubting either is going to happen.

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Oct 25 2012

Now I’m Officially Worried About Sandy

Published by under Weather

I am not a meteorologist, but I know enough to scare myself and as soon as it’s a decent hour I’m calling Peck’s Boats to beg for a pull out on Friday or Saturday ahead of Hurricane Sandy.

Couple of factors have me spooked. First, this is a late season storm driving due north into the warmest North Atlantic in modern record keeping. According to my yachting associate Charles Barthold, water temperatures are 5+ degrees higher than normal around the Northeast and warm water is the energy source for storm systems. Second, there is a big low pressure system moving east to meet Sandy from the midwest. This looks like it will “grab” the storm and pull it back towards the northeast, hooking it onto Cape Cod in a classic northeaster scenario. This is, indeed, a repeat of the “Perfect Storm” scenario that whacked the Cape on Halloween, 1991. I remember that storm and it was a pisser.

The CMC OZ  model below (click through to animate it – press the “+1″ button to step through it) gives a good predictive illustration of the button-hook maneuver Sandy could pull on the Northeast. This is one of a dozen models, so take it for what it is, but it gives an idea of the weird way this storm could behave at the last second.

I am normally not a believer in the wisdom of the crowds, but the discussions at storm2k.org are very informative and give a good range of random weather geeks’ opinions.

So the plan is to get out NYC today around noon, use tomorrow to strip sails, dodgers and other random parts and pieces and begin to assume that Peck’s can’t get me out in time, in which case I’ll trust to my mooring which saw me through Irene in 2011.

 

 

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Oct 24 2012

I’ve got a feeling about Sandy

Published by under General

Hurricane season is still in effect, and with my two boats still riding on their moorings my weather senses remain dialed up and on alert. Something about Tropical Storm Sandy, about to make landfall in Jamaica, has me nervous. I know in my heart not to care until Saturday or Sunday, but with my haul-out date coming extraordinarily late this year on November 2, my sailorly superstitions are making me wonder where this storm is headed.

The track shows an easterly tendency out to sea, but for some reason this one is set up on a vector that has me a little more paranoid than usual.

 

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Oct 24 2012

Apple and the 7″ battleground

Published by under General

The iPad Mini is the final blessing of the 7″ tablet form factor that has been around for a few years in a number of different iterations. I’ve been on the Google Nexus 7 (manufactured by Asus) since July and have fallen so in love with it that I dumped my first iPad on my starving artist son for him to play with.

The designers at Lenovo used to call these palm-sized devices “tweeners” as they fit in between the form factor of the laptop and the smart phone. The “one-kilogram wasteland” was another term of derision, and I was interested in the concept of a device small enough to fit into a suit jacket pocket, but too big for a shirt. No one at Lenovo (circa 2009) gave much creedence to the design concept, even though some prototypes had tested well with focus groups but ultimately failed in actual usage scenarios.

While the late Steve Jobs derided the 7″ size tablet as too small (he famously remarked they should come with sandpaper so users could sharpen their finger tips to points), Amazon blazed a trail with the Kindle, Samsung made a noble effort with the Galaxy Note and Google pushed it further into the mainstream with the Nexus.

I don’t understand why Jobs dismissed a device that essentially mimics the tried and true dimensions of a book, arguably the best information delivery device in history.  A full browser can be supported easily (I run Chrome of course on the Nexus), and with the right design approach the user interface for most apps suits the screen just fine. I do slip the thing into my suit coat, prefer it now to a ThinkPad when it comes to bringing a device into a meeting, and tend to live with it during my off hours to do everything from read my email, stream baseball games, and watch Netflix. The first 10″ sized tablets were very nice — essentially laptops that lost their keyboards — but they weren’t as personal in terms of pocket-friendliness as the Nexus.

I think Apple priced itself way too high with this first mini. Anything above $300 is going to be hard to cost-justify versus the $250 ceiling on the current Google line up. Google and Amazon are determined to undersell the bill of materials in the Nexus and Fire and sell these things as loss leaders in hopes of putting shopping devices into the hands of the masses.  While people who have signed onto the Apple “holy trinity” of MacBook, iPhone and iPad are unlikely to shift off of the iOS/iTunes religion, I suspect a lot of holiday shoppers in the next month are going to be looking at devices $100 or more cheaper and decide that Android Jelly Bean and the Google Play or Amazon stores are good enough for them. Lord knows its been good enough for me and I was deeply embedded into the iTunes jail for over six years.

One thing that I think works against Apple in the tablet market — and very little does work against them, they’ve sold mountains of the devices, more than all PCs combined by their competition and apparently 91% of tablet web traffic is iPad created — is tablets are very minimalist platforms for design. There are very few opportunities for a designer to put a distinctive mark on what is essentially a rectangle of glass with a plastic or metal back.

I had this discussion years ago on Amtrak with Forrester’s tablet analyst, and told her I doubted my second tablet would be an Apple. She challenged me, dismissing my “fungible experience” argument, but here I am, three years after buying my iPad, happy to be without one and on a perfectly well engineered alternative.

 

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Oct 22 2012

Finding one’s faults

Saturday I competed in my first CrossFit competition — one for Master’s ages 50 to 55 — and failed miserably, completely humbling myself in front of a big crowd when two key movements failed me and disqualified me more or less. CrossFit   is the dynamic fitness regimen that has burst out of its humble garage origins in Santa Cruz and has now spread to become the fitness fad of our times, with corporate sponsorships proclaiming it as “The Sport of Fitness.” I took it up in 2008, did it alone in my garage by following the workout of the day posted on the Crossfit site, and eventually joined a local affiliate, Crossfit Cape Cod, in February 2010 after getting drubbed at the CRASH-B Sprints and realizing I needed to get serious to get competitive.

Competitive impulses are going to be the death of me. All jokes about “mind’s making promises bodies can’t fill” apply here. I ripped my left bicep off of the tendon that anchored it to my forearm last January, I’ve trashed my back countless times on the rowing machine, my shins are ripped apart from deadlifts and rope burns, my shoulders feel like they’ve been beaten with sticks … all in the hope I can actually get faster when the truth is I am doomed to get slower.

The morning competition started with thrusters. I thought I was doing pretty good with 27 in one minute. But no. That was only good enough to tie for fifth place out of eight. It was just about the only thing that went well all day.

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Then came six rounds of jump rope, pull-ups, and 85-pound cleans. Rope, I can endure. Cleans I can also endure. Pull ups? Total failure. I made the first round okay, but kept failing the subsequent rounds as my arms gave out. I kept throwing myself at the bar, but the judges wouldn’t give me the movement and I came in last.

Second round a few hours later started with an overhead snatch followed by three overhead squats. I had two minutes to hit my max. I did an “insurance” round at 115, then went up to 135 before calling it quits. That got me a third place in the third workout.

The fourth and final workout involved burpee box jumps, wall balls and toes-to-bar. Basically hanging from a pull up bar and swinging my body up until my toes hit the bar I was hanging from. I made it through four rounds then could go no further, and spent most of the time on the clock fruitlessly swinging, and missing. Again, last place. I finished seventh out of eight for the entire competition.

The agony of defeat. I slunk off the floor, tail between my legs, determined to fix my issues on the bar. And so it goes as old age approaches. Here’s the final results at CrossFit New England. They were awesome hosts.

 

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Oct 16 2012

Learn a poem

Published by under Favorite Things

I don’t have a photographic memory and can’t recite long soliloquies or famous speeches extemporaneously, but like being able to identify the stars I’ve always wanted to. Someone wrote that true genius is the being the first person to quote someone else, and I’ve always wanted a few great poems to be burned into my brain to be pedantically pulled out at the absolute perfect moment, thereby marking me as that jerk with the big mouth. One classic I’ve always wanted to memorize is Lord Byron’s The Dark, Blue Sea. The second verse will do just fine for those moments afloat when some noble sentiments are called for. Melville is good for such stuff, but Byron has the best sea poem of all in my opinion:

“Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean-roll!
Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
Man marks the earth with ruin-his control
Stops with the shore;-upon the watery plain
The wrecks are all thy deed, nor doth remain
A shadow of man’s ravage, save his own,
When for a moment, like a drop of rain,
He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan,
Without a grave, unknell’d, uncoffin’d, and unknown.”

Poetry astonishes me sometimes.

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Oct 06 2012

On tuna and birds

Published by under Cape Cod,Fishing

A day of hooky east of Chatham looking for bluefin tuna aboard the tractor-of-the-sea, the good ship Laura J, dawned to find me in the company of some sixty-other boats trolling squid bars and rigged ballyhoo in aimless etchings across a calm October sea somewhere to the north and east of the wreck of the Regal Sword. Wreck sites are sinister places and entomb under their unknowing depths some vestige of the violence and fear that occurred there on that exact spot on the Cartesian grid some days and years before.  Some wreck sites, like that of the Andrea Doria south of Nantucket, are marked by buoys so divers can find them. Other are marked by little death symbols on the chart. Others are existentially unknown, but down there just the same. The Furuno depth plotter will sketch a pixellated silhouette of the tanker or trawler, but only the tuna and the blue sharks, the herring and the humpbacks can really know the truth of what lies on the sands 200 feet below shrouded in tattered fishing nets.

Fishing isn’t called “catching” for a reason. Ten hours of standing at the rail or atop of the flying bridge scanning the surface of the ocean for signs of the unknowable below can inspire reveries on the micro chaos of the water’s surface and the macro order of the implacably flat and even line of horizon between sky and sea. One’s complete insignificance as the only lonely thinking speck in the middle of all that nothing… the fear of drowning, of falling overboard, zipper dropped, into the foaming wake of the Duffy ’33, is compounded by the thoughts of the broken-backed tanker somewhere down below the skipping squid bars and the hydraulic breaching flukes of the whales.

The sight of the tuna fleet trolling around in a disorderly fleet of $6 million Merritts and tiny death-defying $100,000 center consoles, boats owned by beer distributors and contractors, real estate tycoons and dentists, all chasing the elusive 900-pound giant bluefin while bickering about run-over lines and cut off fish in amazing blue rants of obscenities and racial epithets unsquelched on channel 68, is enough to calm any anxieties about going over the side and drowning slowly in the nothingness with no one to come and care. There is a society east of Chatham. An improvised tribal structure of men in competition and cooperation, bound together by the anonymity of a VHF radio that has no Caller-ID, just the blind attempt to know each other by the color and type of their boats. Sample discourse:

Blue center console to my port. Blue center console to my port. What the fuck am I supposed to do if you do that under my bow? Get your shit out of my shit please. Over.”

Skippers give one another a “shout” and try to find some enlightenment as they ask each other “how’s it going over there?” and share veiled intelligence by trying to hide from the crowd on a different channel and speaking in extemporaneously composed code:

“I’m a-south of you, near the place with the initial of my last name where we found them last week….”

The radio chatter is heard by all, a common sound track for the afternoon. The fights, the squabbles, the hints of success ….the crew of the Laura J.  stops talking amongst themselves to listen like a Depression family in the days pre-TV of radio fireside chats and Fibber McGee.

There are no fish this morning, but hopes are pinned on the slack tide in two hours, the story of yesterday’s success that says the tuna will rise from the depths after 3 pm for the “late bite.” So the crews of the 60 boats stop staring at the skein of lines strung off their sterns and sit down for sandwiches and apples, Double-Stuffs and Ruffles, and tell each other yarns about condom-jammed cesspools, dockside fist fights, and the stupidity of wealthy boat owners.

The lunch break brings a change of topic to the discourse on Channel 68. Ornithology.

“Hey, we’ve got a bird aboard.”

“We’ve got two.”

“Ours likes ice cubes and SmartFood”

“Ours likes macadamia nuts and Poland Springs”

As the radio talks of birds one flies up to the starboard side of the Laura J and tries to perch on the splash rail.  The crew looks over the side to see it fall and land in the water. We cheer when the bird breaks free from the deadly surface and lifts itself up and over the rail, confusingly skittering among the three bodies in the cockpit, to dodge past us to safety inside of the cabin with the captain who is tucking into an Italian sub with no hots.

“Don’t tell Eddie there’s a bird in the cabin,” says one. “He’ll go nuts if he thinks it’s shitting in there.”

A second bird arrives a moment later. A different kind of bird. Like a chickadee, but different. It lands, exhausted, panting, feathers puffed out and disheveled on the floor of the cockpit among the flying gaffs and mono leaders, not caring at all about the boots and TopSiders so close by.

“Look, a sparrow.”

“Nah, that’s a warbler.”

“How do you know?”

A pedantic, semi-informed lesson in the fall warbler migration begins, with discourses into the annual phenomenon of the flocks that fill Provincetown’s Beech Forest, the deaths of tens of thousands of birds that strike illuminated sky scrapers in the cities of the East Coast, and disruptions in the earth’s magnetic field that mess with the Corolis effect and put these tiny little birds off-course and far out to sea where they will perch on a sportsfisherman out of sheer desperation.

The crew stops worrying about the possibility of defecation on the boat and decide to come to the aid of the dying birds. One puts his finger down and provides a safe perch for the little creature. The magic of that moment, of man and little bird, so close together, forced together by the bird’s desperate need for a moment’s rest, is about as poignant a scene as that of a lonely old man holding one of his grownup and departed daughter’s childhood dolls and feeling maudlin pangs of loss for her and their youth. The bird is a metaphor for something, and initial jokes about tossing it over the side to the sharks, the “blue dogs” is softened as the bird makes itself at home on its human finger perch.

It closes its eyes, puffs out its feathers, and breathes deeply, beaten down by the frantic flight that set it thirty miles off the beach into the void of the Atlantic. A bottle cap is filled with spring water and offered. The bird opens its eyes, dips its beak, and then nuzzles the thumb holding the cap. A Cheez-It is crumbled up,  offerred and ignored. A nut is crushed and ignored. The bird sips more water and continues to perch.

The second bird, still alone on the cockpit floor, rouses itself and flies in a tight circle, landing on my shirt. It hangs on, upside down, like a wren would. It is a bit perkier than the other bird, more curious, and hops down onto the crotch of my pants which elicits the coarse suggestion that it unzip them and perform an oral sex act. It hops onto my finger, looks up into my face, closes its eyes as it relaxes, and then poops a big squirt of dark brown juice that suddenly connects its fading life with my own by being warm and transmitting the fact that it too has a body temperature.

 

The birds stayed for an hour. The tuna never arrived. The wren left first. It spent a few minutes on the port rub rail psyching itself up then bravely lifted off and headed northwest towards P-town, skittering over the waves. The warbler stayed a while longer, standing in the sunshine inside of the cabin under the windshield until Captain Eddie scooped it up in his hands and tossed it out the window.

There was sadness as it flew to the west in little darting swoops. Was it strong enough to make it? Did it know where to go? Couldn’t it have stayed aboard until the Laura J. was steaming into the Cotuit channel and then flown ashore to the certain safety of the trees? Or could it have been tamed and adopted like Otis Barton’s tame tern and lived in a little bamboo bird cage from Chinatown ….

The birds were gone and there was no more talk of birds from the other boats on the radio. Lunch was over. Slack tide was near, and the breaching whales among the Rybovitches and Grady Whites meant the bite could still happen, but it didn’t, and the fleet dispersed in the late afternoon over still waters for their docks and moorings inside safe harbors.

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