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once a reporter, always a reporter



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island dispatches

A Dinosaur Rises

The incongruity of tractor and mechanical crane making poetry upon the river jars me. Yet the silhouette of combustion and steel performs indisputable ballet, the crane picks and plops huge stones from piles thundered from 18-wheeled dump trucks. Each stone appears as large as the tractor, which, regardless, appears toy-like from where I watch it nudges each rock into place. It astoundingly skims along the river surface only gradually exposing the miracle as the rock jetty issues from the depths.

The crane’s silhouette looks somehow like the long-necked, lumbering brontosaurus of children’s books and its rhythm evokes the hammer-headed oil rigs that teeter-totter across the Midwest.

The jetty scene conjures most strongly this latter image, the ponderous repetition of the hammerheads probing for oil, a mechanical poking and prodding at what is deeply buried and dreadfully prehistoric.

Each drop from the truck reverberates through Island Creek and up the pilings to my house. The weight of ages resounds. I can feel it in my stomach and it is unpleasant, like an early suspicion of nausea. Then gone in a tingle through my limbs and face.


Bedrock was in place by late winter. The crane commanded early spring, plucking and plodding and backing inland from the a long gray wall of rock now filling the horizon.

The government intended this jetty to hold open the channel to a depth needed by commercial fishing boats. But during the twenty years of politicking and paperwork it took to build the jetty commercial fishing ended. It died along with the fish. They fishermen – watermen they are called here – turned to dinosaurs.

“Watermen are the last hunters,” said the latest St. George Island waterman to hang up his commercial rigging. Most of the big workboats are gone already. Some even hang in museums now.

My husband’s oyster house is becoming a museum, the result of detritus accumulating behind the routine of his back and hands. Among the decades of rigging are hoses and pumps, hydraulics and combustion engines slouched on the wharf, stored in the sheds and floating at the dock. They exude the same prehistoric scent of the crane and the Midwestern hammer-heads. It is the scent of raw fuel, the smell of decayed dinosaurs.

Like the rest of the watermen, my husband’s business sways with the ebb and flow of the times as well as the season. He has predicted and prepared well for this new time. Even so, we are not immune from extinction. We have only to watch the ballet out our window to see the dinosaurs rise and nudge us forward.

 

 

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