Metropolitan Homesick Blues

Southampton Stories & Other Stuff

RIPRAP

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Lay down these words before your mind like rocks placed solid by hands in choice of place, set before the body of the mind in space and time. Solidity of bark, leaf or or wall…riprap of things.  Gary Snyder

If you’re a scribbler, you tend to record your experiences, your encounters, your thoughts and impressions on whatever scrap of paper you have handy. Then you stuff it in a file, in a pile of stuff on your desk, in a drawer or between the pages of a notebook, which when full, gets shelved and, no doubt, forgotten. I was searching through such things the other day when I found this folded up scribble on a torn-out page of a diary. Such discoveries always spark memories. This one takes me years back to a time when summer always meant two weeks on a small island in Lake Anima Nipissing. We left the world behind when we were there. There was very little to do…so we did very little. Each day set its own pace. Here’s what I wrote back then.

Jennifer Harvard…thanks for the shot

Jennifer Harvard…thanks for the shot

A Sunday in August – 1987

My daughter and I search for crayfish along the rock-strewn shoreline.

As we wade in the water we come across random piles of slate, granite and limestone lying on the bed of the slim, shallow channel that stretches some twenty feet between our cottage and its diminutive island neighbour. Haphazardly piled one on top of the other, the stones look like a crude underwater foundation for a rock bridge. But, their span doesn’t make it all the way across.

“Looks like someone tried to fill in this channel a while back,” I said.

“How can you tell?”

“From the riprap, there, just under the water’s surface.”

She turned to me with that child’s stop-talking-to-me-like-a-grown-up look on her face. “Riprap? What’s that mean?”

“It’s the loose rocks that they lay down as a foundation,” I explain, trying not to sound too pedantic. “Riprap…”

“But islands are never supposed to be joined, are they,” she says trying to show me that she has a fundamental grasp of geography. “They wouldn’t be islands then, would they?”

“Not necessarily,” I answer as she wades in carefully. “But maybe these stones were meant to be built up so they, natives I guess, could walk across. They chose this spot because the water is shallow and easier to build a path across. Which is good for us.”

“But, not for the crayfish, I hope.”

I was glad she came back to our reason for being here. “Do you see any?”

“No,” she says shading her eyes with her hands as she peers into the clear shallows.

“Then it is good for them because they think they’re safe.”

Intent on finding her first crayfish, she pays me no attention.

“They hide underneath…in the tiny spaces between the rocks, safe from your evil, clutching, human hands.” That makes her laugh.

She continues staring into the water, straining for a glimpse of her prey. The day is slightly overcast. There is still enough light filtering through the clouds to keep the surface transparent and free of cloud shadows.

“Their colour and markings are rock-like…perfect camouflage under water. That’s what makes them so difficult to spot. You have to concentrate.”

Gingerly lifting a stone she finds her quarry. But it is quicker than her young reflexes can manage. The crayfish propels itself backwards skittering under another piece of slate. She moves its new hideout aside but the elusive creature is gone again before she can grab it. There follows a flurry of splashing from stones yanked and thrown helter skelter, muddying the water and taking away any advantage we have.

“Easy,” I said. “You’re not thinking about what you’re doing.”

“I am. I’m gonna’ keep looking under the stones.”

“You won’t find crayfish if you stomp around like that. You’re driving them deeper under the stones. We need to stop and let things settle.”

We move on shore to wait for the water to clear. I look at her sitting there innocently hugging her legs, resting her chin on her knees, eyes straight ahead. I sense her frustration with me in every loud breath she takes.

“You have to be patient.” I say softly, “Crayfish are kind of like people. They back away when they feel threatened. They look for someplace safe…something to hide behind”

“People don’t hide under rocks.”

I can’t argue with her logic. She is testing me. My analogy is obviously too obtuse for her to understand. I can see she has no idea of what I’m talking about. In trying to get through to her I just dig myself a deeper hole.

“Looking for crayfish is a lot like trying to understand people,” I say. “You have to let them know you’re not going to harm them so they’ll show themselves to you. And just like you peel away people’s defenses to find their real selves you must gently lift away the rocks without disturbing the water to find the crayfish.”

With a deep sigh she reaches down and carefully picks up a small piece of flat slate. A crayfish sits there not moving. I am surprised at the speed with which she grabs it.

“He had no other place to hide,” she says happily dropping the helpless crayfish into her sand pail.

Pleased with herself she takes a bigger pail, fills it with water and throws in a few small rocks. “I’m making him his own riprap,” she says with that mocking tone of voice all kids have.

When she pours the crayfish in she looks at me mischievously “Do you think it feels safe now?”

Written by metropolitanhomesickblues

October 23, 2015 at 12:41 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Enjoy your site, and this story of your daughter and you. My girlfriend’s mother has a cottage up on the Bruce Peninsula in Pike Bay. It is a beautiful corner of the world. Thanks for your work.
    John

    John C

    July 9, 2016 at 9:26 PM

    • Again – thanks John. Been up that way on the Bruce. Always something to discover.

      metropolitanhomesickblues

      July 10, 2016 at 8:24 AM


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