Issue: April 2004
Blueberries For Alice

The rosy-fingered dawn was still deep in the pocket of night when a workboat rumbled past. This wasn't unusual in our favorite anchorage; watermen are as dependable here as the sunrise.

What was different this morning were the sounds that followed. There was the workboat's diesel, and then the whine of an outboard. And mingled above both were two voices, one high, strident and profane, the other low and ominous as a thunderhead looming on a hot summer afternoon. Johnny popped his head out of the hatch to listen. "Oh man," he said, "there's some idiot getting into a hassle with a waterman over there." We decided to worry only if gunplay followed, but eventually the voices stopped and we drifted back to sleep.

A few hours later I emerged to a bright morning sky. There was the workboat still, a couple hundred yards inshore working a trotline. She was as simple and pretty as her name, Alice. And there was the runabout, a brown no-name thing, working on the other side, a burly chicken-necker at the helm. And here came a Natural Resources Police boat, heading for the runabout. This was better than pay-per-view! The officer had some words with the chicken-necker, who apologized loudly to the waterman, gathered his gear and left the cove looking a lot like our Labrador when she's busted with a prime rib bone from the Chart House dumpster.

I went below and started making blueberry pancakes, thinking about how hard it must be to get up in darkness each day and go to work-hard work-and on top of that to have some wingnut calling you all sorts of names before the sun has even come up. I made extra pancakes, slid them onto a paper plate with some fresh pineapple on the side, and on the waterman's next pass, I flagged him down. He was probably thinking, "Now what?" but he came right over.

He was an older fellow, cropped white hair, handsome, tanned, lean and built like the proverbial brick you-know-what. "Sounds like you had a rough morning," I said. "Would you like some blueberry pancakes?" A surprised smile softened his chiseled face. Expertly he nudged Alice backward toward our transom, and we passed over the plate. He saw our two kids staring at him and said, "Wanna go crabbin'?" They dove for the transom, tugging on my hand, and just like that I found myself perched on Alice's engine box while the waterman showed the kids how his trotline worked, how he drove the boat, how few crabs he had in the bottom of the big blue barrel after all that morning's work. They were entranced.

I felt strangely shy and let my kids ask the questions, most of which were about the crabs and the immaculate, lovely Alice. I did ask about the predawn brouhaha; turns out the chicken-necker had set his lines right over Alice's trotlines and then wrongly accused the waterman of starting work too early. After a few passes up and down his trotline, he returned us neatly to Luna. I never did get his name. But you can bet I'll have blueberry pancakes ready this spring for Alice and her man.