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  • When Dickie made up his mind to go out to haul, we went, no matter the weather, no matter we were the only boat out of the harbor. No matter. His mind was made and out we went.

    He’d call at 3:00 to make sure I was up and ready.

    He’d already been out to drive along Seawall and look out to the south. He’d listened to three kinds of weather. He’d tapped the barometer. He’d put the spotlight on the Deborah-Jayne and watched her swing and pull at the mooring chain. He knew all he needed to know.

    I guess we’ll chance it, Benjoy, he said.

    My lunch was packed, cheese and lettuce sandwich and a can of Chef-Boyardee macaroni. I was ready.

    I’m on my way, I said.

    I drove through the silent town, even the fisherman’s breakfast hangout was dark and empty. Dickie’s red truck was parked above the wharf in the empty lot. I parked alongside, walked through the silent bait-sheds to the head of the wharf and watched him row out; kneeling on the center thwart, leaning into the oars, white mittens, hood up, a solid bulk in the small row boat. I watched him come alongside the Deborah-Jayne, watched him step deliberate and focused as a dancer from punt to powerboat, watched the lights come on, and heard the rumble of the engine loud and emphatic in the clear, cold air. One boat in the fleet warming up. One boat in the fleet alive and ready to go.

    Dickie cast off and I felt the deep and resounding splash of the chain in the dark harbor as much as heard it.

    Then he was along side the wharf and I dropped off the ladder and slipped in under the canvas to the wheelhouse. Dickie didn’t need the radar or spotlight to run out. We ran along the lighthouse shore, just red on the starboard and green to port and the glimmer-glow of the compass inside.

    Beyond the lighthouse was one weather. Outside Gotts Island Head another territory opened up and finally, outside the Little Island, we came offshore.

    Inshore, there’s no way of knowing what you’ll find outside. You have to run out and see. Plenty of days we got out and waited in the lee of the Little Island. Waited because Dickie was too proud, too stubborn, to god damn determined to make a day of it. We took turns dipping hipbooted legs into the hot water barrel.

    After the tide turns, said Dickie, maybe we’ll have half a chance. And sure enough when the tide turned the wind obliged and the temperature slipped above the doughnut so we wouldn’t ice up, so the diesel wouldn’t turn to sludge in the fuel line, so the lobsters wouldn’t freeze solid, so we’d have half a chance to haul.

    Scotty and them liked to look down from the wharf when we came in out of the dark.

    Jeezus Dickie, they’d say, some fierce ain’t you?

    Some days we had a Canadian Club and Coke after we cleaned up and some days we just run in, either way, Dickie didn’t say much. They'd stayed safe and warm and broke and we'd been offshore. Out to where there is only wind and wave. Out and back again.

    Dickie and Old Morris spoke of the drowned canyons and valleys out under 100 fathoms of salt water while Old Morris weighed our catch but it was a private conversation just Old Morris and Dickie and me in the pool of light from the one bare bulb there at the float and after a while the guys above stomped off talking about the cold and the wind.

    When do you reckon you’ll be going out again, asked Old Morris.

    I figure we’ll let them set 5 days, maybe a week, said Dickie. Maybe longer this time. It’s not like you're giving bait away these days now, is it.

    They grinned.

    Old Morris came and stood next to me while Dickie ran her back out to the mooring.

    He’ll be anxious to get back out there in 3-4 days won’t he, said Old Morris.

    Yeah, I said.

    It’s another world out there, he said.

    Yeah, I said. Ain’t it just.

    When I stand on the shore now and wonder if I should go or stay, wonder what weather I’ll find out there, in the great uncertainty, offshore. When I am ready to cast off and let go, I think back on Dickie rowing out, a solid bulk rising to leap so graceful aboard and start the day knowing only that the tide will turn and the wind might oblige.

    And after a season of wondering, I think it is time to put aside forecasts and projections. Time to tap the barometer, put the spotlight on the boat, so ready on her mooring, time to step out, look to the horizon and cast off.

    In the glimmer glow of the compass, I turn, meet your eyes and grin. Together.

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