Loser on the bay?

Written By: Robert Jay

Loser? Last year, I entered the Dan’s Papers literary contest and no, I wasn’t one of the winners, (surprise!). Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the process of submitting my entry, it was my first attempt at writing a piece that would be judged by esteemed professionals, and I wrote from the heart, about my love and gratitude for where I live. So, you be the judge; me, I felt like a winner, yes, just like the kids of today, it’s as if I won a trophy for participating.


In the last month or so, I began reading many of the 2015 entries. When I had free time, I found myself gravitating to the Dan’s website and partaking of one after another, including my own. The submissions are ‘quick reads’, as the maximum is capped at 1500 words, which, if single-spaced, is less than three pages. What talent out here-wow, who knew! I well realize why I wasn’t awarded; my work just didn’t stand up. Plain and simple, and that’s that!


Well, here we are again. It’s a new year and a new ballgame, folks. So, I’ll try again, and almost definitely, (there’s always a modicum of hope, isn’t there?), will ‘lose’ again, but be better for taking this second crack at it.


What also caught my attention is the ‘love affair’ so many have with our beautiful part of the world. Like me, myriad residents across our area wrote of the magical effect of living on the east end. Unlike me, these authors wrote with aplomb, which I apparently lack. I share their passion, but, alas, not their ability.


Well, enough about them, let’s get on to the important stuff, me and my story! It all began twenty-two years ago…


When my wife and I bought a small, modest home on a property you could die for, that’s right, say it with me, brothers and sisters, a waterfront location, (hallelujah!), situated on beautiful Shinnecock Bay. You know how it goes; timing is everything-we were in the right place at the right time and bingo, new owners of a bay-front parcel, a little piece of paradise for us to call our very own.


Right after we bought the place, I saw my neighbor walk out into the bay and…he began swimming! How funny, until that moment, it hadn’t occurred to me that I/we could swim in the bay. Well, that was a transformative moment for me. For twenty-two years, yours truly has been swimming in Shinnecock Bay, up to and including today. From early or mid-May through October, you’ll find my uncharacteriscally un-swimmer-like physique plodding along in the bay every day…and loving it! Jellyfish, you betcha, but I am undeterred, wearing a long sleeved t-shirt to provide some protection. It finally occurred to me about ten years ago that, if I started wearing my goggles, I might see the jellies and be able to change course before they stung me. About three out of every four times it works, but you know what that means; the fourth jelly is giving me the business and sometimes, smack, in the face, ‘take that’! Getting my share of stings is just part of the bargain, one aspect of the many cycles of life on the bay. The jellyfish usually only come for a matter of weeks and then, thankfully they’re gone. ‘See you next year’. I, however, benefit from the added bonus of wearing the goggles for six months of swimming in the bay and, lo and behold, seeing under the water’s surface is a whole other ball of wax, let me tell you! Why hadn’t I thought of this before? The crabs, schools of darting or jumping fish, plant life, rocks and shells, it’s all wondrous! Here’s a doozy; last year, two black and white fish, each about 2 1/2” long, swam right under my belly button and for about forty-five minutes, wherever I went, these two went with me! Why? Who knows, but it was awesome! Guess what? Last week, it happened again, but just one fish this time; I zigged, he zigged , I zagged…he zagged. I stopped, and yessiree bob-he stopped too, patiently waiting for me to be on my way again. When I got back to my deck, there he was, accompanying me as far as he could until reluctantly, I came out of the water-amazing!


Enough about the fish already, let’s talk about sea birds. Cormorants, (of course, given that I live by Cormorant Point), incredible underwater fishers, almost as much fun to watch as terns, the dive-bombers on the water, (all the years I owned a boat, one of our simple edicts when fishing was, ‘follow the terns’), seagulls, swans, ospreys, egrets, herons, piping plovers and on and on it goes. The mute swans know us; in fact, the same couple were our ‘neighbors’ for about fifteen years, (they mate for life), and each year with a new brood of cygnets, and we’d hope all the babies would survive the summer months, (an ‘iffy’ proposition, as it’s much more commonplace that not all the offspring make it). There are times I’m swimming along parallel to the swans, each of us regarding the other while keeping a safe enough distance, (about ten feet), to remain harmoniously adjacent to each other. When the cormorants are perched on a piling, swimming as surreptitiously as I can, I’ve actually snuck up on ‘em and many a time, I’ve been close enough to just about reach out and touch them. Not so with the egrets and herons, jittery on land while pecking along the shoreline, they gracefully fly off as you approach, always keeping a fair distance between you and them. The ospreys too-‘hey you’, they are saying, ‘you’re close enough, so I have to fly out of my nest, start circling and calling my mate, until you’re far enough away that I can comfortably return to my nest and my chicks’. One day, walking up on the shore from the water, my friend Henry and I happened upon the endangered piping plovers, (we stayed on our side of the ropes, of course), just in time to see the new chicks hatching from their eggs-thrilling!


When the tide is out, a daily ritual is walking on the bay with my trusty companion, my best pal, my dog, Digby; wind, snow, ice, ‘fuhgeddaboudit’, nothing deters us. We walk, and he’s off leash, meandering nearby as we go, he’s finally mellowed and that has made our journeys much more pleasant, for sure. When he was younger, Dig would listen and obey about 90% of the time, the other 10%, he was almost mocking me, as he ran off, maybe crunching on part of a crab as he went, or with a piece of a dead seagull hanging out of his mouth, Oy! ‘No Digby: Drop, Drop, Drop it, Dig’, I would say, helplessly chasing after him and eventually, when he felt like it, he would drop his prize, as if to say, ‘Okay, I hear you and I’ve had enough anyway, so let’s just be on our way’. Now, our walks are much more peaceful, he still runs off to inspect and smell all which abounds; as a pup, he was intrigued by the fiddler crabs, which we come upon by the hundreds, if not thousands, as they propagate and reside right next to the mudsnails, in the same exact area along the bay, year after year, (right as rain); now, a seasoned veteran, Dig accepts these small creatures as part and parcel of our journey. His interest in the deer, however, has never wavered, as he still excitedly sniffs and tracks their hoof prints in the sand, becoming alert and keen, surveying, tail pointing straight up when he knows they’re around, but he stays with me, and thankfully, does not give chase, if we see one or a small herd. Like I said, he’s matured and has seen it all before, contributing to our mutual joy and contentment as he has accepted that it’s much nicer for me, and I would surmise, more importantly, for him, if he just hangs around in my general vicinity. ‘Go Dig! That’s my boy!’


Our boat, she was named ‘Thankful’, sold two years ago for another family to enjoy. Now we kayak a lot and paddleboard less, and…we’re still thankful! Why do we kayak more? Well, for one, my wife likes it, so we can go together and for me, I can relax, paddle when I want, or just float along, take in the view, listen to music on my iphone, even sip on a drink as I go; I’m not doing all that on my paddleboard!


Well, I’m going to sit out on my deck and watch the world on the bay go by, maybe have a cocktail. No, I’ll go swimming. Hmm, maybe I should go to bed early tonight, be up for the sunrise over the water. Decisions, decisions! Thanks for reading. 1500 words go…