Burton's Island has a hold on him Beachcomber and kayaker 'Delmarva' Dennis Littleton yields to the pull of nature.

August 07, 1998|By Rob Hiaasen

ON THE INDIAN RIVER -- "Tide has us now," announces the man tucked into a faded orange kayak. "It'll take us right around the island."

"Delmarva" Dennis Littleton dunks his tan, wide-brimmed hat into the bay waters. (Kayaking should begin with the cooling of a hot head.) Husks of rotting horseshoe crabs litter the put-in point, as Littleton's tour group begins its circumnavigation of Burton's Island.

The 44-year-old Littleton ("I know, I look younger") knows Burton's Island like the back of his kayak.

"I bought my first canoe when I was 10. I worked at a gift shop in Bethany Beach and saved up $125 to buy it," Littleton says. "I still have it. It's all dented up, but every dent tells a story."

The 10-year-old took his canoe out to Burton's Island. By himself. Littleton became captivated by the tidal flushings, the tropical // fish from the Gulf Stream that huddled in the shallows, and the dizzying roster of wildlife. All you have to do is listen and look and "try to work with nature."

"Delmarva Dennis Sea Kayaking Adventures" features a stop worth exploring. After ducking and weaving through the island's water trails, kayakers arrive at a beachhead. This is Littleton's stomping ground because at heart, he's a beachcomber, a treasure hunter, maybe a pirate born too late.

On this slice of beach, Littleton has discovered a trove of artifacts from sunken English merchant ships from the 1780s. His inventory includes an arm bone, a Smithsonian-confirmed, 75-pound meteorite ("I use it for a doorstop"), and a 75-carat jade necklace he's selling for $1,000.

As jet skis -- "water roaches" -- spit and scream off shore, Littleton tiptoes along the beach, bagging fossilized stones and the thick glass of fractured rum bottles. He dates each find with authority. The native son could be here all day -- but his tour group aims to shove off.

The tide has left; Littleton's band of kayaks must work to get home. On each bank, Hermit crabs pile on each other. Osprey nesting towers have replaced old duck blinds. After scooping up a slippery piece of floating trash, Littleton stops paddling to watch a cormorant watch him.

His favorite time to be here?

"Delmarva" Dennis says he can't imagine a "favorite" anything out here. It's just the being out here that matters. It's not a question.

"Beach Life" is a summer-long series of dispatches from the shore.

Pub Date: 8/07/98

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