Mass. retreat a haven, even when change not kept at bay outdoors

August 31, 2008|By CANDUS THOMSON | CANDUS THOMSON,candy.thomson@baltsun.com

CHAPPAQUIDDICK ISLAND, Mass. - Native Americans called the bay Katama.

Those of us who are attempting to fish it this season are calling it our Bay of Ignorance.

My family spends the last two weeks of August up here off the island of Martha's Vineyard, reading, eating, watching old movies and fishing.

We recalibrate our internal clocks to a slower time, one more in tune with what the weather and tides provide than with what the mainland insists upon. Pulse rates fall. Laughter comes more easily. And, I swear, gray hairs disappear.

Luckily, our next-door neighbors - the folks on the other side of the poison ivy patch - are similarly inclined. A good thing because they have modern conveniences - like a kitchen with functioning appliances - and we do not.

The whole bunch of us, our friend, John, and our neighbors, Bev and Esther and their daughters Alex and Zoey, fish and clam Katama and fish the ocean side, across the barrier beach about a quarter-mile away.

Our efforts earn us more than just dinner.

We watch great blue heron and egrets stalk the small salt pond attached to the bay as we paddle kayaks along the shoreline. We are rewarded with sunrises streaked in gold and sunsets the color of raspberry ice. While standing waist deep in Katama, we can look down to see tiny crabs scuttle along the bottom and schools of small bait fish dart around our legs. Overhead, a mother osprey has been teaching her young how to ride the invisible currents as they scout for fish.

But over the past two seasons, nature has been playing tricks on us. The barrier beach has sprung a leak that lets the Atlantic Ocean into Katama. Last year, it was a football field-size hole. This year, it's three or four times that wide.

Water now gushes in a straight shot from the ocean though Katama to Edgartown Harbor, where it clashes with the tide coming in from Vineyard Sound, which separates the islands from Cape Cod. Pleasure craft are having trouble negotiating the clashing currents and dodging new sandbars that are developing.

The dunes on the barrier beach that separate Katama from the Atlantic have been scoured down flat, taking away the cover for plovers and oyster catchers and making the ocean feel a whole lot closer to our low-slung fishing shack.

Last season, I hailed the breach as a good thing. Although tide charts were useless, the fresh ocean water was flushing out decades of mud and silt, leaving Katama cleaner and the clams and mussels saltier.

Scientists looking at historical patterns believed the breach would begin healing and Katama would once again be a calm bowl of water suitable for kayaks and inflatable boats.

Just the opposite has happened. Goodbye, Katama. Hello, Ignorance.

The redecoration of the landscape means stuff we knew about fishing patterns from years past and the stuff we learned last year when the hole was but a small puncture are as useless as Ikea directions.

But that doesn't mean we've given in to our Bay of Ignorance. We're infusing the local economy with our dollars by buying locally produced lures carrying the "can't-miss" verbal guarantee. We're listening intently to the natives who offer advice and scanning the water's surface for signs of bait fish being chased by something bigger. We're watching what the birds are doing.

Our arsenal has grown. We're throwing plastic lures, wooden plugs, shiny strips of metal and bloodworms. I think we would throw the kitchen sink if we thought we would get a strike.

We're trying to teach the neighbor's Great Dane, Lucy, to be a fish-hunting dog.

The big migrating stripers haven't made their appearance yet. They'll probably arrive just in time for the start of the annual Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby next month. But we've managed to introduce ourselves to bunches of snapper blues while looking for their bigger relatives. And clamming remains a terrific food source.

Ignorance is bliss.

Wish-A-Fish

The Wish-A-Fish Foundation is having a fundraiser to help pay for its annual fishing trips for special-needs children and their families.

Fishermen around the Chesapeake Bay donate their time, gear and boats a couple of times each season to make the fishing part happen. But they need cash to pay for the T-shirts, caps and snacks that are a part of the experience.

Rarely does WAF stick out its hand and ask the public for help.

The WAF party is the night of Oct. 25 at American Turners Hall, off Philadelphia Road in Rosedale. Tickets are $40 each. There will be music and dancing and tons of good eats.

Check it out at www.wish-a-fish.org.

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