Casting for Answers on a Wondrous Fall Beach

By JOHN T. O’BRIEN | Nov 27, 2019
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

It had been lingering on my mind all day. I had considered different terms. The duality of man comes to mind. The concept is right, but good and evil are too extreme. Yin and Yang come next. Pretty much the same concept. This is where I realize I’m a bit weak with philosophy.

The question comes into focus while I’m fishing on the beach at sunset. It’s that time at dusk when the sky is still full of fire in the west, but it’s softened to the point where planets, followed by the stars, begin their nightly march in the east.

Invariably the most interesting individuals have a strong point and counterpoint in their personalities, in their view of the world or just how they carry themselves through it. It seems like islands, pretty much anywhere in the world, are rife with these souls. It’s a good night to mull the question over. It’s like cooking or an appealing scent. It’s in our nature to be drawn to juxtaposition.

I’m sure there’s a name for the concept, but I don’t have it. Duality doesn’t work. Good and evil are too extreme. We’re talking bacon and maple syrup.

The answer isn’t any more important than the fishing. It’s unlikely I’ll catch anything. There hasn’t been much action. Dead low is approaching and my bait is frozen. My focus has been, at best, halfway on the rods.

The sky is clear and the sunset has been progressing through its shades of yellow, red, purple and everything in between based on which direction you face the horizon. There’s a light wind offshore. The air has cooled enough that I throw on a knit hat for the first time this year. I’m still comfortable in a good flannel and my waders – the Island tuxedo.

There is a decent little northeast swell getting propped up by the wind. I probably should have paddled out. The island turns a bit to the southwest here. Looking due south toward the inlet, shifting streaks of color work their way across the sea as breaking waves catch the last light of the dying day. Their halos of spray are illuminated and carried by the wind.

When I worked at sea, evenings like this I’d crack open my limited meditation toolbox to try to separate myself from the ship and the job. My goal was to look to the horizon and be highly present in that moment. I needed to leave behind the daily stresses of 14-hour days, harsh conditions, the concerns at home. Feeling the space around me, I’d carve a little sliver of peace. It might be as transient as the colors of those waves dancing in the distance, but it would get me through the job.

When the seas came up over 50 feet and there was no horizon (which isn’t uncommon on the Grand Banks in winter), it was even easier. When you’re standing at a high rail, the raw power of the ocean finds its way straight to your chest. The energy reverberates out to your fingertips from there.

I’m home and fishing on the beach where I’ve spent a lot of my life watching the water, surfing, walking my dog, introducing my nephew to the ocean and working through the highs and lows of life. That energy of the sea courses through me peacefully here.

Knee deep in water, I watch the sky shift. I listen to a thick pile of seashells roll as the waves recede. The sky is dark but still awash with color. The scattered groups of people walking the beach with their dogs have retired to their homes. The silhouettes of a few birds still streak across the dimly lit sky. We’re deep enough into that transition to night that I throw my headlamp on to pack up. I didn’t catch any fish. I didn’t really get any closer to answering my question. It doesn’t really seem to matter, though.

John T. O’Brien lives in Beach Haven.


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