Wednesday, August 22, 2007

beware the oyster beds

OK, so...this is not exactly the way I'd planned to start my vacation.

I like to think of the Gulf coast of Florida as a second home. I've been coming down here in the summers since birth, and my parents live here full time now. I know the land, I know the waters, I know how to fish and how hot and humid the weather really gets. In short, I may be on vacation, but I'm no tourist: I know how to live in this place. That being said, I may as well have been wearing plaid shorts, long white socks, brown loafers and a big stripe of white zinc oxide across my nose yesterday while fishing with my dad. The afternoon went like this:

Dad and I are out in the bay in our 19-foot Mako, fishing our third spot in as many hours. This particular spot is called Dry Bar, a very shallow (1-3 feet deep) bit of water over oyster beds surrounding a narrow, dry strip of sand bar. It often serves as a feeding place for speckled trout (and the occasional shark, but that's neither here nor there). As we anchor, I come around to the back of the boat, where the sides are low. With my back to the side of the boat, I place my rod in the holder and reach up for a loose piece of fishing line that has spun off another reel and into the water behind the boat. A wave rocks the boat suddenly, causing the side of the boat to clip the backs of my knees and seat me quickly on the edge. I instictively pull the line in my hand, but it's not taut. There's nothing to grab onto. My sudden movement - along with the rock of the boat - sends me tumbling over the side into the water. It's less than two feet deep. As my feet splash down, my right foot lands on sandy bottom, a single oyster shell near my toe. My left foot is not so lucky. It crashes down at an angle onto a pile of oyster shells. Initially, I think I've scraped the top of my foot - annoying, but not serious. I float to the front of the boat and hoist myself up by the bar around the bow. I swing into the boat and look down as my feet hit the floor. Expecting to see the equivalent of a skinned knee, I am surprised by the flow of blood and water off of my foot that reveals a jagged line of splayed skin almost three inches long. It's deep. I see a tiny piece of something shiny, which I later learn is the tendon to my pinky toe (not cut, luckily).

Dad is calm about the whole ordeal, as he always is (as long as the blood is not his own). On the boat ride back to the house, I clutch a towel over the wound as we weigh our options. There's the possibility of having Dad sew it up in our living room using regular needle and thread, a thought to which we give considerable attention. But we eventually decide that ice cubes and tequila shots are probably not adequate for anesthesia in this case. Instead, we pick up my Mom at work and make the half-hour drive to the Weems Memorial Hospital Emergency Room across the bay in Apalachicola. It takes eleven creative stitches to close the wound tight. The doctor does a phenomenal job, an artistic masterpiece given the ragged edges I'd presented as his canvas.

I admit, I feel foolish about the whole thing. I'd just taken off my Crocs five minutes before I fell in. I'd had them on all day, and if I had kept them on, they would have shielded my feet against the shells. But beyond that, the heart of the issue is the fact that I've grown up in and around the water my whole life...who falls out of an anchored boat? Even the most land-locked turista can stand in a floating structure without falling into the water, right? I feel like the pale guy who falls asleep in the sun and becomes the object of muffled snickers by the tanned locals when he has to buy multiple bottles of aloe for his sun-blistered skin. Or the guy who treks off into the woods convinced that he knows how to rough it for a few days, only to slink sheepishly back into town hours later with frostbite, snake bite, or a searing poison ivy rash all over his body. I want to shout, "I know better! I know better! I promise! I'm no amateur!" But the fact is that I fell out of the boat onto an oyster bar when I was not wearing shoes, and I've got eleven stitches that suggest I'm not quite the pro that I think I am, after all.

On the upside (for what it's worth), I did catch one gray snapper.


Maggi said...

Ouch! I hope you still get to enjoy your down time, even if it's now gonna be more down than up and around ~

Sarah K. said...