A Survivor’s Story

On the local news the other night they wrapped up their telecast by showing a video of a kayaker surviving an attack by a great white shark in the Monterey Bay. The footage initiates after the kayaker has been knocked from the kayak. What you see is essentially a large shark tail thrashing in the water next to the kayak, while on the far side of this scene, the kayaker, buoyed by his life vest, is making his way calmly but steadily away from the scene. A good Sam in a sailboat comes by to scoop safely up the kayaker while the shark continues to nosh on the kayak.

Three points to this story: that’s one dumb shark; that’s one lucky kayaker; and that’s one brave sailboater (since the shark has clearly revealed its taste in boats).

I had a similar incident happen to me not long ago. It’s taken me a while to calm down from it all, as you might imagine. I think I’m ready now to tell my story.

I love oysters, and love photography. It’s not hard to marry these interests in our area given the scope of oyster farming that takes place just 90 miles north of our house, up in Tomales Bay. The waters there appear so calm, but you never know what swims, what hunts, beneath their surface.

Not that I went up there with camera in hand, got up close to oysters being farmed, and Jaws showed up to wreck my afternoon. I mean, that COULD have happened. My point here is, I love oysters.

So my lovely and thoughtful wife, this past Christmas, gave me a gift of a three-month subscription to an oysters-of-the-month club. Each month, 50 of those brilliant little bivalves were to be delivered to the house for my enjoyment. “Enjoyment,” I should say. You know the expression, “big things come in little boxes”?   It’s true, but that’s for better and worse, as I learned. In my case, much, much worse.

I find myself reflecting on how innocent my delight was when at last that first box arrived in January. Unpacking it, inside a Styrofoam cooler about the size of pressure cooker, alongside a few of those artificial ice packs, sat nestled a bag of 50 lovely oysters, plucked just days before from the waters off of Cape Cod (not far from Martha’s Vineyard, where you-know-which movie was filmed). Unbeknownst to me, IT was also in there.

The authenticity of freshly farmed oysters was reinforced by how dirty these guys were, “dirty” with the fine grained sand, that is, that was their bay bottom home just days before. Job one was thus to clean the oysters, a task I took to doing in the sink in our cabana out back.

Oh, how silly a romantic I can be sometimes. Having placed the oysters in the stoppered sink, I then ran water to create a bath in which to clean and rinse them. The smell of the sea that then rose off the water—how transporting it struck me! I no longer found myself just hunched over a sink in my suburban backyard but was back east, on the coast, reveling in the joys and mysteries of our Mother Ocean. The water itself was taking on that greenish, bluish, brownish cast, just like the real ocean, the sight of the oysters dissolving in the now cloaking murk.

In other words, friends: I never saw the strike coming.

I closed my eyes, the better to leave my present and be there fully with the sea. Visions of clamming in the Long Island Sound came to me, as my hands fondled and rubbed at the oysters beneath the surface.

That’s when it hit. Out of nowhere, a lightning bolt of pain shot up my finger, my hand, my arm. In an instant I knew I’d been hit, was being attacked! Worse, the beast’s grip on me was unrelenting, holding me in its clench!

I yanked my hand instinctively back and out of the now damned waters. Whatever IT was came with it, still gripping, still biting me. God had mercy, that when my hand reached the limits of its jerked withdrawal the force of the beast’s momentum exceeded its grip, and it flew off and–THWACK!–hit the wall behind me. I spun around, instantly prepared to defend myself from its second advance, all notions of a water born animal being incapacitated on dry land being lost to the injured animal rage that now consumed me. But it was a crafty beast, whatever this thing was, and the scene before me was all sudden silent stillness. Even the birds in the trees nearby had gone quiet, no doubt absorbed by this outburst of man versus nature savagery. IT had obviously successfully secured cover, and was now hiding, calculating, planning…

I calmed my ragged breath, I gathered my wits; I too held still. I may not have known just then what IT was planning, yet nor would I betray my strategy with any wayward movement on my part. I checked my finger where the beast had latched onto me—thank God it was still there (and surprisingly clean of blood, and uncut).

The tension grew exquisite, until I realized the force of it striking the wall HAD to have affected my assailant. Perhaps it was injured, perhaps my best bet was to go on the offensive before the beast could rally. But where was the accursed brute? I stood at the precipice of a make or break moment, I was Butch and Sundance on the cliff above the river, Rocky before the bell announcing the 15th round. I offered a silent prayer, then casting my fate to gods and wind–it’s go time!–I took action.

Dropping to my knees to better scan the ground before me, I stifled the a scream as my eyes locked with those of my assailant. Just as I suspected—it was no less a monster than a Liocarcinus vernalis, crouched beneath a chair across the way. The goddamned oystermen had sent me more than just their silly damned oysters. They’d shipped a grey swimming crab alongside them!

He was only about an inch in diameter, just a little guy, dazed as hell from hitting the wall, and barely twitched when I picked him up and deposited him in our compost bin (figuring he’d at least have a few days of good eating before succumbing to the environment).

At least I think he’d succumb, my friends. For all I know, he’s still out there, still hunting, still hungry for the flesh of you and I.

God be with you…and you’ve been warned.

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