A moment of clarity

Early morning off the coast of Rhode Island. What an escape being on the water is, especially in tough times. Photo by Bob Muggleston

By Bob Muggleston
On Halloween, which thankfully this year was on a Saturday, my son and I went tautog fishing with my neighbor Kevin. The idea was born that Friday night, over a few glasses of wine. Kevin always closes out his fishing season by making a pot of blackfish chowder and tide-wise for fishing, Halloween morning looked nearly perfect.

Now some of you may remember that the Friday before Halloween was interesting, to say the least, in terms of weather. It was the day that the remnants of Hurricane Zeta had passed through, and in so doing dragged enough cold air down from the north to change what started out as a tropical system over to snow. Snow on the ground did not deter Kevin in the least.

When I woke Halloween morning, temperatures in Connecticut were firmly ensconced in the mid-20s. Did we really have to fish? As it turns out, yes, we did. The manhood of not one, but two, Muggleston males was at stake, and Kevin is cut from a pretty masculine cloth. So off we went, dressed like we were headed for the slopes.

We laid in five-dozen green crabs, broke Kevin’s 20-foot Hydra Sport from its frozen docklines and began to meander down-river toward the Sound.

The first sign something was amiss? A police boat passed us at 9 a.m. They were on their way in from what was a very frigid Long Island Sound. I distinctly remember thinking, Why would they be out there?

Soon we were anchored on Hatchett Reef, off Old Lyme. Before dropping his line in the water, Kevin flipped on the VHF. The quiet cockpit of the boat suddenly buzzed with the voices of various emergency personnel. Judging by the quality of the audio, most of them were quite close. Soon it became clear that one of the more frequent transmissions was from a large plane we’d seen on the way out flying in what looked like circles to the east of Plum Island. It was the U.S. Coast Guard. They were looking for someone.

Around 10 a.m. crew on the plane spotted an “object of interest.” And then, minutes later, sad news: A boat involved in the search had just pulled a body from the water. The three of us, fishing rods in hand and wearing ski hats, exchanged solemn glances. Honestly, I hadn’t anticipated this outcome. It was turning into such a beautiful day. How could something so awful occur on such a beautiful day?

Recently I heard someone refer to the year that has been 2020 as the “Upside Down,” from the Netflix series “Stranger Things.” On so many different fronts, we do seem to be living in an alternate reality that closely, but not quite, resembles the one we’ve always known.

In the days that followed our fishing trip – and because nature is indifferent, the trip was incredibly successful (and Kevin’s chowder on-point) – I couldn’t stop thinking about the juxtaposition of events on Halloween day. It all seemed so wrong. But then, gradually, I realized something. It was a feeling I’ve really always had, which is that the machinations of man more or less stop at the waterfront. That is, out on the water, aside from weather and tide, nothing ever changes. Call it a moment of clarity.

You may wonder what happened to the person they found. I woke one morning at 3:30 wondering about it, and couldn’t get back to sleep until I knew. The internet told me that the Friday afternoon of Zeta’s passing Matthew Lyon had left a marina in Groton at 2:30 p.m. aboard a small powerboat, alone. In all likelihood, there were probably still a few snowflakes in the air. When he didn’t come home at 5:00, his wife reported him overdue. That was all that was said. What he was doing out there by himself, in that weather, requires more imagination than I’m capable of.

Regarding the Upside Down: Call me crazy, but I find it hard to believe that 2021 will conduct itself in the same manner as 2020.

Regardless, it’s good to know that a place exists where laws are – and will forever remain – irrefutable. Where is it? You know. It’s the favorite body of water where you swim, fish and boat. How lucky we are in New England to have these places, which have, for the most part, brought so much joy to so many this summer.

Everyone stay safe, and see you next in 2021.