Thursday, July 19, 2007

Unrevenged, a fish story

Towns around here have gotten concerned about nitrogen in the watershed carried there in runoff from leaky septic systems and over-fertilized lawns. By a process I don't quite understand, the nitrogen causes too much plant growth and when those plants die they release oxygen that somehow kills off fish.

The towns have formed an alliance, the Pleasant Bay Resource Management Alliance, to try to reduce the nitrogen levels or at least prevent them from increasing. Volunteers are wading out to check on the levels and I met a couple of them this morning down on the beach at Rock Harbor in Orleans. Husband and wife team. Their field lab was in the trunk of their car and they were using turkey baster-sized syringes to squirt the samples they'd just taken into squat, Tupperware-style plastic jars. They were not scientists themselves, although she used to teach high school biology before she retired.

I first encountered them as I walking down the beach towards the marsh. They were coming arond the rip-rap breakwater, having finished collecting their samples from the boat channel. He was carrying a heavy-looking blue Igloo cooler and she held a legal-sized clipboard jabbed against her hip. On the clipboard were sheets of yellow paper with lots of boxes and graphs. She was a short, wiry, yellow-haired woman approaching 60. He was very tall, with signs of having once been lean and lanky but now giving in to middle-aged spread. His ball cap was pulled down low on his forehead and he was wearing glasses, which made it hard for me to judge his age, but I put him a few years older. Both were wearing shorts and t-shirts, but she had on a pair of yellow rubber beach shoes and he was wearing a pair of plain old sneakers, which meant that he had been wading barefoot while her toes were protected, which had turned out to be bad news for him and lucky for her.

The woman saw the camera in my hand and said, "Too bad you didn't get here with that sooner. You'd have had a heck of a picture."

"What'd I miss?" At that point, because of her scientific-looking clipboard, I was taking them for a pair of biologists and I was thinking exotic marine wildlife---a lost pilot whale, an adventurous seal, even a wandering shark.

"Him," she said jerking her head towards the man. "Falling in."

Then I noticed that he was soaked from the chest down. He grinned sheepishly but I could tell he was still feeling grumpy about his dunking.

She said, "A crab bit him and he fell over."

"Oh no," I said. "Where'd it get you?"

"Toe," he said.

"What kind of crab?"

"Little one."

"Can you eat him?"

"Got away."

"Too bad," I said, "Revenge can be sweet."

He was dead silent.

Wasn't in the mood to laugh about it yet, I guess.

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