National Geographic : 1977 Nov
clatter. I wanted to calm some discordant notes and reattune myself to nature's rhythms, to repair in my life what Euell Gibbons called man's "estrangement from nature." Jesse Bailey, one of my High Point neigh bors, helped me learn about island living (pages 656-7). In the first week we went into Christmas Creek to get fish. Jesse demonstrat ed the use of a cast net. From his hands it swirled out like a windblown blossom over the dark water. I threw the net, and it came up jumping with three small mullet, a sea trout, and a small flounder. The ease of the catch amazed me. I stood holding the dripping net, watch ing the fish flop about. Jesse scowled. "Your arm broke?" he asked. "Throw the net, John. Get the fish while the tide's right. You can admire 'em later." Jesse Bailey is unchallenged king of Christ mas Creek. With his help I learned to harvest other fruits of that rich tidal stream-oysters, clams, crabs, conchs, shrimp. But often it wasn't necessary. Jesse was a generous friend who came bearing gifts, a burlap bag full of fish or shellfish. He made it easy-but not too easy. "I ain't clean 'em," he would say. "I catch 'em, John. You clean 'em." One day I watched him shucking oysters. He built a fire under an old black washpot, then piled in oysters with a pitchfork. He waited awhile, then took them out just as they began to open, tender and succulent. Eager to learn, I asked, "Jesse, how long do you leave them in the water?" At first I thought he hadn't heard. He opened one oyster, then another. Finally he spoke: "Not too long." I put my watch aside, and it stopped at ten of ten. Three years later it still said ten of ten. I concerned myself with measurements of time more significant to island living: how long between tides, between new moon and full, between sunrise and sunset. Guesthouse on a grand scale, Greyfield Inn was built as a home 75 years ago by a branch of the steel-rich Carnegie family. Today a lodging place and the only touch of commerce on the island, it welcomes out siders and serves as a community center for Cumberland residents.