Monday, January 10, 2011


I'm used to hitting bottom. Diving is a bad idea unless you're sure of the depth.

Walking in from the beach is a slow, steady immersion. Almost anywhere you pick, you can still touch, still stand 100 feet from the shore.

That has an effect on you. The river, the bay, the water is trustworthy, predictable, but of course, not really.

Shoal, meaning shallow. Or becoming shallow quickly. Or maybe a sandbar. It's not a word you want to have to learn at speed on a boat--a concept better kept at a distance on those occasions.

But taken at slower speeds, shoal, walking barefoot through sea grass, soft mud underfoot, or wading into cool, blue-green-brown up to your shorts after a run...

I wonder if my worldview would be different if I'd grown up on a lake or the ocean?


Years ago, cliff jumping off the shores of Smith Mountain Lake, we counted three or four seconds in the air before you hit the surface. Ramoino dove, right off. It took me a while. Awfully close to the shore, it seemed.

"It's a man-made lake, plenty deep," Elliott said. And it was.

Shoal is not a word for Smith Mountain Lake.


Maybe shoal is a good notion for us bottom feeders. Maybe it accounts for my tendency to skim the surface of things, frequently, thinking the bottom will reflect what I find at any given depth. Maybe it's comforting, feeling like a skipping stone, to know you don't have too far to drop once you slow down.

If you've ever taken a skiff or a Whaler up Peachblossom Creek at speed, you know where to swing way wide, hard right, hard left, or you've run aground there on one of two sandbars called "Hell" and "Damnation" on some charts.

Cruising by boat from Cambridge to Oxford, Andrew points out the shoal spots, where it gets shoal, where you want to stay away from.

Shoal, then, is a warning. And a comfort. And it's fun to say. But beneath any reference, it's built in. It's a given. It's part of a place and people who get it.