It was just before sunrise, a fall morning on the beach. There are times when I feel like all I have to do is narrow my eyes to blur the influence of our world on the once wild shores of New England. The dark shadows doing their part to shroud the gaudy homes of millionaires – towering out of the scrub pines and beach rose. The low orange glow matching the hues of every clear sunrise for millennia. The rhythms of the gentle waves echoed as my subconscious bent time, I closed my eyes and let the reverberations of perfect silence paint a new scene in my mind.
Suddenly the seven homes on the point seemed to sulk below the treeline, the telephone poles bowed to my will – pulling the wires taught and folding, like a jackknife, out of view, electric lights on the opposite shore smoldered and faded black. A center console steaming south was instantly zapped. This is one of the things I have always loved about the solitude of fishing the beach; if you let it, time can be erased and the past can be seen, plain as day.
The tide was very low when I came to the small inlet, a place where I had found evidence of ancient man in the form of flaked stone and broken arrowheads in the past; proof that the narrow opening has always been a gathering place for birds, fish and fishermen. The low angle of the sun cast shadows behind even the tiniest pebbles left stranded by the tide. The outflow gushed seawater, carrying mummies and silversides, the weight of every footstep wringing water from the saturated sand.
It seems impossible among the millions of stones on the beach, but a trained eye looks for color and looks for straight edges forming a point, the shapes of known tools. I fan-casted my gaze as my steps slowed and there in the fading current of this tiny estuary lay a perfect artifact, as sharp as the day it was lost. Expert eyes would later date it at 9,000 years old. The material, known as Marblehead Rhyolite, would have traveled nearly 100 miles, probably brought down the Taunton River into Narragansett Bay by canoe.
I rolled the perfect projectile point in my fingers, the concave base, the lower edges ground to protect the hafting, the careful retouch of the blade edges. I felt a connection. As if linked by fiber optic cable, information beamed at the speed of light, reaching back nine millennia to the man who made it, a rapid montage of images, for a moment, his spirit awake. No person had handled this tiny stone in any of those intervening centuries; what was once the product of a craft taught – crucial to survival – now lay in my palm as the last reminder of this man now gone for an eternity. A length of time unfathomable. A rush coursed through my body and mind as I placed the beautiful relic into the pocket of my waders.
Still buzzing from the connection, I looked at my gear. My Van Staal reel, my Lamiglas rod, my waders, my boots, my plugs, my pliers, my jacket…I felt like a sissy. These days life is ours to lose, survival is guaranteed until we screw it up. This faceless man was more animal than I am, more instinctual. Where I worry about the life expectancy of my furnace, this guy’s very survival was in his hands every single day.
And yet, I believe we share the same appreciation for the beauty of life and the soul of the Earth. We can’t help but feel it, the colors of the sunrise, the turning of a leaf, the cold stare of an angry sea…we stop to absorb it because we always have and always will.