South Shore Still Life
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by Rebecca Wheeler
I have been avoiding walking the beach lately because I knew the annual alewife die-off had been exacerbated by the big storm a couple of weeks ago; the wrack line of debris and dead fish had been driven high on the beach by the strong waves and the shore smelled like decay.
However, this morning I counted on a breeze, braved the odors, and walked north. At first, all the dead fish bothered me, but then I began to see the beauty in the curves of their desiccated shapes and the fading quicksilver of their scales. I remembered a time a few years ago during the alewife die-off when I was far up the beach from anywhere with car access and saw a southeast Asian family walking toward me, carrying large clear bags of shimmering silver that glittered from far off. They were picking up the dying-but-not-yet-dead alewives in the shallows and told me the fish were good to eat. Parents, kids, grandma and grandpa--everybody had a bag of alewives, but what I remember is how their bags flashed with glistening silver in the sunlight.
That day and this morning, erasing expectations allowed for debris or dinner to be seen as things of beauty.