It’s already growing dark when Doug gets my attention, says the crabs and oysters are ready and I’m missing them. Indeed, people are seated around long tables under the trees. Sounds of laughter and conversation, and crickets. Shadows seep from the woods and collect in pools beneath the sycamores and cypress. Fireflies lift off from the lawn, scribing arcs above the grass.
They’ve fetched a box of steamed crabs and a quart of oysters from Ruark’s near Urbanna. The crab feast is well underway, and Harris is sautéing enormous oysters in their own juices with butter and cream. Lots of conversations going at once. Everything is delicious.
Afterward, the whole mess is rolled up in the brown paper table covering. A fire gets started and instruments come out – mandolin, guitars, tin whistles. It’s now full dark, and you can hear the music and singing from the water, mixed with the lapping of waves, crickets and frogs, the croak of a heron.
Not long before midnight I head back to the boat to pitch the tent and get things settled for the night. I’m inside, stowing gear and laying out a bedroll when I hear kids from over the steamboat office stop outside next to the trailer. There are six or eight, and I can smell their cigarettes. I hear one of the girls say this looks cozy, and a guys says yeah, pretty sweet setup. Then I hear a girl whisper there’s someone in there. A guy chuckles and says let’s go see the green monster, and they all walk off talking.
A full moon has risen, and when I climb out of the boat I can see their silhouettes black against the trail of moonlight on the water, the red embers of their cigarettes. Beyond them, though, I see the “green monster” – a large circle of greenish-yellow light glowing in the water about 30 feet beyond the end of the dock. Very strange looking, and almost as bright as the moon.
When they head back to the the steamboat building I go over to investigate. I had assumed the light came from a floodlamp mounted on the pier, but waving my hand in front I see it’s not on – the light is actually coming from under the water, a fish attractor.
And attracting it was. Even from 30 feet away I see large fish circling the light like a living whirlpool. The light makes a glowing disk about 10 feet across, and the fish swirl around the periphery constantly, on the rim between dark and light. Now and then one darts across the circle, or breaks the surface with a splash, as though chased or chasing.
The disk of the moon is floating in the clouds, illuminating them with silver light, themselves floating in a pool of darkness spattered with stars. Across the river the lights of homes and docks line the shore at the rim of the heaving pool of darkness, this extension of the sea. Under the trees my friends circle the orange glow of the fire that makes a dome of light flickering against the undersides of the trees. Then there’s this greenish glow the color of firefly light under the water surrounded by fish and other sea life. It’s like the world is made up of concentric circles of light and dark, swirling and flowing like Van Gogh’s Starry Night.
I have all these questions I want to ask. Like:
- What kind of fish are they?
- Do the fish always swim counter-clockwise?
- Do they tell their friends about it?
- Does it make them believe in God?
- If the light is a different color, do they believe in a different god?
I have all these questions, but there’s no one to ask. So I go back to the boat, lay down in bed, and listen to the occasional splash, the sound of frogs, whippoorwills in the woods, and owls, which some people believe is an omen of death, and wait for the rain, which will come during the night, sometime before morning. In torrents.