The Mast-Head: What It’s All About

    On Saturday afternoon we were invited to go crabbing as a family with friends at one of the local oceanside salt ponds. It was also to be a picnic. Some friends were bringing a brazier and a big pot; others would bring bread, wine, salads.
    I arrived first with Ellis, our toddler. The bed of my pickup truck was filled with buckets, a cooler, crab nets, and stakes to which our bait lines would be tied. It was early, not quite noon. Shorebirds lined the edge of the pond, disturbed only as my son ran near, rising and settling on a small sand island nearby.
    The rest of the picnic crowd came slowly, gradually setting up the fire, several folding tables, and an umbrella. Several of us began the crabbing, throwing an old bluefish head and a couple of whole porgies along with the usual chicken wings to draw them in.
    After a slow start, the action was good, though most of the blue claws were small. In one bucket I saved a few of the shorts for blackfish bait; another bucket held those destined for the afternoon’s pot. After a while, the kids arrived and took over. The crabs were aggressive, and netting them was easy.
    The day was warm. The sun felt hot on the face, sheltered as we were behind a dune. Though I was busy jogging between the crab lines, I felt like taking a nap, which brought to mind picnics of my youth during which I would be perplexed by one of the grown-ups in particular who would always fall asleep once lunch was done.
    In those days, my father would drive us to out-of-the-way places he had gone to as a child with his grandfather before World War II. Bottles of wine would be opened, and one of the men, a food writer, if I recall, would find a sunny spot to lie down. This was baffling to my pre-teen mind. But Saturday, as the afternoon went on, I looked wistfully at a certain spot under a wedge of Rosa rugosa and imagined sprawling out for a few winks. It was not to be, of course.
    Fresh from the steaming pot, the crabs were a great success. As the day grew late, four children stood around a table, picking the sweet white meat from the last batch. In their seriousness about the task, I could see myself at their age and hoped that they, once they were middle-aged and had children of their own, would remember this October afternoon.