A Sunday in February

What a wonderful invention, skates, like the wheel in a way
After a day of cod fishing aboard the Viking Starship, anglers left the boat with smiles on their faces and fish in their coolers. Russell Drumm

    Sunday was friendly. At four in the afternoon, the Viking Starship returned to Montauk Harbor after a long day on a calm sea — cold, but calm and mostly sunny. Capt. Carl Forsberg smiled down from the Starship’s wheelhouse at the 80 booted, knit-hatted, and well-bundled anglers departing with coolers stocked with cod fillets. They had the look of a day well spent.

    An hour earlier I was skating on Fort Pond. The pond had not frozen like that in four years, solid except the spot in the center where it almost never freezes, where the underground spring refreshes the pond and the birds hang out. But otherwise, the ice was smooth and hard and I skated from Kirk Park on the south end all the way to Industrial Road, a good half-mile and back.

    Then I skated around with no direction. What a wonderful invention, skates, like the wheel in a way. It’s good to be friction-free even if one’s sliding resembles a curling stone more than the Olympian, triple-toe-looping figure skaters, hockey players, and short-track speeders competing in Sochi. 

    The kids had been on the pond most of the day, a group of about 12, skating along together, aimless like myself, the younger ones trying to keep up, a hockey stick or two, a dog, two bicycles, a few firecrackers that punctuated the stillness every now and then. A father had built a fire on the ice, a grill set on top of the wood. He was cooking hotdogs and there was a pot of hot chocolate. The kids had eaten much earlier. I, Norman Rockwell, accepted one of the two remaining dogs on a toasted roll. The chef said, “Wait,” took back the dog, placed a piece of cheese on it, and handed it back. I skated away eating the best cheese dog in America.

    An hour before that, I rode my bike with three friends from Lazy Point down Napeague Meadow Road, with its listing telephone poles — a lone fox way out on the snowy flats — to the ocean, scaring a blue heron into the air as we neared the railroad tracks. We peddled back across the highway and tracks, meandered around Lazy Point, and came to a road end. In the bushes, dirty, and nearly covered with vines was an old sign. It was a Town of East Hampton posting advising shellfishermen that a permit was required.

    It began: “Have you a shellfish permit?”

    Not, “WARNING — clamming without a permit is a violation of statute number 8675945, paragraph B” or, “Shellfishing without a permit is punishable by a fine of $10,000 and a mandatory prison sentence of no less than 20 years.”

    No, the sign was from a time gone by, the spare syntax said as much. We don’t speak like that anymore. It was put there by the East Hampton Town Trustees, the town’s oldest governing body, founded in 1686. And, while the sign did not read, “Have ye a shellfish permit?” its author seems to have had a homier, more neighborly mindset.

    “Have you a shellfish permit?” The sign was addressing good people, gently informing them, reminding them, suggesting that perhaps they’d left their permit at home. Thank you for checking. 

    Coolers full of cod, a hotdog cooked over a wood fire on a frozen pond, and a sign from another time that read: “Sunday was friendly.”