Friday, August 17, 2007

Fenwick: Golf, Fishing and Family on the Connecticut Coast

Here's a photo of the Connecticut license plate:

Here's a photo of the view from my bedroom in the summer cottage here in Fenwick, where the Connecticut River meets Long Island Sound:

My family moved from Connecticut to Vermont when I was 11 years old. The identity of "home" was always a contentious issue for me; in college, friends would tease me about being from Connecticut, while I insisted I was from Vermont. Now, having lived in Hokkaido, Massachusetts and Cambodia, the concept of home is a little looser, and I'm comfortable with a broad definition. "Where are you from?" is a silly question, after all - there are several places where I feel at home, some oceans apart, and the idea of one specific home is ultimately a self-limiting and artificial construct.


An ancestor bought this cottage back in the 1920s, when the spit of land at the mouth of the River called Fenwick was beginning to develop into an enclave of privilege, a summer retreat for wealthy insurance executives from Hartford. Now, our cottage is one of the last original structures in Fenwick. Almost nothing about this house has changed since I was a child. The same dusty books are on the shelves, the same rusty bikes are parked in the garage, the same painting hangs over the fireplace - an oil of frontiersmen about to open fire on a war party of Indians. Most of the old cottages have been torn down by new owners set on building ostentatious McMansions. I'm sort of proud that ours is so weathered and worn - the wooden floorboards in the attic are smooth as polished marble from four generations of children playing hide and seek before bed, and the shower is still out in the garage, so that everyone walks barefoot across the yard in the morning with only a towel for modesty.

I don't quite feel comfortable with the atmosphere of privilege here - last year, when I came to Connecticut for my Grandfather's funeral, I biked to the tackle shop in town and asked what bait they recommended for the breakwater that leads out to the outer lighthouse, the one featured on the license plate.

"How do you have access down there?" asked the bait-man.

I thought about it for a second - there was really only one answer:

"My granddad's rich," I said.

Everyone cracked up, and they gave me good advice. If I'd said something like - "Oh, my family has a cottage..." they probably would have sold me expensive, useless plugs instead of hooking me up with Slug-Gos and live eels, the cheap stuff that really works.

The fishing is what I really love about this place. Big striped bass live in the rocks of the breakwater and in late summer when the bluefish start to run you can catch hard-fighting fish from shore in the evenings. I've settled into an easy routine - waking up at dawn, fishing from the breakwater as the sun rises over Long Island Sound, coming home for coffee and breakfast with Mom and Dad, writing until lunch-time, when I take a siesta, waking up in time to fish the evening tide. While I write, on the porch, I can watch ospreys flying by with snapper bluefish in their talons, and the masts of sailboats motoring upriver seem to pass right through the dune-grass of the front yard.

I haven't had much luck the past few days - I hooked up with big fish a few times, but didn't manage to land any. Last night, though, I was fishing a popper with a heavy wire leader along the breakwater and caught two big stripers, one right after another. They both came up and murdered the lure at the surface, and I made sure to set the drag loose enough for them to make their runs without breaking off. It took about 10 minutes to land each one of them, and I had to balance on slippery rocks to hoist them onto the breakwater. The first measured out at 27 inches - the second was over 30. I tried to take a photo, but it was tricky, as the fish were worn out from the fight and I wanted to release them. It was tough to hold them up at arms length while balanced on the wet rocks, and hold the camera still enough to get a good exposure in lowlight. Here's the best shot - of the second fish - maybe you can get a sense of the size.

There's golf here too, which I used to love as a kid but have grown sort of ambivalent about these days. It's one of the oldest courses in America, a nine-hole layout that wraps around houses and roads, so that when you're driving through Fenwick you need to watch out for golf balls. A church by the first fairway is right in the line of fire, so balls bang off the roof during the Sunday service. It's nice how the course is so social - playing the other afternoon, I ran into four cousins and a bunch of old friends - on their way to the tennis court, heading home from the beach, or just cruising around on bikes and in golf carts.

I'm here until the end of August. It's home - for now. Then I'll go back to Vermont, which is home too, and then I'll have home strapped to the back of my bike, riding up the St. Lawrence seaway. Home for the winter will be somewhere I've yet to discover, way down south in Patagonia.

It's way too soon to settle down.

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Blogger Mouse said...

is is This is my first visit. I can't remember the trail that I followed in order to arrive here but I am glad that I did
So, Hi from France

4:26 AM  

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