My Intertidal Inspiration

Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

I stare out from the bay, my hip waders sunken into the mushy sand as I admire the smooth and confident glide of a blue heron landing on a rusted rack off the next sandbar. My father and I share an affinity towards nature, as well as an ever-curious, wandering mind. I tell myself to stay on task and train my eyes on the oyster awaiting my attention. I’ve worked the farm long enough now to have gained an internal sense of oyster weight. I hold a slimy, fresh one in my hand for milliseconds before passing it into the red bucket. Our occasional weekend helpers, mostly pity-filled aunts and uncles, need to be supervised. They ask, “Is this one an “ugly”?”, “The red bucket goes to the Oyster House, right?”, and “How bumpy is too bumpy?”. It’s not their fault that they are clueless – I was too, a few months ago.

Taking initiative has been an indispensable piece of my transition to adulthood. When the tide is surrounding us at unyielding speed, and our farm is becoming less and less visible as the water expands, there isn’t time for uncertainty and cautious questions. I have learned to stop standing lackadaisically and make myself useful.

Although that sounds obvious, I didn’t figure out the simple lessons until I had to. My father left us last year. For the two years before, he would lie on the couch, with one arm supporting his neck and the other drooped over his stomach, as useless as he was unemployed (in other words, very useless and VERY unemployed). By 8:30 every night he would awaken from his nap, touch his toes, swing his arms, and bulge his eyes as he yawned. He would slowly move upstairs, taking each step with such indifference. I would listen to one step, then wait for the creaking of the next as he finally made his way up the stairs to his bedroom. It wasn’t sudden, unexpected, or even emotional for me when he made the decision to leave. Like a deer caught in an interminable headlight, for two years before his decision, he had been paralyzed in ways I couldn’t understand on my own.

Now, as I watch the heron, walk the same square mile, and harvest the seed (baby oysters) that my father set last May, I begin to panic. Our temperaments are too similar. I want to spend a day biking, then hang out in the yard with a Frisbee while eating oatmeal-raisin cookies just as much as he does. I like to live in the moment, so I don’t always think things through, and I know he’s the same way. Part of growing up has meant self-discovery for me, but then I was awakened to this inevitable inheritance of similarity.

I made my way towards land and dropped a single oyster onto our makeshift sawhorse table. I don’t remember it making a sound, but the light waves slapping against the rusted racks unfroze my panic. It’s natural to have inherited his traits, but becoming an adult is really about our separation. I can be more than what I have inherited; I realized that I was no longer a product of my surroundings. That was the moment I declared myself an adult. I will choose to be responsible, to take action, and to never go to bed at 8:30. Even a dreamer needs to be awake to life.

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