Well, not quite adrift.
This morning, Tom Hardesty woke up at 2, 3:30, 4, 5 and got up for good at 6:30.
"The critters got me," he said. On the sand next to his sleeping bag were the two lines of tracks left by his attackers. The tracks started south of the bag, stopped, and resumed again on the north side.
Pete Adkins observed the scratches on the beach. "That weren't no critter," he said. "That was a varmint." The rest of our party of five fared better. Camping Memorial Day weekend on a sandy pit of uninhabited island in the southern end of the bay. We had tents.
Hardesty had one, too, but on the first night out he got in a fight with a fellow named George Dickel, the bourbon man. George won and Hardesty never did get his tent up.
So it goes in wilderness camping. You get what you get. No electrical hookups, no water, sewer, lights. No announcements over the p.a. No place to go for supper. Just peace, solitude, and the sweet sound of gentle seas lapping at your doorsteps.
No place to buy food. This makes it rough if you planned to catch your supper but the fish say no.
Adkins and George Smith came here from the far hills of south-central West Virginia to load their coolers with sea trout.
For the last three years trout have abounded in these waters this time of the year. But no one was catching them this year, so instead of eating what we caught, we ate what we brought. Ramps.
Ramps and crabs. Ramps and potatoes. Sauteed ramps, raw ramps. Ramps with hot peppers. Ramps and eggs.
A ramp is an oniony thing that grows in West Virginia. Ramps are the first things to turn green in the mountains in spring and West Virginians pursue them with a fervor.
They taste like those early grassy onions that foul up a city slicker's lawn. Call it a cross between an onion and a garlic clove with a certain gamey aftertaste. Ramps. Beats going hungry.
Fishing for nonexistent sea trout is frustrating. Manuel Munoz-Carrasco, the Spaniard who organized this boat-keeping voyage recommended a nature hike. "Perhaps we will find some turtle eggs," he said.
There are two high spots on the island that once harbored a dairy farm. We took his boat to one and tied it off on the beach.
A thousand bird's nests littered the tops of the pines and chokecherries. In the nests sat white egrets and ibises, huge blue herons and smaller, darker herons. Shorebirds skitted along the sand. Ducks cascaded in and out of the marshes.
A bird paradise.
"We must go in there," said Munoz, pointing to an impenetrable tangle of poison ivy and briars. "It is only there that you get a true feeling for this place."
He plunged in and we followed, querulously.
The tangle gave way to a maze of game trails in the dark woods, evidently the path along which wild goats traveled. It was thick and green like a jungle; giant birds erupted from close above as we walked.
Hardesty, off to the left, stopped suddenly and looked at his arm as if he were swinging a shotgun. A bird crashed out of the thick woods.
"Did you see that?" he gasped."That was a black duck."
"Are you sure?"
"You think I'd raise my gun on just any old bird?"
Adkins poked around in the brush with a stick. "Hey, come here," he said.
He held back some thick grasses and exposed at the base of a tree a perfect bowl constructed of duck feathers and twigs. In the bowl sat nine perfect duck eggs, glowing like alabaster.
It was the nest of a black duck, wariest and most secretive of all the wild ducks, tucked away here in the deep woods, a hundred yards from the water. w
At night we anchor the boats, our only link to civilization, in a quiet cover that is protected from any wind but an east wind.
The tents are a hundred yards away, out of sight, so that when you go to bed you look out the flaps and see nothing but water and sky. When the tide is up it's only steps into the bay from the tents.
I have a typewriter on the fish-cleaning board, which sits on one of the now-empty coolers. I can sit and type and look out at the bay.
Hardesty erected a beach umbrella to shield this work area from the sun.
Adkins, a concrete finisher, and Smith, who works in a chemical plant, think it's a pretty funny sight when I'm typing away.
"Here I have to get down on my hands and knees with a scrub brush to make a living," said Adkins.
At least he gets Memorial Day off.