You never know when you’re being watched

This Side Up


The Bay was flat, calmer than it had been in weeks. The sky was brightening. It was going to be a beautiful morning.

Carol was asleep. Ollie was curled in a ball half on his bed and half on the carpet as if he was too weary to go any further. He didn’t budge when I tiptoed around him and headed downstairs. The world wasn’t ready to wake up.

I hadn’t been rowing for days and, with expectation, I opened the back door to get a feel for the temperature and whether I would need a fleece. The air was crisp and clean. The first birds were starting to sing. There was no sign of the skunk or opossum that had Ollie howling in recent weeks. I was good to go.

But I was spotted. The cardinal made his presence known by his chirp, more like a click, and his red coat. There was no slipping past the watch of father cardinal, especially in early morning. He landed on a branch barely 10 feet away, cocked his head as if to say, “What about me?”

Carol has him trained, or, more appropriately, he’s trained her. He’s usually the first of the birds. He was looking for his handout of sunflower seeds.

I knew Carol would ask if I had seen him when I got back. I wasn’t going to slip away as I thought, not when I’m being watched. I went back in, sunk my hand into the tin of seeds and came up with half a handful, certainly enough for one cardinal. My friend was waiting. He landed nearly as fast as the seeds I threw. Now I was free to go.

I looked up at the house as I carried the oars to the seawall. The windows were dark, with the exception of our bedroom, where there was a hint of white. I couldn’t make him out, but it was probably Ollie checking me out.

The tide was up to the seawall stairs, making for an easy launch, and I was soon on my way to Conimicut Point. With the exception of bird songs and the chattering of Brant geese that swim in the shallows and waddle in rows along the beach, the world was still asleep. Lights shone in the windows of a few houses. No cars traveled Shawomet Avenue. Even Green Airport was silent. The distant blades of the Narragansett Bay Commission’s three wind turbines were static against the brightening sky.

Usually at this time of year, and especially on a morning like this, there are early risers walking Conimicut beach with their dogs or standing by their cars sipping coffee and rejoicing in the new day. Occasionally, while sliding silently through the water, I get a wave from the shore and I interrupt my rowing to wave back. Almost always, the dogs take notice and pause to bark. One golden lab went so far as to rush into the water to give me a personal greeting. The prospect of an 80-pound dog attempting to climb on a needle-shaped, 21-foot rowing scull cast an image of a swim I didn’t want to take. I pulled on the oars, leaving the paddling dog and its owner calling for its return from the beach.

This morning the beach and the parking lot were deserted.

Yet I had the feeling I was being watched. I scanned the beach again. Nothing.

Then a black object bobbed to the surface in my wake. It was rounded and thick as a telephone pole. Had I narrowly missed a log? It disappeared for an instant, and then rose again. Clearly it had a head. Then I thought someone was diving for quahogs, but there were no boats on the bay. I had the place to myself.

Then my follower became obvious with its nose and whiskers. Our eyes locked for an instant and then, a smile. Wasn’t that a smile? Just as quietly, and as quickly, the head disappeared. My companion revealed himself and I was reminded that, even when you least expect it, you might be watched. Although, it’s not likely to be a seal.


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