I saw the moon go down this morning.
I was meeting up with two fishermen, off the Vincent Thomas Bridge, to capture the sound of them bringing in their catch for some stories about marine protected areas and fisheries. They had fat spiny lobster and red sea urchin. It was to be a quick visit - just pulling up some traps, weighing some buckets, and going. But we ran into a Fish and Game warden, so I got to see the way these guys interact.
The warden was unmistakable, in a hunter green truck, a tan uniform from which his badge shined in the reflected glow of the flashlights. He was also just doing his job: rolling along the wharf checking to make sure that guys coming ashore are doing their paperwork, that fishermen are landing lobsters of the right size (if I had a lobster gauge, I'd use that thing too). He was the only one of us who didn't have a hat or a mass of hair the size of a mighty oak, so I felt a little sorry for him in the chilly madrugada. He had what looked to be the world's brightest flashlight; LED, battery powered, but a battery killer; it's illuminating the lobster bucket in the picture above.
For years fishermen and fish and game wardens have told me the same thing, that by and large it's a collegial relationship they build. Admittedly, I didn't really believe them. But it was a little like watching two musicians, distantly acquainted, who can talk, name dropping, joking about guys they know in common. Even more, what I saw reminded me of the way people at the U.S.-Mexico border behave: they understand each other in that space they share, that the rest of us don't live in much, if ever.
A little undercurrent of tension ran through the conversation. Anybody who knows his boat number and license number and has his paperwork out for a warden could feel a little peevish about having someone look over their shoulder. But they're plenty peevish about skirmishes with other fishermen, too. I was walking away, and I heard one of the fishermen thank the warden for his service, saying it was good to see him, good to have contact, for the first time this season. "We need you guys out here," he said.
I saw the moon go down. That reminded me of Steinbeck's book, but also of the August Kleinzahler poem, "Meat." It begins:
How much meat moves
Into the city each night
The decks of its bridges tremble
In the liquefaction of sodium light
And the moon a chemical orange [...]
The sodium-orange light and the silence were soothing. One of the fishermen and I commiserated about trying to get to sleep after the sun comes up; I took his advice and raced the moon home to a dark room, to sneak in a few more hours before the sun brought me up for good.