There are few things our family enjoys more during the summer than crabbing in the rivers and creeks that extend from the great Chesapeake Bay like multiple fingers from a hand. These offshoots, consisting of salt, fresh, and brackish waters, are as much a part of Ken and me as the blood that runs through our veins. I come from a long line of watermen and boat builders dating back to the Ark and the Dove that landed on St. Clement’s Island in 1634. Much of my family history was woven into my book, The Devil’s Fortune. Ken began working as an apprentice on a crabbing boat when he was eleven and owned his own boat by the time he was fifteen. Our girls are water creatures, especially our youngest, a champion swimmer and proud holder of a boating license since she was twelve.
As much as our family enjoys crabbing together, what we enjoy even more is taking other people crabbing. There’s something about it that appeals to people on so many levels that it’s akin to a spiritual event. In fact, our former Associate Pastor, Father Olsen, summed it up best several years ago. After we went crabbing, steamed our catch, and sat down to eat, he said a blessing over the food. He thanked God for the experience of harvesting, cooking, and feasting on God’s earthly bounty. It was such a beautiful moment that I still think of it each time I sit down to eat our catch.
There’s something almost magical about leaning over the boat, watching the trotline go by, and spying those beautiful blue crabs clinging to the bait. Calls of “Crab!” and “There’s one!” echo across the boat, pitching the Dipper forward, plunging his or her net into the water, and pulling out an unsuspecting crab. When someone misses a crab, no matter the size, Ken loves to yell something to the effect of, “Oh, no! That was the biggest one I’ve ever seen!” Everyone watches the box fill, keeping track of who caught the most crabs, the fattest crab, and the biggest crab. For those few hours on the boat, there is no worry, no fear, no stress, and often no cell signal. It’s all about the crabs, the chase, and the togetherness.
Friends travel from near and far to go out for an early morning or late evening of crabbing, and those times are usually the highlights of our summer. A few years ago, about 30 of our Holy Land pilgrim family came for all or part of a long weekend. Those who were here on Saturday morning rose before the crack of dawn to head out and secure our afternoon feast.
Last month, we took out a friend from Ohio and her sister from Virginia who came to St. Michaels for their annual sisters get-together. We caught more crabs than we could eat and had a wonderful evening on the water and then an even more wonderful evening the next night eating what we caught.
This past weekend, a family we’re very close to, great friends who feel like part of our family, went out with us. Last year, they came on the 4th of July, just as things were beginning to open up. We caught so many crabs that both families feasted like kings. This year, our timing was bad, and the tide was against us (things Ken worried about but thought we might be able to overcome). We didn’t catch as much as we would have liked, but our friends still took home a nice catch, and we all agreed that it wasn’t the amount we caught that mattered but the time spent laughing and talking together, encouraging each other, and enjoying the beautiful sunset over the water.
Every time we go, it’s a different experience. We use the same boat, the same net, the same trotline, and the same type of bait. We go out either early in the morning or in the late evening, but the times are roughly the same in either case. What changes each time is only the number of crabs we catch, and the best part about each trip is the time spent with friends. Whether young or old, family or friends, neighbors or visitors from out-of-state, each trip out into the creek brings a new wave of joy which leads me to this revelation…
It’s not about the catch. It’s not about the amount of crabs we get or even the harvesting and cooking and eating. It’s about the people we are with, the time spent with them, and the conversations, laughter, and joy that we all experience together.
In a world that spent the better part of a year closed in on itself, in a world that for the past 50 or so years has become more narcissistic and more egocentric, made worse by social media, we have become less community-oriented and less outgoing. The young people’s version of a night spent with friends consists of using the movie-sharing mode on Netflix, in which people in different houses can watch the same movie simultaneously and chat on screen or by phone while watching. The Internet and Zoom can be wonderful things, but spending time in-person with someone is so much better.
Yesterday, I was immensely blessed to attend the most beautiful, faith-affirming ceremony I’ve ever witnessed, but that is a story for another time. It was a two-hour drive to the church in the seat of our diocese, and I was further blessed to have a dear friend attend with me, making the drive up and back as warm and wonderful as the event itself. Other than Bible Study and parish meetings, Linda and I have not spend a lot of time together though we’ve had many intimate conversations about faith and family. To spend the day talking with her, laughing, telling stories, and sharing hopes and fears, made this already special day even more special. When I dropped her off in front of her house late yesterday evening, we hugged in farewell after an amazing day, and I felt that rush of emotion that one only feels at the touch of another human being, a dear friend, someone in close contact and not just a face on a screen or a voice on the phone. It’s that feeling one gets when one truly knows that she belongs and is loved.
At the center of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is Belonging and Love. Though the point of this hierarchy, as with all hierarchies, is to move from the bottom up, from the least important to the most, I think it’s significant that Belonging and Love are in the very center of the triangle. Being with others, feeling a sense of belonging, experiencing the touch of others, being together to talk and laugh and love is the core, the center of our beings, the need that bridges physiological and safety needs to those of self-esteem and self-fulfillment. We cannot be who and what we are meant to be without the love and acceptance of others. It’s impossible.
We need to belong, we need to feel connected, we need human interaction, and most of all, we need love, all levels of love. We need Philos–the love of family and friends, Eros–the physical love of touch (not just sexual), and Agape–the unconditional love of the Father, the love that pushes us to sacrifice for others. We can’t get to all of these levels, just as we can’t get to our highest level of self, in any way other than by being with other people.
Next week, we will have friends from Florida visiting for a few days, and guess what’s on the agenda? On their first night here, you’ll be able to find us out on the boat, taking turns dipping a net into the water as the trotline flows by. If all things align the way they should, the following night, we will feast on the bounty of our harvest; but whether we catch anything or not, we will be blessed by the presence of our friends. We will talk and laugh and share stories and deepen our bond with each other. We will hug, and we will cry when we say goodbye (Dotty and I always cry when we say goodbye), and we will know by our faith in God and each other that we would make sacrifices for each other.
These outings and get-togethers on the boat are not really about the crabs or the amount of food they provide. They’re about being together, supporting each other, and loving each other. One of my favorite lines in the musical, Les Miserables, contains the final words of Jean Valjean, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Taking our friends and family out on the water is one of the ways we show our love for them. We share something with them that is precious to us, something that is part of our make-up, part of our souls; and in return, we are able to see in them the face of God.
Be sure to catch me on one of these dates:
July 17 – Book signing and wine tasting – Simpatico Italian Market in St. Michaels, Maryland 12:30-4:30PM
August 28 – Book signing – St. Mary’s Crab Festival in Leonardtown, Maryland 10:00AM-4:00PM
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Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me, Whispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores. Her latest novel, Island of Promise, was recently awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018 and was awarded a Gold Medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2019 for Inspirational Fiction. It is the 2019 winner for Best Inspirational Fiction in the RWA Golden Quill Contest, Best Romance in the American Book Awards, and a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award of Fiction. Amy’s 2019 work, The Devil’s Fortune, a finalist in the Writer’s Digest Self-Publishing Awards and winner of an Illumination Award, is based, in part, on Amy’s family history. The third book of Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy, Island of Hope, was released in August of 2019.
Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018), The Devil’s Fortune (2019), Island of Hope (2019), A Devotional Alphabet (2019), Desert Fire, Mountain Rain(2020).