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Open Features: How Much Is Enough

Jacqueline Dowling, writing from South Africa, brings a vivid portrait in words of the snoek fishing season.

There's ice in the wind. It whips through the tang of salt, seaweed and fish filled
oak-saturated haze from the smoke house.
Blown spume shivers and dances in caramel frenzy across crusty musseled
rocks, dragging here and there, snagging chunks of sea as it passes.

Great gunmetal grey walls of ocean batter dolosse and explode in outrage.
A fury of spray bursts into the light and creams, hissing, across the seawall.
Racing down into a flood of infinity.

Far out at sea tiny blobs of colour rise and fall, now seen, now gone. It's
that time of year - the sea is alive with snoek.

Above the little harbour, gulls spiral and wheel. Their wild lost cries
screeching through the ragged air. Ice white breasts glow amber in the late
evening, rapacious beaks snapping at passing strings of fishgut hanging and
swinging in the high wind.

The air is full of sound.

Through a prowl of surging rollers, a boat slides down between the swells,
rounds the quay in a burst of diesel fumes and comes thankfully to rest in the
quiet harbour . An oiled rainbow creeps from the scuppers and spreads across
the water.
As if tugged by the wind, more boats follow and still more. Tired fishers in
green waterproofs cut engines, glide onto cradles and offload their catch.
Snoek are hurled to the ground, flung into trailers, containers, refrigerated
vans and sacks. Men stand unshaven and inscrutable, silently tallying the haul.

Arms folded against their corpulence, they count and count.
How much is enough?

Snoek, with beaks of razor teeth set in the rictus of death. Malevolence
lurking in dulling eyes, they thud wet and sodden, flesh bruised, from boats
gunwale laden, onto unyielding stone.
Water swirls, tinged rusty with blood and slimed with viscera from the
gutted fish.

It's all over for another day. Sated gulls bob, their cries stilled.
The boats have gone.

Now there is a hush, an almost tangible elemental relaxing and expelling of
breath.
While the emptying sea sobs into the night.

jacqueline dowling 2012

* Snoek : An edible marine fish found in South African waters. Similar in
appearance to barracuda.

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