Dropback Herring

A few weeks ago, while taking my afternoon constitutional with the dog along Ropes Beach, I witnessed the weirdest example of a massive biomass I’ve ever seen on the Cape. The fall is a particularly fecund time of year on the water, with the baitfish balling up into a tight concentrations that are assaulted over and over by blitzes of bluefish and striped bass fattening up before their southern migration for the winter. Usually the baitfish are immature menhaden, also known as “peanut bunker” but what I saw that afternoon on the shores of the cove was, in my opinion, a school of immature river herring, or alewives, also known as dropback herring because they drop back into the sea following their anadromous cycle of birth in the inland freshwater ponds and maturation in the deep sea.

The spring herring run is a classic event on the Cape, occurring in mid-April around the time the forsythias bloom.  During that run the adult alewives swim in from the deep ocean up to the very heads of the saltwater estuaries, lured in by some mystical genetic marker that leads them to seek out the same sweet waters they were born in. The fish then jump and wriggle their way up the coastal streams, over concrete fish ladders and other obstacles, dodging gulls and people with nets to finally made their way to some inland pond to drop their eggs and milt. These runs used to produce prodigious amounts of fish in colonial times, not so much any longer, and the state has imposed a ban on the taking of spawning herring for a number of years now.

What I saw, beginning at the footbridge and extending a half mile along the entire curving shoreline to Handys Point was a band of tiny black fish — minnow sized — that extended from two feet from the water’s edge out about 12 feet — a big long, moving black band of a gazillion tiny fishies all finning and pointing in the same direction, occasionally erupting when something disturbed their peace. Why do I think they were herring?

1. The week before I saw a steady stream of little black smolts swimming out of Little River.

2. Peanut bunker are distinctively shaped and these were not peanut bunker.

3. I’ve heard that herring like to circle the shorelines of the ponds in a big schools following their hatch. These fish were tucked right up on the beach, in the shallows where the sun could warm them.

Cue the video for a vague sense of what I saw. It’s not an exaggeration to say I walked past 20 solid minutes of fish during that sunny stroll.



Favorite Things: Turnbull and Asser shirts

When I was in college my girlfriends tended to dress me, and one in particular, decided that my preference for rowing shirts won off the backs of vanquished opponents, Grateful Dead concert t-shirts, and frayed collar button downs carried over from my prep school dress code days needed to be replaced with a new standard “Dave Look” based on white Brooks Brothers button downs and well faded blue Levi’s 505 classic jeans.  Brooks Brothers was different in the 1970s, still the standard bearer of the iconic American Ivy Traditional look, and because of my allegiance to all things Yale, I expanded to include a few button flap pocket J. Press shirts as that shop was the classic Dink Stover haberdasher of New Haven.

After thirty years of Brooks Brothers I finally decided enough was enough. The quality of the oxford cloth was deteriorating, everyone and their brother owned the same shirts, and button downs simply aren’t fashionable enough for someone in the digital creative world. I’ve always been accustomed to life spent in coat and tie thanks to my years in boarding school. Forbes was a good place to indulge in bow-ties and suits. But once I arrived at McKinsey at the nadir of the dot.bomb revolution I realized the older partners were lost trying to repurpose closets full of $8,000 Brioni suits into something resembling business casual. The pit of sartorial despair was Lenovo — the computer industry is the worst dressed collection of pleated Dockers, golf-shirt wearing conformists in the world. As one former colleague despaired, the look was pure Greg Norman.

One headhunter last summer gave me shit for showing up in a bowtie and said I needed to go more digitally hip. For example? I asked. Carry an iPad and dress like Bradley Cooper the guy said. I didn’t know who the hell Bradley Cooper was, but I had visions of being a tan-in-a-can douchebag in distressed fashion skinny jeans with a collarless shirt, hipster fedora, and some wasp waisted velvet blazer with a pink lining.

Feh. No thanks.

A couple years ago I sucked it up and went English, specifically Turnbull and Asser, and haven’t looked back since.  I can’t afford custom shirts — hell, Forbes.com in its annual “Living Extremely Well” index pegs a dozen bespoke T&A shirts at $4,380, a mere $365 a shirt. Me, I am content going off the rack, and being an American preppy at heart, can’t bring myself to go to french cuffs and cufflinks, so my cost per shirt is considerably less. Sure, a custom shirt would be a fantastic luxury, but I’m not living at that end of the sartorial closet where I have the right to insist on hand tailored suits from the likes of Huntsman, Thomas Mahon, or Gieves and Hawkes (someday, but not now).

One thing to be said for the Jermyn Street school of shirtings is the British don’t shy away from plumage and do a wild job with color and patterns. So, goodbye boring blue, white and pink Brooks Brothers, and hello to tattersalls, university stripes, spread collars and those nice little gussets that beef up the tails.  The shirts simply feel better and feeling good is the first step towards looking good. And thank heavens for the current office environment in Manhattan, something about working out of a mid-town townhouse behind the Museum of Modern Art demands a little more fashion effort than a Research Triangle office park.

Readings: Art of Fielding, Solo Faces, Stephen King

It’s been a good stretch book-wise, so I thought I’d weigh in with a trio of recent readings and what is on deck in the Kindle.

First off is The Art of Fielding, one of the best first novels and best baseball novels I’ve ever read. Chad Harbach sets the rise and fall of a shortstop prodigy in a small liberal arts college set in the northern midwest. Immediately I began to compare it to Don DeLillo’s End Zone, a great metaphysical sports novel I first read in the 1970s, but Harbach is far more accessible and compelling, with characters so rich that I began to cast the movie adaptation in my mind. The Art of Fielding is one of the better fictions I’ve read in 2011, and while the baseball theme may put off some non-sporting readers, I can assure you the basis of the novel is far more than a tale of the diamond.  I am most grateful for the reminder of the majesty of Moby Dick, and impressed by Harbach’s affection for The Lee Shore, one of the most powerful piece of 19th century writing in my estimation:

Second in the list of recent good books is James Salter’s Solo Faces.  Given my affection for mountain climbing literature, this is the best piece of climbing fiction I’ve read since Trevanian’s The Eiger Sanction. See the previous post for my thoughts on Salter, but this is a gem that lends credence to the claim that Salter is a “writer’s writer.”

And finally, last night I finished Stephen King’s most recent novel, 11/23/63, his great take on the cliche of the time-traveler, only done with far more savoir faire than the usual “butterfly effect” meta-weirdness most sci-fi writers dwell on.  I’d position this alongside James Ellroy’s The Cold Six Thousand as the best Kennedy assassination novel ever written.

I finished this big book in three days of obsessive non-stop reading and would stack it up against The Stand as one of King’s finest. Amazing how he’s destined to go down as one of the great voices in American literature and this book confirms it.

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