They were camped at Camp Gecko for two weeks. The man and his wife and two grown boys; a family friend and her son, Brendan, 8. The heat was intense, well over the hundred degree mark daily, the sun pounding the sand more fiercely than the surf. They were sitting in front of their palapa near the beach. A flock of cawking gulls and a number of brown pelicans stood along the shore, facing into the breeze. A set of four Oystercatchers, bright beaks against dark bodies, settled with the other birds. They stood aside, didn't mingle with the others, rather kept within their own band. The boy pointed out the four birds to the group. The man picked up a camera; he had never seen Oystercatchers in the Bahia de Los Angeles before. "Come on Brendan." he said to the boy.
They moved toward the birds, some thirty yards distant. The man moved behind a beached boat to avoid frightening the birds. He and Brendan ducked low and as they emerged from behind the boat, then dropped to the sand on their bellies. The birds saw them crawling forward but were unthreatened. The pair inched forward toward the Oystercatchers, forcing themselves forward through the sand with their elbows, knees and feet, moving ever so slowly. The birds were now twenty feet in front of them. The man indicated to Brendan that they should not make a sound. The boy signaled back the sign he would use when he wanted to borrow the man's camera to take a picture.
It took them 10 silent and slow minutes to crawl forward to a position where they were both about six feet from the birds. The man took several pictures. The boy tapped the man's leg when he was ready and received the camera silently, took several pictures himself. The birds were curious about the event, but didn't seem to mind the proximity of the two quiet humans in their presence. Then they lost interest and merged with the other birds, a few yards away. Brendan and the man stood and returned to their camp and families. "That was fun!" he said. "That was teamwork." the man replied.
Later that day the man took the boy out in his boat, a small tin fourteen-footer with an outboard. The boy wanted to fish. They went to a place a few miles out, between the north point of Piojo and the south point of Smith's and dropped baited jigs into the hundred foot depths. The man showed the boy how to let the line out until the lure hit bottom, bring it in a bit to keep it off the rocks and then wait. Within seconds the boy had a hookup. The man guided the boy's retrieval and Brendan soon had a four-pound jawfish nearing the surface.
"Now what?" he asked.
"Bring the line over to me." the man said. "Don't reel the line in too tight. Leave me some slack." He pulled the fish aboard, unhooked it, held it up for the boy to admire, then tossed it to the rear of the boat.
"Teamwork." the man said.
They fished another hour, the man and the boy. Brendan caught six or eight more jawfish, two cabrillas and a trigger, was tired from reeling them in, his small hands struggling to turn the spool, his arms rubbing against his life jacket, the sun wearing the boy down.
"Let me know if you need help." the man said. The boy continued, tired but unwilling to relinquish the rod.
"I think I can do it," he said.
"Just remember we're a team. I'm here to help if you need me."
So Brendan brought in all his own fish, and several the man had hooked. When they fired up and headed back to camp the man saw a shine in the boys' eyes that he recognized as pride. The boy had accomplished a small unimaginable feat.
They arrived at camp and threw the fish on the sand, carted them up to the cleaning table, protected from the sun with a small thatched cover. The table was tall, designed to fit the height of a man standing. The man placed the fish on the table, found his filet knife, noticed that the boy was not able to see the working platform.
"Stand here, Brendan." the man said, pointing to an old fuel tank positioned beside the table. The boy climbed onto the tank and was now level with the man. The man filleted the first fish, began the second.
"What's my job?" the boy asked, "we're a team, aren't we?"
The mans knife paused only briefly as he absorbed, recognized the boys desire to support his efforts, to be a member amidst others. It was an overwhelming moment for the man, but he showed little, wanting the boy to be proud of his own action rather than to have made another happy.
"Feel like getting dirty?" the man asked.
"What do I do?" Brendan replied.
"Here," the man pointed to the building pile of guts, lying beside the soft flesh of the fish, "Give these to the birds."
The boy tentatively picked up a liver with two nervous fingers, stepped off the tank on which he had been standing, and walked toward the building attack of seagulls and pelicans along the shore. He threw the liver into their midst and a great feathered flurry commenced that built as Brendan retrieved and threw fishguts to the growing throng of birds. By the time the last gut hit the beach, the boy's hands, arms and legs were covered in blood. He had no care except for the activity at hand.
The man and the boy washed and bagged the fish, cleaned the table, sheaved the knife, and carted the bags to icechests for dinner later that day.
"Thanks for taking me fishing." the boy said.
"My pleasure." the man responded with no further words.
What good were words at a moment like that? he wondered. His heart felt the warm moments with the boy, pulled thoughts of his own children forward for perhaps a final time, from so long back over a twisted trail of years to the times when he had carried his boys forward through another adventure, had shown them something new, unexpected; when they had piloted the boat for the first time, caught their first fish, found their way home from miles out in the gulf in rough weather.
We are a team, he thought. He walked down to the shoreline, threw water on his face, walked back into camp. "Here, honey." his wife called, tossing him a towel to dry his face. She knew his was a clever ruse to camouflage the fact that tears had dampened his eyes. Thanks for the memories, Brendan, the man thought, to himself, it truly was his pleasure.