Family and Relationships
A Tribute To Brian Doyle
You believed that everything is a form of prayer, including laughter, including tears. Yes, you were a reverential man, but you weren’t stiff or boring or preachy or dour. Your essays were both concise — often just a page in length — and lush, your sentences as intricate and twisty as plants in a terrarium. You combined prose and poem (and prayer, you said) to bear witness to the miracles around us.
My father and brother constructed the trap in the basement workshop. I followed them to the forest behind the barn, where they would set it. We lived on a thirteen-acre farm called Merryview, where we raised horses — hunters, jumpers, and Shetland ponies — along with other animals.
On Sundays I go to the country, to Arandale, to sit on Annie’s rotting deck and look up at the sky, so soaked in blue today it could almost collapse. This is Annie’s sky, and I need to witness it with her every week, just as I need to stack firewood with her and wash my hands in her cold water. Without Annie, I’d be just a shadow blowing around the big city. Annie colors me in, makes me real.
I’m just drifting off to sleep when a creature in the bushes outside my window screams like a human baby. I run to the kitchen. What is that? I ask my mother. Mother says, That is a fisher. I’m eight and have never heard of such an animal. A fisher, says Mother, is a kind of weasel that lives in the woods. It eats cats. It could even, she says, eat a very small dog.
It’s already sweltering at sunrise on this August Sunday morning in Norfolk, Virginia. My Lebanese grandfather is taking my brother and me fishing for blue crabs on the Elizabeth River. He stands on the dock and drops the oars into the flat-bottomed rowboat.
The wide sweep of the northern Gulf of Mexico and the Apalachee Bay is in perpetual motion, reshaping, and at times reclaiming, my front yard. Alligator Harbor, with its clear shallows and deceptive currents — pulled by the moon, the sun, the trickster we call weather — defines and sculpts my backyard, revising boundaries and property lines, confounding appraisers and owners alike.