Two summers ago I visited a place that likes to call itself Europe’s oldest active saltworks, and possibly the world’s, too. I couldn’t tell you if this is true, and besides, I would like to imagine that it goes further back than the proclaimed fourteenth century because its vineyards and oysters and the scorching sun, and the sheer human ingenuity of harvesting salt from a tightfisted plain between the land and the sea, simply smack of Romans. So I’m sticking to it.
It looks like someone put together a colossal chess board of canvas. Shallow pool after shallow pool of sea water, and a palette of emerald greens. Dirt, and sea, and salt, and algae cascading into one another, divided up by low stone walls, clumsy and sturdy and walkable, and bars of rusty metal strewn about. Every imperfect square looked like a painting. And the most interesting things were happening in the corners, where they funneled from or into others.
It was where crabs came to die.
Above the sediments of sand and between the strands of seaweed, emerald green shells and legs floated in emerald green water like it was formaldehyde. Their bellies were the color of yolk and eggshell, like when a cat flips over and presents its most vulnerable fluff, the ultimate in trust from a feline, and the ultimate in dangerous tease: will you put your hand in and risk the bite and tear? They could not have been bigger than my clenched fist, and that’s not a big clench. Were they dead, or did I see just exoskeletons of creatures that were no longer there? Was it where they came to molt? My bruised heart at the time chose to believe the death. My brackish water rebirth leans otherwise today.
Two weeks ago I spotted a crab floating in the water off the pier. Murdoc told me that the neighbors, many of whom go crabbing, will dump their unwanted catch in the water. It was floating sideways, with one of its claws sticking out of the water, as if it were saying “Howdy!” For a second I thought it might be alive, and kneeled down to catch it should it come closer. It never did. The wind and the current decided otherwise, and my little friend became a Flying Dutchman, a one-inmate Narrenschiff, waving at me from ten, twenty, fifty feet away. The sun was almost down and the crabby microbarge kept getting farther and farther on its burial at sea, but that grotesque little claw kept waving nonetheless.
I looked down, straight in front of the pier. Another dead crab had just floated up from the bottom, belly up, all of its legs spread at me, as if reaching for a phantom hug. My yellow Chucks turned on their heels and decided to call it a day. I was sure that if I stayed, more would have come, and waved, and reached. I had molting to do.