Thursday, June 16th, 2011
By Katelinn Shaw
I didn’t notice it was open. From the beach side, Wendell’s Place doesn’t catch your eye. There’s a covered outdoor seating area, what looks like an old shop and a crude wooden table in the sand. Most of it was once painted blue. A few men sit in the shade around one standing, working with his hands. This is Wendell. No one seems to object to my being there, so I watch him work. He’s weaving a net with a spool of seine twine in one hand and a board for spacing in the other. The square holes in the net hang down and make a strange pattern in the sand. The board is worn dark and smooth from countless wraps of the twine, as are his hands. He works them both slowly.
For a while I watch him work in silence. The hitch is simple; it doesn’t take long to figure out. Eventually I ask him what the net is for. ‘Turtle net’ he says. Not wanting to make any assumptions, I ask him what he does with the turtles. ‘Tag them and release’ he says. Bones and shells hanging above us clink in the breeze. I raise an eyebrow at him and he chuckles, ‘for eating.’ We both enjoy the joke and I refrain from asking college questions like whether or not this is a sustainable practice. When in Rome, weave turtle nets.
He knows that I want to try and hands me the spool and board. The spool is surprisingly heavy—the board surprisingly light. I pass the spool correctly and pull the knot tight. Once again I find myself somewhere I never expected, weaving a turtle net of all things under an array of strange dangling objects with my bare feet in the sand.
Although it’s a simple knot, while we talk I tangle the twine. My hands look small next to his as we work together to decipher the mess. ‘Deceptively simple’ I think to myself. I find it interesting that he has lived on this small island all his life, and he finds it strange that I have been away from home for over a year. This trip has made me feel young again. I don’t mean that in a nostalgic sense, but that when I left I was an adult, but here on this island I am a child. The tangle is resolved and I resume weaving, hoping that my row will be the same size as his.
He is patient with my questions, so I ask what he does here on the island, and he replies ‘I live my life before I die.’ What a perfect Caribbean answer. I smile and think about how similar we are. Looking at the pile of spools waiting to be woven into the net, I ask him how long it took to make the already substantial net. ‘I don’t measure time’ he says. I laugh and think about how very different we must be.
While I stain my hands with the twine, he pulls out a guitar and begins strumming a song of his own creation. And here on a white sand beach under coconut trees, Wendell — of Wendell’s Place — sings of hardship in rhyme. It’s his song, but I know it too. He’s singing about life, and time the way he knows it, and I am amazed at how we are the same.
I don’t have a picture of Wendell’s Place, but I can make a turtle net, should I ever need one, and I can hum his song. It was another moment in a year of small miracles. Another day in the life.
Editor’s note: Wendell’s Place is a shack like creation with trees growing through it right on the beach at Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke, maybe four paces from the water’s edge and tangent to the sandy road. Benches and table of drift, conch shells lying about, old photos tacked to the walls, low roof where this is a roof, the floor the beach itself, boats pulled up.