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Slim Carson, grass shrimp and perch from the Broadkill

September 15, 2017

Becky and I have been pedaling, hosteling, hoteling, camping and eating away from home for a month now as we head up the shoreline of Lake Michigan with an eye on Traverse City in northern Michigan. We always look for connections to home, especially the farther it is in the rear-view mirror.

I saw ibises circling above a lake in central Michigan and thought of them flying over Gordons Pond with their curved beaks and quick wingbeat. Along the beach at Grand Haven, wave after wave of cormorants flew northward. We have plenty of these amazing diving and fish-eating birds in Delaware but not in the numbers we saw that afternoon.

A man in the campground beside us said if local fishermen saw the cormorants flying by like that they would have their shotguns out. "They eat so many perch," he said. "They're not popular here."

Yellow perch, caught from Lake Michigan, are served at many restaurants in these parts. "Lightly dusted and pan-seared." They're tasty. Great pan fish. I caught lots of them on worms when I was growing up. In the spring, white perch are among the first of the fish running up the Broadkill River.

Many years ago a Native American named Morris Weidenheimer - not sure how he came by that name - delivered newspapers for us. We knew him as Slim.

Slim had an old woody station wagon that carried most of his worldly possessions. He was used to living on the road. For many years out west, he played stand-up bass and toured with a cowboy musician named Gene Autry. Slim's full stage name was Slim Carson. Far more western-sounding than Morris Weidenheimer.

He was as nice a man as you'd ever want to meet. Unpretentious, wide leather belt with a silver and turquoise buckle, and a thin moustache that bespoke his heritage.

Like the cormorants we saw flying along the shores of Lake Michigan, Slim loved to eat fish. I think he kept a few reserves in his car, or at least it smelled that way. Of course it may have been the bait. The odor was as distinctive as the man, his quick sense of humor and his character.

Slim always kept a spinning rig in his car, laid parallel to his sleeping bag in the back. That car, that rod, that sleeping bag were Slim's home. Some might say he was homeless, but he surely was not. On clear nights he probably slept under the stars. They were his roof. Talk about a big house!

Slim loved to fish from the remnants of the old Broadkill drawbridge beside Route 1. First he would stop by the pilings at Round Pole Branch bridge, or at the Canary Creek bridge, and bring out his small, short-handled mesh net to catch grass shrimp. If you know where they hang out, you can catch plenty. And if there's anything that a perch likes, it's grass shrimp.

Put one on a small hook, drop it overboard. Then get ready. If there's a perch nearby, he will be on that hook quickly. Four or five of them make a good meal.

Sweet meat, but watch the bones. Just take your time, like I imagine Slim did, after steam-roasting a few in tin foil pockets thrown in the coals of a campfire. Savor each bite, sucking the bones, with a slice of white bread nearby to clear your throat if a small bone made its way through and caught.

Watch the stars coming out. It's an art of patience. One star after another. Planet or star? Then a constellation. A few embers flying up to add color and motion to the show. Maybe humming a waltz, softly thrumping the bass line in your mind, thanking the gods for those wonderful perch caught on grass shrimp from the Broadkill River in the spring, being Slim Carson.

Like a spawning fish that follows its nose upstream to that exact balance and combination of salt and water and mineral and organic where it started its own life, seeing similarities to home can open up deep caches of memories that remind us of the depth of our existence.

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