A love of fish catches new friends, families


POSTED: Monday, November 23, 2009

SEA OF CORTEZ, Mexico » Since I'm sailing in the Sea of Cortez, I'll miss sharing Thanksgiving with family and friends.

I don't care much about swapping tortillas for turkey, but I sure will miss my ohana. They've helped me sail through some rough passages, both in midlife and offshore, and for their love and support I am truly thankful.

I also feel thankful this year for another positive influence in my life: fish.

When I created this column two decades ago and was searching for my voice, an editor gave me some good advice: Write about fish. What a relief. I put gloomy economics, politics and pollution aside and shared with readers my passion for marine biology.

This approach worked for me, and when the Star-Bulletin went online, I discovered it worked for a lot of my readers, too. Writing was a lonely job at first, but when fellow enthusiasts began e-mailing me their experiences, comments and questions, I felt alone no more. In just a few years, mail was coming from readers worldwide.

Two of those readers, Oscar and Shirley White from Texas, wrote exceptional letters. Shirley explained that years earlier the couple spent several seasons on Oahu housesitting for friends. These animal lovers fell in love with Hawaii and its marine life, and now back in Texas, they looked forward each week to reading my column.

When Oscar's lifelong neurological illness worsened, his paralysis increased and Shirley took care of him at home. A highlight of their time together, she wrote, was each Monday when she read my column to Oscar. She shared with me their thoughtful comments and questions about the subjects, often relating their own experiences.

Soon we were exchanging pictures and stories about our families, pets and trips. Shirley wrote a reflective poem about me and my sailboat, and her artist daughter, Carol, illustrated it. After I received the framed gift, my friend videotaped me reading it out loud, and I sent it to the White family.

Then, after a lengthy silence, I received a sad e-mail from Shirley. Oscar had died.

How I cried for these dear friends I'd never met. I mourned Oscar and ached for this family's loss.

Shirley eventually resumed writing, and we continued our long-distance friendship. Finally, last month, after five years of corresponding, I decided to stop in Texas during my mainland trip and meet Shirley.

When I e-mailed Carol my idea, I could practically hear the shouts of joy in her e-mail. By coincidence, the day I'd suggested arriving would be Shirley's 77th birthday.

Planning that visit was so much fun that Carol and I decided to include Shirley in the excitement, and soon, for the first time, we were talking on the telephone. Carol sent me photos of Shirley's jaw dropping when I told her I would be there for her birthday.

The extended White family welcomed me with open arms, sharing with me the wildlife that's such a large part of their lives. I saw Austin's famous bats, met a couple of nutrias, learned about horny toads and kayaked with blue herons and bald eagles.

After four days of walks, talks, laughs, hugs and dog kisses, I became one of the family. My ohana now stretches to Texas.

I'm thankful this week for family, friends, readers and fish. Together they give me a life I love, and that life, a voice.

Susan Scott can be reached at www.susanscott.net.