It's the season of blessings in the South. And I'm not talking about the sneezing brought on by the sudden swarm of pollen. (Bless you.)
From the bayous of the Gulf Coast to the bays of the southeast Atlantic between Easter and early May, the shrimp boats line up to celebrate with thousands of revelers in their fishing communities' annual Blessing of the Fleet.
This weekend, in Darien, Ga., the tide is right for the shrimp boats on parade to pass under the Darien River Bridge, atop which will stand a dozen priests and preachers poised with holy water to sprinkle down on each boat as it passes beneath them.
The blessing is the centerpiece of these celebrations, which often include live music, food, road races, parades and art walks. At the heart of it is the community, a gathering of souls at the waterfront to offer appreciation for an age-old industry that is the life blood for many small coastal towns.
As we send our fleets and fishermen off to sea for each season, we do so with hopeful and sometimes heavy hearts. Their days on deck, their harvest in the harbors and their families on shore are living, breathing Americana in hundreds of communities.
In Darien this weekend, about half of the town's 50 fishing boats are expected to take part in the blessing. The rest will be offshore trawling for shrimp.
I'm a might partial to Georgia and Carolina shrimp, being a native peach. That's the stuff I was raised on. But I'll say this, I've tried shrimp from all over this country, and it's all far superior to any of that imported farmed stuff that hardly passes as protein in my book.
Though we won't be honoring all the American shrimp fleets this spring, we say our own grace for the work you do when we eat the fruits of your labor. Thank you. (And bless you.)