For many years I’ve fished a brackish tributary of the Broadkill River, wending through lowland forest, then swamp, then salt marsh, to the Delaware Bay. The whole of this area is called Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. At the head of Prime Hook Creek lies Waples Mill Pond, on whose banks stands the northern most brange of bald cypress. Here stood an unobtrusive canoe livery, just off Route 1.The Prime Hook is good fishing. It is accessible yet as remote as one can get in this Atlantic coastal region. In my experience Hank Plummer came with the Prime Hook.He first appeared as a diminutive man, coming around a long low shack. The hand painted canoe livery sign was impossible to see from the main road, being hedge-blocked so as to be seen only by those who had some prior knowledge or reference to its location.Hank’s hands were always in his pockets as he walked towards his client, inquiring their health and issuing weather warnings, noting the time it was now versus the time estimated to reach one’s destination, keeping in mind that it was necessary to be back by dark. This man never intended to rent anyone a canoe. Very few people came, but those who did were hand-picked, so to speak, by fate. Hank Plummer needed friends, but could only handle them on his own terms.
I always came with my own canoe, but paid him full fare, to talk briefly before putting in and again briefly when taking out. It was somehow a necessary ritual for both proprietor and client. Hank was a hypochondriac and irascible, a regional iconoclast on the outside curve of accessibility. What else could he be but a hermit? Those who knew him kept him alive. The common draw being the allure of the waterway and running the gauntlet of Hank to get there. I suspect that each of us loved the experience.September 1993 was my last occasion with Hank. After taking him out to dinner, which he complained about, I left in effect for the winter. The following April I called him but the phone was disconnected. Arriving at the shed I found his sign down in the grass, having soaked up winter, and everything boarded up. After inquiring at the ShopRite on Route #1, I learned that Hank had been found in his shed, not more than two days after I had seen him last. He had been beaten to death.Hank was 61, but looked 55. Despite the hypochondria I learned later he had endured three operations for cancer. I knew Hank was ‘closet’ gay. They told me he cruised a bar in Rehobeth. I was told he took risks.
SO HAPPENS1994wood, metal, rubber52” x 82” x 3”Private collection