Homework

All this recent travel has left me a bowl of stewed prunes – soft, wrinkly, and full of farts.

One packs a lot into this week at home – Quan and I have to readjust to each other, each having been ruler of our respective domains. I need a day of de(com)pression, and hours in the office with Tammy to keep Kinesis rolling.

So it is with great pleasure – no matter how I grumble – that I turn to the physical work of making the waterfront ready for the summer.

Memorial Day weekend is the traditional cusp between winter and summer here, spring being non-existent in Maine. This year is no exception – it’s the end of May and spring has been so cold that we are just between the forsythia and the lilacs even now, when suddenly we have a day so hot and still none of us can move, and in 48 hours bare trees are fully-leaved, the apple trees are in full blossom, the rhubarb has bolted, and the yard is yellow with dents-des-leons.

And the black flies appear in the garden, making weeding a misery. Annie, fully sleeved and wearing her bug-net hat tucked into her shirt, looks as if she has adopted radical Islam. Mosquitoes are bad – and they’ll be here soon – but the two weeks of black flies are worse, going for your eyes and under your hair in the back of your neck, leaving bleeding holes that scab and itch.

But I to the shore must go: the rowboats must be launched and commissioned, my mooring chain pulled up from the bottom and the bridle and ball reattached, the water turned on and flushed in the summer cottage, its swimming float and runway lifted into place, an iron rod driven through the rusty metal fittings, and most of all, my father’s old scow must be wedged down the ways into the water, in a yearly ritual even though it gets very little use any more.

Each task requires more tools than I remember to bring, so at first I curse my inefficiency and resent the time, but gradually the joy of work returns, and I warm to the simple use of muscles against something other than these computer keys, even welcoming the blisters and splinters and gouged knuckles as I lay the wooden ways with grease, lever the heavy old scow 1/2″ at a time at each end with a long iron pry until it gets over the lubrication. Then each pry gets a gratifying three or four inches until the big old thing hits the water for another year.

Over a couple of days, the working waterfront loses its winter feeling of terse abandonment into the luxuriant burble of bobbing boats, rubbing against the dock like happy kittens nosing your hand. The last task, after the heavy old outboard has been clamped and cursed into grudging life, is to fix the fendering – the rope and fire hose that lines the docks – so damaged in last fall’s hurricane (see the entry ‘Black-Clad Char’ for a description of this storm).

The fishermen are there too – the lobsters have just started to move from their winter torpor, and they are busy transporting traps from their yard to a pile of 20 or more on the pickup, swung into the boat and dropped into the ‘holes’ in the river bottom, there to feed the young lobsters (who can move in and out of the traps easily, feeding on the bait) and to catch the market size ones, who can get in but not out, spiky bugs that they are.

Lobster fishing is now essentially a large unfenced aquaculture project, with millions of pounds of bait put out to catch slightly fewer millions of pounds of lobster – the young ‘uns are essentially supported by the bait until they’re large enough for market.

We celebrate the completion of the work (and the departure of a friend from the community) with a lobster feed, the first of the year. At this time of year, before these exoskeletal bugs ‘shed’, the meat is tight against the very hard shells, and we squeal as we ‘get’ each other with bits of shell or juice when we use the ‘crackers’ on the claws. Bacchanalia ensues, and Quan and I are up late washing every surface around the table, for nothing smells like old lobster.

This early in the season, we pay a ‘high’ price to Timmy – nearly $6/lb for the freshest seafood imaginable. Lobsters were so plentiful here in the 1700’s that they were gathered in barrels on the shoreside and used as garden mulch (what a smell that must have been). Because they were bottom feeders, they were thought of as ‘trash fish’, and eaten only sparingly – along with that other bottom feeder, the oyster – by the lower classes, like the indentured servants. In those days it was the cod – high in the water column – that was most highly prized.

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