Shrimp Season

Winter sets in.  A foot of snow covers everything, except the roads and drives and the path to the rabbitat. Fluffy under my skis at first, settling and evaporation (did you know ice evaporates at about the same rate as liquid water?  doesn’t make common sense to me) have turned it crunchy under these sere winds from a high sky.  It’s 5 above (-15C) this morning. People wrap themselves up like the Michelin man, and I can see Donna and Annie, round with wool and polar fleece, throwing out cracked corn for the ducks and hay for the horses, since there’s nothing for them to graze on in this winter scene.  The smells have gone – the soft breath of manure and hay that greets you on a summer’s morn, the salt tang of the river – this is an aseptic world of silent witness trees and a pewter sea, where sounds carry but odors don’t.  I’ll know it’s spring when I can smell things again.

Still in my robe with a cup of Paramaraibo tea, I throw some of last night’s popcorn out for the turkeys.  Plump and shiny a few weeks ago, they were a temptation for a 12-gauge surprise for Thanksgiving or Christmas (anh, we’re told they’re very gamey, and besides …), but they are looking a bit ragged now, with their funny feather beard on the chest.  Handsome from afar but ugly up close, these wild turkey range all around the neighborhood and woods – I find their tracks everywhere as I ski to pond, field, and woods.  What do they do at night?  I walked back barefoot from the sauna to the house last night, and even my hot feet were aching after 50 yards through the snow, what do they do with their feet at night?  There is nowhere in their world (maybe I’m naive on this) where it isn’t just frigid and icy.  It is easy to feel sorry for any warm-blooded animal not so blessed as us and our cats with a perfectly adequate if slightly drafty house.  Even the rabbits, very well-equipped with fur and burrows, do not suffer in the cold.  I throw the rest of the popcorn out there too.

It’s shrimp season, and we’ve been eating our share.  Tim, Annie’s roommate, works for a fish dealer, and is handling thousands of pounds of these little creatures every day. Better in flavor than any shrimp you’ll get in a restaurant, they are small and therefore a lot of work between the bucket and the mouth, either before or after cooking.  But worth it, and so fresh – they are swimming in the morning and swimming in butter by the night. I like them best cooked whole, with the heads, and then ‘peel ’em and eat’, sucking the little black pellets of roe from the inner curve of the tail before popping the meat from the shell.  The shells go great in the compost.  Tim brought me home a ‘winter lobster’ as well – the kind of 3-pounder I haven’t seen in years, fun to contemplate but most of the huge hunks of meat are a little tough for my taste.

To get the shrimp or the lobsters, fishermen have to go out about 30 miles or more – still on the continental shelf, in about 300-400 ft of water – to line in their traps or trawls.  It might take two or three days to fill the hold; they work in shifts. In this season, it’s always cold, the light-time is short, and it can get nasty in a trice.  In the summer, a storm will announce itself well in advance, but in winter a wind can pounce out of the clear skies, and humans are slow with cold and extra clothing, the metal fittings reluctant and breakable, ropes icy – well, you’ve seen it all on Most Dangerous Catch (it was way too Hollywood in Perfect Storm), but living it is something else.  Winter on the sea is wilderness, and though GPS and radios mean that few are lost these days, these guys take real risks and must stay alert.  The sea, without rancor or mercy, will catch you if she can – maybe to make up for all we take from her.

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