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Essays from John Gould

(Page 5 of 6)

Mosquito Rock is some seven miles "outside." This was the morning of May 29, so the full moon was a day old, and it didn't hurt the scenery a mite. Harold had his running lights on, and had tuned in the fishermen's band on his two-way radio. We were not alone on the ocean, and it was fun to listen to the chit-chat of lobstermen like us, on their wav out. We rounded a can at the harbor mouth, came through a channel between islands, and picked up the lights of Port Clyde on our left, the lights of Pemaquid on our right, and 15 miles straight ahead the Monhegan Island lighthouse. Revolving at 3o-second intervals, it became Harold's course, and his engine thrummed musically. He figured an hour and a half to sunrise. Not quite that to Mosquito Rock.

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Harold is what we Mainers call an "old woman." This has nothing to do with sex, but means a devotion to detail. A place for everything and everything in its place. Other fishermen will tell you he isn't a "fahst" hauler, but will admit his methodical routine saves him time and effort. As we approached Mosquito Rock he began getting ready. A tub of alewives was disposed by his left foot, and he threaded three on his bait iron – a long steel needle. He laid his spectacles on a shelf – hauling would spray them opaque instantly. He set out his box of wooden pegs, which render lobster claws clampless, and tossed in his gauge – Maine lobsters must all be legal lengths. Then he hauled on his neoprene fisherman's pants – an exhibition of agility in a rolling boat considering that he was already wearing his hip rubber boots. "There," he said, and we began looking for his first pink-and-green pot buoy.

A Maine lobster trap is a slatted crate that lies on the ocean floor. The line to it is called a pot-warp, and at Mosquito Rock Harold fishes in 30 fathoms of water. A few feet above the trap is a plastic float that keeps the line from snarling about the trap. A second float is called the toggle, and its purpose is to take up slack when the tide ebbs. The third float, on the end of the warp, is the pot-buoy, and this is painted in bright colors in each fisherman's distinctive marking. The toggle may or may not be under water, but as we were on a slack tide it was now floating, and Harold gaffed his lines by the toggle. Out of 65, he missed once, and he turned to see if I noticed his clumsiness. It was the look Esposito had that night he muffed the easy one.

Maneuvering the boat to come alongside each toggle was, of course, routine with Harold, but the skill and beauty of it was exciting. Having no precious lobster license, I couldn't help him, so I watched him do his work according to his usual lone-someness. They tell me Harold doesn't ask "just anybody" to go hauling with him. With his bait iron threaded, he was ready for number one. Up came the toggle, he made a turn on his winch, he adjusted his motor controls, threw the knob on his winch, and the warp tightened. When the pot "breeched," he grabbed it, pulled it into position, adjusted his controls again, and in seconds he had taken out his lobsters, cleaned away the crabs, winkles, old bait, and had transferred the new alewives to the bait string in the trap. Watching his depth finder, he swung about to put the trap back in the ocean just where he wanted it. Then, approaching his next trap, he rethreaded his bait iron, measured his catch, and hove back all but the "keepers." He caught hundreds of lobsters, but only 44 from the 65 traps were legal to bring ashore. At $1.40 a pound, he paid for his bait, his fuel, and pocketed some $6o, much of which would go to amortizing his boat and gear.

It was noon when we came to the wharf, and 1:00 p.m. when had breakfast. Harold does this every day, but it threw my highlander schedules askew. Now, every morning when I awake at 2:45 a.m., and before I turn over, I meditate briefly on what a good time I had with him, and console myself that a farmer's life isn't so bad in some wavs.

When fire engines clanged and whinnied

July 31, 1998

You perhaps know of Medford as one of the towns on Paul Revere's route to Concord as the American Revolution began. He went right by the end of the street on which my primary school would be built. Alongside my school was the sub-fire station where Medford had a steam pumper, horses, stables, and upstairs quarters for firemen. Yes, there was a pole for them to slide down when the bell rang. Mine was named the James School. And while our teachers were properly strict, they didn't mind if we jumped from our seats when the fire bell rang and watched the engine take off, which didn't happen too often during school.