When lobsters leap

Assuming the Washington press will not choose to compete again, I would award the next Pulitzer to the Bennington, Vt., Bannerm for its faithful coverage of a state police raid on a cock-fight pit. A goodly crowd was arrested and charged variously, and some 80 roosters were seized. Each in his little box, the roosters were taken to an animal shelter to be cared for while a Vermont judge hemmed and hawed to himself over what to do with them. The folks at the animal shelter were not happy, since they had no facilities for game-cocks, and they begged to be relieved of the chore. At this, one of the men arrested and awaiting trial, an owner of some of the cocks, offered to take the eighty-odd birds out to his farm and look after them while the judge pondered. Leaving them in the animal shelter, each in his own box, he said, was cruelty to animals. Shall we now turn to just about anything else?

Well, take a book I didn't finish called Legends of the Sea,m written in Italian by F. Marvan, translated into English by David Macrea, and published by Crown.It says it was printed in Italy, and all other nations will be thankful for this gratuitous assumption of guilt, as the typographical errors run about five pecks to the bushel. The color illustrations of the ocean in many moods are magnificent, but after a few pages of the text I began to wonder about the author. I concluded he did his research in the library, and didn't bother to step forth and view the open sea. Page after page runs to quotations of everybody from Homer up to the Nordic goddess of the sardine pack, a range of literary legends strange to ponder. Fairies come out of seaside grottos to steal sheep, and things like that. Early on we are told that classical writers knew nothing of the tides, the Mediterranean having no important ebb and flow, and then follow quotations from Pindar, Aristotle, Menander, Herodotus, Epictetus, Alcibiades, and such, referring to the "tide." Here is an interesting if deplorable confusion of definitions -- beware the "bounds"; even with a bore, the tide doesn't bound. I gave up when the book told me that in Asturias the fisherfolk say that when lobsters leap it is a prediction of foul weather. It should be, and I would like to see a lobster leap from a bounding tide.

Here in Maine where we know a good bit about lobsters and the sea which nurtures them, a leaping lobster is not a prediction at all -- he's just a happy lobster who got carried away with his submarine exuberance. The Maine word that goes with lobster is "crawl." Lobsters do swim, but not in the Maine dictionary. If you ask a Maine lobsterman if he had a fair morning's catch, you will say, "Were they crawlin'?" He will say, "Daow!" which is negative and means he did very well. A salmon, however, will leap. If you see a Maine salmon leaping in the estuary, it means the ice is out.

I've decided the legends of the Maine sea, none of which are in this Italian book, have the special virtue of being entertaining. The book's legends are grim and dour. Haunted by the souls of drowned men who come to weep there, the casuarinas trees of Tahiti (this book says) "talk at night." Which is not so amusing as the Maine yarn about the talking trees on Rack Island which every Friday hold a speaking contest. And funny that not a word appears in that book about the tides of the Bay of Fundy.

These are the highest and the lowest tides in the world. When Paul Bunyan was a baby, down at Machiasport, his size made it dangerous to cradle him in the house. One lurch in his sleep, and he'd push a wall out. So his parents made him a Moses cradle, boat-style, and moored him off-shore every evening at beddy-bye. One night he was restless and turned and tossed some, and the waves he set up swamped 15 British warships anchored down the bay. The waves never subsided, and that accounts for the Fundy tides.

The book does quite a bit with mermaids, but the mermaids of Hancock Point are not included. They come from the ocean once a year when the August moon is full and go up in Lon Libby's field to pick blueberries. Lon caught one one year and kept her in a rain barrel until State Fair time in September, exhibiting her in a tent.

My favorite legend of the sea, also not in the book, has to do with Chief Arumbie of the Micmacs, who fell off the ledge on Muskrat Island into the tide. Last ever seen of him. But if you stamp your foot on the ledge just at high-water time and shout, "Chief, what are you doing down there?" Chief Arumbie will answer, nothing.

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