Chapter 7 preface: Lobstering

The smell of rotten fish bait. There's nothing quite like it. Slimy herring mixed with salt and blood. This was the delightfully appetizing smell that woke me from my drowsy state of mind every morning at the crack of dawn for three months during the year. These were my summers as a teenager.

My father would wake me each morning at 5:30. My breakfast in the morning consisted of saltines, Coke and Dramamine. My father, on the other hand, would eat anything he found laying around the house. Cold pizza, sardines, last nights prime rib, there's no telling what you'd find the man eating, but none of it bothered him. He has a stomach of steel. We would always leave the house by 6:00 sharp to catch the tide. Our first stop was the town dock to get the boat off the mooring. Once we were in the boat my father directed it to the Five Islands Fisherman's Co-op dock to get bait. Getting bait is the worst part of any fishing trip. After standing in a freezing cold bait cooler for twenty minutes shoveling trays of bait you're about ready to go home and go back to bed. But no, the day hasn't even begun. The sun's not yet up, and there's still six or seven hours to go until you can even think about sitting down to rest.

Steaming out into the ocean at 6:30 in the morning in a lobster boat is unlike any boat ride you'll ever take. The sun is rising where sea meets sky, the air is brisk and salty, stars are still visible in the darkest places of the atmosphere, seagulls trail the boat crying out in anticipation of the feast that will come, and everywhere you turn you are reminded of a beauty that so often goes unnoticed. Everything you see and breathe, everything you take in is pure and untouched by the world around you. However, there is only so much time to take in the world around you, because before you know it you've reached the first buoy of the day. My father cuts the wheel hard and swings around along side the buoy, causing the boat to teeter sideways. Then he gaffs the buoy with aim and efficiency that comes naturally after 25 years of experience. By now I have the first two bait bags filled and ready to go, and I patiently await the arrival of the lobster traps that are being hauled up from the black depths below. When the traps appear we move fast. Each one has to be opened and emptied. This means lobsters, crabs, urchins, and any other sea life that may have planted itself inside the trap must be taken out. The lobsters are measured and if they make the cut they are banded and thrown into the holding tank. If not, then they go overboard with everything else. Next, the old bait bag must be taken out and emptied and then replaced with a new full bait bag. This is where the gulls come in. They flock to the boat from all sides and fight amongst themselves to try and get close enough to snag a stray piece of chewed up bony fish that's being thrown over. Once this is done, and the traps are closed, my father swings the boat back around because we have drifted from our original position. The traps are thrown over to resettle on the ocean floor and await our return in a few days. That was the first haul of the day, but certainly not the last. There are over 400 more traps, the same as these first two, that have to be hauled today.

By the time my father graduated high school he had already been lobstering part time for five years. He never went to college. His father and his father before him had been lobstermen their entire lives. For my father, there was never a doubt which path his life would lead him on. The farthest he ever got from home was to spend a year in California, working in a factory in L.A. Other than that, he has stayed in Maine his entire life, and he has lobstered his entire life. My father has never had a dependable income. His pay depends on his catch and the way the wind is blowing. He has worked hard for everything he has ever owned and for everything that he has given to me. I'm used to hard work and struggling, but I don't want my life to depend on it. I want to go home at night and not have to wait for the weather to come on to see weather or not I'll make any money tomorrow. I want to look at the ocean in peace, not despair because it hasn't brought any good fortune. I want my body to still be in working condition by the time I'm forty, not beaten down and run into the ground because I've lived a life of strenuous physical labor. This is why I know I must continue on in my search for further education. I don't want my father's hard work with raising me and supporting his family to have been for nothing. I know he wants more for me than to stop now. He wants to see me go as far as I can go in life, and that is what I plan to do.

Source: The Perfect Storm Foundation Board received this essay by Marissa McMahan as part of an awarded grant application.