Monday, December 27, 2010

Old Fisherman Goes Zig-Zagging Home

I've stayed awkwardly late at the party. I'm waiting for a bus or ferry that already left. It's the weekend after the semester started and I'm still watching the stars through the top of the cabriolet while she drives the twisting peninsula roads leading from the harbor town of my summer job. It's Boxing Day and the traps aren't up.

The road that was muddy is now frozen to concrete and I'm really enjoying the super heavy socks inside my rubber boots on my walk to the harbor. The same walk where I'd be swishing mosquitoes away and marveling at the dawn chorus of songbirds. I am Held Over. Held over past the time that things are supposed to change to the next phase.

"You'll be cold." Rick tells me from the porch as I walk past. We have a proper blizzard in the forecast. Almost everything is some shade of gray. The wharf concrete. The water. The sea smoke. The clouds to the east, however, are not gray. The band of clouds where we are heading are black. Not like a thunderstorm which is isolated, but a solid band. God is coming kind of black. Old Testament God. Windy and Cold Testament God.

Zig: The clouds and chop and temperature are frightening to a timid person like myself. I am afraid. I want to be back in my jams for Boxing Day. My family was very comfy when I left. But I am a fishermen, even if an inexperienced wussy one. I love it, so I am here.

Zag: The clouds go over us and it is not so bad. The wind dies down some. I am coiling 55 fathom trap lines or "warps," the first of 19,500 feet to be coiled today. I learned how to coil rope much faster this year. What good for a man with 3 kids being a superior rope coiler is, I do not know. But I am good. I do not get behind. I am not afraid. The temperature inside counteracts the temperature outside. I am grooving. We go in with the first load of 50. Captain Clayton says something about thinking we might not get the third load into the harbor.

Zig again: "I don't like the way this wind is coming up. I think if we come back out here it will be some nasty." I hadn't noticed. I certainly notice when we take a wave and a 400 pound barrel of water and lobsters and a tier of traps go sliding to port. Now I have rubbery legs and a tight gut. It gets uglier in a hurry. I see the slate green frowns with white spray crinkled foreheads and knitted brows, all glowering right at me.

On the way in, the trap load keeps fidgeting, but always ever so slightly more to port. I get visions of the load, which is locked together and lashed to the boat upsetting the center of gravity. A surly wave will push us over and its bullying friend will roll us. There will be no time for immersion suits or radio calls. We are far out from land. I am cold. My fingers are soaked and numb. I am not afraid. I am terrified. Probably because I don't understand how stable lobster boats really are. Fear doesn't have to be rational.

Then the traps get trucked. Even though we only got 100 of the 150 we planned on, it's getting dark by the time we're done. 100 traps, 120 or so buoys, 19,500 feet of wet rope.

Zag again. Home is never so sweet and inviting as when I'm cold and nervous on the water. Even with stir crazy kids still in their jams.

Tonight as I write, we're in night number two of the blizzard. Sticky snow, rain, more snow, always copious amounts of wind. Snow is glued to the northeast sides of the tree trunks. After feeding the birds and bringing in wood this morning, the kids and I built the traditional snow fort, but topped it with a matrix of sticks and bows that held the sticky wet snow perfectly. We now have a stick and snow-stucco hut big enough for 1 and a half people or 2 kids to crawl into. Tonight it will certainly freeze solid. Life is good.

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