Friday, April 24, 2015

Oak Runners and the Soothing Effect of Sore Hands

Oak runners protect the bottom of a lobster trap and let it slide as the trap is pulled upward toward the boat. Hopefully, the trap on that journey is crowded with keepers. Since lobster traps sit on the bottom of the ocean for months on end, the wooden runners rot eventually.

For the dub like me who is always trying to get the most gear out with the least effort, the decision when many a trap is heaved onto the operating table is whether the rotted runner(s) can make it another year, or whether they will instead partially or fully come apart and fall off a week into the season. The decision is made by observation, by pulling on the runner, an internal tug-of-war between laziness and diligence or just whacking it with a hammer or my faithful blue wrecking bar to see if I can break it.

Since the hammer has disappeared-probably for some project dreamed up by the younger two kids-the wrecking bar calls for some digression. When I was on North Haven one winter, I worked a for Rex, the Plumber. Rex had tools going way back. He'd call for "that green wrench." I would look stupidly about and only see tools with the standard brown rust and grease finish of proper workmen's implements. Rex might grow tired of waiting and fetch the item himself. Where I saw dark brown, he could see the green paint which was probably very cheerfully applied during Prohibition, and in an American foundry at that. In somewhat the same way, my wrecking bar has only a few flakes of paint left, but it'll always be bright blue to me.

Back to oak runners. The trick with the blue bar and with that task is to hack away at the runner and dislodge it without destroying the rest of the trap wire. Therein lies the irony of the rotted runner. That same runner which will fall off a week after I set it will fight me to the death before it lets go of the trap. Those corroded screws and worm eaten pieces of oak can be mighty obstinate. I'm sure there is something to be learned from an oak runner that won't let go for anything, but which will punish my laziness if I don't do the work.

Runners are one part of the gear work. I have many vintage traps. They need bungee cords, acres of patch wire, netting restitched, vents replaced and hoops restrung. The decisions are much the same. Can this thing make it a year? Will I be sad with myself when it disintegrates two weeks from the start of the season?

After a winter on the keyboard or the fretboard, my fingers are not used to the jamming, pounding, scraping, cutting, puncturing and general abuse of trap work. Yet they and I are happy. It's been chilly, windy and showery at times, but the sun is strong, birds are at the feeder and the peepers sing all night.