Four

 

“All right, git on up the’ah!” Joe C points.

Stevie’s already shimmying up the nearest pile. His bare feet grasp each knot on the smooth, bark-less pole. A bulky coil of tarred hemp draped over his right shoulder, heading for a block hanging from its skinny top.

Stevie climbs the net’s mesh as if it were a rope-ladder. Threads new line. Scrambles all the way around to the other side of the Bowl from where the Nellie & Mary is tied. These saplings are much thinner than the stout wharf pilings. The net sways and shakes. Shudders to his passing. Vibrations telegraph all the way around its perimeter.

Josey hauls on the anchor lines. Grapples for stray gear visible on green-rippled sand a dozen feet below their keel. Clear water magnifies everything on the bottom. Shells and pebbles loom and wobble across his vision on the underside of ripples riding atop pulsing wavelets. Sammy manhandles the new net. Pulls home on a halyard, a brace. Antone sees to it that each line runs free. Prepares for the next task before its called for.

Joe C barks orders. Demands they do what’s already half-done. Curses when they meet a snag. His temper carries him from his spot aft by the wheel high-up onto the net-pile. He bounces off Sammy, trying to shove the young man’s immovable bulk aside. Intent on replacing the young man’s brawn with his own cranky will. Sammy continues to do the lion’s share of the hauling, pulling, and lifting while allowing Joe C his illusions of mastery.

The sun sets behind them. The net gathers the deepening indigo gloom. The torn net is replaced. Its Heart repaired. Sammy glows with the heat of his exertions. Stevie yawns. Reaches for their bow-line looped around a nearby piling. Josey catches this yawn like an infection. It spreads across his placid face. Antone looks the same as always, husbanding his strength. He holds his exhaustion close. His effort is a marathon. His race measured in decades not hours.

Joe C grunts, swinging his starting crank. Well pleased with all he’s managed to accomplish, Keep this useless rabble in line. Noses to the grindstone!

“Git me my suppah-tin!” Hungry for his stew. He smiles to himself, Warm it on the engine….

Stevie brings his lunch-pail aft from under the foredeck after stowing the bow-line. A questioning look passes between the rest of the crew, Should be back to the dock in under an hour? Joe C smiles at their confusion, Not goin’ home yet y’a basta’ds!

He’s eager to check another trap, Bait-fish jumpin’ around all aft’ah noon.

Spiraling flocks of terns surround them. The shadow of a four foot torpedo runs under the boat. Striped Bass! One jumps clear out of the water standing on its tail. A Tinker Mackerel in its jaws.

Most fish stay trapped. Stripers’ll come and go as they please. Joe C smiles, A haul of prime stripers! Send ’em off to Bohston o’ah Noo Yohk! Salivating at the thought of high prices on the restaurant market.

Take ’em now! Won’t wait ‘til mo’hnin’.

*

The Fall Equinox marked the most fecund season in an endless abundance. The nutrient-rich, highly-oxygenated Labrador current swept south past the Gulf of Maine over the banks and into Cape Cod Bay. Long summer days and warm weather brought an explosion of phyto- and zoo-plankton, leading to an orgy of feeding from the smallest fry to massive Right, Humpback, and Fin whales.

Herring, Mackerel, and Tuna schooled in shoals. Segregated by size, eating anything that fit in their maws. Everyone racing to get larger. Sand Lance and Anchovy and Squid fed Stripers and Bluefin. White Sided and Atlantic Dolphin. Common and Monk Seals. Toothed, Pothead, Beaked, and Cuvier’s Whales. Diminutive rorqual Minkes. Blue Sharks, Basking, Mako, and Thresher. Swordfish. Sail Fish. Ocean Sunfish. Giant Loggerhead and Green Sea Turtles. Great White Sharks and Orcas swam at the pinnacle of predation.

This fury in the upper waters matched a parallel intensity below. Red and Brown and Purple Algae and Rock Weed grew fast on long summer days. Sunlight reaching far deeper than during the rest of the year. Bryzoids and Crynoids, Sea Fans and Sea Pens formed animal meadows over mud, sand, and gravel bottom.

Star fish, Sand Dollars, Urchins, Anemones, Sea Squirts. Darting Sea Scallops. Sea Clams, Cherrystones, Little Necks, and Quahogs. Blue and Horse Mussels. Oysters and Slipper Shells and Segmented and Smooth Worms.

Moon Snails, Dog Whelks, Conchs, Winkles. Sea Slugs and Sea Cucumbers all meandered over the sands and gravels. Shrimp from tiny Ghosts to foot long Mantas. Lady and Jonah and Blue and Spider Crabs and Lobsters. Bottom-fish like Sculpins and Sea Robins, Cusk and Skates. Spiny Dogfish, Goosefish, Wolf-fish, and Tautog. Ling Cod and Hake and Haddock and Pollock and Cod teemed over sunken plateaus.

The surface of the sea hid most of what went on below. Signs, though often subtle, did show. A stray fin cleaving the waves. Jelly Fish billowing beneath the foam. Gulls and terns and Osprey. In the Winter Sea ducks rafted in their thousands. Eiders and Scaups and Old Squaws. Like pigeons on the sea, Mother Carrie’s Chickens were never seen on land. Gannets were often the first sign of action. Black and white gliders with seven foot wingspans, plummeting a hundred feet straight down, sending up gouts of spray. Flocks concentrated schools of bait. Their attacks visible from over a mile away.

Fisherman were alert to these signs. They worked hard and long. Always wary, looking for windfalls. A bonanza might open up at any time. When it did they went at it with a grim determination. Blood-lust, a joy in sheer accumulation and a delight in their mastery. They fished to live; and lived for the climax and surfeit of a big catch.

No one could excel on the fishing grounds without a primal satisfaction in grim reaping. To be known as, “Killer” was a compliment. A title bestowed on a high-line captain  A mark of the awe of his rivals.

 

Continue…

 

 

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