By Marike Finlay-de-Monchy
[Part 4 of a series about a come-from-away learning from an old salt in her family’s new home on West Quoddy Bay.]
Never disturb Seamus during lobster season was a hard and fast rule that I had to learn. That first spring while I was getting Harmona ready to launch, I hadn’t quite understood it. I relayed messages and requests back to Seamus from La Have, until Seamus, whom I had not seen, said that he was exhausted.
I had to think a bit then about what it is like to go out lobstering on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore, waters fed by the Labrador current, in the months of April, May, and June: often, at the beginning of the season, the ice has not yet completely cleared from the harbours. Truly, April is the cruelest month here. It is cold, damp, grey, windy. It may even snow; at least it always freezes and sleets.
Seamus, and his crew, Charlie, rarely missed a day out there groping their way from buoy to buoy in thick fog. Their day began at 4:30 a.m. and on a good day, they might make it back in as early as 2 p.m. But then, when they returned to the wharf, they had to haul the lobsters to shore, keep an eye on the buyer, transact their business, clean up the boat, put it out on the “Joan” if the wind was out of the East, and cut more stinking bait for next day. Theirs is hard-earned money.
Seamus means to keep his reputation as a ‘high-liner’, although he, like any other fisherman, will never tell you how much he’s actually caught. Once I told him, “I’ve heard a marine anthropologist say that the most predictable characteristic of maritime fishermen was the constancy of their lies; they lied about everything, set traps and decoys. A good fisherman must, said the anthropologist, lie about where the fish were, how many there were, how many he caught, and what they fetched. He must lie so much that at times the best lie was to tell the truth, because who would ever know?”
Seamus laughed then; I was joking, of course, but in a truthful kind of way. He tells me he doesn’t lie to me about his catch, something which I take to be an honour. But to be honest, I don’t entirely believe him. It’s more fun that way.
During lobster season, I’d only ever see him on a fine afternoon if he got in early with a decent catch; when he’d come by with an offering of “a mess of lobsters” as he’d called it, always more than we could eat. (This, of course, is something which I relish telling central Canadians, who envy such quantities of an item they consider luxurious. I have been told that here on the Eastern Shore, lobster was once considered a poor man’s food and it was often hidden when eaten.)
Although there were still a few weeks left to lobster season, Seamus wasn’t going to miss our first launch with Harmona. As Harmona rolled out into the tidal river on the marine railway, Seamus was aboard with me assuring me that all was well.
Then we broke out the champagne, but Seamus and his wife Ruby had left already. They had driven down the road to visit Seamus’s last fishing boat, one he had built himself from stem to stern. He hadn’t even stayed long enough to hear the fulsome praise for the astonishing work he’d done on the dilapidated little dinghy that had come with the boat. “That’s the old dinghy? No way!” “What a fellow!” “Now there’s someone who can turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse!”