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And So It Begins: notes from the shanty

Wed., 10.29.14: I headed downtown to deliver some knitting, taking the dockside walk to the shop at the end of the Straight Wharf as usual, on the basin side. There was one scallop boat tied up, and on my return trip, there were two, my signal to duck into the Stop & Shop to pick up some rubber gloves … the good kind, not the ones that get punctured before the end of the first day at the bench. Only the best for these scallop-murdering hands. I searched high and low, but not a pair in sight. Denied!

Thur., 10.30.14: Number Two son was headed out to the bigger Stop & Shop to pick up cocktail sauce fixings for the stuffed quahogs I spent half the day making. I handed him fifty bucks for a big pile of my favorite gloves, with very specific instructions. He called from the store. Denied! Desperate, I looked online. For the bargain shipping cost of $35, I might have some in hand by next Wednesday. Shipping was more than the gloves … no freakin’ way. Things are not boding well for next week. Maybe I should have prepared for this in August, when the stores still actually stocked things.

Fri., 10.31.14: My last day of landscaping for the season. We planted a pair of fall containers for our favorite client, and dismantled her big summer urns, still green and blooming, then ripped the impatiens out of the beds. Hostas were chopped to the nub, and buckets of leaves were raked. It felt spooky in Dionis, atop a hill overlooking the sound, with ominous clouds; the North Shore spirits were restless, making their presence known. I pulled up all the spotty basil, and left the digging of dahlias for my boss. She’ll be pressing on into December without me. One last trip to the dump, and my truck is swept of leaves, soil, and rooted annuals. See you next year, compost pile…

Sat., 11.1.14: I venture out in the wind and rain, to search for gloves at Marine. Not the kind I want, but sturdier than the grocery store brand. Picked up vacuum bags, and forgot trash bags … it’s always something. Grabbed a new scallop knife at the counter, an impulse buy. Back up equipment usually comes in handy, right? Headed over the pharmacy for band aids, tape, tissues, and ibuprofen, shanty essentials. At home, I discovered a fresh pair of purple gloves in my workbag. Score!

Settled down, encased in multiple layers of clothing to knit, with the storm building outside. My house feels like an underwater cave in the Arctic, but I refuse to turn on the heat. Number Two son is downstairs painting the windows he removed this summer to repair, under his father’s tutelage. “You need a fire in here; it will dry things out,” I’m advised. The pair haul in some soaked logs from last year. I relent, and flip the furnace switch on to dry out the wood. I’m glad I did; it’s 40 degrees, and blowing a steady 50 mph when I wake to the relief of Eastern Standard Time the next morning.

Sun., 11.2.14: Today’s nor’easter makes the storm yesterday, which shut down all boats and planes, look like a moist Easter Parade. The shepherds are whimpering for emotional support, and breakfast (okay, just breakfast; I’m the one who needs emotional support, so I let the 98-lb. baby snuggle on my bed, while her big brother huffs bad breath on me in protest). I wonder if the fishermen will be scraping scallops off the beaches from Monomoy to Pocomo tomorrow, rather than dragging them out of the water. Best to worry about tomorrow once I’m there. (But what will my dogs do all day without me? What if I get stuck at work late? What if Number Two son doesn’t latch the door properly, and it blows open with the heat on? What if I can’t pick up a scallop box this year, now that I’m old and weak? Will we have enough openers?) At least I have a pair of decent gloves. It’s like the first day of school. The wind hasn’t let up for an instant, by the way. It will be mighty messy on the water tomorrow if this weather doesn’t move off. But nothing stops those guys; they’re nuts.

The only tree down on my property is a ficus that blew off the porch. I’ll take that as a good sign.

Mon., 11.3.14: 8:15 a.m. Sunny, 42 degrees, wind out the WNW at 21 mph. It the first day of my sixth season opening scallops in Evie’s shanty. Discovered that the “pair” of good gloves I found are actually two left hands. Rats. Downed a stiff cup of coffee, and headed over to Hooper Farm Road, not knowing if anyone was in, or how long I will be there. I only know that from past experience, the first week is never easy, especially when it starts on a Monday. The weekend is a long way off, but I’ve had plenty of rest being housebound with the storm, so I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.

3:32 p.m. What I imagine is usually not how things actually are. All the anxiety, fear, and anticipation melted away as soon as I entered that tiny room, and saw what was on the bench: huge, gorgeous, healthy scallops. And my mentor, Irene, was there on her stool, in her corner, at age 87. She’s back in action after a season on the sidelines, recovering from surgery last year. I tied on my apron, got started, and remembered (at last) that I really enjoy doing this.

It was an easy, manageable day, mainly because a good number of fishermen stayed on land due to the wind, or mechanical issues, or whatever. Suffice it to say that it could not have been better … the best ever, since we finished well before dark, with news of a great wholesale price (which increases our pay). Tomorrow will be challenging for sure, with more boxes to handle. No one is going to stay home again unless they’re forced to.

Tues, 11.4.14: Nine-and-half hours of steady opening. Number Two son decided to cancel his guitar lessons in Boston, and is staying for the week; he is very helpful indeed.

Wed., 11.5.14: Another marathon day, and no idea how many pounds I opened; I’m too fried to look at the tally and add my weights. Our lone holdout guy in Madaket is somewhat discouraged. Even Spanky’s moved to town. Traditionally one of the first fisherman in each day, Kona is now consistently dead last. He helps us open his catch in the dark, at 6 p.m., “Scallopers’ Midnight.” The main topic of conversation in the shanty is over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, how many we took last night, and how many in the morning. I remind myself that it could be worse. I remind myself that I do really like this job.

Thurs., 11.6.14: Reprieve! The rain allowed Elliot, our wayward lead opener, to take the day off from erecting deer fencing to make a guest appearance. Our pinch hitter, Janet, is giving us her days off, today and Friday, to help, so we are awash in talent. We girls got a break from most of the heavy lifting, plus we finished two hours earlier. Elliot is fast, and sorely missed. More guest appearances please…

I brought a pound home, and had enough time and energy to pick up a few other groceries for our first scallop dinner of the season. As usual, I have no trouble enjoying them, even after being up to my elbows in their guts all day. Ordered the good gloves online, $2.99 a pair. Outstanding.

Fri., 11.7.14: Another long day, but not too bad, with Janet’s help. Sore back; sore hands; grateful for the weekend. Shanty talk includes memories (not mine, thank God) of the old days, when they fished on Saturdays. No thank you. Price dropped a dollar.

Mon., 11.10.14: The weekend off was a blur, a trance, a fantasy. We are back at it, barking at the fishermen to grab their bills from last week, so we can get paid. My first pair of gloves are punctured by the end of the day. Mountains of boxes; oceans of guts and shells. I come home to an early birthday surprise: someone amazing snuck a chocolate cheesecake into my fridge.

Tues., 11.11.14: Birthday in the shanty. Lu made me chocolate caramels, and two kinds of cranberry jelly. I made the mistake of bringing my phone inside instead of leaving it in the truck, which leads to endless frustration, because I can’t answer it with wet gloves, or cold hands. I try, and fail, to answer it with my nose. My elbow doesn’t work either. Sorry family! Thanks for calling! Adore you too… Banks are closed for Veterans’ Day, so no pay envelopes yet. At home, my online gloves were miraculously delivered. There’s lobster dinner by candlelight, still in work clothes, then the best shower and cake ever. Feeling loved.

Wed., 11.12.14: Boxes are coming in slower; the scallops are getting a bit smaller. Looks like the prediction of a short season might be on the money. Speaking of money, we get some, and our tallies for last week. Two record-breaking days for me, at fifty-eight and fifty-five pounds; maybe one day this season I will hit sixty. The fastest knife in the room, dubbed “The Taminator,” broke a hundred more than once last week. Irene’s shoulder blade has been giving her trouble, but a trip to Dr. Lepore for a cortisone shot has her back in action. She’s matching me pound for pound again. Hank said he found me a “Reema scallop,” and I am very excited. A lone oyster made its way into one of his dredges, then into my mouth, as soon as I pry it open at home.

Thurs., 11.13.14: The guys are coming in one by one; just as we finish a limit, the next arrives, which means less lifting and carrying, as they can deliver them right to the bench. We are all exhausted, and my hands are so swollen I feel like I have oven mitts on rather than rubber gloves. Evie said that each box of scallops weights 100 lbs. That can’t be true, but it sure feels that way today. Steamed littlenecks for dinner, more by-catch bounty … can’t complain about the perks.

Fri., 11.14.14: Rain in the morning, and much colder, as we feel the lip of the polar vortex brushing the edges of our section of ocean. Number Two son and I put the glass in the storm doors last night, and brought the ficus inside. I make my sandwich, pull on my boots, and head towards the door as my phone rings. No work for me today … Elliot is making his second guest showing, and choppy waters kept a few guys on land. Hallelujah! My hair person can fit me in for an emergency update … double hallelujah! I spend the afternoon dozing in various chairs at RJ Miller, with foil on my head like a crazy person. Bliss.

Later than evening, I get a call from Mr. B, asking me if I want a few deep-sea crabs, by-catch from his dragger. He’s ground fishing this fall, which is fine, because I’m not sure we could handle another limit in the shanty, unless we stay until 8 p.m., like the old days (so spoiled now with a mere nine hours at the bench!). But I miss his kind face just the same, and I’m touched that he called me about the Jonah’s, which remind me of the Stone Crabs in south Florida … heavenly. The next morning, I head over to hunt for the cooler in his yard where he left them for me. I run into a huge buck hung up behind the garage to bleed out. Mr. & Mrs. B will eat well this winter, as I will eat well today; the crabs are large and lively. What a blessing to be back in the island arms of my winter family. This time of year, I know I am truly home.