In terms of status, the lobster has come a long way. Homarus americanus, or the Maine lobster, ascended from humble fare to fodder fit for royal banquets in a relatively short one hundred years, a true success story. Prior to the nineteenth century, only widows, orphans, and servants ate lobster. And in some parts of New England, serving lobster to prison inmates more than once a week was forbidden by law, as doing so was considered cruel and unusual punishment.
Lobsters are Arthropoda, the phylum whose membership includes insects and spiders. Although lobsters are highly unsightly, the sweet, salty, sensual delight of a claw dipped into drawn butter more than compensates for the lobster's cockroachlike appearance and the work involved in extracting meat from shell. Yet in spite of prestige and high standing, the fishermen of Isle Au Haut still refer to them as "bugs."
Isle Au Haut (pronounced I-LA-HOE) is a small inhabited island off the coast of Maine in an area regarded as "the lobster capital of the world," Penobscot Bay. In a lobster fishing community such as Isle Au Haut, the calendar year can be best described as a two-season system: the lobster season and the off-season. Because this is true of all fishing communities up and down the coast, and because residents rarely refer to their home by name, Isle Au Haut will be referred to throughout this book as simply "the Island."
Friends fear the exploitation of our Island, and worry that any mention of its name will result in increased traffic to our precious and quiet rock. However, many travel articles in magazines and newspapers (not to mention television features) have run over the years, all touting the wonders of various aspects of life and events on Isle Au Haut, and all this attention has thankfully failed to transform us into the dreaded Coney Island. So I suppose I should be flattered that my friends think it possible that my readership might do just that. Oh, I admit that years ago, when I read a Parade magazine article about the Island's three Quinby children, who the journalist claimed were all geniuses, I briefly feared that every parent on the planet desiring gifted, talented, exceptional offspring might attempt to move here, hoping that this concentration of brains might be the result of something in the air, or the water, rather than of Quinby genes. Happily, nobody came.
Still, as a way of placating my nervous friends, family, and neighbors, I want to make it clear that in addition to the reasons stated above, I am calling Isle Au Haut "the Island" because it really is representative of any piece of land surrounded by water that is inhabited by hardworking, independent people, most of whom are lobstermen. If by any chance, in the course of reading this book, you should fall in love with, or become consumed with curiosity about Maine island life, I promise you that visiting Mount Desert Island, Bailey Island, or Monhegan will surely satisfy both lust and curiosity. People there welcome tourism. They have hotels and restaurants. We have nothing.
Well, not exactly nothing. The list of what we do have is shorter than that of what we do not have, and those of us who choose to live here do so because of the length of both lists. We have what I believe could be the smallest post office in the country, and a privately owned boat contracted to haul U.S. mail on and off Island. We currently have forty-seven full-time residents, half of whom I am related to in one way or another. (Family trees in small-town Maine are often painted in the abstract. The Greenlaws' genealogy is best described in a phrase I have heard others use: "the family wreath.") We have one general store, one church, one lighthouse, a one-room schoolhouse for grades K through eight, a town hall that seconds as the school's gymnasium, three selectmen, a fishermen's co-op, 4,700 rugged acres of which 2,800 belong to Acadia National Park, and 13 miles of bad road. And we have lobsters.
Copyright © 2002 Linda Greenlaw
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