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  • I was broke that spring. It was a long time until the lobsters moved in among the rocks where I fished and any chance of a first paycheck.

    I carefully went through my finances. Enough for groceries, seeds to start the garden and 25 new traps if I scrounged the buoys, floats and rope off the shore and bought the paint from the back of Reed’s Store where they had the discontinued colors on permanent special.

    The year before I bought two quarts of coral thinking white sand beaches and found out coral was pink. Economy is like that, you get what you pay for and after a time the chickens got used to a pink hen house.

    There was enough but only just.

    Mick gave me a ride to the trap mill where they sawed out oak for trap stock.

    On the walls they had patterns for all the fisherman in the harbor. The sills were marked for the placement of the bows and rungs with each name in bold black letters. The patterns were passed down from father to son from back when they fished out of peapods and Friendship sloops. G. Dow, E. Higgens, D. Phippen, C. Gott, B&P Gott. Berlin and Paris Gott had been dead for years but their pattern for gear lived on. Some sills were 36 inches, some 38. The Blacks fished 48-inch gear. Each fisherman had a personal and deeply held theory about the proper design for traps. They spaced the bows just so to divide the trap into the parlor and fishing sections. They knit the heads to specific lengths to lead the lobsters in and keep them there.

    At the mill, the trap stock was stacked in bundles all new and bright, edges sharp and square. The traps stacked in long rows on every wharf in the harbor were dark and rounded from their years in the sea, pocked with wormholes and studded with barnacles.

    Back then we fished half-round traps because they were easy to roll on the gunnel and dump the sea urchins out. Sea urchins were a major scourge for lobstermen. They extrude their stomachs to eat their prey and the stomach acids ate through twine in no time. A few years later urchin roe became a major export to Japan. In less than a decade the sea urchins were gone. In the same ten years that the sea urchins vanished, wood traps went as well.

    But that spring morning, as we waited and the saws screamed through the logs, the world was bright with promise. The air was sharp with the smell of cedar and green oak, cigarettes and bitter coffee. When it was break time we shuffled through the wet sawdust and I asked how much stock for 25 traps would cost.

    It was close but more than I had. The bows were the expensive part. They took time to steam and bend and shape. Each trap had three bows of inch square oak. They added up.

    “Maybe I should just get 15 traps,” I said.

    “Oh don’t,” said Mick. “Cut your own bows. That’s what my grandfather did. Just went out in the woods and cut spruce for bows.”

    “There’s all kinds of spruce out on the island,” I said.

    “No shit Sherlock,” said Mick. “Let’s load the wood.”

    “Cut your own bows,” said Dickie the next day. “What you want to go and do that for? All that new oak and you want to use spruce for bows.”

    “Yeah,” I said. “But…”

    “Morris’d give you wharf credit, all you got to do is ask. He buys your lobsters don’t he?” Dickie shook his head, then he let it rest. “We can run that trap stock out to the island for you, on the high water before we haul. You got to save your energy for cutting all that spruce for bows. You have any idea how you’re going to bend them?” he asked.

    I hadn’t got that far in my thinking. Actually, I had just figured I’d cut the trees small enough so I could bend them right over by hand.

    Later that spring, when I was back on the island and the sap was rising and the spruce saplings would bend, I headed out to cut spruce. There were all kinds of spruce out there, thing of it was it had to be just the right kind of spruce tree for me to use. I got two sections of bow out of a tree before the tree became either too thick or too thin to use. It took most of a week to cut the trees, trim them, haul them down to the shore, and bend them into the sills.

    In the end I had 25 traps each with three shaggy, but serviceable, bows. The traps looked misshapen and lumpy and Mick laughed every time he saw one.

    “Good thing you haul by hand,” said Dickie, “if you used a hauler you’d yarn the bows clean out of them traps.”

    But they lasted. I fished them along the more sheltered shores out of storm surges and swells. The resins in the wood kept out the marine worms that bored through oak in a season. After 8 years I was still fishing most of them.

    The year I cut spruce for bows, Dickie bought his first 50 wire traps.

    When I was a kid we walked the shores and found trap doors to make shields and laths for our swords. We collected broken sills and cracked bows for bonfires on the rocks and stared into the hot, green tinged flames. Walk the shore today after a storm and all you’ll find is crushed and jagged tangles of wire gear. Now the gear is all rectangular and garish colored vinyl coated wire. The trap mills are gone.
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