A Haul of Heritage
The oceans of the earth abound with lobsters. Lobsters with claws
like hair combs sift mud in offshore trenches. Clawless lobsters
with antennae like spikes migrate in clans in the Caribbean and the
South Pacific. Flattened lobsters with heads like shovels scurry
and burrow in the Mediterranean and the Galapagos. The eccentric
diversity of the world's lobsters has earned them some of the most
whimsical names in the animal kingdom. There is a hunchback locust
lobster and a regal slipper lobster. There are marbled mitten
lobsters, velvet fan lobsters, and even a musical furry lobster.
The unicorn and buffalo blunt-horn lobsters inspire admiration; the
African spear lobster, the Arabian whip lobster, and the rough
Spanish lobster demand respect.
Nowhere in the world, however, is the seafloor as densely populated
with lobsters as in the Gulf of Maine. Though a less sophisticated
creature than some of its clawless counterparts, the American
lobster, scientific name Homarus americanus, is
But at five o'clock on a September morning in 1973, the young Bruce
Fernald didn't know that, and he wasn't interested.
"Hey, Bruce." The door opened. "Come on, son, get up. We're going
Bruce groaned, rolled over, and cracked open an eye. Still dark.
Jesus. Almost four years in the navy, riding nights away in the
bunk of a destroyer, rounding the Cape of Good Hope in forty-foot
seas, and what happens the first time he tries to sleep in his own
bed back home? His father wakes him up before dawn to get in a
Sure, Bruce thought as he yanked on his socks, when I was fourteen
I hauled traps by hand from a skiff, like every other kid on Little
Cranberry Island. Does that automatically make me a lobsterman? The
world was big and in the navy Bruce had sailed all the way around
it. He wasn't certain he wanted to condemn himself to the hard life
his forefathers had endured, hauling up what the old-timers called
"poverty crates" full of "bugs."
But Bruce's first day of lobstering with his father turned out to
be lucrative enough to warrant a second day, and after that a
third. As autumn settled over the island the days aboard his
father's boat became weeks. At the helm was Warren, his dad, and on
the stern was the name of his other parent -- Mother Ann.
Bruce stuffed bait bags with chopped herring. He plugged the
lobsters' thumbs with wooden pegs to immobilize their claws so they
wouldn't rip each other apart in the barrel. He coiled rope. He
hefted the heavy wooden traps. And he observed his father at
Some of Warren's white-and-yellow buoys followed the shoreline like
a string of popcorn. Warren knew just how close he could get to the
rocks without endangering the boat, and he showed Bruce how to line
up landmarks and steer clear.
Some of Warren's buoys bobbed in ninety feet of water, running in a
line east to west half a mile from the island. Unwritten rules
along most of the Maine coast governed just how far a fisherman
could go before he was setting traps in someone else's territory.
Bruce watched where his father went and memorized the landmarks
that would keep him close to home.
Come November, Warren and Bruce were hauling traps in water twenty
fathoms deep -- 120 feet -- a mile south of the island in open sea.
It was cold, especially when the breeze picked up and blew spray in
"Okay, son, where are we now?" Warren asked, bent over a tangle in
Bruce, his hands numb, glanced up to see which of the mountains of
Mount Desert Island loomed over the lighthouse on Baker Island,
half a mile southeast of Little Cranberry. Depending on how far to
the east or west the Mother Ann was positioned, the
lighthouse would line up with a different hill.
"Cadillac," Bruce answered.
Cadillac Mountain, like the automobile of the same name, honored
the first European settler in these parts. In 1688 small-town
French lawyer swindled a land grant to Mount Desert Island from the
Canadian governor. He invented the aristocratic title "sieur de
Cadillac" for himself and lorded over the uninhabited island with
his new bride for a summer. Bored, he soon retreated inland to
found a trading post called Detroit. The Cadillac car still bears
his fake coat of arms on its hood. The lobstermen of Little
Cranberry had put Cadillac's legacy to their own use. Like the
other hills of Mount Desert, his mountain rising from the sea was a
map to the treasures under the waves.
In a more literal sense too, Warren and Bruce were fishing on
Cadillac Mountain -- or at least on pieces of it -- and that was
what made these waters hospitable for lobsters. Starting a few
million years ago, sheets of ice had rolled down from the Arctic
for eighty thousand years at a stretch, interrupted by brief warm
spells of ten thousand or twenty thousand years. During the most
recent ice age the glaciers had scraped up stone from all over
Maine and carried it south, carving away the pink granite of Mount
Desert Island on the way. The glaciers had pressed on for another
three hundred miles before grinding to a halt, encrusting the Gulf
of Maine and the continental shelf in ice as far south as Long
When the glaciers melted fourteen thousand years ago they unveiled
the sensuously sculpted hills and valleys that now constitute
Acadia National Park. The glaciers also left behind vast fields of
debris -- boulders, cobble, pebbles, and gravel. Glacial runoff
sorted the finer sediments into beds of sand or muddy silt between
ledges of hard rock ...
Excerpted from THE SECRET LIFE OF LOBSTERS © Copyright
2004 by Trevor Corson. Reprinted with permission by HarperCollins
Publishers. All rights reserved.