Friday, August 1, 2014

Lobstering In The Keys

Lobster mini season is over for another year and the boats and trailers are lining up on the Overseas Highway like the army in retreat that they are. Summer used to be a time of quiet in the Keys but the distinction between the traditionally busy winter tourist season and contemporary summer tourism is shrinking. Every weekend sees some new activity to maintain interest in these islands, Hemingway, silly boat "regattas" or trinket festivals and "celebrations" of food and drink; all amalgamate into one long tedious summer of not sitting still and thinking. Silent contemplation has fallen into disfavor unhappily.

Now that outsider amateurs have had their two day lobster rape romp the serious business of commercial lobstering starts up next week and continues through March. Mini season this year saw one woman killed and another critically injured in a boat accident, but the numbers of illegally caught lobster cannot be counted, there are not enough law enforcement officers around to keep thoughtless amateur lobster hunters on the straight and narrow.

I came home quietly, I thought, after another night at work, however I suspect Cheyenne heard the Bonneville pull up under the house. The motorcycle isn't what wakes her as she knows what time I am due home, and yesterday I was twenty minutes late so she was wide awake. I crept quietly into the house planning to wake her on her bed when I realized she was outside, around the corner, listening for my footfall. She was pleased to see me despite my childish deception. Dogs are very forgiving that way:

In the heat of summer she loves her early morning walks but where to take her is a daily question. Yesterday we crossed one bridge from Cudjoe Key and I settled on Horace Street as a short walk with lots of things to interest a curious Labrador.

And then I remembered lobster season. Commercial fishing reminds me of farming, inasmuch as it is often a family business that puts its practioners close to nature. Like farmers, fishermen are constantly bitching about the weather and market prices. Similarly a bumper crop tends to be universal so when the harvest is abundant the price drops and conversely the price leaps when the harvest is sparse, leaving fishermen and farmers in a constant state of anguish. It seems like a horrible life to me but they love it.

I don't know if fishermen actively envy other practioners of their craft in distant places, but after our summer road trip to Maine I wonder if a Maine lobsterman shrouded in summer fog, surrounded by vicious random rocks, dealing with horrendous tides and freezing July waters envys the easy life of a lobster hunter in the Florida Keys. Gentle winds, modest tides, only occasional thunderstorms while fishing in your underwear... It sounds much nicer to me to be down here. Less heroic perhaps, but more bearable if fish chasing is your bag.

I have heard a great deal of noise about how vastly superior clawed Maine lobster are, over scrawny little crawfish plucked from Florida waters. Therefore when in Maine we tried lobster rolls hither and yon, small lumps of sweet bread split down the middle and filled with cold lobster and mayonnaise. The sample shown below cost eight bucks in Portland Maine eaten outdoors on a hot 70 degree afternoon just last month.
It must be obvious that I am no connoisseur of lobster but I can only say I can't taste the difference. Furthermore it may just be a function of my perverse nature but in a society that claims lobster as the most desireable food in the world I just don't get it. Fish yes, but making a lot of noise about lobster makes no sense to me. As with sushi I will eat it but as an expensive delicacy it is wasted on me.
Happily for commercial lobster hunters I am alone in my disregard for these expensive animals, so all the work that goes into hammering together these one way traps, adding a plastic license, attaching polypropylene line, painting your own float a distinctive color and setting this traps out all over every inch of navigable water is labor not wasted.

Though to hear them say it the harvest is not bountiful, the price is low, diesel is expensive, blah blah blah.

It's nasty messy work retrieving the pots from time to time and checking for occupants and re -aiting the cage with decaying chicken parts, the more pungent the more attractive to the crustaceans they say.

Female lobsters carrying eggs are not supposed to be taken during mini season, but every year some dolt is caught with a lobster carrying the distinctive gray sacs, promise of the birth of a new generation.

It's a huge industry in islands populated by no grumpy farmers. Restaurants sell lobster, tourists eager to join the recherché ranks of the well-to-do order them by the barrow load and so much money changes hands. I bought live lobster tortured on ice in a fishmonger's once and released them back into the wild. I hope they lived. When we were sailing the relatively unfished waters of Central America we would return from snorkeling expeditions and tell our fellow sailors turned hunters we saw no lobster over there. I hope they lived too. But it's a brutal world and we all have our place in the chain.

I understand the need for commercial lobstering, a solid livelihood for people willing to undertake hard labor, make good money without an advanced education, and to be their own bosses. But the amateur hunt every year, sanctioned only by the Chambers of Commerce, the trade union of shopkeepers, must have run its course.

People ask me why I don't go fishing, ironically living in one of the best places in America in which to chase fish. Because I say, I don't like to pit my wits against fish and lose the struggle. In my life I have shot and killed things, suffocated fish and seen commercial slaughterhouses and eaten pork and chicken that I had previously seen alive. I have tried vegetarianism and contrary to rumor I did not feel well, and nor did anybody else if forced to spend any time in an enclosed space with me. I eat meat but I prefer at this stage not to hunt and kill and disembowel it.

In the end I prefer to pay someone who depends on hunting and gathering for a living to get me my fish, and to use my boat or my friends' boats for recreation, ie exploring or finding swimming holes.

And then I think of ice fishing, sitting, for fun, on frozen water dangling a line through a hole in the ice in freezing temperatures. That's when I remember that people who fish are irrational, mad even, and denying them the chance to chase lobster once a year might have harmful consequences. Never argue with a madman especially one armed with a tickle stick, a net and a mad suburban gleam of bloodlust in his eye.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Entropy Key West Style

"Entropy,"  what a strange word ent-rope-eee. I think of it as meaning a process whereby a complex system reverts to its  component parts. Imagine a car  rusting away to nothing like the old truck on Tarpon Belly Key...a pile of  rust vaguely shaped like a transmission or an engine block.  Scientists have all sorts of complex explanations about heat and energy in a closed system or some such stuff.
 To me the former Finnegan's Wake Irish pub is lurching into a state of entropy. The Irish flag is washed out such that it appears to be more a symbol of surrender than a connection to the "motherland." Never a particularly shiny  bright building, these days Finnegan's seems to be held together more by dirt particles than building materials. 
I miss it. I am surprised how much I sill miss the place, dark corners, draught beers and weird Irish food.
There is an architect's  sign in the window so one day I shall ride by and find construction under way and some new horror  will replace the familiar. However I've heard on the grapevine that current plans may call for an Irish pub in similar form to be restored at this location as an experiment to see how well it goes. I can hardly believe it. Entropy will likely  be reversed.
I struggle to picture myself dismantling a toilet in my house and then plonking the object on the sidewalk. Some people seem to do it all the time. I'd venture a guess hardly a week goes by in key West that something like this isn't parked on the sidewalk. I try to see it as a blow against gentrification, but all I see in fact is inconsiderate neighbors making the town look shabby. Cheyenne thoroughly approved of the sidewalk trash. I was tempted to put a "Free To A Good Home" sign on the commode, but we kept walking as soon as she lost interest. 
If you can ever gain some altitude on Key West and you look down on Old Town you will see a lot of greenery. On the ground it can look as shaded as Elgin Lane. another form of entropy trying to restore the natural order of things:
Commodes aside, this is how  a properly antique Old Town is supposed to loo to attract  visitors. No entropy here:

A  Land Rover in Key West. With gas prices hovering around four  dollars a gallon, one US dollar per liter, one might imagine allowing an old four wheel drive gas guzzler like this to return to kits natural decomposing state.   The beauty of Key West is that you don't usually have to drive very far and even if  four wheel drive is unnecessary and the old Land Rovers are  a handful to drive, so what? Its not my cup of tea but someone obviously cherishes this rather fine example of the worlds most  rugged vehicle.Good luck finding a local mechanic though. I generally dont recommend exotic cars for people who want to live in the Lower Keys. And then my wife gets a Fiat, and loves it!
 Stump Lane looking properly key West, with everyone's ideal of a Conch cottage and a cruiser bicycle, proper wheels for this little town.
 This is actually an old Florida louvered window  painted to look like wood. Very witty:
 These too are lovely old fashioned louvered windows with frosted glass:
 And here, behind the entropic vegetation we see a classic Bahama shutter:
 It has been hot lately as measured by my car at dusk one recent day:
 90 degrees is a bit on the hot side  for a night in Key West but I'll take it with joy compared to a place  where 70 degrees represents a hot summer day.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

We Climbed A Keys Mountain

Robert was on a nostalgia  kick yesterday, so despite some setbacks we had a great time buzzing around the back country in our little boats, each meditating and ruminating as we sped across the water individually, talking when our paths reconnected on land. Robert and Salty Dog at 23mph crossing Cudjoe Bay: 
The stilt houses, typical of the shorelines around here. What you can't see is the massive influx of people in the Keys this week for the Great Lobster Kill today and tomorrow, known as mini season.
 Niles Channel Bridge arcing gracefully 40 feet above the water. I used to come out here quite often when I lived on Ramrod as this is a wide, deep, and direct path to Tarpon Belly Key.
Once under the bridge we turned west and aimed for the buildings which on land line Highway One. We had to get fuel...after a fashion. 
Robert had proposed  a pause in the proceedings to take lunch, I seconded the  motion so we stopped at The Wharf on Summerland Key for lunch.
The Wharf offers an organic menu of food and drink and while I stepped out and tried the tamales, well worth while, Robert took his default position and went with the cheeseburger, which seemed to hit the spot:
Salty Dog was perfectly behaved lounging in the shade with a giant bowl of iced water. We lounged, it was hot. Yes,. I know I enjoy heat but it was hot. Robert was in charge of navigation, only until I explained I used to do this trip quite a bit up Niles Channel. 
 The bridge was looking good. I love that arch plus you get  some excellent sunrises from the top.
We resumed our separate paths running smoothly  across the dark blue waters. I have the more comfortable boat with a center console on my Dusky and  a wheel to steer by, while Robert was giving himself a Popeye arm as he put it working his tiller steering at speed. I took the time to meditate a bit as we drove in a long straight line up the channel and I started to wonder, as one does, why Homer called his seas "wine dark," a phrase that has become as famous as it is puzzling. I have never sailed a sea that I could have confused for a glass of wine but scholars have discussed this subject at some intricate length Lapham's Quarterly.
 The image Homer hoped to conjure with his winelike sea greatly depended upon what wine meant to his audience. While the Greeks likely knew of white wine, most ancient wine was red, and in the Homeric epics, red wine is the only wine specifically described. Drunk at feasts, poured onto the earth in sacred rituals, or onto the ashes around funeral pyres, Homeric wine is often mélas, “dark,” or even “black,” a term with broad application, used of a brooding spirit, anger, death, ships, blood, night, and the sea. It is also eruthrós, meaning “red” or the tawny-red hue of bronze; and aíthops, “bright,” “gleaming,” a term also used of bronze and of smoke in firelight. While these terms notably have more to do with light, and the play of light, than with color proper, Homeric wine was clearly dark and red and would have appeared especially so when seen in the terracotta containers in which it was transported. “Winelike sea” cannot mean clear seawater, nor the white splash of sea foam, nor the pale color of a clear sea lapping the shallows of a sandy shore.
 Enough of this existential rubbish, we arrived at Tarpon Belly Key, but this time from behind. I got to see part of this island (technically three islands as it is cut across by two canals) I had not seen before. I usually land on the west facing  pebbly beach but this time we draped our anchors over the horizontal cement bridge support still solid, still in place across the mouth of the easternmost channel. The interior of the middle island was as wooded as any trail I've walked in the Keys:
With a big smile Robert found the rusty remnants of an axle and an engine block of a truck used to shuttle supplies across Tarpon Belly when the island was operating as a shrimp farm decades ago. Robert knew a guy who once drove this:
 Today ios opening day of lobster mini season, a two day slaughter designed to allow recreational anglers a chance to score some Florida lobster before official commercial lobster season starts next month (and continues into the Spring). Commercial lobster season is a pain from a navigational point of view as lobster pot floats sprout like toadstools in all near shore waters and commercial trappers maneuver their boats like un-muffled tractors at all hours, backing and forthing to check their traps, but mini season is torture for local residents.
Mini season is a boost for local businesses so as much as residents moan its never going away but it attracts a huge proportion of yahoos, people who have forgotten any manners they may have had before they were lured here  by lobster. There are rules (no hunting in canals or near shore) and the body of the lobster must be at least three inches long and not a female carrying eggs. Astonishingly enough law enforcement find numerous violators. Mini season is chaos. I don't think their laundry lines enhanced Tarpon Belly, frankly.
Our side of the island was silent and empty as we strolled around in the appalling heat following frisky young Salty Dog on his explorations. Our anchorage was perfect as the current was flowing south out of the canal holding our boats away from the cement. 
 Looking west, we crossed the bridge and walked on the easternmost island, a place rich with other memories for Robert.
"I last walked here 35 years ago" he had remarked as we landed. Now he eagerly led me through the undergrowth to another spot he hadn't seen since he was last here in his twenties with two buddies. We had fun, Robert said with a  twinkle in his eye as he told me about their exploits at a time when few people came and hung out here.
Yes we climbed the mountain of rock and gravel, we estimated it easily at 15 feet high, as high as the tallest point in key West, Solares Hill.  Above we see Robert descending, rather inelegantly like a skier on one ski, while I stayed on top in the rarefied atmosphere of the death zone because I discovered my Verizon phone got two bars here at the summit and I could send my wife in California an actual picture of the view across Tarpon Belly Key. 
You decide if the view was worth the effort. The Himalayas weren't in it. And there we see Fat Albert the blimp keeping an eye on things in the Florida Straits. I was slightly surprised I still had to look up and tjhat the blimp wasn't  flying at my eye level.
After I scrambled down, wishing someone made crampons for Crocs, I noticed I could still see fat Albert from our improvised dock. Honestly I think the view is slightly better from here. Which detracts nothing from our mountaineering achievement. Salty Dog went up and down twice, without I should note, the assistance of supplemental oxygen.
We dropped our mountaineering identities and got back in the boats. Robert did Important Things with the waterproof charts while I stared vacantly back at the island trying to discern, in vain, the location of the mountain amongst the foliage.
I am tempted to draw a discreet veil over the rest of yesterday's activities but I have to confess that at a point not too far from Robert's place my engine conked out. Again! Grr! We towed a bit and sometimes it ran for a bit so we planed a while too, so we got back to Robert's dock in good order if quite a  bit late.
We fiddled with it for a while in the appalling heat, and I left it ultimately at Robert's with plans maybe to give in and taker it to a rather good Yamaha mechanic I have used previously. "Something electrical" Robert opined, so we shall see.
I ended up  on Robert's power  cat getting a  ride home - again - but it was in all respects an excellent day of exploration. I barely got a nap before I had to go to work.  But that was another adventure.