Some time last fall Kevin and I learned that, here in the great state of Massachusetts, ordinary people are allowed to lobster. You need a permit, and you have to follow the rules, but any Joe Citizen is allowed to put out up to ten lobster traps, pretty much anywhere he thinks there might be lobster.
Count me in.
Back in 1990, psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi published a book called Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. In it, he described flow as a state of complete absorption in a task, of full concentration and engagement. You don’t notice time go by, self-consciousness slips away, and all your resources are devoted to whatever it is you’re doing. That’s me with a lobster, although I didn’t realize it until the Sparks incident.
Several years ago, Kevin decided that, for his birthday, he’d like to go to a steakhouse. He doesn’t eat steak very often and, when he does, he makes it count by getting the best steak around. Sparks is one of the best steakhouses in Manhattan, and I made us a reservation.
While I don’t dislike steak, lobster is one of my all-time favorite foods and Sparks, like many New York steakhouses, has it on the menu. But not in the way your local clam shack has it on the menu; the smallest lobster on offer the night we were there was three pounds.
Bring it on.
They brought it on. I have never, before or since, eaten a three-pound lobster. If you haven’t, I highly recommend it. All those little crevices and crannies which, in a lobster that weighs a pound and a half, have no meat to speak of, are well worth excavating in a lobster that weighs three pounds.
I started at the claws and worked my way down, cracking every piece of shell, peering into every joint, digging out every morsel. I ate every last piece of that lobster, reducing it to a little pile of shell shards with two antennae sticking out.
It wasn’t until I was eating the last of the tail that I realized people were watching. Not outright staring, but sneaking looks over forkfuls of T-bone. I had been so absorbed in the task at hand that I hadn’t noticed that I’d become a spectacle.
Kevin had noticed, but he thought it was funny. I am lucky to be married to a man who enjoys watching his wife eat a lobster in a state of flow.
All this to say that, if there’s a chance we can pull our own lobsters out of Cape Cod Bay, I’m willing to try.
One thing that many of our enterprises – clamming, fishing, gardening – have in common is that they require paraphernalia. Over the past year, we’ve acquired rakes and baskets, rods and reels, hoes and shovels. For sheer gear, though, nothing can touch lobstering.
First, you need a boat. And not just any boat, a boat big enough to hold ten lobster traps. Then you need ten lobster traps, and the rope, bait bags, and buoys that go with them. You also need a depth finder, to help you locate the sea-bottom structures where lobsters are likely to congregate. Then there’s the marine GPS, to make sure that, once you put your traps out, you can find them again. If lobsters were not both delicious and expensive, nobody would do this.
The boat, we got a couple months back. This past weekend, we went to pick up the traps, an experience that rattled my confidence.
We bought the traps from a commercial lobsterman who’s a friend of our friends Dan and Linda. Mark uses traps with two parlors, which are very big and require specialized gear to get in and out of the boat. When his traps are nearing the end of their useful life, he cuts them down to single-parlor, recreational size, and sells them for $25.
On Sunday morning, we hitched the utility trailer to the truck and went to pick up our ten traps. We went to Mark’s house, and pulled around the back to the giant (spotless, organized) warehouse-like barn where he keeps his gear. Behind it was the stack of cut-down traps.
Mark had one laid out for us, and he showed us how it worked. You put some nice, smelly, fishy bait in a bag and hang it in the middle of the trap. There are two holes through which lobsters, which can’t see much, but can smell well, crawl through in order to get at the bait. The holes are positioned in such a way that it’s easy for a lobster to get in through them, but hard forhim to go out the other way.
The chamber where the bait hangs is called the kitchen, and there is a second chamber called the parlor. Once the lobster has eaten his fill, he starts looking for the exit. He doesn’t find the holes he came in through, because they are suspended over the floor of the trap. Instead, he finds the hole that leads to the parlor. Once he’s in there, he’s unlikely to find his way out again.
I entertained visions of parlors full of lobsters as Kevin backed the trailer up to the pile of traps. I picked one up to load it, and got a rude shock. The thing was heavy. Really heavy, and awkward, too. I could lift it, and get it on the trailer, but only just.
Up until then, I had only experienced lobster traps as décor. How heavy can it be, I figured, if it’s hanging from the ceiling of a clam shack? Turns out, lobster traps that create ambiance aren’t the same as lobster traps that trap lobsters. The ambiance kind are wood and rope. The trapping kind are wire and concrete.
It’s important that lobster traps stay where you put them because, if they move around, you’ll never find them again. In the ocean, only heavy things stay where you put them, and that is why lobster traps are weighted, either with bricks or with concrete runners along the base.
Ours have concrete runners, and weigh about fifty pounds each. That’s fifty pounds that have to be pulled up from the seabed by a rope, hand over hand. Factor in the weight of the rope itself, and the seventeen pounds of lobsters you hope to have in the trap, and it starts sounding like a big job. Times ten.
I’m not at all sure that I’ll be able to hoist the traps. I may be relegated to changing bait, measuring catch, and banding keepers. But I won’t know until we’re out there, and that won’t be this week. Our GPS is on back-order.