Friday, August 8, 2008

The Lesson of the Lobsterman

This is the lesson of the lobsterman, as told to me in Bar Harbor, Maine, as best as I can reconstruct the story:

It had been as bad a year as the lobsterman had had in a long time. The fuel prices were high, the wind kept a blowin' which made the fishing treacherous, the Mrs.' health was not what it should be, and he wasn't getting any younger. Times were hard enough that he found it difficult to give thanks to the Lord for all his blessings, as he had begun to think maybe there were no blessings to be had at this point in time. Still, he had to keep going and do the best he could.

One day he found himself at the end of a long hard day explaining to a tourist on the dock how it was that the lobster was a soft shell and not a hard shell this time of year.

"Think of it this way," he said, "Does your child's shoe grow?"
"Why, no it doesn't. Of course not," replied the tourist.
"Well then, does your child's foot grow?" asked the lobsterman.
To which the tourist nodded that in fact those feet kept right on a growing.
The lobsterman explained that when the foot gets too big for the shoe, you have to get a new and bigger one.
"Granted" said the tourist.
"Same with the lobster. He grows inside his shell, but his shell, like the shoe, does not grow. So whenever he gets too big for his shell, he crawls himself right on out of it and then grows himself a new one."
He went on to explain the biology and the chemistry of the process. He was a fisherman with a deep understanding of the product he worked with.
"Once that lobster has squeezed himself out of that shell, he releases a chemical that starts to turn his new, soft skin into a new, hard shell. Because it is now soft when once it was hard, it has a new flexibility and the lobster is able to fill it with sea water and stretch it bigger so that he then provides room for himself to grow into it. Problem for the lobster is - he has no protection until that new shell hardens. He has potential; but he must be careful and plan and act wisely and prudently if he is to survive and grow."
Satisfied with the explanation, the tourist took his leave and the lobsterman made his way home.
With his head bowed in prayer at the table that night, it dawned on him that he had just taught himself a valuable lesson. Like the lobster, he was vulnerable in his current state of affairs. His defenses were down. He prayed for his spirit to rise up and grow strong again. Then he theorized: when we are most vulnerable and defenseless, we are also the most flexible and in the best position to grow.
It was a simple lesson learned by observing a lobster who was just growing according to the way Nature intended....but it gave meaning to his situation....and he began to grow stronger....

Many of life's great lessons are learned by paying attention to what goes on in the natural world that surrounds us.

"Let us grow..."

And grow is what we did here at the amazingly cool Oceanarium in Bar Harbor, Maine. If you follow the blog you've seen picture after picture from some of the country's most sophisticated aquariums. This is no high fa-looting aquarium but I probably learned more here about sea life than I have in all the other much bigger city slicker places combined. The staff is knowledgeable and excellent- no summer campers taking up space at this establishment.

Here you can see lobsters being born, growing through several stages to about an inch in length before they are ready for release into the wild. It was simply fascinating. With the exception of the "sterile" zones that protected the young lobsters, everything was touchy-feely.

Above, young lobsters in with brine shrimp being moved to "condos" with the help of a turkey baster. Below, a female lobster with fertilized eggs on the underside of her shell.

I don't think I mentioned that I did a bit of commercial diving for urchins for a short while, but I did. I was a cold water diver and I spent the better part of my life in Maine waters one way or another. I thought I knew quite a bit about lobsters and urchins and things like sea "cukes" (cucumbers)- and I suppose I do. But I came away knowing a whole lot more. Time to be flexible. Time to learn. Time to grow. And isn't that what travel, and life in general, is all about in the first place?

1 comment:

RV Girl said...

Do you suppose it was the same lobsterman from my photo in 2004? And the same Elvis? How funny!

I read your blog from