Part II

Tom's Take for Tykes: Red Pepper and the Fish Hawk

By Tom Putnam | May 19, 2010
Photo by: Tom Putnam

This is the second of a two-part story about one warm morning in Maine, checking traps, and ospreys. The first half of the story appeared in the May 12 edition of The Herald Gazette.

About 20 minutes later, the two drew up to the first buoy. It was bright yellow and green and bobbed in the water with the current. It matched the one mounted on the pilothouse roof next to where the osprey wanted to build its nest. Charlie throttled back, put Pepper Grinder in neutral, and the boat slowly circled the buoy as he snatched the attached warp line and wrapped it around the hauler. The "shivs" bit into the warp and quickly drew the trap to the surface. Charlie hauled it on to the wash rail and opened the trap door. He reached inside and lifted out a large two-pounder.

"That one'll bring a nice price," he said as he held it out. Kevin took the pliers and put a broad blue rubber band around each claw. Then Charlie tossed the flailing crustacean into the saltwater tank near Pepper Grinder's stern. He threw two more overboard: too small. "No crabs in this pot, Kevin. Just as well though. I think they spook the lobsters if there are two many of them in the ‘bedroom.'"

He threw what was left in the trap overboard and resupplied it with salted herring from the bait barrel. The ever hungry gulls shrieked as they dove to retrieve the leftovers floating around the boat. Fog began to role in.

After securing the trap door, Red eased Pepper's throttle forward and shoved the trap overboard. It sank rapidly, pulling the warp with it followed by the toggles and lastly, the yellow and green buoy. The gulls arose from Pepper's wake and circled the boat as it headed toward the next buoy. Their raucous cries accented the sounds of a Maine morning on the water.

Pepper Grinder eased up to the next buoy and circled slowly with its engine in neutral while its hauler pulled the trap from the water.

"Looks like a convention in this one, son. Get those pliers ready." The two fishermen banded three more lobsters, re-baited the trap after tossing the leftovers to the screaming seagulls overhead, and pushed the trap overboard. Pepper Grinder responded to its forward throttle.

The next trap was almost a bust. There was one female with eggs under her tail.

Charlie promptly threw her overboard. "Back to the nursery with you, love! Your turn another time," he added. "Looks like we have a couple o' crabs for you, Kevin."

"Great, Dad! Hope we get some more." Kevin took the crabs and put them into a separate tank.

Gradually, Charlie made his rounds until he had checked all 150 traps. By now they were an hour away from the co-op. The wind had picked up from the northeast and dark clouds hung low. Small white caps appeared on the water.

"Kevin, my boy, we did good this morning. Let's give ol' Pepper its head and start for home. I been thinkin' about those sandwiches of Mother's. Don't want to risk any chance of spoilin' them. Why don't ya see if there are a couple cans of cold pop on the ice too. Sure will taste good."

As the two headed for Wheeler Bay, the wind grew stronger and waves began to build. They were from the quarter and Pepper Grinder began to roll a bit.

"Be glad when we get into the bay," said Charlie. "Don't want this sea to do a number on our stomachs, son. That would sure ruin your mother's lunch."

"That would sure be a waste o' good crab, Dad," his son said.

As they entered the harbor, the wind blew hard. The fog had disappeared and rain drops pelted the water.

"Better get out our rain gear, son. Don't want your mother skinning me alive, bringing you home soaked to your drawers." The two donned their foul weather gear.

As Pepper eased up to the dock, Ed Brown, dressed in his own rain gear, met them and caught their line. When the boat was secured, the men began the job of tallying up the catch. After the catch was weighed and the price was established, the two men hoisted the bait barrel onto the dock and replenished it with more herring. When the barrel was back aboard, Kevin started to hose down the boat. Charlie and Ed stood around and chatted with one another.

Looking at Kevin, Ed shouted, "Looks like you and your mother are going to have a job picking all that crab."'

"I know, Mr. Brown. She'll be mighty pleased. Brings in some extra money too. But I guess Dad did all right today, so maybe that isn't so important." Kevin wiped the rain from his brow.

"Son, we can always use the extra money. Just remember that. Glad you are saving yours. It will come in handy if you decide to go on with further schooling."

"Dad, I want to be a fisherman like you. I'll need the money to get me started when I'm old enough."

"Fine son you have there, ‘Red,'" said Ed Brown. "You're a lucky man!"

"You're darned right I am, Ed. But I have hopes that Kevin will use his brains and do more than his father done."

"What's wrong with using my brains to become the best lobsterman around here," responded Kevin.

"Nothin' wrong with that," Brown said approvingly. "‘Red,' Pete and me, we had a good laugh for ourselves this morning after you left. Pete told me about your cozyin' up to a fish hawk and that you're thinkin' about leasing the top of your boat to the bird."

"Lay off that, Ed," Charlie said peevishly. "Don't get me started on that again."

"I think the bird missed you today, ‘Red.' All he did, after you left this mornin', was circle the bay looking for your boat."

"We'll see about that," muttered Charlie. "Ed, quit your rilin' me. Kevin's all done now. Why don't you help us shove off before this rain really gets serious."

"Glad to, ‘Red.' Don't take it personal, friend."

Pepper Grinder headed out to its mooring. The rain really picked up in earnest.

"Looks like this one's going to be around for a while, Kevin. Nor'easters are like that. Weather Channel said so too, if you remember. Don't guess we'll go fishing tomorrow. Mother will be glad to have us around - I think."

After they tied up to the mooring and secured the boat, they loaded their gear into Salty and started its outboard. The rain came down in torrents, the drops hissing on the water. Charlie and Kevin were silent as they rode back to the dock, each lost in his own thoughts. As they neared the dock and throttled back, Charlie had made up his mind.

"Kevin, tomorrow we're going to build us an osprey platform like that fella did up in Rockland. I have some lumber in the shed that should do just fine. There is a large rock at the entrance to Wheeler Bay which, at low tide, is at the water's edge. We can cement ‘er there right up against that rock, which should fix her foot fast and there will be water surrounding it except at low tide. Perfect spot for that darned fish hawk and it should keep him off my boat. Don't want to be the butt of Pete's and Ed's jokes any longer." As an after thought he added, "Better put a metal sheath around the platform post. Don't want a ‘coon getting to those fish hawk eggs."

Kevin smiled at his dad and thought, he is more bark than bite.

"You sure your teacher was right about that fella in Rockland, son?"

All the next day it rained solidly. Charlie and his son worked on the project in the shed. It didn't look like the rain would ever stop.

"These nor'easters can last a couple o' days," Charlie said. "Gotta make sure this platform is big enough. Fish hawks are good sized birds. Don't want him or his Mrs. turnin' up their noses at their new home."

"Looks great, Dad! You sure know how to do a lot of things."

"You're right, Kevin," said Sarah as she stepped into the shed with the hood of her foul weather gear pulled over her head. "Brought you boys some lunch. Don't want you goin' hungry." She brought some meatloaf sandwiches out from under her cover along with a Thermos of hot cocoa. "Mind if I join you two? I like having you both home, but it looks like I'm going to have to eat out here if I don't want to be talking to myself in the kitchen. I talk to you more on the cell phone at sea than when you're home."

Charlie looked up. "I'm sorry, Sarah. I guess we haven't been much company today. But that bird has been drivin' me crazy. Kevin gave me the idea about building this platform to tempt the osprey away from my boat. I've got to give it a try."

"I know you do, Charlie. I was just digging you a bit. Besides, it is kind of nice eating out here with the two of you -- a little rustic perhaps, but a change from my kitchen. Looks like the platform is starting to take shape. How are you going to put it up?"

"Like I told Kevin, there is a rock at the entrance to Wheeler Bay. At low tide, it's just above water. Low tide is 5:20 tomorrow mornin'. It'll be light enough and Kevin and me will put this here contraption in Salty and go out to the rock along with some cement and this form I built. We'll cement her fast to the rock, brace her there, and the job will be done. New home for that fish hawk. Hope his missus likes it."

"I suspect she will," said his wife. "Not every female osprey gets a penthouse built special for her."

The three ate in silence, listening to the rain beat on the shed's roof. Finally, Sarah sighed. "I better get back to my kitchen now. Almost done pickin' the crab."

Kevin looked up quickly and blushed. "Gee Mom, I forgot. But Dad wanted me to help him."

"That's all right, Kevin. You still can have half of the money it'll bring." She winked at her husband. "At times like this, your place is with your father. Some things can be learned outside of school too."

The next morning, before daylight, the family was up. The rain continued for a third straight day. After a rapid breakfast and clothed in their rain gear, Kevin and his father loaded the pickup truck with the platform on its post and some bags of cement and cans of water. They added a hoe and large metal trough in which to mix the cement, and the wooden frame that would hold the cement and anchor the platform's post to the rock. The post was over 12 feet long. It hung far over the back of the truck. Charlie fastened a red neckerchief around the aft end of the post as a warning to following motorists. It wasn't likely that any car would be behind them this early in the morning, but he wasn't going to chance someone's running his windshield into the post. "That'd sure ruin your day," he muttered aloud.

At the dock, they unloaded everything from the truck and put it all into Salty.

"It's gonna ride mighty low in the water," he said to Kevin. "But it can take it. Fortunately the water in the bay is pretty well protected from the sea, so we shouldn't have too much trouble. Don't want Salty to swamp and have this fish hawk penthouse float away -- after all the work we've done."

It was daylight now, but the weather hid the sun. The rain continued. Charlie and Kevin were the only ones to be seen in the bay. Salty's outboard rumbled along and they finally arrived at the rock, right at 5:20 a.m.

"We'll bring it in on the lee side, Kevin. Less rockin' that way, son." They pulled the skiff onto the seaweed and boulders that lined the shore at low tide. "Haven't got much time to work, Kevin. That tide'll turn around and come back pretty fast."

The two set to their task. They placed the form against the flat side of the rock after scraping all the sea growth from its surface. Charlie had constructed the form with three sides. The rock would form the fourth. The two then emptied the bags of cement, premixed with gravel, into the metal trough. After they added fresh water from the cans, Charlie took the hoe and mixed it all together.

"Kevin, help me stand this pole up against the rock inside the platform. I can hold it while you get up on top of the rock and steady it while I fill the form with cement. Be careful, son: the rock'll be slippery! And don't cut your hand on that anti-‘coon collar I put around it."

Kevin stood on the rock and held the pole against it. His father took the extra bucket and, little by little, filled the form to the top. He then took three extra 2-by-4s that he had brought along, and braced the pole to hold it steady while the cement set up. It took them less than an hour to finish their task. But by then, the water was lapping around the base of the form and the rain had not let up.

"Looks like the heavens are christening our platform, son. Let's get back to the dock before we really get drenched. Maybe there will be some fool fisherman in the shack at the co-op. We can have a cup o' coffee and some cocoa for you. Your mother was kind enough to put a Thermos of it in the truck."

When they arrived at the co-op, there was a light on inside. Kevin got the cocoa from the truck and the two entered the building. Ed Brown was over at the coffee pot, filling his mug.

"Kind o' nasty day to be out on the water, ‘Red.' Here, let me pour you some coffee. Take the chill off."

"Thanks, Ed. Kevin, shut the door before it gets blown off its hinges."

"Saw your truck out there, ‘Red.' Whatcha been up to?"

"Me and Kevin just finished a little project this mornin'. I saw the light in here and thought you might be around. Dropped in to get warm and see how things are."

"Project, eh? What sort o' project?"

"You'll see when the storm clears, Ed. But you'll have to wait ‘til then. Anybody else around?"

"Pete was by here about half an hour ago. Came down to check his boat, but then left. Said he could use the day for some trap repair. Nobody else has gone out. What's it like out on the water?"

"Didn't go out of the bay, Ed. Our project was at the far end of the harbor. A little wave action on the water, but not too bad. Salty behaved very well."

Charlie wiped his brow and looked out the window. "Looks like this weather is gonna go on for a while longer; however, the weather radio said it should clear tonight sometime. I plan to go out and check the traps tomorrow morning. The bait barrel's full and I'm gettin' anxious to see what's inside those traps. They've been on the bottom three days now."

Charlie sauntered toward the door, opened it and peered outside. "Doesn't look like it wants to quit yet." He stepped out into the rain. "Thanks for the coffee, Ed. You comin' Kevin?"

"You're welcome, ‘Red.' Behave yourself. Get young Kevin home so's he can have a hot shower. See you two tomorrow."

Father and son left, closing the door behind them.

Ed thought, project, huh? "Wonder what that project could be. Think I'll give Pete a call. See if he wants to help me check it out." There was mischief in Ed's eyes.

The next morning dawned, clean and fresh. The sky was blue. The fog and rain were gone. The wind had come around to the northwest. The front had passed.

After breakfast, Charlie and his son set off in the truck for the dock and a new day on the water. Sarah waved them off after she was sure they had no lasting effects from their wet outing the day before.

When they arrived at the dock, other lobstermen were already about, preparing to go out and check their traps.

"Mornin', ‘Red,'" said Pete, a twinkle in his eye. "Did you enjoy your days off? I got a lot of traps mended. What were you up to?"

"Helped the missus with some house repairs, Pete. Painted some buoys. You know, foul weather chores."

"Anything else?" teased Pete.

Ed Brown walked over to Salty. "Need a hand, ‘Red?'"

"No thanks, Ed. Kevin is all the help I need. See you boys later this afternoon." He gave a pull on Salty's outboard and it sprang to life.

"We'll be lookin' for ya, ‘Red'," said Pete.

"Yes," added Ed. "Have a good mornin' on the water, ‘Red.'" Both men grinned at each other as Salty left the dock.

I wonder what that all means, thought Charlie as the two headed for Pepper Grinder with Salty's outboard wide open. As they neared Pepper, calm at its mooring, Charlie heaved a sigh of relief.

"No sign of that bird, Kevin. Maybe your idea worked. Let's get our gear aboard and get under way. Getting mighty anxious to see what the sea has brought us today."

Kevin dropped the mooring line into the water and Charlie eased the throttle forward. Pepper Grinder picked up speed and, rising up on its bow wave, headed for the entrance to Wheeler Bay. "Son", said Charlie, "those pots must be bursting with lobsters. We haven't emptied them out in a mighty long time. Hope they haven't been eatin' on each other -- and it is a great time for a good harvest. Maine lobster is a real tourist attraction and they make our livin' for the rest of the year. Hope there are a few crabs for you and your mom. The income from them can always help you, if and when you decide that you would like to further your education."

"Dad, I told you that I wanted to be a fisherman just like you!"

Charlie smiled to himself - couldn't have a finer son, he thought. As they neared the entrance to the bay, they could see their work from the previous morning. Charlie throttled back and his mouth opened wide in amazement. Atop the platform stood the osprey. There were sticks at his feet.

"It worked, Kevin. It worked! You'll have to tell Mrs. Clark that her idea worked."

Charlie's mouth turned into a wide grin.

Kevin's face beamed. Then as they drew near the platform, his smile became a frown. "Dad! There's a sign on the post. We didn't put any sign there. What's it say?"

Charlie eased back more on Pepper's throttle as they neared the platform. "I can't make it out." He gave the throttle a quick nudge forward and then put it in neutral.

Salty glided forward and the two strained their eyes to see. There on the sign were the roughly painted words:



"That's Pete's and Ed's work," shouted Charlie. "I knew this mornin' that they were up to no good. When do you suppose they did that?"

"But Dad, it did work. The osprey has a new home and I am sure his missus'll like it too. I can see her up there already!"

Charlie jacked Pepper Grinder back up to full throttle. The two fishermen went to sea, broad smiles on their faces.



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