Lobster Tales

From the Vineyard Gazette editions of September, 1983:

John T. Hughes joined a distinguished team of ocean scientists from around the world for a trip to the once-closed nation of China. His passport was his career here on the Island, as a leading biologist studying Homarus americanus — the American lobster. His expertise is unequalled and often sought out by those interested in the raising of lobsters. Mr. Hughes built and has managed the state lobster hatchery in Oak Bluffs since its inception in 1949.

“The People’s Republic of China asked if aquaculturists from around the world would come and visit their country,” said Mr. Hughes. Thirty-two aquaculturists from 14 countries participated in the tour. The scientists hailed from Scandinavia and the Mideast, from Central America and South America. The Chinese put a great deal of emphasis on fish as a food for the people, Mr. Hughes said. Fish farming small ponds is an example of their ingenuity.

He said he was treated royally. “The scientists were so glad to meet us and exchange ideas. You know there were some who had never seen a lobster before.”

Still, there was a certain irony to the visit, said Mr. Hughes. “They wanted to learn from us. But they have been doing aquaculture for 2,000 years. It was more the other way around.”

Eight hundred acres of red pines are dead and dying in the State Forest. They are being killed by the fungus Diplodia pinea, which will leave one fifth of the 4,000-acre State Forest barren. Manny Correllus, superintendent of the State Forest, says so many trees are affected that the only course is to leave most of them standing, slowly to rot. He says nature will slowly replace most of the lost foliage, and replanting efforts now under way will help with the rest. Natural succession and the white pine together will do more than man can do to refoliate the barren acres of the State Forest, Mr. Correllus says.

When the red pines were alive the ground beneath them was shaded, and few plants grew there. But now, with the red pines dead and no longer shading the ground, many plants have begun to grow. Two of the more common of these pioneering plants are bracken and scrub oak.

Manual replanting of the barren acreage is being used to conceal vast areas of dead red pines. Mr. Correllus reports that 15,000 three-year-old white pines and Norway spruce seedlings were planted this spring, two thirds of them along the eastern part of Airport road, the rest to the east of the road running from the high school to Mr. Correllus’ house.

The dead trees make cheap firewood, and anyone who is interested can participate in a cut-a-cord program. For only $4, a cord of dead pine may be cut.

Those interesting rooftop structures, widow’s walks or captain’s walks, so named at different periods or by custodians of different traditions, have tended to become fewer for the reason that when one is blown off in a gale or too much rotted by sun and rain, the owner of the house cannot afford to have it replaced. The Island economy has changed so that rooftop looks are now mostly ornamental, aesthetic or pretentious, seldom practical. Anyway, people nowadays live mostly on the ground or high, high up in airplanes.

It has never been clear to us why a widow’s walk, defined as a railed rooftop gallery designed to observe vessels at sea, should have been useful to husbandless women, who might have the least occasion for anticipating an arriving ship.

Many books prefer the term “captain’s walk.” Captains at sea most of the time would have least use for a landbound rooftop gallery.

Joe Allen used to point to houses in Island surroundings far away from any sight of the sea but equipped nevertheless with rooftop walks. He contended that the real use was for reporting fires, mainly chimney fires which in old times had great popularity for those who looked on, though not always with the proprietor of the house.

It is to be supposed that no observer, now so far removed in time, can ever know how useful widow’s walks were in the old days. There is only tradition, and tradition isn’t enough to pay the bills when an occasion for replacement comes around. So Vineyard skylines change, hardly anyone apparently noticing the difference.

The advertisement called for “Yankee types of all ages.” But when the call went out for 100 extras for a movie to be filmed on the Vineyard, few were about to admit they weren’t perfect for the part. More than 600 people, many of them Yankee-types and, according to the casting director, many of them not, lined up outside the Oak Bluffs School gymnasium and waited in stifling heat for their shot at marginal stardom in The Bostonians, an historical drama with segments to be filmed on the Island.

Many in line remembered the gravy days of Jaws I and II, when locals were paid impressive sums.

Compiled by Cynthia Meisner