O are you a pirate or a man-o-war? cried we

Our friends Ethan and Lindsay invited us up to Phippsburg last weekend. They’re a quintessential pair of native Mainers if there ever was one; she’s a designer who works for L.L. Bean, and he’s the stern man on his lifelong friend Lawrence’s lobster boat, and he runs charters in the summertime.

It’s wild and beautiful up there, a small lobstering and fishing village right on the water. I drove us the hour north from Portland on a cloudless, golden early afternoon. We turned off Route 1 in Bath onto a curvy two-lane country road that took us down a peninsula through marshland, villages, and coastal forests.

We had lunch at Spinney’s, a low-key clam and lobster shack right on the Fort Popham beach. After lunch, we headed down the road to meet them at 3:00, as arranged.

“We have a situation,” said Ethan after we pulled up to the Fort Popham dock and parked. “My wife has been shanghaied by my father.”

“That pirate!” I said; it seemed appropriate.

“We have to go and get her,” he told us.

We all, Dingo and their dog Pepper too, climbed into the Guppy, a large wooden dory with an outboard, the smaller of Ethan’s two charter boats. We motored out through the harbor, past rocky, grassy islands.

“That’s my mother, in that boat,” he said as we approached the narrow gut that led into the open sea. “She and my stepfather live there.” He pointed over to nearby Georgetown Island, to a shingled house with big windows on the cove.

Out on Sheepscot Bay, we picked up speed and slapped head-first over the calm water. Ethan slowed when he saw another boat headed back toward the dock. He hailed them and spun around to meet them head-on.

For the next hour or two, we hung out on the ocean. Ethan’s father, Bill, who’s also a lobsterman, had just won a lobster boat race to Pemaquid, for which he’d “shanghaied” Lindsay and her friend, Jamie, a photographer who works with her at L.L. Bean, to be his “bow fluff,” which is just what it sounds like, along with Ethan’s lobstering partner and old friend, Lawrence, as crew.

We pulled the two boats together with our feet resting on each other’s boats to keep us from drifting apart. We pulled out cold beer and wine and talked as the boats bobbed up and down on the waves. The sky was blue, the air warm, and there was no wind. Usually, Ethan told us, there’s a breeze and it’s chilly and choppy on the water and partly overcast, but that afternoon was perfect.

Lindsay and I put our heads together and discussed our work. I told her about the book about Maine I’m working on, “How to Cook a Moose,” since the occasion for this trip was ostensibly research for it. She described the magazine/catalogue she wants to start, both print and online, well-written stories alongside beautifully photographed and designed pictures of various products made by hand in Maine. It would represent, she told me, the traditional, DIY, down-to-earth, year-round reality of Maine, not the elitist, moneyed, summer-people bullshit that predominates in so many publications now. I told her I’d happily write for it anytime.

On our way back to the dock, we stopped off at Seguin Island, which boasts the second-oldest, and tallest, lighthouse in Maine. Ethan stayed on the boat to make some work phone calls while the rest of us jumped ashore and lifted Dingo and Pepper over the waves. As we climbed up to the bluff above the rocky little beach, we ran into the caretaker, who was fixing the tracks for the little tram that hauls supplies up from the cove and beach for the lighthouse and living quarters. He knows Ethan and Lindsay because Ethan’s ferry service takes tourists over to Seguin, so even though it was after-hours, he generously offered to give us a tour.

We climbed the sandy path to the grassy plateau at the top of the island, where the main buildings are. It’s a great view from up there, over a hundred feet above the water on the last island before the open ocean.

The Seguin Island lighthouse was commissioned by George Washington and installed in 1797. Its light is a modern-day electric bulb amplified by a many-petaled flower of very old glass, recently hand-polished by the caretaker and sparkling in the late-afternoon sunlight. We walked around the catwalk outside the cupola; far down was blue water, all around us, in every direction. Close by, we could see Monhegan and many other islands. The second inlet, far down the coast, was Casco Bay and Portland. It was a memorable view, both intimate and full of grandeur.

With the dogs, we climbed down to the beach and got back on board the Guppy and headed for the dock, where we got into our cars and drove to Ethan and Lindsay’s place. They live in an airy but cozy post-and-beam house on the water that Ethan’s father built in the 1970s; he now lives with his girlfriend in a newer house just up the cove.

After we parked by the house and got out, Ethan stuck his head into the basement storage space. Dingo followed him and flushed a stray hen from her hiding place. “There she is,” he said. “I knew she was in there.” He tossed her into the nearby coop to join the rest of the flock, who were just settling in for the night.

In the buggy, darkening evening, we picked vegetables from their greenhouse and garden. They apologized for the weeds, which they don’t have time to pick, but we were too impressed by the bounty to notice.

The men stayed outside and boiled the red potatoes just picked from their garden, in the same pot with the lobsters Ethan had just pulled out of one of his traps, on an old propane double burner cookstove. Meanwhile, Lindsay and I stayed in the kitchen and cooked, like good women. She fried the rest of a striper Ethan had caught the day before while I made a salad with the vegetables we’d just picked: cucumbers, tomatoes, red onions, garlic, basil, green beans, and green pepper. While I made dressing, Lindsay sautéed the zucchini and garlic we’d just pulled out of their garden with olive oil from Ethan’s brother’s wife’s family’s place in Greece, which added a whole other level of homegrown to the mix.

“What should I do with the vegetable scraps?” I asked her. “Do you have a compost bucket?”

“Just throw them out the window for the chickens,” she said. “They’ll see and get excited for tomorrow morning’s breakfast.”

With perfect timing, when everything was just about ready, Bill, Jamie, and Lawrence arrived with a story of another adventure they’d all just had. We gathered around the table, heaped our plates, and feasted on lobsters, fish, salad, potatoes, and zucchini.

While we ate, I realized that the entire meal was food that Lindsay and Ethan had grown or caught; this was a real “farm-to-table” meal, gathered and served without fuss or fanfare. Everything was simple and perfectly delicious—the lobsters didn’t need butter, and the vegetables were still alive.

Afterwards, we all sat out on their deck, talking and laughing, looking at the gleaming estuary while the full moon rose and the tide came in.

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About Kate Christensen

eater, citizen, enthusiast, curmudgeon
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8 Responses to O are you a pirate or a man-o-war? cried we

  1. Joan hreno says:

    Lovely. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Isabelle says:

    What a wonderful story. And aren’t they just the best meals – ones that are simple and without fuss. You’ve got me hungry!

  3. I love the magazine/catalogue idea!

  4. Kelly winkler says:

    That’s the way I want to live!

  5. Leah Graves says:

    Love this post. Ahhh…Maine summer. Love the catalog idea as well! I ate delicious moose (a few weeks ago) during a game dinner at our friend’s house in the middle of the Maine woods. In true Maine fashion we arrived to the dinner on ATV. :)

  6. Tammy says:

    I’m so jealous of your wonderful adventures .. and scrumptious food …..what a wonderful accounting of a summer day in Maine. I’ve finally taken up a project and blogging about it every day for the past 8 days.. hope you take a minute to have a look and tell me what you think. Much goodness and light to you. :)

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