Category: Essay

A Lobster Tale

A Maine Adventure In Three Acts
Act one: A Brief History & Cinnamon Rolls
Act two: A Lobster Tale

The Little River Lobster Company in tucked behind a house and perched on a bluff overlooking the Little River. It is a simple building that holds a small office and a few shelves stacked with gloves and other items that lobstermen need to do their work. I learn all this later, though, because right now the sign on the door says Closed. 

The Lobster Barn is next on the list, but a hand-written sign on the door reads, Closed. All sold out. Captain Matt’s is literally the end of the road in our search for a fresh lobster dinner.  An enormous sign hanging on a small pre-fab garage reads We are Open. A handful of kids are playing on the back porch when we pull into the driveway. A moment later a large barrel-chested man with a friendly smile and a thick Maine accent emerges from the house. 

“My first question is do you take credit cards?” I ask.

“Yup, just let me get my phone,” Matt replies.

The interior of the garage is taken up almost entirely with two live tanks stacked on top of each other. Each one is about three feet deep and the size of two queen beds put side by side. We purchase four two-pound lobsters and drive back to camp with grand visions of roasting our “catch” over the open fire as we have no large pot to boil the lobsters in. How hard can it be? 

In the book, The Line Tender, the main character makes her father kill the lobster before he boils them. The boys ask me to do the same and given that we are cooking them on an open fire this seems a reasonable request. To do this I must stab each lobster between the eyes. It’s wretched business, and it proves too much for Noah who retreats to Marshmellow followed by Erin and Luke. I silently vow never to do it this way again.  

The fire is hot with a good bed of coals, rain is forecast but given the late hour, I decide to forge ahead. The lobsters’ barely fit on the grill and a couple are still twitching, and though I know they are no longer alive it is still horrifying and I am glad I am out here alone.  

In hindsight, our main worry that we would over-cook the lobster and turn them to rubber is laughable.  The rain soon comes in sheets, and the fire begins to sputter. One part is hot and the other is cool. How do those chef’s on social media make this look so easy? I dash off to rip branches covered in lichen and Spanish moss from a dead tree. The thought crosses my mind that woodsmoke will flavor our lobster, but not enough for me to stop and look for a cleaner fuel source. I stuff the branches into the fire, frantic for it not to go out. When the lobsters are finally done only one of the lobsters is eatable. The others are either partially cooked or taste like moldy gym socks. If we are going to cook lobster again, we are going to need a pot. 

Finding that lobster pot proves as easy as finding decent coffee, and it is only by my sheer dogged determination that we succeed. We try the Lobster Barn first. The website shows pictures of kitschy lobster paraphernalia and lobster pots. The closed sign is still up, but I peer in the window and see some pots on the shelf. I knock on the door of the adjacent house but no one answers. The TrueValue Hardware only has a pot with a burner attached. I naively think that we do not need a burner for the pot.  The man I speak with suggests I try a handful of other places. We stop at the Hammond hardware store but they only have a pot that you can fit an entire turkey in. A kind fashionably dressed woman at the Machias River General Store looks all over her backroom but cannot find one. She makes an off-handed comment that her personal pot is too well-loved to sell and I almost offer her $20 sight unseen, but decide to first try the three dollar stores and the grocery store in town. None of them have pots, so we stop back at the general store, but the woman is gone. Out of options, I buy some extra canisters of gas so that we can cook the lobster on our tiny grill. My family wants lobster and lobster they will have even if I have to grill them two at a time. 

As we pass by the Lobster Barn, I see a car in the driveway of the house, so I veer into the post office parking lot next door.  As I approach the house I see a large cloud of smoke drift up from the back porch and smell the aroma of marijuana. The front door looks directly through a small room and out the backdoor to where I saw the smoke. I knock on the door and a moment later a man of about sixty pops up, eyes wide, like a prairie dog poking his head out of its hole.

When he opens the door I say something to the effect that I see you are closed but I also saw you have pots on the shelf and I’d like to buy a pot. He looks at me with a mixture of confusion and worry, his mouth hanging slightly agape. 

“A lobster pot,” I say, “I saw you had one in your shop.”

“I’m out of business,” he says. But he perks up when it finally all falls into place. In short order, I am walking back to the car with a seventeen-quart pot, my head held high in triumph. 

It does not occur to me until later that he probably thought I was trying to buy the kind of pot you smoke not the kind to boil lobsters in. 

The Little River Lobster Company only takes cash, which after the purchase of the pot I now am short of again. I do have enough for three lobsters, and since it is Erin and the boys who love lobster and I can take it or leave it, everything works out. 

Our new pot is far too large to fit on Marshmellow’s tiny stove and given last night’s debacle and the enamel coating on the pot I am afraid to put it on the fire. So I place it on our small gas grill which is not made to boil even small pots of water, let alone excessively large ones. They say a watched pot never boils and after a good hour and a half, I decide that if I wait around for this pot to boil, we will be having lobster for breakfast. The water may not be boiling but it is hot so I put the lobsters in the pot for a few minutes to get the cooking process started. Then I take them out and place them on the grill to finish the job. 

It is nearly nine when  Erin and the boys begin cracking shells. It has been well worth the wait though, as the lobsters are fully cooked and do not taste like moldy gym socks. We’ve also got a great story of how it took Dad an entire day to cook three lobsters. 

A Brief History and Cinnamon Rolls

A Maine Adventure In Three Acts
Act one: Cobscook Bay State Park, Edmunds Township, Maine

Cobscook Bay State Park is surrounded on three sides by its namesake. This 888-acre park was purchased with funds from Duck Stamps and was originally a wildlife refuge. The camping area was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937 and it was not until 1964 that it became a state park. Exploration opportunities abound in this area aptly named the Bold Coast. Here, the tides average 24 feet, which equates to the water rising or falling approximately one foot every fifteen minutes in six hours. Cobscook comes from the Passamaquoddy word meaning “boiling tides,” and we understand why when we visit Reversing Falls. As the tide rushes out, the calm water is covered with large ringlets of water, and it seems as if the water is about to start boiling. 

Our campsite, number six, is one of a handful of first-come sites in the park that are right on or near the water. Our site can accommodate an RV up to thirty-five feet, over twice the size of Marshmellow. With such a large site and the easy maneuverability of Marshmellow, we spend two hours trying to find just the right spot to park for the week. I pull forward, back-up, get out and stand with my hands on my hips while conferring with Erin, then repeat the process several more times. Exasperated with our indecision, the boys wander down to the shore where they find a bone that looks like a miniature whale’s tail. Finally, we tuck Marshmellow in between the trees, angled just right so we can see the water through the big back window.

Our first night there are intermittent torrents of rain, no leaking window this time. It is still raining in the morning but that does not diminish the beauty of the landscape here, in a way it enhances it. But to our dismay, we have positioned Marshmellow right under a tree that is being ravaged by tent caterpillars.  I realize that the plinking sound we heard in the night was the caterpillars relieving themselves all over Marshmellow and the outdoor rug. By the end of the trip, Marshmellow will look as if it has been toasted. 

Erin had read that you can roast Pillsbury cinnamon rolls over hot coals, much like the doughboys, and we decide to give it a try. I have bought the extra-large ones, a mistake, and after a valiant effort, the boys and Erin determine that this particular culinary adventure is a bust. It will not be our last on this trip. 

In hopes of learning of a great bakery close by, I take the bone the boys found and drive up to the ranger station to see what the bone is and what local knowledge I can glean. A couple in their later years are working this morning. The wife is a tender-hearted woman who is small in stature but exudes an air of confidence and determination often found in local New Englanders. 

They give me a list of places to explore, tell me the bone is most likely from a deer, not a miniature whale and that Little River Lobster once had lobster for $3.50 per pound. An amazing price.

“What’s the name of that beach? The one I’m not allowed to go to anymore?” she asks her husband. 

“Jasper Beach, he says,” looking up and giving me a wry smile a twinkle in his eye. “One can only bring home so many stones.” 

“ I came here as a girl and hardly anything’s changed,” she tells me smiling too. I remember when that big field just before the mobile camping area sign was filled with cows. There used to be a big house on the top of the hill too. I bet that some of the apple trees in this park are two hundred years old. If you see apple trees, that means someone settled there for a time. In the middle of the woods or along the shore, it is a sure sign of homesteading.” 

The Pie Ladies is the place to go for all things that we should not eat but do anyway because they are so good. They are just up the road in Pembroke and well worth the 30-minute round trip. Started by a mother and daughter team, it now seems that a third generation is also working here. When Noah and I go for the first time, the grandmother is there, and she embodies the quintessential pie-baking grandma. Short and stocky, with a poof of curly white hair and kind loving eyes, she wears a practical dress and sensible shoes. When we indulge in a dozen cookies along with our cinnamon rolls, she fusses over the fact that the peanut butter ones are all broken. I also get two large cups of coffee because we have run out and my plan of getting a bag of locally roasted coffee has fallen to pieces. All I’ve been able to find is a small can of the mass-produced coffee for $6.99. In the Sixties, my parents traveled through fourteen European countries on $5.00 a day, and now I can’t even buy a can of bad coffee for that much. Oh, the privileged problems we endure while navigating this blessed life that we have. 

Our adventure continues next week. Tally Ho!