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Archive for May, 2010

I always choke up when I hear this song.

Eric Bogle is one of my favorite folk singers, for many years and for good reason.  His style of social protest, war protest and bawdy humor (alternately, unabashedly) can be sobering as well as cathartic.  And the humor serves as much-needed comic relief.  Who else could sing about a chihuahua with a hyper-active sex drive (Little Gomez) immediately after No Man’s Land, a song to a dead soldier at his grave in a green field in France?

I saw Bogle and his sidekick, John Munro, at the Blue Goose in Northport, Maine a few years ago.  One of the most enjoyable concerts I’ve ever been to.  It was in an old wooden hall, much like the Neighborhood House here on the island, and at intermission we were able to go up and chat with the two of them.

Yes!  I have an autographed CD.  I’m now a groupie. 

This song, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda, commemorates the Battle of Gallipoli, Turkey, in World War I from the Australian perspective.  That battle—at “the soft underbelly of Europe” as the young and optimistic Winston Churchill called it—became one of the most bloody in the war.  The British army (of which the Aussies were one contingent) still used the tactic of sending waves of soldiers up the hillside to attack the Turks.  Unfortunately, the Turks were allied with the Germans, and the Germans had just invented the machine gun.

I will not say “Happy Memorial Day.”  Just play the song and watch the slide show.  Honor the veterans.  And pray.

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I can’t even comment on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico other than to say that I have a sick feeling.  I’m a commercial fisherman.  The guys down there are out of work and the coast stinks of oil. 

‘Nuff said.  Let the newspapers and TV keep you up on that. 

At the same time the oil rig was sinking and blowing its pipe wide open, another maritime disaster occurred—not with a bang, but a whimper, as the saying goes. 

The last sardine cannery in the United States swung its doors shut.  Besides a way of life for generations, hundreds of jobs in a small coastal town are lost. 

This comes close to home, literally.  The Stinson Canning Company shut down its Prospect Harbor, Maine plant not far from here, just the other side of Schoodic Point.  Owned by Bumble Bee Foods since 2004, the reason cited was in part for “significant reduction in the federally-set total allowable catch for herring.”

According to Working Waterfront [ http://www.workingwaterfront.com ]:

The Prospect Harbor plant is the last of a long line of canneries in the state. Since 1876, there have been as many as 418 different sardine factories in Maine…  At the peak of the industry, in 1952, there were 50 canneries in the state. The Prospect Harbor plant was built in 1906 and was purchased in 1927 by Calvin Stinson and Jonas Wass.”

The federal quota is partly to blame.  Decline in appetites for sardines, kippered herring and fish steaks; the increase in cheap labor overseas and the spotty labor force along the coast of Maine; and the dramatic increase in shorefront property values and taxes have all contributed.  Bumble Bee is a multi-national corporation and can find cheaper fish and cheaper labor somewhere else.

And I’ll have to find a substitute for my favorite “Beech Cliff Fish Steaks in Louisiana Hot Sauce”.  From Canada?  From Thailand? 

I knew it was a bad sign when the Southwest Harbor factory shut down in 1987.  Part of the reason in that case was because management in the summer had to contend with labor finding more lucrative jobs in the tourist industry, with Acadia National Park all around us.  And Southwest Harbor was growing more into the tourist and yachting trades.  The property was soon converted into a yacht marina, with seasonal shops; and across the road condominiums went up, overlooking the harbor.  The smell of a fish-factory wouldn’t have helped sell units.

We used to get lobster bait from the factory in Southwest Harbor, as it’s only three miles away.  I think it was about $2.50 per bushel then (10 times that now), and we could save a couple thousand dollars a year on our bait bills if we had the time to lug it back to the island.  When the factory closed, David Thomas and I got the town contract to haul garbage off the Cranberry Islands.  We decided if we couldn’t haul bait onto the island, we could haul trash off, collecting it roadside in our pickup trucks and loading up the old Pandora (mine) and Just-a-Pluggin (David’s).  Those were the days.  Partners in grime.  It sent me to the chiropractor. 

Back in the ‘forties and ‘fifties, my father and grandfather had a herring weir between the Cranberry Islands (between the Net Ledge and the mouth of the Gut, for you locals).  A weir is a stationary fish trap, built of pilings (logs driven vertically into the bottom) arranged in leaders like a fence, to herd the herring on the incoming tide.  Between the pilings there was brush intertwined to keep the fish from getting through, and the brush would catch seaweed to help stop it up too.  The leaders formed a V and intersected at a heart-shaped “keep-pound” that would hold the school of herring, keeping them milling around in circles until Dad and Grand-dad could get down there early in the morning to shut the door, haul up the bottom of the pound and get the fish into a dory or, if there were enough, to call the factory and pump the herring into a sardine carrier.

Grand-dad got into an argument once with the skipper of one of the carriers, probably over the price of fish.  And there is a rock just to the westward of Maypole Point called the Haycock Rock—a big boulder all by itself in the sand—and they had it buoyed off so the carriers wouldn’t hit it when the tide was down.  After their argument, Grand-dad made sure to move the buoy just before that carrier came the next time.  It probably served the guy right, but it couldn’t have been good for business.

Don’t nobody mess with Grand-dad. 

In Maine, the weirs gave way to the stop seines (nets strung across coves to trap the fish) which involved less investment, less-rigid land easement, and more mobility—and then the stop seines gave way to purse seines (surrounding the fish with nets pulled by boats—more mobile yet, and not restricted to shore).  Since then, the purse seiners have yielded to the mid-water trawlers, involving two boats pulling the nets.  With the advent of electronic equipment as well as bigger, more powerful boats, the fishermen go farther from shore for fewer fish, and hence the reduction in the federal quota.  And the higher cost of fish.

And the closing of the last sardine factory in the United States, just a few miles from here.

I can only imagine the changes going on in the Gulf Coast right now.

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Bob Dylan’s birthday comes every year about the same time as my own, but he has had a lot more of them.  Bob was born in Minnesota on May 24, 1941 and named Robert Allen Zimmerman.  The name “Dylan” he borrowed from Dylan Thomas, the Welsh poet whose lyrics influenced him greatly, as did the folk music of Woody Guthrie.

If you could pick a song that typifies Bob Dylan, what would it be?  From which decade?  Which phase of his career—War Protest?  Folk?  Blues?  Talkin’ Blues?  Rock?  Country?  Christian?  Maybe a love song?

Which singer is most qualified to sing Dylan’s songs?  Joan Baez?  Judy Collins?  Odetta?  How about Johnny Cash, George Harrison or Jerry Garcia? 

How about you? (And why not?  A friend of mine says, “If Bob Dylan can sing, anybody can sing.”)    

Some of Dylan’s most important war protest songs never get played on commercial radio (Masters of War, or With God on Our Side) and some of his greatest stuff has been buried in the all-too-popular ones like Blowin’ in the Wind, or Mr. Tambourine Man, or Lay Lady Lay.  When was the last time you heard Love Minus Zero, or Idiot Wind?

You don’t like Idiot Wind, you say. 

I’d probably pick Tangled Up in Blue as one favorite, but I don’t know if that’s his best work—and I don’t know which version I like better:  the commercially viable one from Blood on the Tracks (sung in the first person); or the earlier acoustic version, sung in the third person and involving a love-triangle—and featuring his cuff-links slapping against the guitar as he played.

Maybe I’d pick One More Cup of Coffee for the Road (or anything else from the Desire album). 

His best work may be Like a Rolling Stone, and not because Rolling Stone Magazine said so (they were trying to flatter themselves).  I like the simplicity and the energy of that one, and I never get tired of it.  It also represents a transformation between his folk and rock phases, and the song clearly gave him new direction after a near burn-out.  Although he nearly got booed off the stage by the die-hard folkies when he showed up at the Newport Folk Festival with an electric guitar in 1965, he sang it anyway.  Folk music survived the episode and rock didn’t do too shabbily for it either.

So happy birthday, Bob.  Many more.

Enjoy this video before YouTube pulls the plug on it again for copyright infringement [Note:  this is the fourth version I’ve used.  It’s getting to be a game…].

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The book of Proverbs ends with a flourish as does the book of Psalms.  With Psalms the finale is a crescendo of music, every instrument in the band praising the Lord.  But with Proverbs, the final chapter tells about the perfect woman.  In fact, she is a complete, or “A” to “Z” woman because verses 10 through 30 are written in alphabetic acrostic, each verse beginning with the following letter of the Hebrew alphabet.     

The Hebrew term eset hayil (“worthy woman” or “excellent wife” or “wife of noble character”) is used in Proverbs 31 and immediately following in Ruth.  In the original Hebrew the books of the Bible are in different order than we are used to, and the book of Proverbs leads—not accidentally—into Ruth, the story of another eset hayil

Ruth, the Moabite from that hated country across the river Jordan, leaves the land of Moab to follow her mother-in-law Naomi, even though Ruth is recently widowed.  In the famous phrase “Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God” she effectively converts from paganism to Judaism in one of the prominent examples of a Gentile “wild olive branch” becoming grafted into the Hebrew olive tree.  In a later scene she is called a woman of noble character, or eset hayil, by Boaz, the man who would become her new husband (Ruth 3:11).  Ruth and Boaz become great-grandparents of David, the greatest of the Israelite kings and the founder of a dynasty that leads to the Messiah.

So don’t forget Mothers’ Day.  It all starts with them and you never know where it can lead.    

Proverbs 31:10-30 (NIV)

10 A wife of noble character who can find?
       She is worth far more than rubies.

 11 Her husband has full confidence in her
       and lacks nothing of value.

 12 She brings him good, not harm,
       all the days of her life.

 13 She selects wool and flax
       and works with eager hands.

 14 She is like the merchant ships,
       bringing her food from afar.

 15 She gets up while it is still dark;
       she provides food for her family
       and portions for her servant girls.

 16 She considers a field and buys it;
       out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.

 17 She sets about her work vigorously;
       her arms are strong for her tasks.

 18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
       and her lamp does not go out at night.

 19 In her hand she holds the distaff
       and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

 20 She opens her arms to the poor
       and extends her hands to the needy.

 21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
       for all of them are clothed in scarlet.

 22 She makes coverings for her bed;
       she is clothed in fine linen and purple.

 23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
       where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.

 24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
       and supplies the merchants with sashes.

 25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
       she can laugh at the days to come.

 26 She speaks with wisdom,
       and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

 27 She watches over the affairs of her household
       and does not eat the bread of idleness.

 28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
       her husband also, and he praises her:

 29 “Many women do noble things,
       but you surpass them all.”

 30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
       but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

 31 Give her the reward she has earned,
       and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

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