By Sher Maryn LeBay

Their lives are short: three years, maybe four. And they spend them in the coldest of waters, moving as a single glimmering sheet under the edge of an ice shelf where plankton thrive.  The capelin, barely as long as a silver spoon, form a living bridge between the the tiny organisms of the Deep and the sea birds and big fish.   The Puffins eat them.  The cod and whales, too.

In early summer, an inner imperative to spawn grips them like a siren song; they make their way to warmer waters, the coasts of Labrador and Newfoundland and to a lesser extent, to the southeast coast of Cape Breton.

One of their chosen spots, year after year,  is a sliver of beach in Gabarus Bay.

It is the time of the Full Horse Moon, so named in Celtic mythology, for June’s bright evening light.  The moon, closer to us now then any time of year, works the tides back and forth like a strong arm on a loom; these are the days of the highest highs and the lowest lows. 

The capelin sail through the inky blackness toward land, leaving their eggs in bits of sand on the ocean floor.  

I look up and down the shoreline, spying parents and their children, men in pairs, and older hands inviting the young into a memory, if not a rite, they will remember all the days of their lives.  

Stones turn under foot. The water laps and whooshes.  In the moonlit darkness, bits of conversation in the softest of tones, are carried out to sea.  It is church-like. 

All night and well into the early morning hours, the Capers scoop the flashing lights into their nets. Just across the Bay, the red-orange flareof the Gabarus Lighthouse greets the moon.  She will not be outdone.

Next time, I’m trading my camera for waders…

I make my way to the water's edge where the Cape Bretoners wait with their nets.  The beacon from the Gabarus lighthouse is the tiny star just under the moon.

I make my way to the water's edge where the Cape Bretoners wait with their nets.  The beacon from the Gabarus lighthouse is the tiny star just under the moon.

A man stands in the light of the moon, net ready, waiting for the Capelin to run toward shore...

A man stands in the light of the moon, net ready, waiting for the Capelin to run toward shore...

A net glistens in the moonlight in Gabaraus Bay.

A net glistens in the moonlight in Gabaraus Bay.

A man loops his net into the air and shoves it into a scrum of Capelin in Gabarus Bay Cape Breton

A man loops his net into the air and shoves it into a scrum of Capelin in Gabarus Bay Cape Breton

A grandfather and his grandson work their nets in the tumult of Capelin swimming for shore in Gabarus Bay, Cape Breton

A grandfather and his grandson work their nets in the tumult of Capelin swimming for shore in Gabarus Bay, Cape Breton

A boy frees the Capelin from his net in Gabarus Bay, Cape Breton

A boy frees the Capelin from his net in Gabarus Bay, Cape Breton

A version of this photo story first appeared in the Cape Breton Community Post on July 13, 2016

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