By Sher Maryn LeBay

When I was a little girl growing up in Connecticut, I would have been very happy if lobster had been designated as an essential food group.  Every birthday I wanted just one thing:  a 2 lb. lobster all my own.  One birthday stands out among many others.  I was five or six and my parents took me to a restaurant in Westport called the Clam Box, a quintessentially New England place, with a white wooden exterior and lots of windows that looked out mostly over a parking lot instead of the sea.  The food made up for it. Well, really, I only ever tasted the lobster.  When my cupcake with the lit candle arrived at our table and everyone was singing, I sat shyly in my chair, my well-used lobster bib in full view.  I didn't have room for the cupcake.

I arrived in Cape Breton just as lobster season was kicking off.  It lasts two months starting in mid May.  I ate nine lobsters in two weeks.  And I did something I said I could never do:  I boiled the water and cooked a few myself.  Living here has brought me closer to the pulse of all life, the coming and going of it, my part in it all, the joys and sorrows.  Lobster and all the Cape Breton festivities that go with it are pure joy but I suppose I will always notice the catch light in a lobster's eye.  To notice this light is who I am in the dancing circle of life.

I thank every lobster I eat.

So, I jumped into the Caper's world of lobster with both feet, exploring the trail of this strange-looking creature with  black pearl eyes,  from sea to feast.  Lobstermen offered to take me out and I wanted to go badly.  They leave the dock at about 4am and do not return till noon if the weather is good.  If the weather is not good, meaning it is just shy of tumultuos, they return closer to 2pm.  I have spied the churning of waves from the shore, much less from a boat.  Could I do it?  I've been seasick on the Block Island Ferry and I knew I would have to tough it out for more than eight hours.

Maybe someday I will dare it, after a double-dare...

But I was happy exploring all the other parts of lobstering on Cape Breton.  When you come here next, look up the lobster festivals in the little towns and go to the church or firehall and sit with folks at long tables and eat corn and lobster and slaw.  If you have your own place with a spot to cook, get yourself to one of the wharfs: Main a Dieu, Gabarus, Port Morien.  There are many lobster villages.  Buy your lobsters right off the boat. Come sometime after 12 noon.  This is not a lobster roll place but place to buy  live lobster for $8/lb CAD ($6 US).  Last year, lobsters went for a little over $5.00/lb CAD so the Cape Breton lobster men and women are pretty happy with this year's season.

So here are some photos to give you a sense of the life here.  Anthony Bourdain is really right when he says you know a people by the food it loves.  I will let the photos speak for themselves.

Lobster boat coming into the Gabarus, Cape Breton harbor

Lobster boat coming into the Gabarus, Cape Breton harbor

Two lobstermen from Gabarus select lobsters they will sell to villagers on a list to buy lobster tonight.

Two lobstermen from Gabarus select lobsters they will sell to villagers on a list to buy lobster tonight.

The shoes of a lobsterman are designed to grab onto a wet boat.  They wear a lot of heavy clothing.  I wonder how they manage being in it all day.

The shoes of a lobsterman are designed to grab onto a wet boat.  They wear a lot of heavy clothing.  I wonder how they manage being in it all day.

The world of lobster is very colorful in Cape Breton.  Their clothes are colorful.  Their boats are colorful.  I put aside my love for black and white photography when I came here.  The color is enchanting.

The world of lobster is very colorful in Cape Breton.  Their clothes are colorful.  Their boats are colorful.  I put aside my love for black and white photography when I came here.  The color is enchanting.

A Lobsterman in Gabarus prepares to sort the lobsters.

A Lobsterman in Gabarus prepares to sort the lobsters.

Lobstermen place the elastic bands over the claws at sea but they still wear heavy duty gloves when holding them.  Lobster scars are part of the lobsterman's fare.

Lobstermen place the elastic bands over the claws at sea but they still wear heavy duty gloves when holding them.  Lobster scars are part of the lobsterman's fare.

Lobstermen use different kinds of bait. This man holds up frozen flounder he buys in blocks. Main a Dieu, Cape Breton.

Lobstermen use different kinds of bait. This man holds up frozen flounder he buys in blocks. Main a Dieu, Cape Breton.

I met Luke the lobster dog on a boat in Main a Dieu, Cape Breton.  He goes out every day with his dad, Brian Wadden, Sr.  "Luke doesn't eat a thing or drink a thing when he is lobster fishing."  I think Luke has figured out the key to avoiding being seasick.  What do you think?

I met Luke the lobster dog on a boat in Main a Dieu, Cape Breton.  He goes out every day with his dad, Brian Wadden, Sr.  "Luke doesn't eat a thing or drink a thing when he is lobster fishing."  I think Luke has figured out the key to avoiding being seasick.  What do you think?

Every lobsterman or woman has their own buoys with their port name and their license number on the buoy.

Every lobsterman or woman has their own buoys with their port name and their license number on the buoy.

A lobsterman in Gabarus, Cape Breton pulls up the anchor.

A lobsterman in Gabarus, Cape Breton pulls up the anchor.

The Cranky Lady comes into port with all its lobsters from the day. Main a Dieu, Cape Breton.

The Cranky Lady comes into port with all its lobsters from the day. Main a Dieu, Cape Breton.

The men separate the lobsters into bins where they are weighed and placed on a waiting truck for shipment.  Main a Dieu, Cape Breton

The men separate the lobsters into bins where they are weighed and placed on a waiting truck for shipment.  Main a Dieu, Cape Breton

The catch light in the lobsters' eyes always meets my own.

The catch light in the lobsters' eyes always meets my own.

Lobsters are loaded onto a waiting truck where they will be driven to Louisburg and sent to various parts of the world.

Lobsters are loaded onto a waiting truck where they will be driven to Louisburg and sent to various parts of the world.

The Lobstermen clean their boats thoroughly at the end of each day.  Gabarus, Cape Breton

The Lobstermen clean their boats thoroughly at the end of each day.  Gabarus, Cape Breton

You have to be strong to be a lobsterwoman. This is heavy work, pulling the lobster traps out of the sea, lifting them on deck and then diving into all the work that remains at the end of the day.

You have to be strong to be a lobsterwoman. This is heavy work, pulling the lobster traps out of the sea, lifting them on deck and then diving into all the work that remains at the end of the day.

A lobsterman in Main a Dieu refuels his boat.

A lobsterman in Main a Dieu refuels his boat.

This is one confident lobsterman, wearing pink.  Main a Dieu, Cape Breton

This is one confident lobsterman, wearing pink.  Main a Dieu, Cape Breton

Lobsterman rests in Main a Dieu, Cape Breton

Lobsterman rests in Main a Dieu, Cape Breton

All the lobster boats are bright, saturated colors.

All the lobster boats are bright, saturated colors.

The Herring Gull has a lobsterman for a friend. Main a Dieu, Cape Breton

The Herring Gull has a lobsterman for a friend. Main a Dieu, Cape Breton

Cleaning the boat in Main a Dieu, Cape Breton.

Cleaning the boat in Main a Dieu, Cape Breton.

Maureen Kavadias gathers sticks in Gabarus and starts a fire for the lobster boil.

Maureen Kavadias gathers sticks in Gabarus and starts a fire for the lobster boil.

Walter MacLeod of Marion Bridge pours water into the lobster pot in Gabarus.

Walter MacLeod of Marion Bridge pours water into the lobster pot in Gabarus.

A former lobsterman tosses the lobster through the air into the boiling pot in Gabarus, Cape Breton.

A former lobsterman tosses the lobster through the air into the boiling pot in Gabarus, Cape Breton.

One of the many lobster festivals, this one held at the Mira Center in Marion Bridge, Cape Breton.  A man tosses the cooked lobster into a crate of cold water to cool.

One of the many lobster festivals, this one held at the Mira Center in Marion Bridge, Cape Breton.  A man tosses the cooked lobster into a crate of cold water to cool.

In the kitchen behind the scenes, a volunteer plates the lobsters for waiting guests of the festival. Marion Bridge, Cape Breton.

In the kitchen behind the scenes, a volunteer plates the lobsters for waiting guests of the festival. Marion Bridge, Cape Breton.

A community lobster supper in Marion Bridge, Cape Breton.

A community lobster supper in Marion Bridge, Cape Breton.

I walk in many far flung places and often see lobster traps like this one that have broken away and washed up on shore.  I found this one in Baleine, Cape Breton.

I walk in many far flung places and often see lobster traps like this one that have broken away and washed up on shore.  I found this one in Baleine, Cape Breton.

At the end of the season, many of the lobster boots are brought ashore and lifted off the ground.  I am always intrigued by the skyward vantage point.

At the end of the season, many of the lobster boots are brought ashore and lifted off the ground.  I am always intrigued by the skyward vantage point.

A lobsterman in Main a Dieu holds up a blue lobster for me to shoot.  What a beauty.  Blue lobsters are one in a million and the lobstermen return them to the sea.

A lobsterman in Main a Dieu holds up a blue lobster for me to shoot.  What a beauty.  Blue lobsters are one in a million and the lobstermen return them to the sea.

The last day of lobster season... These men and women work seven days a week for two months.  I wonder if they miss it the rest of the year.  Main a Dieu, Cape Breton.

The last day of lobster season... These men and women work seven days a week for two months.  I wonder if they miss it the rest of the year.  Main a Dieu, Cape Breton.

 

FOR A MAP OF WHERE TO BUY LOBSTER FRESH OFF THE BOAT IN CAPE BRETON CLICK HERE:  http://capebretonlobster.com

 

                Sher Maryn LeBay

                Sher Maryn LeBay

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