Shar­ing the sto­ries of sea folk

The Compass - - CLASSIFIED -

I hope book­sell­ers are dis­play­ing “Sea Folk” [Flanker Press] face out, not spine out. Spine out re­quires that you crick your neck to read its ti­tle … or worse, causes you to com­pletely ig­nore it as I would. I never read spines. I’m old. My eyes wob­ble. I finds me neck.

The cover of “Sea Folk” is a work of art, or some­thing. What do I know about snap­shot art? All I know is this — I can stare at the front cover of “Sea Folk” un­til … well, un­til my cof­fee cools.

Firstly, the cover is multi-shades of green. Forty shades of green? I don’t know. I didn’t count. From the grey-green shore to the vivid green of Dave Jenk­ins’ capelin seine, the “greens” are a grad­u­ated palette of the sea’s own evolv­ing hues.

And look a’ this — the deep green net hangs like the open­ing cur­tains of a stage, part­ing, pre­par­ing to re­veal the dra­mas that will oc­cur upon the boards, or in this case — I sup­pose — the waves … or some­thing — I’m try­ing to be right lit­er­ary.

See Dave Jenk­ins rigged out in his slick green oil­skins, his cap pro­tected by a rub­ber hel­met. He looks like an Arg­onaut, a mytho­log­i­cal fig­ure pre­pared to har­vest Golden Fleeces — or in this case per­haps, con­sid­er­ing he’s capelin fish­ing, sil­ver skeins — from the sea.

I don’t know Dave Jenk­ins and if I meet him at some fu­ture time he might smack me in the chops, but look at the face on him — griz­zled and square- jawed, his eyes in­tent on his labours. He looks like a buc­ca­neer ready to smack down what­ever toils Old Nep­tune heaves in the way of his bowsprit, or what­ever.

There’s one lit­tle dab of red among all the green. Just a wee patch of Dave’s T-shirt, look­ing like a blood-red heart … or, per­haps — and should we ever meet, Dave will surely land one on my chin-chop­per-chin for this — look­ing like a gill, a sea folk’s gill.

I’m not a per­son who likes framed pic­tures to hang on a wall but if I were forced to choose one it would be a gi­nor­mous re­pro­duc­tion of this book’s cover art. Truly. Tragic tales In­side the cover are the sea folk. Many of Jim Well­man’s sto­ries are tragic tales of sea folk per­ish­ing. For in­stance, “Down Per­ish, April 11,” an ac­count of seal­ers dy­ing on the ice. Joseph Jacobs chis­elled those words in his sealer’s gaff be­fore he and his com­pan- ions lay down to die on the ice.

My land­lub­ber’s brain is un­able to wrap my thoughts around such re­signed ac­tion.

It’s also dif­fi­cult to fathom the mis­ery of the fam­i­lies of lost sea­men — the wives, mothers, broth­ers, sis­ters, sons and daugh­ters who have to en­dure the loss, not only the loss of liveli­hood but also loss of their loved ones.

More than those sad sto­ries though, Well­man tells tales of unique sea folk. Wayne Led­well, for one. In 1984 Mr. Led­well, spon­sored by the Cana­dian Univer­sity Ser­vices Over­seas, set sail, fig­u­ra­tively speak­ing, for seas many of us have never heard of — the seas of Van­u­atu in the South Pa­cific — to teach the sea folk there how to fish more ef­fi­ciently. Al­though he con­tracted malaria, he re­mained at Van­u­atu for four years. Heather Crout, for an­other. Tech­ni­cally not a sea folk, I sup­pose, since she is a painter, not a sailor, Ms. Crout was mar­ried to a sea­man. Af­ter he accidentally drowned, she painted 10 wa­ter­colours in mem­ory of her hus­band. She has used the pro­ceeds from sales of the paint­ings to buy and do­nate work­able life vests for the men in her hus­band’s fleet.

Capt. Tracy But­ton is one of New­found­land’s fe­male skip­pers, one of the few owner­op­er­a­tors of fish­ing boats in the fifty-to six­ty­five-foot-ves­sel class. She was seven years old when she knew what she wanted to be when she grew up — a fish­er­man like her fa­ther.

Sab­rina Why­att is an­other fe­male skip­per who has fol­lowed in her fa­ther’s rub­ber boots, so to speak. Ac­cord­ing to Well­man, Sab­rina “doesn’t re­fer to her­self as a fisher, fisher per­son, or even fish­er­woman.” Sab­rina is happy be­ing a fish­er­man.

Sab­rina, bless ‘er heart, is above such gen­der cor­rect horse whoop­sie. I said that. Some sea folk are her­ring chok­ers. Such as John Roy Hack­ett, a man who knows more about her­ring than … well, than me, that’s for sure.

Thanks to Mr. Hack­ett, by way of Jim Well­man, I’m now happy to know this — Her­ring never make a left turn. Truly. Turn right. Read Sea Folk. Thank you for read­ing.

Harold N. Wal­ters writes from Dunville. He can be reached at the fol­low­ing: gh­wal­ters@per­sona.ca or

gh­wal­ters663@gmail.com

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