The Won­der­ful Dog­fish Racket

The Compass - - SPORTS - Harold N. Wal­ters Harold Wal­ters lives Hap­pily Ever Af­ter in Dunville, in the only Cana­dian prov­ince with its own time zone. How cool is that? Reach him at gh­wal­

Al­though for the first 13 years of my life on this planet I slept close enough to the ocean to have waves lull me to sleep, I didn’t see a dog­fish un­til I was nigh onto 25. And that was a dead one. He and hun­dreds of his per­ished kin, as I dis­cov­ered, lay strewn across the land­wash of Point Verde beach.

“Oh, look at the poor lit­tle sharks,” I prob­a­bly said to young Mis­sus who also hadn’t ever seen a dog­fish. But Mis­sus couldn’t have been ex­pected to have seen one. She was reared up in Rab­bit Town.

While I was fa­mil­iar with dead dog­fish, I still hadn’t clapped eyes a liv­ing one when I started read­ing “The Won­der­ful Dog­fish Racket” [Pen­ny­well Books]. No sur­prise, I learned there was much I didn’t know about them.

For in­stance, I didn’t know their “wellem was wicked.” Wellem? That word stalled me in stanza seven. Af­ter a restart I turned straight­away to the Glos­sary where, for an hour, I browsed through words both fa­mil­iar and for­eign.

I didn’t know bul­tow, but I knew crous­try. I’m sure you’ll find this hard to be­lieve, but I knew crousty be­cause peo­ple have ap­plied the word to me. Truly. I didn’t know mar­ness, even though more than once I’ve been mar­nessed.

I knew paddy keefe but hadn’t be­fore I came to dwell among the Ir­ish in Pla­cen­tia Bay.

I also knew tan­sies be­cause I’d seen hun­dreds of them when I was a rub­ber-booted bay boy. But, you know what? I could never jig one of those wig­gly lit­tle bug­gers. Pause for re­search. Ad­mit­tedly, I knew what a tansy was, but I didn’t know what it re­ally was. Shame on me, I don’t have a copy of the Dic­tionary of New­found­land English, so I darted over to Mr. Google’s house and searched through his book­shelves un­til I found his copy. There I learned that a tansy is ac­tu­ally a rock gun­nel.

Rock gun­nel? Some­thing else I didn’t know. But you learn some­thing ev­ery day, eh b’ys?

OK, enough about what a rich learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence “The Won­der­ful Dog­fish Racket” was for this erst­while bay boy.

This book tells the story of the time the dog­fish came to Cross-Handed Cove in shoals so thick that they re­sem­bled a bib­li­cal plague. The fisher folks whose liveli­hoods were on the verge of be­ing de­stroyed feared the in­fes­ta­tion was pun­ish­ment for their wicked ways: “Folks looked to the heav­ens and blamed it on sin.”

De­spite a gov­ern­ment bounty placed on dog­fish, dead fish piled up ev­ery­where: “on bawns, on boul­ders; the jib-spots, the lanes.” There they spoiled: “they reeked of the gurry and leaked rot­ten oil.”

And must have stunk out the whole cove, as badly as, or worse than, the car­casses of a pod of gull-pecked pot­head whales that once drove ashore and rot­ted on the beach of my bay boy abode back in the days when I had nary a no­tion about dog­fish phys­i­ol­ogy.

Con­di­tions in Cross-Handed Cove be­came so aw­ful that “The charmer ap­peared in her brack­ety shawl.” Charmer? Not a beau­ti­ful woman, all charm­ing and nice, but an old crone bet­ter known for putting away warts than sweet-talk­ing the pop­u­lace.

Let’s al­low the dog­fish to go mag­goty and hold the page on Tom Dawe’s poetry for a spell and have a look at the pic­tures that are the story’s back­drop.

C. Anne MacLeod is the il­lus­tra­tor. Some­times her il­lus­tra­tions are haunt­ing; some­times they are down­right macabre.

An aside: Mr. Pen­ny­well, I wish you had num­bered the pages in this book. It would have saved me some count­ing.

The illustration on pages 11— 12, by my count, is haunt­ing. Two fig­ures wear­ing their long-johns or, per­haps, grave clothes, wave farewell to tar-black shadow boats sail­ing away on waters filled with tar-black shadow dor­sal fins, like a flotilla em­bark­ing across the River Styx.

My favourite illustration is on page 15: A goat- eyed skeleton drool­ing a sin­gle drop of blood ca­vorts in the fore­ground, ap­par­ently scar­ing the be­jab­bers out of a scream­ing fam­ily of four. The bawls of fright stretch their mouths like that buddy in Ed­vard Munch’s iconic paint­ing: The Scream.

If pre­sented ef­fec­tively, baby-sit­ters could use The Won­der­ful Dog­fish Racket to scare the day­lights out of their ob­nox­ious charges. You know I’m jok­ing, eh b’ys? The Won­der­ful Dog­fish Racket is a jim­dandy book but if I were read­ing it to my grand­daugh­ters I wouldn’t be able to re­sist dis­gust­ing them a wee bit by em­pha­sis­ing the sink of mag­gots and gurry and rot­ting dog­fish “peas­ing through loose win­dow panes.” I sim­ply wouldn’t be able. Thank you for read­ing.

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