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`Did you sell Blossom?' `Eyah.'

THIS is the year of the cauliflower, and so far it has been a good year, although there was a pang when Harold retired. Harold is my lobster-catcher friend who permits me to ``go haul'' with him now and then, a privilege indeed, but I will never do that again, because Harold up and sold his boat. Blossom was a good craft, built to handle the down-Maine oddities of Muscongus Bay, and Harold fished pretty far down -- outside the islands into the open ocean. Harold's was the second retirement that engaged me this season. The first was a routine disjunction in the usual manner -- big dinner with all the friends, speeches, and the corporate gift of a watch. Why a watch? You have nothing to do tomorrow, who cares what time it is? But on the other hand, how does a lobsterman retire? He's never had a ``job,'' and every lobsterman on the Maine coast will tell you he favors lobstering above all other trades and professions because there's no boss.

Harold simply sold Blossom, and there was no party, no speech, no watch, and almost no word. He didn't tell me, and I had to hear it from Sumner Carlson, who said, ``Harold sold Blossom.'' ``Did you sell Blossom?'' I asked Harold, and he said, ``Eyah.''

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Over the years it was interesting to see Harold shift from the old-time wooden lobster traps to the new-day wire-mesh traps with plastic coating. The first time I ``went to haul'' with him, he had only wooden traps, made from oak, and he was still dubious about a change. For a long time fishermen resisted the wire traps, partly because Maine fishermen resist change anyway. Harold was less ``sot'' in his ways, and tried the wire traps with open mind. All in all, it seems there isn't that much difference, and plus and minus one way is offset by plus and minus the other. They ``fish'' about the same.

It shakes you to think that in the old days, even when Harold was younger, the great water-soaked oaken traps got hauled hand over hand by sheer muscle. True, underwater they cried ``Eureka!'' and came up fairly handily, 30 or 40 fathoms of line, until they ``breached'' and lost the buoyancy that comes from submersion. After the old-time lobsterman had hauled his day's ``gang'' he was ready for a hot supper and the feathers. But after motors put oars and sails out of business, the power winch did the hauling, and dead weight of water-soaked oak was no longer that much strain.

Harold told me a new wooden trap has to be soaked before it will catch lobsters -- as if green oak isn't heavy enough anyway. He says the new wood ``boils'' when it is set down on the ocean floor -- air escapes from the pores of the wood as seawater intrudes, and for several days the trap will make bubbles that scare the lobsters away. No such thing with wire traps. So last year Harold completed his shift from all wooden to all wire traps, and I was planning to go down the bay with him one fine morning and round things out.

None of the fishermen made the shift all at once. Old wooden traps were patched and kept in fishing condition, but when one was ready for the dump (or to sell to tourists!), it would be replaced by the metal. And the rate at which old traps were replaced depended a lot on the weather -- if a severe storm stirred up Ol' Ocean and damaged a lot of traps, a lot of traps had to be replaced. Harold's last few years in Blossom were kind about that, so he shifted over more slowly than some others. Yes, his traps went with the boat; he retired from lob'strin' all the way.

So Harold came around one morning with 386,924,690,554,342 cauliflower seedlings in a flat, and wanted me to show him how to transplant them so they'd grow on and be ready to set out in his garden come warm weather.

``Didn't know if they'd come or not, they was old seed left over, so I dumped 'em all in to make sure.'' They all came. This is the year of the cauliflower, and we have every last plant growing nicely in its own little pot. Harold has some ground ready and at any moment will start transplanting in rows. He quotes the old saw that The Devil finds work for idle hands, and says he plans to keep out of trouble.

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