The Downeaster Alexa

I recently took my son on a rainy day to watch his Grampy’s boat get launched. For my boy the sun rises and sets on his grandfather, and nothing is cooler than being on Grampy’s boat. Back in November I wrote a post that among other things talked about my lost access to a commercial fishery here in the Northeast and the impact it has had on my life. I am still able to work in the industry on a part time basis by going with my father, but it kills me that I am no longer allowed to fish myself.

Over the course of a long winter I can sometimes forget just how important being on the water is. There is typically a six or seven month stretch where I don’t get aboard a boat and it always amazes me how it feels when I can get back out there. This year was even better, or worse depending on your perspective. Spending the day on the boat with my son, and knowing that I could not give him all the experiences in the fishery that he is so excited about hurt. I am thankful that his grandfather is around and will be able to provide him with these experiences, and of course I will be part of that. Being on the ocean is the same as life to me. There is something about that cant be explained. The sounds, the smells, the easy motion of the boat itself all adds up to a feeling of peace somehwere deep inside me.

Up here in the woods where beauty is our biggest natural resource the communities with waterfront are changing rapidly. I am from an island and property values are way too high for most local folks. Most people my age can only stay if their families own enough land that they can be given a piece to build on. Of course the result of high property value is high property tax. It is hard to find traditional activities on the waterfronts anymore because nobody local can afford to be there. I so badly want to be part of preserving that tradition, but without fishing I simply cannot.

For years I have had the Billy Joel tune “The Downeaster Alexa” in my iTunes. I heard and related to the hardship it describes, but recently I have really felt the meaning. Despite the references to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket the song was written about fisherman on the eastern edge of Long Island Sound,  that said the struggles described are common to the fishing industry in the northeast. The final line goes:

“I was a Bay Man like my father was before. Cant make a living as a Bay Man anymore. There aint much future for a man who works the sea, but there aint not island left for Islanders like me.”

The words echo in my head.

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3 thoughts on “The Downeaster Alexa

  1. I read this earlier, and then I had to race out the door. I thought about it. I wondered if there might be anything I could say. I wasn’t sure. Sometimes all I can do is nod my head and acknowledge that your experience of life, your environment, the yearning within you not only to pass on a legacy to your boy but also to share your experiences with him is touching, meaningful, relevant, and powerful. Your observation, for lack of a better word, that you may not be able to live on the land where you’re from and continue to pass on this heritage to your son–what feels like a birthright–because of the financial factors is riddled with injustice to me. You rightly point out that others walk this road. This injustice and grief is rampant in your region, it seems. So, if I were there, sitting with you in a café, I think I would listen and nod, and lean in, and listen harder. Because this is worth sharing, and it’s valid. And I’m glad you put it out there. And, for what it’s worth, I’m so glad your son has a grandfather who loves him. That’s worth more than all the salt in the ocean. I do know what it means to fight to pass on a legacy that’s worth something…That part? I do get.

    This is a good post, C.

    • Thanks for commenting. This problem has created a great deal of uncertainty over the past few years, but will play itself out for better or worse over the coming months. By this time next year with any luck there will be some sort of resolution.

      • I really hope so, wanting resolution and peace for you and your family. Well, and an opportunity to prosper wherever you land.

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