For all the Lobster in Maine
July 18, 2017
How much lobster is too much lobster? In Maine, the answer seems to be, there is no such thing. There, it is possible to eat a lobster roll for both lunch and dinner, to ceaselessly crack into the thick red hull of a crustaceous claw and swipe its soft, white meat through melted butter. You can cook your own live lobster, you can order it in chowders and stews, baked into pot pies, have it whole, halved, beheaded, even gnaw on frozen chunks nestled into butter-flavored ice cream – though I don’t know that it’s a combination I can recommend. You can have lobster any way you want it, and you can have it every day. And I did.
I love Maine, love its rolling mountains and crashing cold waves, the glacier-scraped rocks thick with barnacles and crushed shells, the way the low tide leaves vast patches of kelp exposed to the sun until the evening brings the salty water crashing up the shore. In late summer, I love the tenacious wild blueberry bushes full of tiny fruit that never hit the bottom of the bucket until the belly’s full, and the gentle, sweet smell of balsam fir that perfumes the forest and every Bar Harbor gift shop.
Our house in Maine was on a sound, and I’d wake in the mornings to sun streaming in the windows across the water. From the back deck, you could catch brief bright flashes of harbor seals’ heads as they flicked up out of the ocean in play. Once, we canoed out to where we saw them in the water, navigating close enough that we could make out each quivering whisker and their alert eyes, wet and black as midnight pools.
On the Fourth of July, we spent the day in Bar Harbor, staking down a small patch of green at the waterfront for first-row firework seats. Configurations came and went; we wandered in and out of all the small shops, ate lobster rolls on thick, buttered toast and huge, sweet scoops of blueberry ice cream, drank blueberry soda, and visited the brewery just three days old and still smelling of fresh paint. In the afternoon, a quick squall hit, and those of us on the blanket huddled under a fortress of dripping umbrellas, our reward a rainbow sinking into the sea. As soon as it was dark, the fireworks bloomed overhead, bright and beautiful in their patriotic booming.
There were those of us who went hiking and biking and adventuring, but I wanted nothing more than to sit in the sun on the deck, looking out over the ocean and watching the boats glide past. To read and reflect and gather small shells. To eat slice after slice of blueberry pie with hot coffee and meditate on the salty rocks.
Of course we had a lobster boil. We brought them home alive and writhing from the market, along with fresh oysters and a bag of clams, and whole corn in the husk. We made an onion tart and bruschetta, and cooked the clams in garlic and white wine until they eased open and gave themselves up for gone. The oysters, shucked briskly with a knife, were unbearably fresh, tasting like pure ocean with all its harshness honed away.
But those lobsters.
Lobsters are surprisingly heavy, and when you hold their bodies in your hands, it’s just those hefty, hammering claws that make them bearable to look at. Without them, they’d seem just like thick, ugly bugs, too skittish and gruesome to want to eat. And still, it doesn’t seem like a fair fight, their fists tied up in rubber bands. Killing lobsters isn’t the nicest task; you feel so much more complicit in their deaths when just before you placed them in the pot to boil, you held them alive and squirming in your hands.
And still, when they arrived from the kitchen lobster-red and steaming, there was a collective sigh from the table, a brief reverent silence punctured by the crunch of claws in the metal teeth of a cracker before the noise rose up again, and we compared techniques, passed around the charred sweet corn, poured another glass of wine.
It was a late dinner, and the mosquitoes were always fiercest at dusk. As the butter slowly congealed in the cooling evening air and the dipping sun had long since painted the ocean in orange and purples, we cleared the plates and lobster husks, empty glasses and clam shells, and in the warm wooden warmth of inside, finished off the blueberry pie.