The Working Waterfront

Waiting with ‘baited’ breath

Monhegan’s ‘Trap Day’ an apt introduction to island life

Dan Debord
Posted 2018-11-13
Last Modified 2018-11-13

Reflections is written by Island Fellows, recent college grads who do community service work on Maine islands and in remote coastal communities through the Island Institute, publisher of The Working Waterfront.

By Dan Debord

First, there was the early morning wakeup, lying in bed, wide-awake with anticipation, for an hour until the alarm clock finally signaled that it was time to go. Then there was the smell of coffee filling the dark, silent house as I bundled up in preparation for some combination of cold, wind, and rain.

Next came the exit of the house, the most delicate stage of the process. The screen door always seems to squeak just a bit louder before dawn, and this time was no different. I knew my chances of sneaking around the path past the neighbors’ houses without drawing some barks from at least one confused dog were slim, and, unsurprisingly, the attempt was unsuccessful.

But finally, I was off on the journey through the darkness, with only the stray flashlight bobbing in the distance or an occasional old truck passing by to hint that anything else might be going on in the world outside.

This was how I began my first “Trap Day” on Monhegan, the opening day of the lobster season for the island’s fishermen. Only a month into my fellowship on the island, the event was a perfect introduction to the special nature of Monhegan’s community. It was impressive in its own right to watch all of the lobstermen work so efficiently to load traps onto the boats, go out to set them, and then come back to the wharf to do it all over again countless times throughout the day.

But what most stood out to me as a first-time participant was the degree to which the entire community took part in the process. Dozens of people of all ages helped lobstermen and their crews by carrying hundreds of traps to the boats, and the lobstermen in turn were encouraging of the community involvement, thankful for those who were helpful, and patient even with those of us who may not have been so helpful.

It was a unique experience to watch the community as a whole work together to kick off the new lobster season, and more special still to feel like I was a contributing part of it. Yet, in so many ways, it reminded me of another season opening holiday back home. 

As a kid growing up in the mountains of southwestern Virginia, it would have been almost impossible to miss out on the “holiday-like” atmosphere that surrounded the first day of deer hunting season. While this first day of the season was not an official school holiday by the time I reached school age, unofficially, the holiday continued to thrive.

On this first day, the classrooms were usually noticeably quiet, as many students traded in desks for deer stands. I would often go on one of the first few days of the season with my godfather, Jim, who was an excellent hunter and even better companion. While I was never a great shot, and, like lobstering, much preferred the fruits of the labor from someone more skilled at the job than myself, I loved these opening days. The combination of time with friends in a tight-knit community and time alone to reflect on the beauty of the surrounding nature made for an exciting day regardless of the results of the hunt.

The wakeup routine then was much the same as mine on Trap Day, but in place of gathering in a group on the town wharf, we gathered with the group in an old basement with a warm stove. Rather than fishermen heading out on their own via boat, hunters went out on their own on foot. And instead of waiting for the sun to rise over the water, we waited for the sun to rise over the hills. However, the highlight of the two opening days for me remained surprisingly the same—waiting with bated breath for sunrise and the unknown of the new day.

Dan Debord is working with the Monhegan community to bring high-speed broadband to the island and with the town assessors to set up municipal systems.