This is the first installment of a two-part story for children. The second half will appear in next week’s Herald Gazette.

 

Ten-year-old Kevin was up in Salty’s bow. His life jacket cushioned his chest as he leaned against the gunwale so he could peer over the side and watch the bow wave flow along the skiff’s hull. The outboard motor moved the small boat at a fast clip. Seagulls flew overhead, anticipating a feed. It was a warm summer morning in Maine.

Charlie Pepper and his son headed out to Charlie’s lobsterboat, moored in Wheeler Bay. Like his father, Charlie was a lobsterman. Ever since he was a young man, he had fished the waters around the southern entrance to the Mussel Ridge Channel. In the beginning, he had worked as a stern man; and finally he was able to get his own boat. When Charlie was an infant, he had little hair on his bald head. Finally his hair began to grow in and it was the color of fire. Ever since he could remember, Charlie had been known as “Red” because of the color of his hair.

Charlie’s hair was turning gray now, but there were freckles on his face and arms that fair skinned men have. When Charlie went to sea, he always wore a cap with a visor to shade his face from the sun; and he always wore long sleeved shirts to protect his arms. Even when the weather was misty, there were still enough sun rays to give him sunburn.

Kevin could swim like a fish, but Kevin’s mother always insisted that he wear a life jacket when out on the water. “Sarah!” Charlie protested, “no lobsterman wears a jacket when the sea is calm. It gets in the way.”

“I don’t care,” she replied. “Kevin may swim like a mackerel, but I don’t want him being food for ‘em.”

Charlie respected his wife and so Kevin wore a life jacket. Besides, he knew Sarah was right.

Ahead, tied to its mooring, lay Charlie’s pride, Pepper Grinder. He had bought the boat, which was not new, a while ago, and although it was seaworthy, Charlie had spent a lot of time and money putting it just the way he wanted.

He was going to name the boat the Sarah P, to honor his wife, but Sarah had other ideas. At breakfast one morning, while salting and peppering his eggs, Charlie remarked, “Yes, I think it should be called the Sarah P.”

“No,” Sarah said firmly. “Not after me. It is your boat. You have worked for it all your life and it is part of you.” After a moment, she added, “I think you may be holding its name in your left hand right now.”

Charlie looked at his hand and frowned slightly. “The pepper grinder?” A slight smile crossed his face. “Do you really think so?”

“Yes,” replied Sarah, as she refilled his coffee mug.

“Hmmmm,” said Charlie. “I guess that settles that!”

Ever since that day, everyone around Wheeler Bay knew how Red Pepper’s wife had named his boat.

As Charlie headed toward Pepper Grinder, he saw an osprey winging across the bay.

“That darned fish hawk’s back again!” he exclaimed. “I thought I would be rid of him. Hope he don’t try to build a nest on top of my wheel house agin’ — like he tried to last year. That bird kept me busy cleanin’ up after him all spring. I got enough on my hands: fishin’ and providin’ for you and your mother. I don’t need no fish hawk trying to foul up ol’ Pepper Grinder again this year. He can fish and provide for his missus and their chicks somewhere else — and leave my boat alone. I’ve had enough of him! Let him find some other boat – or somewhere else for his nest.

“Dad,” Kevin hesitated, sensing his father’s annoyance. “In our science class, Mrs. Clark told us about ospreys. She said they like their nests out over the water. The mother bird sits on the eggs and the father fishes and brings his catch back to their nest. After the chicks hatch, he feeds the mother and their young chicks too. It’s sort of like you do for Mom and me. Although now that I am bigger, I can help with the fishin’ too.”

“I know, Kevin, fish hawks are good parents; but I wish he didn’t have to mess up my boat with his nest. There are plenty of large rocks in the water and trees along the shore. He could use them instead.”

“But Mrs. Clark said they like it open all around and the nest up high. That’s why they like boats. She told us a story about a man up in Rockland Harbor who had a fish hawk problem with his boat. The only way he finally got rid of the bird was to build a platform just off shore and away from his boat. He then took the sticks that the osprey had placed on his wheelhouse roof and put them on top of the platform. She said the osprey accepted the man’s work and moved over to the platform.”

Kevin’s father thought about that as they came around the aft end of Pepper Grinder. He grabbed the gunwale with his hand while his son climbed aboard, carrying the skiff’s bow line with him. Kevin secured the line to the starboard cleat on Pepper‘s stern and Charlie shut down the outboard.

He was fiercely proud of his son. Kevin was eager to learn and had energy and intelligence. Even though Charlie knew that Kevin wanted to be a lobsterman (and that made Charlie mighty proud), he thought Kevin could really make something of himself if he stuck to his schooling. Not that lobstering wasn’t something; but Charlie had great hopes for his son.

Charlie handed Kevin their lunch buckets and then climbed into Pepper Grinder. He released Salty‘s line from the cleat and started walking forward to tie it to the mooring line at the bow. As he passed the wheelhouse, he saw the tell-tale sticks of an osprey’s plan to use the top of the structure as a site for its new nest.

“Dog-gone that bird!” Charlie bellowed. “He’s come back to haunt me again. Kevin, son, climb up there and throw those sticks overboard. No fish hawk is gonna make a nursery out o’ my boat.”

Kevin did as he was told, but he felt a little sorry for the osprey. After all, the bird was just trying to be a good father, like his own dad. He looked up as he heard the piercing shriek of the osprey, witnessing the destruction of its nest.

Charlie grumbled as he tied Salty to the mooring and then walked aft to check his boat to make sure that all was ready to go to sea.

“Kevin, make sure you stow the lunch pails properly. We’ll get awful hungry if anything happens to them.” He started Pepper‘s engine. It caught immediately.

“Cast us off, son. Let’s go see what’s in the traps for us this mornin’. Hope my luck is good today. Now that summer’s here, the price at the co-op is up and demand is high. Sure would be good to take advantage of it.”

Kevin went forward and released the mooring line and dropped it into the water.

“Danged fish hawk!” Charlie turned away from the mooring ball and gradually eased the throttle forward. Pepper Grinder responded and gradually climbed up on its bow wave as the lobsterman and his son left the harbor. It was a beautiful day and both looked forward to their fishing.

“‘Red,’ you did OK today,” said Ed Brown. (Ed ran the wharf for the co-op and supervised the counting and weighing of the lobsters.)

“Yes, we did, Mr. Brown,” beamed Kevin. “Even got me a lot o’ crabs from the pots. I am going to take them home so Mom can pick ‘em. I’ll give her a hand if she’ll let me, but she always says I am too slow. She can do three for each one of mine.”

“What’re you gonna do with the crab meat, Kevin?” Ed asked.

“Well, Mom lets me sell it. She gets half of the money since she can work faster than me.”

“Well, if you need another market, let me know.”

“Gee thanks, Mr. Brown,” Kevin replied. “I’ll tell my mom.” He and his father climbed back on board and headed Pepper Grinder toward its mooring.

“Dad, Mr. Brown sure is a nice guy, isn’t he.”

“Son, I’ve known Ed Brown since we were boys. Not a dishonest bone in his body and he enjoys a good joke too – now and then.”

Next morning after breakfast, Sarah hustled her men along to get them out onto the water. “Better take your rain gear,” she said. “Weather’s changin’ today. Supposed to have rain this afternoon. Wind’s startin’ to pick up a little.”

“Already got ‘em,” Charlie said as he and Kevin headed out the back door. They grabbed their rain gear off the pegs. “Kevin, you got the lunch pails?”

“Got ‘em, Dad.”

“You boys better put those pails on ice today. I got a surprise in there for you. Don’t want ‘em to go bad.”

“What is it, Mom?”

“You’ll find out, Kevin,” his mother answered. “Charlie, make sure Kevin stays dry if it starts to rain.”

“Mom, I can take care of myself,” Kevin responded indignantly.

As they walked down the gravel path to the truck, Charlie said, “Kevin, you’ll always be your mother’s boy you know. Don’t be too hard on her for worryin’ about ya.” They climbed into the truck.

“When I get older, I’m goin’ to have a truck like this,” Kevin stated emphatically. “Only it’ll be red.”

“Don’t you think you oughta get a dog first,” Charlie said with a smile in his voice, “so that you will have somethin’ proper to ride along side ya? Least ‘til you get married and have a son of your own?” After a moment he ventured, “What do ya suppose Mother put in our lunch buckets?” Neither could stand the suspense. “Why don’t ya have a look, Kevin?”

Kevin looked into his bucket and shouted, “Crab meat sandwiches!”

“You bet we’ll put them pails on ice,” his father answered. “Better pick up a couple extra blocks at the co-op before we leave. Now, do you forgive your mother’s concern about your welfare on the water? She’s mighty good to both o’ us.”

They arrived at the dock, parked the truck, picked up the ice and put their gear aboard Salty. The outboard caught on the first pull. “Cast her off, son.” Salty‘s motor whirred steadily and soon they drew near Pepper Grinder.

“Dad,” Kevin called from the bow. “I think our friend is back.”

“What friend, Kevin?” Then Charlie saw the osprey fly from the roof of Pepper‘s wheelhouse.

“Darn that bird! Why is he doin’ this to me? Kevin, what’s that story again about the man up in Rockland Harbor? You say he built a platform near the shore and the osprey set up housekeepin’ on it?”

“That’s what Mrs. Clark told us.”

They tied up to the stern of Pepper Grinder and unloaded the ice, their lunch pails and rain gear. “Hang the rain gear for’ard in the cabin, Kevin while I check the bait.”

Charlie held his breath as he lifted the lid on the barrel and peered inside. “Better get some more,” he muttered. “Gettin’ kind o’ low. Should o’ done it last night.” Sure glad that I’m not a lobster, he thought. The smell o’ their supper would sure ruin my appetite. Maybe lobsters don’t have a sense of smell like we do. That’d explain it.

“Kevin, we gotta go back to the dock and get some more herrin’ for the traps. Do me a favor son, and clean up the top o’ the wheel house again. That bird can sure make a mess o’ things.”

As the boat drew alongside the dock, Pete Sandwich, a follow lobsterman and longtime friend of Charlie, caught the end of the mooring line and tied it around a mooring post.

“Looks like ya got a new friend, ‘Red’? Or is he the same bird from last year?”

With a low chuckle in his voice, he added, “Sure glad he likes your boat and not mine. What’d you do? Put up a welcome sign? I heard there is an osprey nest over 200 years old on the rock at the entrance to Pulpit Harbor. When you’re ready to sell your boat, maybe you could get more for it if it came with a 200-year-old fish hawk nest atop the wheelhouse.”

“Give me a hand with the bait barrel, Pete, and lay off the jokes. That bird’s got me in a foul mood already, and the day ain’t yet begun. And you aren’t helpin’ neither!”

“Dad, I can help too,” said Kevin with a touch of irritation in his voice.

“I know you can, Kevin. It just will go faster if Pete gives us a hand too.”

“You sound like Mother,” Kevin answered, not quite mollified.

“Let’s not get huffy, son. We got a day’s work ahead of us.”

All three filled the bait barrel and winched it back aboard. Pete helped cast off and soon Charlie and his son were headed out to sea. Astern, Charlie could see the osprey flying around the bay looking for a place to build his nest.

“Would serve Pete right for the bird to pick his boat.” I’ll put up a welcome sign for him, he thought.