I’m a child and family documentary photographer in Oklahoma City obsessed with the connection of kinship. Every summer, my family escapes the heat and heads to the coast of Maine. It’s complete nostalgia to chase my nieces and nephew along the same beach I’ve been barefoot on since I was a newborn. Last summer, I photographed something completely different. Newborns have my heart, but these hard shell ‘keepah’s’ was a thrill!
Persephone (pronounced Per-seph-o-nee) was her name, and for Papa she was more than a boat. That 34′ Wilbur signified summer, friends, and family for him.
I can still pull up the memory of his white scruffy face, a small but grand smile growing behind his beard, stretching wide as he captained multiple generations along the coast, showing us the beauty of Maine from the ocean’s point of view.
We’d sit in the trunk cabin of Papa’s lobster boat, rocking with the waves, and point out our favorite colored buoys as he navigated through the dark sea of bobbing colors. Every few minutes we’d find our new favorite color combo.
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It was all those summers of climbing aboard Persephone that grew my love for all things nautical: knots, charts, buoys, and boats. That, paired with my love for Maine, and our annual summer lobster feast made me hungry to experience life as a lobster woman.
For a full year, I talked about it.
Summer rolled around again and I was still talking about it, much like everything else on my bucket list. I happened to mention my obsession to my Maine friend and fellow photographer, Jamie Mercurio, who just so happened to be engaged to a 3rd generation lobsterman. When Lawrence offered up the opportunity to take me along? I couln’t help but respond: yes, Yes, YES!
Having zero clues about how the gig really worked and afraid of being a nuisance, I asked for my rules and regulations before boarding the boat. All Lawrence advised was “just watch out for the line, or you’ll go overboard.”
Mmmmmkay. I wondered, ‘Is this line, like, painted neon green? Do warning lights flash if I step on it? Sirens? Automatic dial to the U.S. Coastguard?’
My day was a fascinating blur as soon as I stepped into my orange oil pants (and steered clear of every rope on board). Few words were said over the roar of the diesel engine as we set off toward our first string of traps marked with Lawrence’s red and yellow striped buoy. I’d later learn that those buoys are more than pretty painted pieces of styrofoam. Under each bright, bobbing buoy lies a string of traps – sometimes 8 or 10 or more – with a string of bait in each trap.
The bait? Red fish and dead fish, that’s all I remember (and the smell, OH THE SMELL).
What was fascinating to me was no doubt monotonous to Lawrence and his deckhand, as sometimes 7 days a week, this was their office. At each buoy, they hauled the traps, handed us the “keepahs” to band, tossed the others, and re-baited the trap.
My favorite part?
The flying lobsters tossed for being too short to keep! Lawrence moved on as his deckhand prepped the trawl of traps by stacking them on the stern of the boat. After a push of the first one, like dominoes, the rest were pulled off the back of the boat, and THE rope whipped and unwound as the traps sunk swiftly to the bottom of the ocean.
Around 4:00pm, “we” hauled our last string – 32 in total – and Lawrence called it a day.
The guys remained at work on our way in, cleaning the deck and scrubbing the boat where nearly 300 traps hit as they were hauled. My exhaustion emerged as I rested against the stern, my face towards the sun, as we rode back into the harbor. For the guys, it was just another day of work on the water. However, I left looking like a true rookie – weary and worn out, yet completely in awe of the entire experience. The wharf weighed the day’s work and my time as a lobsterman came to a close.
By 8:00pm that night, my eyes finished their fight and I made my way upstairs and collapsed into bed. It rocked like I was still on the water, and before I drifted almost dizzily to sleep, Papa’s bearded smile and the memories made on Persephone flooded my thoughts. Though it was years later (and sadly far too late to include my Papa), I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to document this memory for myself and for whoever has the privilege of inheriting these photos.
Who knew such a great adventure lay just beneath all of those colorful buoys?
Writing and photography from Laura Ashcraft.
About Laura Ashcraft: I’m the gal behind all the words and photos at Sunkissed & Free Photography. I’m a documentary photographer in Oklahoma City with one intention: to preserve life, authentically. My eyes seek beauty and art in the ordinary because my heart feels how fleeting the years truly are. I’m married to my best friend, still stupidly in love, and anticipating the start of my own family. I run on Dunkin coffee, CAN NOT say no to a cookie (I don’t even try anymore), and despite my best effort, I always fall asleep mid-movie. My pursuit to happiness? Life’s too short to be serious, so I’m not done being a kid.