Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Nature's Pantry

I grew up in a small town near the Gulf of Mexico, one generation removed from the piney woods of east Texas. There were plenty of places to fish, pick dewberries and gather pecans; I still know of a few spots where I can accomplish all three activities without walking more than fifty feet. Almost everyone I grew up with shares a similar skill set and I'm willing to bet that so far, none of us has yet starved to death.

My wife, a Minnesota girl, has never been crabbing. This came up earlier today when we shelled out ten bucks for a pound of snow crab legs at the supermarket. It shamed me a little, reminding me of how far removed I've become from the food I eat. Degree of difficulty is no excuse. Comedians like to point out that fishing is barely a sport. Crabbing is easier. One of the first things I remember being able to out-smart were blue crabs, and as I think about it now I realize that besides being a great excuse to get outdoors, crabbing offers up a neat little life lesson, as the greed of the crab and the patience of the angler are both required to have a successful outing.

Chicken necks are the bait of choice for most recreational crabbers; we'd tie these to a piece of string and wait for it to twitch. Once we felt that little bit of pressure on the other end of the line, we'd slowly pull the string out of the water, until we could see the crab emerge from the murky depths below. The crab's appearance was our cue to stealthily move the net behind the crab, out of its field of vision so as not to spook it, and then into the ice chest it went. This method works because crabs are gluttonous little crustaceans, and will not let go of a tasty morsel until their beady insectile eyes register an imminent threat.

Of course, now it's a good idea to check water quality levels before availing yourself of nature's bounty. Around the time that I was putting my first organic garden to bed, one of my little brothers was fishing in the canal behind our house. One of the refineries discharged something into the water, and moments later every fish in the canal simultaneously floated belly up. "Well," my brother thought, "I guess I won't be fishing here anymore."

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