Feeling Crabby?

Stitching its way through the fabric of my world, Clear Creek draws together water and sky, grasses and trees into patterns of exquisite beauty. Traversing coastal Texas on an oft-hidden journey toward Clear Lake, its tangled flow provides a miles-long haven for wildlife and birds. Emerging from the lake, it tautens and slows, rising and falling in rhythm with inland-creeping tides until it eases into the open waters of the bay, diluting the ocean’s salty tang with the freshness of earthborn water.

Dredged into a channel at the entrance to Galveston Bay, the creek sometimes seems little more than a prop, a backdrop for tourist snapshots and Chamber of Commerce brochures. Nearly hidden behind a facade of interchangeable restaurants and bars, it no longer tastes of life on the water but feeds a growing appetite for profit. Weekend boat traffic is heavy. The boaters themselves tend to become loud and boisterous, demanding attention as they cruise past envious, land-locked crowds.  Tossing popcorn and bread to equally raucous gulls, weekend visitors miss the silent tern, the motionless heron, the patient grebe, watching and waiting for them all to be gone.

During the week, the creek and its inhabitants return to more natural rhythms. On a low tide, exposed rocks provide a perch for black and yellow-crowned night herons, green herons, a variety of egrets. Mallards and pintails float about, accompanied by the occasional coot.  In every season, cormorants croak and dive. In winter, mergansers and loons accompany the flight of so-called “snowbirds”, that regular migration of human sun-seekers from northern states. Each summer brings a new flock of children to the water’s edge, confident and wide-eyed, learning to navigate in a larger world.

Always there are the fishermen – trolling, anchoring, casting for trout or walking the walls in hopes of scaring up flounder.  Sport fishers top off at the fuel dock while the occasional kayaker passes by.  In season, they’re joined by crabbers and shrimpers, working folk with schedules and routines.  From my docks, I watch them make their rounds – emptying traps, rebaiting, returning them to the water.

There’s nothing fancy about a crabber.  Like shrimpers, they work hard and their profit margin is small.  Their boats aren’t pretty and they don’t always have the best formal education, but they’re good people, part of a less-pretentious waterfront world tourists rarely see.

Because they have routines and favorite spots for setting their traps, I’ve come to know a few – one or two by name,  most by sight.  We share  the simple friendliness of neighbors – a wave, a greeting across the water, a question about weather or catch.  I think about them a lot, and the similarities of our lives.  We spend our days on the water, or at its edge.  Our work is repetitive, our dependence on weather absolute, and some of our best friends are birds. Beyond that, we tend to love a good story.

Fishermen are among the world’s best story-tellers.  Happen upon a group of them lunching at local cafes or gathered at any of the tiny, barnacle-like watering holes that cling to the water’s edge, and you’ll hear them swapping tales not only about “the one that got away” but also about crimes of passion, washed-up bodies and foundered boats.  Some stories take on a life of their own and appear in cultures as widely separated as those of India, Portugal and the Conch Republic.  One of my favorites involves a crabber and his catch.  I’ve heard it told by Texans and Floridians, but this version was set in Cuba.

Day after day, a foreigner visiting Cuba watched a crab fisherman ply his trade.   His routine was ordinary and predictable.  Each day he rowed to his pots, emptied them into the boat and then returned them to the water, hoping for another good catch.
However ordinary his routine, his traps were extraordinary.  They were missing a top, necessary to contain the crabs.  Bemused by this topless crab trap and curious how such a trap could keep crabs from escaping, the visitor finally questioned the fisherman. “You caught many crabs today,” he said.  The old man agreed.  “I’ve been all over the world,” the visitor said,  “but I’ve never seen a fisherman use a trap without a top.   How does your trap work?  With no top, how do you keep the crabs inside?”
“I need no top on my crab trap,” the old man explained with a smile.  “These are Cuban crabs.” The befuddled visitor seemed not to understand.  “Cuban crabs?”, he asked.   “Yes,” replied the old man. “Cuban crabs. When one crab tries to climb out of the trap, the rest pull him back in.”

No matter the version, my first response to the tale of the-crab-who-tried-to-escape always is laughter.  I can’t help it – the image of those crabs tugging away at the legs of their struggling compatriot is funny. In a Cuban context, political implications temper the humor a bit, and the thought that anyone inside a dictatorship would try to prevent others from escaping is distressing. Still, it happens – no doubt a reason for the popularity of the story.

Recently, however, I’ve been thinking about the story in an even larger context.  We live in a world where negativity, pessimism, jealousy and anger are powerful forces. They breed resignation and apathy, not to mention a sense that nothing we do can make a difference in our world.  Disappointed by life, we risk bitterness. Criticized unfairly, we begin to judge others unfairly.  Stung by ridicule, we diminish those around us in order to inflate our own egos.

Convinced that change is impossible, unconvinced of our own strength and ignorant of the possibilities available to us, we choose to live our lives as though we’ve been trapped in a basket.  Boundaries and routines can become comfortable, after all, particularly when we’ve been trained to fear the world outside and simple laziness keeps us from struggling away from those who would pull us back.  Whatever the reason, it’s easy enough to assume the wiser course is to accept the trap, rather than risk life or limb in the dash toward a different life.

It’s hardly surprising that life in a trap creates crabby people – folks intent on keeping everyone else in the pot with them.  Every crab knows the newly-discovered freedom of even a single escapee would directly challenge easy rationalizations for staying in the trap. Knowing that, some use any means necessary to keep others from making a run for it.

Still, the urge to move beyond the constricted world of the trap can be strong.  Surrounded and discouraged by those who prefer entrapment, some still scrabble toward freedom, and some succeed.  Amusing as the story of the self-defeating crabs may be, it’s a necessary reminder that there isn’t a top on the crab traps of life. We may lose a leg in the struggle to get out, but we don’t have to stay in the basket.

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Published in: on September 1, 2012 at 12:26 am  Comments (83)  
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  1. Fantastically thought-provoking post – thank you!

    • Julie,

      Glad you enjoyed it. Keep climbing!

      Linda

  2. Great post!! There’s probably not one person that reads it that cannot identify with it on some level. I can. Just need to try and escape harder when I feel the tug.

    Thanks!

    • weatherspectrum,

      I’m sure everyone’s had the experience. The last two or three years of my mom’s life she was terrified something was going to happen to me, leaving her alone. It got to the point that leaving for a week – or even a weekend, or a night out – made me feel like one of those crabs trying to escape. I understood her feelings perfectly well, but it didn’t make it any easier.

      Glad you enjoyed the post!

      Linda

  3. Hi Linda:

    Yep, human nature is entwined with kindness and cruelty just like your story of the Cuban crabs and the topless basket. In a certain way, your story reminded me of the movie, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” written by Richard Bach, who took the courage to fly away to explore new worlds and came back to tell his story.

    Both stories are very inspiring and thought provoking. Fortunately, not all of us are Cuban crabs. Some struggle to claw their way out of the trap and change the world, (e.g., Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein to name a few.)

    Kind Regards,

    Omar.-

    • Omar,

      Yes, some change the world – but all of us have the ability to change our personal worlds! I mentioned one of my crab-like experiences just above, and after reading your posts for so many months, I suspect you’ve had similar experiences. No one is as successful in business as you’ve been without someone lurking around to say, “You’ll never make it! It won’t work! You’re on the path to disaster!”

      In any event, on we go. I haven’t re-read Bach’s book in ages. I may do that this weekend. Thanks for the reminder!

      Linda

    • And here’s a strange coincidence from September 1:

      Author Richard Bach Injured in Plane Crash

      • Thanks, Steve. Such a shame.

  4. blu would like to thank you for explaining the marks on my feet.

    It might not be a terrible thing to find the path always leads you back.

    The terrible thing is not knowing the path.

    Isaac is visiting. I believe this stuff is rain.

    • blu,

      The way I figure it, if I’m at the bottom of the basket, the right path is up. Which side of the basket doesn’t much matter. I’ll share my band-aids, though. ;)

      I always thought you were in Minnesota, but if you’ve got Isaac, you’re doing your fishing a little closer to the bayou than I thought. You may need the rain, too. I hope he’s kind to you.

      Linda

  5. Such a fresh expression of the proverbial “misery loves company.”

    Another reflection on people/things Cuban, Linda. Thank you again for this. it’s a great story, simple yet thought provoking on so many levels. I look forward to sharing it with my brother in particular, who loves a good story. He also is the one of us who grew up in the Clear Lake area spending time at Armand Bayou, Kemah, Clear Lake and Taylor Lake. When we lived in Florida, we put out a crab trap at the beginning of the summer, but rest assured it had a top.

    It makes me think too, about your memorable cactus. Just when you think that’s all it will put out, another layer of “hair” grows and grows.

    • Georgette,

      “Misery loves company”, indeed. Do you remember when Eric Berne updated it in his book “Games People Play”? He called the game “Ain’t It Awful”, and I’ll bet it gets played a lot in the bottom of that basket.

      Simplicity is such a gift, in story-telling as in life. From Jesus’ parables to Jewish story-telling to Aesop, big lessons get tucked into little words. I’ve always thought Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” might be rooted in this story of the cracked vessel. Like the tale of the crab pot, it’s a story that shows up in many cultures, and makes its point without need for interpretation.

      Armand Bayou is so wonderful. Have you ever taken the breakfast cruise they provide? It’s available nearly every weekend, and each trip down the Bayou is limited to eight people. I’m waiting for cooler weather and the arrival of the winter birds to do it again.

      You should see Godot! I repotted his sweet little self, and he’s nearly a foot tall now, gaining in circumference. I can’t think he was more than 3-4″ when I got him, but the right soil, water and sunshine have done their work. In a way, these stories we tell are part of the soil of our lives, too.

      Linda

  6. Linda, you are a WISE WOMAN. I feel like I should pull certain lines from this post and hang them up in my classroom this year, for both my students and myself. Such clear edicts against excuses.

    • Emily,

      If you find something of use here, feel free. I like the thought of you posting quotations in your classroom. My junior high teachers especially were given to plastering the walls with hortatory statements – whether they shaped us I can’t say, but I do remember they were there.

      Today, of course, the very word “hortatory” sounds old-fashioned and prim, but it’s a good one. I have a friend in England who taught for years, and I have the words that hung in her classroom made into a photo I printed, framed, and have next to my desk.

      “Enter this room with an open mind.
      Discipline yourself to listen carefully.
      Structure your work
      to show your thinking clearly.
      Remember it requires effort to learn
      and make progress.”

      Linda

      • There’s a surprisingly long entry for hortatory, complete with lots of usage examples (you can click “Next” six times), at

        http://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/hortatory

        I have the impression that the related verb exhort is more common.

        As for “Discipline yourself to listen carefully,” I’m afraid I was about 23 years old when I noticed—what took me so long?—that in conversations it was common for people to be waiting to jump in with their own follow-up rather than to pay attention to and think about what the previous person had just said. I wish there were more often some Cuban crabs around to pull such overeager jumpers back to the previous person’s comment and to give it due deference.

  7. HA! No one will ever accuse you of being the crab!
    Thoughtful post.

    We saw a bunch of baby skunks do something similar: herding into an open trap waiting for them. Those little stinkers – once the door slammed shut on the slow one, the others gathered around and tried to pull the bait food out the sides – totally ignored the little trapped one’s plaintive cries. Of course they ran off and left him ( but returned the next night for another run at the buffet)

    • phil,

      Oh, dear. Not much altruism there, huh? I’ve been to brunches where the same dynamic takes over. If there are only four cheese blintzes left and four people in line, are all those folks going to take one each, so each can have one? Occasionally – if the social pressure’s strong enough.

      I’ve never seen baby skunks, so I went to have a look. There’s some serious cute going on there. I do hope the babes were collected and taken to a nice, new home and not – uh – sent to the big woodlot in the sky. ;)

      Linda

  8. Brilliant! We don’t have to stay in the basket! I am trying to find my way out but hope I don’t lose a leg.

    • belle,

      Just remember – crabs have the ability to re-grow pinchers and legs if they’re not too damaged. Scuttle away – your injuries may not be permanent!

      Linda

  9. There is definitely a lot to chew on here (mmm – crab cakes!). But I’m so comfy here in the basket…

    • The Bug,

      Oh, gosh. Crab cakes. The only thing better is my favorite brunch dish from the Sunflower Bakery in Galveston – English muffin, lump crab meat, poached eggs and hollandaise. Yum!

      There’s one thing about being comfy in the basket – you’re not one of those harassing the other crabs, snipping at them while they try to get out. I think that gets you points, too. ;)

      Linda

  10. A beautiful description of Clear Creek, Linda, and the images are just beautiful. The website you’ve given a link to there has some interesting photos of the area. (Just a pity they don’t have them at a higher resolution.)

    I’d never heard of the Conch Republic before, and that Wikipedia article on it makes for some good reading.

    And finally, the crab story is amusing — until it’s implications are considered, as your have done here. A great little lesson to end, then!

    • Andrew,

      Have you ever been to Key West? or the Keys generally? My goodness – there’s some rich street photography to be done there! Beyond that, the beauty and history would delight you. Despite the tourists and the overlay of commercialization, real conchs can be found, and they’re among the most interesting people in the world. There’s an “old Florida” most people know nothing about – until my first trip to Florida, I imagined the state was nothing more than Disneyland, surrounded by beaches.

      That top photo was taken one morning when I went to work. The herons always leave such a mess on the dock at my “office”. ;)

      Isn’t the story of the crabs great? It has something to say to the “go-along-to-get-along” sorts, of course, but I like one of my friend’s interpreations, too. She says, “If you see daylight, head for it before someone slaps the lid back down.”

      Linda

  11. The analogy that you used is great and your point is well taken!

    • montucky,

      Thanks! I have to wonder – I’ve heard you wildflower folks mention invasive species so much, do you suppose plants, wildflowers and trees sometimes behave badly among themselves? ;)

      Linda

      • Probably, although I don’t know which among them would define bad or good behavior.

        • This is tangentially related. Sometime when you’ve got a few minutes, you might enjoy this essay on Plants in Pain. Meera’s a scientist and a writer, and not exactly “fringe-y”.

          • Thanks for that link! Fascinating! Actually, I would be the last to deny that plants would have the capacity to feel, or sense, or that they would have the ability to communicate. I know of no logic that would limit these things to humans or other members of the animal kingdom only.

      • I noticed an early statement in your Clear Creek link that there’s lots of exotic vegetation (like Chinese tallow trees) needing to be removed. That’s an example of species behaving badly, at least as native plant folks see the world.

        • Given the way they’ve taken over along most of the bayous (and drainage ditches, and ponds) I’d say they behave very badly, indeed. I have to confess my midwestern soul has some affection for them since they provide what little autumn color we have outside of purposefully planted trees in landscapes, and people like me probably have unwittingly contributed to their spread.

          Coincidence seems to be having its day around here, and just coincidentally, a couple of weeks ago on the radio Garden Line show, tallows became the subject of conversation. As it turns out, Ben Franklin isn’t the source for our Texas tallows – but federal agents who brought seeds into the county c.1900 are! You can see the story the station linked here. Yet another in a long list of unintended consequences.

          I did have to laugh when I noted they’re illegal now in Texas. I’m sure that means the selling of trees or seeds is illegal. Still, I can’t help imagining a posse of Texas Rangers surrounding a grove and saying “Put up your limbs! You’re all under arrest!”

  12. Linda, your post reminds me of something Arlo Guthrie often talks about. He points out scriptural figures such as the unnamed boy whose basket of barley loaves and few fish become the means through which Jesus feeds five thousand. If we lived in a perfect world, Arlo says, it would be impossible to do anything to make folks’ lives better. But in a world gone haywire, even the smallest gesture can make a big difference.

    • Charles,

      Dear Arlo – every now and then I still make reference to those 8×10 color glossy photos with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back… I feel sorry for people who missed Alice and her restaurant.

      But Arlo’s all grown up now, and he’s exactly right. It’s easy to dream of making the grand gesture, and so hard to commit to making the small.

      The story of the loaves and fishes is entwined with a wonderful childhood memory. I was in 5th grade, taking part in confirmation class. I’d developed serious doubts about how the multitude got fed, and somehow gathered the courage to talk to the pastor about it. He listened, then asked how I’d explain it. I told him I was sure there was enough food all the time, but Jesus made everyone feel generous and willing to share what they had with other people.

      He thought that one over for a minute and then asked, “Do you think making people more generous would be easier or harder than magically making more loaves and fishes appear?” That was easy – I was a kid, and I knew “selfish”. “Well,” he said. “Just remember. Changing peoples’ hearts is a miracle, too.”

      And I have remembered, all this time.

      Linda

  13. This is one of your best. Clear Creek and Clear Lake, familiar names. . .

    • WOL,

      Glad you enjoyed it. The landscape’s changed remarkably, even over the past ten or fifteen years, but it’s still possible to enjoy the water – especially if you get away from the straightaways that the jet skiers and feisty little motorboats love so much.

      Linda

  14. Although I live in Texas, my associations with Clear Lake are with the very different one in Iowa, where on a February night in 1959 a small plane crashed shortly after takeoff and killed three young musician passengers, the best known and most talented of whom was Buddy Holly:

    Buddy Holly Crash Site

    Surf Ballroom – Buddy Holly’s Last Gig

    • Steve,

      Because I grew up in Iowa and was thirteen when Buddy Holly died, it took me a long, long time to stop making those associations with my new Clear Lake – and I still have to do some explaining to folks for whom “Clear Lake” forever and always will mean Buddy Holly’s death. Of course, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper were part of our lives, too, and I wish we could have seen them develop.

      The times really were a-changin’ in those days. I found two videos that show it so well. In the first, Kathryn Murray introduces Holly and the Crickets on The Arthur Murray Dance Party, with an admonition to be open and accepting to these nice young people! As for the second – well, we were dancing fools in those days, and it was some of the best dance music around.

      Thanks for the links. I’ve never seen those huge glasses – how perfect!

      Linda

      • When we drove to Garner, Iowa, for a wedding five years ago, I made sure to do two music-related things. One was to visit the nearby Surf Ballroom, the last place that the rock and roll singers had played. The other, farther afield and in quite a different musical mode, was to visit Spillville, where Dvorak spent the summer of 1893.

        • When I think of Spillville, I think only of the Bily clocks and the Big Stone Mill, which was demolished about a year ago. Surely my folks and I went to the museum’s second floor on our several visits, to see the Dvorak exhibit – or perhaps not. It would be fun to go back.

          • We took in both exhibits, and each was enjoyable in its way. I second the motion to go back.

  15. Those crabs make the perfect analogy. I enjoyed your thoughts on this.

    After eating soft crabs for the past couple of days, I feel slightly guilty when I look at that basket of blue crabs… but not enough. :)

    • Bella,

      Don’t they, though? And I just was thinking this morning that circumstances sometimes can play the role of those snarky little critters trying to pull us back in. Just when we think we’ve made the top of the basket and are ready to run for home – BOOM! Back in we go.

      I can’t tell you how envious I am of your recent menu. Just remember – those crabs were fulfulling a higher purpose. ;)

      Linda

      • I’m back to correct my name. I thought it would be incorrect only here and only once, but it’s “Rumb” everywhere I go. I don’t know how any of this works. Color me clueless.

        • Well, at least you’re who you’re supposed to be this time. It could have been worse. They could have turned you into Bella Rhumba, or Bella Rhumbline.

  16. Very well said, as usual, Linda. I’ve been feeling crabby lately, but not because I’m afraid to leave the basket. I’ve gone way beyond the basket to find meaning, purpose, fulfillment, when all along, I probably should have found those things right here in the basket that is currently tugging me back down. Thanks for the beautiful insight and thought-provoking prose. Wendy

    • Wendy,

      But don’t forget – in this story, the basket isn’t home. It’s a trap, a prison, a place to keep and hold creatures that have been torn from their natural environment.

      From my own perspective, the trick isn’t heading back to the basket and jumping in – it’s returning to the basket and sticking a claw over to help a few more make it out.

      The basket’s just a basket, after all. There’s no room in it for the kind of community you watched with such longing from the docks in Houma. I knew exactly what you were talking about – and the appeal of strong, competent people in tune with the natural world facing a storm within community probably can’t fully be understood by those who’ve never experienced it.

      When I was living aboard and stayed aboard during storms that were just storms and not death-dealers, I used the word “cozy” a lot to describe the experience. That’s exactly the feeling your photo evoked. I’ve spend some time in the basket, too, and never felt very cozy there. ;)

      So glad you’re home and dry!

      Linda

  17. Excellent. Fun. Charming. I was born in a town just like that crab basket. It’s a very hard response to shake.

    And I really understand that weekend noise. Here, though, it’s calming down now.

    • Martha,

      Now that I think of it, my high school had a few things in common with that basket, too. And just to be honest about it, sometimes I was the one trying to drag down someone else. The hunger for approval in those teen years can be overwhelming.

      As for the weekend noise – now you know why the title of your blog attracted me when I saw it in Gerry’s sidebar. For the most part, we cope with the influx on the weekends, are glad people enjoy themselves and are quite aware that those dollars help the community. We learn how to avoid the traffic and which restaurants to avoid on the weekend. Still… Jimmy spoke for us all when he wrote this one.

      Linda

      • I can’t say that I tried to hold anyone back. I wanted them to leave. I was always happy to see my friends leave and get out of that place. They were always stunned at first, but appreciative that I could let them go. And when I left I was as cold as ice. Nothing was going to get in my way. Survival.

        Since I live south of all the hoo-ha in Door County I have seen very little of the tourist craziness. I used to live closer to it and work in it, but that’s over and I’m so glad.

        • And we’re glad for you!

  18. Once again you’ve engaged my brain and sensibilities in a curious cognitive (and affective) dissonance: I can relate both to the Cuban crab’s yearning to break free and to the sense of holding on to the traditional watermen’s way of life. Another fascinating and thought-provoking piece.

    • Hippie Cahier,

      Life is complex, no question. Our ability to imaginatively place ourselves in apparently contradictory positions is pretty interesting, too.

      One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about true watermen is that they tend not to behave like those crabs! They’re willing to help others, to work cooperatively rather than competitively, to share information that might help others work more effectively and profitably.

      It’s the same among the varnishers I know. I can’t tell you how many times I made or received the same phone call. It goes something like this: “I’ve got more work than I can handle just now. Do you need another job?” Sometimes, this call goes out: “I’ve suddenly got room in my schedule. If you could refer me to someone, I’d appreciate it.”

      To put it in the simplest terms, I lived too long in an environment where it was assumed one person’s success meant others had to fail. That’s just silliness. After all – every crab in that basket could get out if they tried. ;)

      Linda

  19. A lovely tale well told, and then came the sting . . . .

    Many of us are in a trap of our own making; equally, many of us believe that our trap is not only a safe place but the best place to be.

    Getting out would need courage and taking a closer look at what we are missing. It would mean opening our eyes to the ills of our world and doing something about them.

    Much easier to stay down and and comfy and disregard what else there is.

    • friko,

      You’ve stated it beautifully. I suppose one of the biggest difficulties we face is distinguishing a trap from “just life”.

      I don’t know how it is there, but in this country I might put debt-as-a-way-of-life at the top of the list of traps. One of the reasons our nation’s debt is utterly out of control is that we’re increasingly trained to accept life on a credit card and no longer hold to account those who do the same on a national level.

      When I go to any of the large chain stores, checkers ask, insistently, “Can we interest you in our store credit card?” When I say no and they continue insisting, I feel exactly like that crab trying to scrabble away.

      Your phrase “down and comfy” made me laugh. I first experienced a real featherbed in Dornhan, Germany. It looked about sixteen feet high, and when I finally got in and settled, I hardly could get out. In fact, it was so comfortable I was tempted the next morning not to get out, despite the adventures that awaited. It certainly proves your point – some of the worst traps in life can be the most comfortable!

      Linda

  20. Fascinating story, well told! I guess it’s like the fly in vinegar — he thinks everything is great until he finds a sweeter spot to linger. Some people seem to enjoy being trapped; sad, isn’t it?

    • Debbie,

      I’ve been trying to think whether I know anyone who enjoys being trapped. I’m not sure about that – but I certainly know a lot of people who enjoy complaining about feeling trapped! I confess – I’ve done it a time or two myself. Probably more.

      Sometimes people do get trapped, of course – by illness, economic hardship, circumstances of every kind. That’s when a little help can be so important.

      I learned something else from your comment. I didn’t realize that vinegar, especially balsamic or apple cider, is the best way to trap fruit flies. When I went to check on grandma’s old saying that we can catch more flies with honey than vinegar, that’s what I discovered. Who knew? I’ve finally got rid of my last batch, but if any show up again, I intend to bait their trap with vinegar!

      Linda

  21. I really can’t fathom how you do this, even though I read every line with the thought in mind. In a what some might call a folksy way, you take on the big themes of life, brilliantly. Wonderful post.

    • Susan,

      Little by little, I’m forming some convictions about what makes these entries “work” – at least to the extent that they do. I guess I’d say I try to make them (1) personal rather than confessional,(2) political rather than partisan, (3) simple rather than stupid, (4) fun rather than frivolous and (5) accessible rather than arcane.

      The fact that you and the others here take the time to comment is some indication that I might be on the right track. I surely do appreciate it – and I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

      Linda

      • On the right track? Oh, I’d say more than that–you’ve laid track that we would all do well to follow! (PS: I seem to have overcome my commenting issue, but of course all will change again when I go to the new platform tomorrow.)

        • Tomorrow?! Hoorah! Let me go find my high-heeled sneakers – this is an occasion!

  22. Oh, that Cuban crab story is distressing. We hear similar versions like the animal on a leash for long would not run away even when the leash is cut loose. Isn’t it true though, for us who live in our free society. We’re often leashed unto ourselves instead of restrained by government. Aren’t there many glass ceilings of limitations, or us being boxed in by popular views, norms and standards.

    You’re right, sometime behavior of other living creatures can be the best mirrors of ourselves. Coincidentally, my recent read, Life of Pi, shows me exactly that too. You’ll enjoy it.

    • Arti,

      You’ve made me think of another variation on this theme – what happens when, despite all the external encouragement in the world, we limit ourselves. There are times when every single crab in the basket is saying “Go for it!” and yet the one they’re encouraging huddles at the bottom saying, “Oh, I couldn’t possibly make it all the way to the top…”

      I think all of these “creature” stories, from Aesop’s fables to “Life of Pi” are so memorable and appealing at least in part because they allow us to step back and take a look at ourselves in a less threatening way. I still remember my mother explaining a selfish little friend to me by telling me the story of the dog in the manger. Of course, I also remember her using that as a way of pointing out I shouldn’t act the same way!

      Linda

  23. I hadn’t heard any versions of that crab story, but have read about how hard it is for kids in ghettos to break out when they have talent and skills.

    Your opening makes me want to experience Clear Creek’s charms on a quiet day.

    • nikkipolani,

      Your mention of the ghetto kids is exactly on point. Even when I was making my way through my little Iowa school, there were contradictory pressures that could make life difficult. On the one hand, we were told to study hard, excel and succeed. On the other, we “knew” that too much attention to studies might affect our “popularity”. It’s interesting to look back on it all now.

      You’d enjoy Clear Creek. Our area’s quite different from yours, but I suspect the love of the natural world and the desire to preserve it is just as strong.

      Linda

  24. Now, that is a crab story! I love the analogy of crab entrapment… indeed. :) And I so agree with your last paragraph. Some prefer to stay with the ‘crowd’ because of fear of the unknown and what is really out there. The stories of what is out there are just that… stories.

    Love Clear Creek! Oh my, how I would love to be by that many birds—and my favorite kind of birds too. Thank you for an enjoyable read and oh, that is a fantastic artsy photo of the crab being pulled back into the basket. :)

    • Anna,

      It’s hard not to fear the unknown, but we seem to be living in a time when purveyors of doom are intent on scaring us to death with stories that honestly should be “beyond belief”.

      In the days after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, while BP was trying to cap the well, there were plenty of folks I liked to call “profits of doom” trying to make a buck off tales of everything from a crack in the seabed that was releasing monsters into the ocean to a cascading series of disasters that would culminate in our overthrow by alien species. Some told their tales on youtube, bringing in a little cash from advertising. Others used blogs for the same purpose.

      Today, the story-tellers have shifted focus, but they’re still there. Sometimes they amuse me, sometimes they horrify me, but they certainly don’t scare me. ;)

      I think you must have some of the same birds there. I know I’ve seen the great blue herons in Missouri, and of course we share the geese because of their migrations. Some day, I’d love ot see the sandhill cranes, too. There’s one area fairly close to me where they’ll show up in winter, but it would be marvelous to see the huge flocks.

      That image of the crabs in the basket does have some of the same vibrancy as many of your images. No wonder you like it!

      Linda

  25. Linda,

    An inspirational post!

    As I’m not finding a job as soon as I would have liked, I’m keeping in mind something my therapist told me in NC when I was thinking about the financial uncertainties I would face starting over in NJ. She said I would be putting myself in a good position.

    If we know we’re unhappy in the trap, the best we can do is to position ourselves in a situation that shows possibilities and take it from there. I CERTAINly wasn’t happy in NC, and now I’m trying in NJ amid uncertainty.

    When my grandmother left an abusive home life (before it was called that) in Germany at age 16, arriving in New York with a trunk and an address, she was putting herself in a good position.

    Then, through hardships and luck and a lot of gumption and effort, she created a good life.

    The Arrival by Shaun Tan tells, I mean shows, the journey outside of the trap that we are all called to make.

    Claudia

    • Claudia,

      Well. I’d not heard of “The Arrival”, so the first thing I did was go searching. I found more than an Amazon synopsis – I found this entry with some illustrations and Shaun Tan’s own words contextualizing them. What an amazing project. It needs more time than I’ve given it now, but at least I understand why you shifted from “tells” to “shows”.

      I’ve been sitting here counting the times in my own life I’ve assessed the trap, re-positioned and “taken it from there” as you so neatly put it. I think you’re exactly right – putting ourselves in a good position is the necessary first step, and having nothing more than a trunk and an address isn’t the worst thing in the world. When you don’t know which direction you’re going to end up traveling, traveling light has a lot to commend it.

      So does gumption, for all that. It’s an old-fashioned word for an old-fashioned quality that’s too little admired these days. You’ve got plenty of it, that’s for sure. Your grandmother would be proud of you.

      Linda

  26. I hadn’t heard the crab story before. I love how you always manage to write a thought-provoking story in all your posts.

    I’m also feeling very crabby lately. I loved the freedom I felt when I walked along the Camino, but having to once again stand behind my cash register where I have to drink my coffee when I’m told, and ask permission to use the restroom for pete’s sake feels as if I’m tied up in a basket. I can’t breath, I want air, but you just showed me that the top isn’t down, I can simply step out…

    I know the book “The Arrival” by Shaun Tan, because we sell it in our Museum store. It’s a real labor of love. You should go look at it in a book store.

    • dearrosie,

      With your recommendation, I'll be sure to take a look at Tan's book. It does capture the imagination, even on a computer screen. I'm sure the real thing is even more splendid.

      One of the people I follow on Twitter is Yoani Sanchez. Her posts from inside the heart of a dictatorship are such a good reminder – on a daily basis! – that freedom isn't dependent on external circumstances. That's not to minimize your situation at all. I remember (and wrote about) some of my own frustrations when I was caring for Mom and not able to travel. Even now, it's hard to cope with the economic realities that keep from doing many of the things I'd like to do. Still, the freedoms I do have are considerable, despite attempts by governments and bureaucracies on every level to constrain us. And if I ever do get to the point where travel is possible, at least I won't have the government telling me I can't – as they've told Yoani for years.

      There's another thing – it's always hard to come back to "ordinary life" after extraordinary experiences. My own conclusion about how to cope with that gap is to elevate the ordinary, but of course sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't.

      And isn't perspective everything? I still laugh when I remember the day I looked up to see a fellow watching me as I sanded away on a boat. He said, "Gosh, that looks like fun. I wish I could find a way to spend time out here working on my boat." ;-)

      Linda

  27. Did you ever come across the book, Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay by William Warner? I read it years ago and loved it.

    Back in the summer of ’85 (God that sounds like an old phart reminiscing, doesn’t it?) I was unemployed but living on my shanty boat on Bayou Bienvenue in Chalmette, just outside of New Orleans. Times were tough with only $55/week in unemployment, but I also got $85/month in food stamps. Not too far away was a place called “Little Red’s Seafood.” They took food stamps, and after stocking up on staples at Schewegman’s supermarket, I’d stop at Little Red’s and buy 5 lbs of heads-on, unsorted shrimp at a buck a pound. Out of that there’d be enough large shrimp for one good meal. The rest I used as bait sitting on the back porch of the boat catching “specks,” redfish and croakers.

    I’d fillet those. I also had five commercial crab traps. I’d put the fish scraps in the traps and scatter them along the docks. The next morning they’d be filled with delicious blue crabs and I’d spend the morning cooking and picking. I didn’t have two dimes to rub together on my birthday that year, but I had crab meat newburgh for supper. Not bad eating for a broke guy.

    • Richard,

      I’ve not read (or seen) the book, but I have friends whose family members were watermen, and who have ties to the area. I’ll see if I can find it.

      I don’t know – 1985 sounds like yesterday to me. It’s hard to imagine it’s a quarter-century ago. Obviously, inflation’s done a number on us since then. Still, a shanty boat on a bayou sounds pretty good, particularly for someone with a few skills for living off the land and water.

      There’s an old guy who lives near me who “secretly” crabs along the docks, too. He drops his traps off the edge of the bulkhead, and hides the lines that secure them in the cracks in the dock. Every morning he comes out in his wheelchair, uses his cane to undo the lines and hauls them up. Sometimes he’ll have a pretty good haul – but he says his wife does the cooking and picking. He figures by the time he gets them home, he’s done his part!

      Linda

  28. Linda, the broken boiled crab shell caught my eye and forced me to read on. Some of what you described was my childhood growing up in what we used to call the “Pelican State” (which is now also known as the Bayou State) so I know from where you are coming. Thanks for the pictures both photographic and verbal.
    J.

    • J,

      There’s so much I don’t know or understand about bayou life, but I know a whole lot more than I did ten years ago, and appreciate it even more.

      Sometimes I think what appeals to me most is the freedom that reminds me of my childhood. We didn’t crab – not in the middle of Iowa! – but we fished. We roamed freely, on foot and on bicycles. We were free to climb trees, walk trestles and play in the gutters after a rain. One of my little chums even ate spoons of dirt for a nickel, then went and bought candy with his profits.

      We need these pictures to remind us of what’s valuable, and what we could lose if we’re not careful – and brave. Given the number of people demanding the right to tell us what to eat, how to spend our time and what to think, I could get very crabby, indeed!

      Linda

  29. Wow. I am recovering from bronchitis (?) so my emotions are frail. This triggered a few tears. I am so glad that I didn’t lose a leg or claw in my destiny to bolt from the trap! I will read this again (and the amazing queue of comments!) when I am well so that I may better savor your genius.

    (i loved that one closeup of the crab as well!)
    z

    • Z,

      Isn’t that last crab a handsome dude? They’re such funny creatures – and so tasty!

      I’m sorry to hear you’ve not been feeling well. I hope a little rest brings a quick recovery. You’ve been on the go, to say the least, and despite the pleasures of travel and creative endeavors, it can take a toll.

      Speaking of illness and injury, I’ve recently learned that many crabs, when attacked, will drop a leg or claw to prevent infection. They have the ability to seal over the area where the leg was attached, and then grow another one. Hooray, again, for amazing nature! We’re not always so lucky – there are a lot of human escapees missing one metaphorical leg, but we get along!

      Linda

      • Hey! This year I caught a beautiful blue crab while I was fishing for catfish. Delighted, I raced back to the house to take a photo with the crab hanging tight on the line. My plan was to take reference photos. As I unlocked the door, he detached from his pincer and dropped to the floor. I was quite remorseful and spared him any more stress. He quickly crabbed back to the riverbank!

        Yes, it is amazing how many creatures have the ability to regenerate. I often wonder if we are the lesser species!

        Thanks for your get-well wishes. Yes, if one doesn’t slow down, the body will take matters and throw on the brakes for us!

        Z

        • See there? Real life evidence of the crab’s capabilities. Don’t you know that one had some stories to tell when it got back home!

          • For sure! There’s the iguana who gorged so much that he couldn’t squeeze back through the chicken-wire fence. Trapped, he surely feared I would whack off his head, but instead I carefully cut away the wire and set him free.

            The crab would reply, ‘Well trust me! She seemed to have other plans for me, and I knew if I entered that door to the house, I would never return!’

            The blue crabs are so beautiful that I cannot bring myself to cook them anymore. I always set them free. Maybe it’s because I’m a cancer? :)
            z

  30. What a very interesting post and story ! After smiling at the Cuban crabs’ story, I thought of all it contained. Not directly expressed. A “basket of crabs” could be translated in French by a “nest of vipers”. A stronger expression, it seems to me, but one implying that “scrabbling toward freedom” may be a must !

    • Isa,

      Ah, there’s an expression my grandmother used often to express disdain or judgment: “nest of vipers”. I once heard her use it to refer to the fellows who gathered down at the pool hall in the afternoons to drink beer.

      I know that, in that case, Grandma would have advised a quick run for freedom. She was very concerned that we not spend our time around people who could “bite us” in any way!

      Isn’t it amazing how many stories people around the world tell with animals as the primary characters? I suppose it’s a way to tell the truth about difficult things “sideways”, to make it easier to consider. As Emily Dickinson said, “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant…” !

      Linda

  31. I read “Feeling Crabby” and I must say that you are too good. I hope that all of your hard work with words is being put into a book called “How I Made My Life, Lively” or whatever. I just threw that in as total nonsense. Anyway, I am serious about you getting all of this into something for publication.

    Excellent moral of this story.

    • petspeopleandlife,

      So glad you enjoyed the story! I do have fun writing them – I suppose I wouldn’t do it otherwise.

      As for books? Well, maybe. Someday. We’ll see. Just now, putting them up here on the blog is just fine with me. And they are being published, after all. I learned that when I started submitting some magazine articles and learned that “no previous publication” includes blog postings – at least for some magazines and journals.

      As the old saying goes, so many projects, so little time. ;)
      Thanks again for stopping by, and for your kind words.

      Linda


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