If you'll remember, yesterday I wrote about my lazy person's way of stumbling upon a wide variety of titles that I want to read in my library's catalog. The books in question were Wisdom of the Last Farmer: Harvesting Legacies from the Land (by David Mas Masumoto), and Harvesting the Bay: Fathers, Sons and the Last of the Wild Shellfishermen (by Ray Huling).
I really wanted to read it, but I didn't actually get the chance to start the Masumoto book before it had to go back to the library. Instead, for whatever reason, I picked up the second book (Harvesting the Bay) one night when I couldn't sleep. Ray Huling's investigative memoir about the shellfishermen on Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay (quahoggers) is a mix of work/job reporting and sociological history combined with personal memoir (as Huling comes from a long line of such shellfishermen). I came to think of it as "Studs Terkel meets Michael Perry."
I really liked Huling's personal insight into a job I'd never heard anything about. And a lot of what he had to say eerily echoed my own personal experience as the daughter of a farmer (another labor-intensive, singular profession):
"My father and grandfather also trained me to regret the loss of large numbers of hours to work, another dissuasion from my professional activities. One of the great attractions of quahogging is the trade-off it provides: You work hard so you don't have to work a lot. There's an adage for this: Quahoggers ain't lazy, but they don't want to work. This is something they say about themselves. It's an idea virtually unknown to the community of people outside the quahogging fold. The sentiment resides in me, but I am no quahogger, which, again, leaves me ill-prepared for the wonderful opportunities afforded me by a life of mental labor. This doesn't mean that I myself am motivated to do the right thing. I am caught between the bullraker and the world he righteously derides. If my position were grander, it would be tragic: I have all of the bullraker's scorn and none of his discipline." (p. 36.)
I really enjoyed that. I've never been very good at office or full-time professional work, and I always thought at least part of that was my upbringing on the farm. I never had any patience for meetings or any work that seemed more like "make work" than actually producing anything of value (like food).
Huling also had interesting things to say on the broader economic and social impact of the profession of shellfishing:
"On the national level, the proper action is so clear and obvious as to be banal: universal, single-payer health care. Sustainable food relies on people who perform hard manual labor, and the society that benefits from their suffering should do its best to alleviate it in the most direct way. Mike McGiveney wasn't kidding when he said that the cost of health care drove quahoggers off the water. The rising cost of insurance, insurance companies' pernicious attempts to deny care at every opportunity, and the willingness of health-care professionals to abet the insurance companies convinced many guys that the very communities they had helped to feed would throw them to the wolves once their bodies gave out after years of toil." (p. 265.)
As you can see from the text snippets I've provided, this is not narrative-driven writing that you just fly through. It's more along the lines of Wendell Berry writing, where you have to read a little bit and then take a break to digest it. At times it's a bit dry, a bit too technical about how quahogging works, but overall it's a fascinating, fascinating read. Consider checking it out.