Sippican Cottage

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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Who Against The Proud Gods And Commodores Of This Earth Stands Forth His Own Inexorable Self

Johnnycake Hill in New Bedford, or “New Beige” as the locals call it. We went there on a rainy Sunday in June. If you turn around and roll down the hill, you’ll go down to the sea and… get wet.

We were wet already, so we went into the Seaman’s Bethel, a sort of pilgrimage to boredom we take from time to time. Nothing to do in there but think.

The inside is really spartan, which is piquant to a man like me, born and raised a papist. These were, after all, Quakers, who were not known for extravagance, unless you count their extravagant protestations against extravagance.

God was not an abstraction to the people in these pews. Men out on the horizonless ocean, and the families that waited for them, saw a real deity with a big fist or a big palm all the time. They gathered here to try to make heads or tails of the life of a man in a little boat on a great ocean.

Herman Melville trumped reality here, as he described in Moby Dick a pulpit shaped like the prow of a boat instead of the staid lectern that used to be here. John Huston put it in the movie, and the locals in New Beige got so tired of tourists showing up and demanding to see one that they stuck one in there. Orson Welles ain’t showing up, though. Pity. I’d go every Sunday to hear that.

Sticking pins in cetaceans half-way round the world was a dangerous business. You had to survive the fevers, the sharks, the weather, and just plain gravity to live long enough for a chance to get killed by the great beasts that once lit the world’s lamps. The walls of the bethel are spangled with the cenotaphs of the men who kicked it the hard way.

I’m old enough to have drowned on that last one. And my uncle was a fisherman back then, too. Thank God I was too lazy to work for him.

3 Responses

  1. My husband fished commercially in Alaska for 14 years. He lost 2 friends in Mar. 2008 when their boat sank off the Aleutians. Fishermen still die at sea, it just gets lost in the 24 hr news cycle. People who watch TV tend to think of those guys in terms of some TV show, but they're real people with families who miss them terribly.

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