Insider Views of the Good Life
Reviewed by J.J. Oldham
Finest Kind: The Lobstermen of Corea
by Markham Starr
Fowler Road Press, 49 Fowler Road, North Stonington, CT 06359
115 pages $18
Maine as a place, state of mind or fond memory has led more than a few enthusiasts to write books about it.
A realist’s view of a real place with real people telling their story is what Markham Starr has done with Finest Kind. The understanding of the people of Corea comes from what they told the author.
Starr begins with descriptions of this small Maine village in a small harbor. He describes much about lobster fishing, the lobster business, some history, and this community in eastern Maine. With that foundation in place he lets the subjects do the talking.
What he has recorded in the interviews are tales of family life, working life that for some began at the age of 10, feelings of achievement in an occupation that is far more complex and difficult than it appears, and what effects having opportunity for survival in the waters just beyond shore has had rippling down the generations.
Starr has produced four books on maritime subjects. He worked at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut for 20 years. More than 7,000 of his maritime photographs are at the Library of Congress.
He originally went to the Corea area in 2009 to photograph the last days of the Stinson Sardine cannery in Prospect Harbor for Yankee Magazine. While there he interviewed a cannery employee at southern tip of the Gouldsboro Peninsula in Corea and discovered the harbor there.
Starr has created a framework on which to air conversations of the young and old, men and women, who offer in their own words an understanding of who these Mainers are. Not just the work they do, but how they think and feel about that work and their lives. Without ever saying so directly, the importance of this place to them is apparent. The photographs, like the comments of the subjects, are direct, straight forward and matter of fact.
For lobstermen, the work they do is very much who they are.
The people interviewed opened up to Starr. They discussed their work, fishing coops, families and personal lives in a way that is both interesting and surprising in a part of the world where privacy and reticence are practically emblematic.
The Youngs—Colby and Arvid—spoke of their long family history and fishing at least five generations. “Winslow, that’s my great-grandfather, he fished, and his father fished.”
Jean Symonds, after a career in the military and teaching on college campuses, began a new career. She said, “We came up that summer and I decided I didn’t want to leave.” For 11 years she’s been the “oldest person currently fishing at Corea, nearly 600 traps.”
Tradition runs deep in coastal villages. In Corea, still looking much as it long has, tradition is that more apparent. Dan Whittaker points to the house where distant relatives were born saying, “The family plot goes back to when General Cobb settled this area. They gave 200-acre lots when it was still Massachusetts. We got two of the original lots.”
Making a living is difficult here. Lobstering is very good for those who are able to keep at it. The canneries that once operated on the peninsula offered jobs. But the independent-minded residents preferred other occupations if they could manage it. Lela Anderson said she had to work in high school so she and her sister worked at a cannery. She told her sister, “I’m not staying. When I get out of high school I’m not workin’ in a sardine plant. I ended up there 54 years,” Lela said.
The rare quiet and beauty of the place is as grand as making a living here can be difficult. Many lobster fishermen are seen to have an ideal situation. Many feel their situation is ideal for them. Making a decent living, doing what they want, in their own business, in a place they want to be, connected to generations in a way few Americans know today.
Finest Kind presents a range of views of life in a rare village in the modern world.