Saturday, February 04, 2006


Spearing Fish

I recently wrote about the ancient practice of fishing at night with the aid of spears. Here is a description of the same practice in the nineteenth century, from a fragment of Thoreau's journal (October 6, 1851) in Middlebury College Library, published by Henry Seidel Canby, Thoreau (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1939), p. 36:
I remember that once some 15 years ago, when I was a spearer myself — I was out with my brother with a homemade spear of boar tusks, & a crate made of an old tin pan with a hole punched in the bottom to hold our fire. It was a dark still night very fit for our purposes — and we had just fairly commenced operations & speared a few fish, when suddenly the imperfect fastenings of the crate was burnt away & down it plunged with all its fiery contents & a loud sizzling sound to the bottom of the meadow where I discovered its rusty outlines the next summer, leaving us astonished in total darkness. But we improved the opportunity to play a trick on some other spearers whose light oarsmen stole up the stream with muffled paddles till we lay directly opposite to them only 4 or 5 rods distant — and watched all their motions and the expressions of their faces as revealed by their fire, while they were intently engaged in spearing. They were familiar acquaintances & neighbors of whom we thus had advantage — did not dream of the neighborhood of other mortals —.

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