Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Gillnetting the Hammock

In the summer of 1984, I was a roofer. I was between my sophomore and junior years of college, and I was working for Jack Madden, my friend Pete's father. Okay, so maybe I wasn't a roofer. Maybe my skill set was somewhere between laborer and comedian. But as the summer progressed, I learned more and more from Pete and Mr. Madden, until I could be trusted to lay out a course of asphalt shingles on my own.

Our big job that summer was re-roofing St. Theresa's church in Humarock, Massachusetts. St. Theresa's was a single roof structure, but large, and steeply angled. It took the right blend of courage, experience, and the suspension of disbelief to scale that roof, first ripping the two layers of shingles off that were already on there, then nailing down the new shingles. I had everything but experience going for me. More importantly, for Pete and me, was the fact that next door to the church was the McKinnon house. The McKinnons were fisherman, and Mr. McKinnon owned a nice gillnetting rig that he fished out of Scituate Harbor. That summer Mike McKinnon and his brother, Scott, were fishing with their father. And one of the many duties they had was net repair.

Net repair usually happened on rainy days, or when it was blowing too hard to fish. Sometimes Mike and Scott didn't go out for unexplained reasons, left behind to mend nets. On those days, Pete and I would call over to them from the top of St. Theresa's roof, making drinking plans for later in the day. Sometime we'd throw shingles at them, and they'd throw rocks back at us. And sometimes Pete and I would wander over there during lunch, and watch them mend nets.

Their hands would blur between the strands of monofilament, quickly closing up any holes. The McKinnons were good-natured guys, and they laughed and traded barbs with us as they furiously worked to repair the nets that put food on their table. I could never figure out how they mended the nets--they never let me try, and I wasn't concerned with that skill. But this week, I found myself thinking about the McKinnons as I tried to mend a net of my own.

Actually, it was a hammock. One afternoon a guest came up from the pool and reported a "large hole in the hammock. Large enough to fall through." When I saw the hole, I knew I was in trouble: how do you mend a hammock? There wasn't enough rope for a proper splice, and since a hammock is essentially one long rope woven into a pattern, there was no chance of replacing a single section. That's when I remembered the McKinnons.

I went straight to my fishing tackle box and found some 36-pound nylon line that I use as backing for my fly fishing reel. I pulled off a long length of it and went down to the hammock. After cutting the ends of the broken rope evenly, I spliced as much as I could, then set upon it with the nylon line. I tried to remember how the McKinnons had done it, so fast, so easy. Soon I found a rhythm, and I discovered that if I didn't think too much about what I was doing, it went together quickly. When I finished, I looked at the newly mended hammock. It looked nothing like the lines the McKinnons had mended, but it didn't look bad. There even appeared to some sort of pattern there.

I flipped the hammock back over and tested it. It held. I got out and yanked on the mended section: tight and fast. It just might work. Sometimes innkeeping affords me the opportunity to sample the experiences I've acquired throughout my life. And as I dozed off in the hammock that afternoon, I wondered if the McKinnons were still out there, mending lines.