Seaweeds have their seasons of peak vitality just like plants in the garden. In mid-May, kelp plants (laminaria longicruris and laminaria saccharina) are in their prime. On the land, dry air blows in with high pressure from Canada, and in the afternoon, a southwest sea breeze helps dry the kelp that is hung up on lines at the high water line. Mornings are flat calm, sometimes there is fog, and we journey to the kelp beds by reading the signs on the water. For instance, sometimes there is a cross-hatch pattern on the water. I call this a “mixing pattern”. It is created when the incoming tide splits and flows around the islands at the mouth of my bay. When I hear an apprentice exclaim, “Oh! Look! The mixing pattern! I KNOW where we ARE!”—then I know that s/he is beginning to pay attention to reading the signs on the water.
In the springtime, early morning new moon tides are the lowest. Early morning full moon tides are also lower than average. We pull on our wetsuits around 4 a.m., and we’re on the water by 4:30 a.m. Apprentices get their breakfasts around 3:30 a.m. if they’re going to have one. (When I was a young man growing up in Minnesota, I worked summers on my aunt and uncle’s 1000 acres farm. During hay season, we fed a hundred head of cattle and 50 pigs right after breakfast at first light. A good day on the farm during hay season, working with a family crew of 5 or 6 people, was a thousand bales of hay into the barn by the end of the day, around 9 or 10 p.m. This is where I learned the work ethic, “If I do not work, these worlds will perish.”)
The journey to the kelp beds takes about an hour. There’s a two hour window of opportunity to pull kelp into the boats. The goal is to pull 2000 pounds into the boats within two hours.
Coming home takes an hour. We all take a mid-morning break, getting out of our wetsuits, taking showers and warming up. Then we have a substantial breakfast. This is the meal that’s going to be with us as we hang up the kelp. The rest of the day is spent in the open air and sunshine, and if you just want a mantra to keep your hands busy while your soul ripens, you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to handle approximately 2000 pieces of kelp, pinning each individual piece of kelp to clotheslines set up on the high water mark in the cove.
By the end of the day, we have all done an honest day’s work, and here’s the proof: