The Weir: Finding the Universal in Herring Fishing

“What’s on your mind, herrin-choker?” said Eddy, glaring. “Ain’t they got no fish down-east?” 

“Used em all up,” said the other mildly. “Them’s factories we got down there, not preservin kittles.” 

Eddy spat resoundingly into the water. “You better take that sawed-off piss-pot you’re in back home before it breezes up this afternoon. You git her stern-to that southwest wind we got up here, and you’ll roll her under like a puffer.”

-Ruth Moore, The Weir

Who knows why time remembers some but not others?

The New York Times said of Ruth Moore, “It is doubtful if any American writer has ever done a better job of communicating a people, their talk, their thoughts, their geography, and their way of life.”

Moore wrote mostly about her home Gotts Island, Maine (sometimes “Gott’s Island” or “Great Gott Island”). A very small island just southwest of Mount Desert Island home to a few more than a dozen people. Gotts Island still has no cars and no electricity and the main road Town Road is still a dirt path. She was born there in 1903 and could trace her family back five generations on the Island.

Today, she is widely regarded as a “regional author” – a term she abhorred. The Weir could not be written about anywhere in the world besides Comey’s Island (one can assume an analog for Gotts Island), a tiny fishing community off the coast of Maine. Rivalries between French fishermen and “white” fishermen. Sitting on upside-down bait tubs mending a torn 100-foot dragnet by hand. Climbing up into the tarred netting of a herring weir to see the catch.

But deeper than that, The Weir is the story of a hardworking family doing their best to get by and often coming up short. A first clumsy brush with love. A feud among families. An earnest love for home and an appreciation for the work it takes to maintain it but wanting so desperately to be anywhere else. A bad gamble on a money-making prospect and paying for it for years.

While the particulars of The Weir are inextricable from Comey’s Island, the conflicts, struggles, and personalities transcend place and remain real and relevant to this day.