New England Style

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Many a long, long year ago,
Nantucket skippers had a plan
Of finding out, though “lying low,”
How near New York their schooners ran.

They greased the lead before it fell,
And then, by sounding through the night,
Knowing the soil that stuck, so well,
They always guessed their reckoning right.

A skipper gray, whose eyes were dim,
Could tell, by tasting, just the spot,
And so below he’d “dowse the glim”–
After, of course, his “something hot.”

Snug in his berth, at eight o’clock,
This ancient skipper might be found;
No matter how his craft would rock,
He slept–for skippers’ naps are sound!

The watch on deck would now and then
Run down and wake him, with the lead;
He’d up, and taste, and tell the men
How many miles they went ahead.

One night, ’twas Jonathan Marden’s watch,
A curious wag–the peddler’s son–
And so he mused (the wanton wretch),
“To-night I’ll have a grain of fun.

“We’re all a set of stupid fools
To think the skipper knows by tasting
What ground he’s on–Nantucket schools
Don’t teach such stuff, with all their basting!”

And so he took the well-greased lead
And rubbed it o’er a box of earth
That stood on deck–a parsnip-bed–
And then he sought the skipper’s berth.

“Where are we now, sir? Please to taste.”
The skipper yawned, put out his tongue,
Then ope’d his eyes in wondrous haste,
And then upon the floor he sprung!

The skipper stormed and tore his hair,
Thrust on his boots, and roared to Marden,
“Nantucket’s sunk, and here we are
Right over old Marm Hackett’s garden!”

 The Alarmed Skipper by James Thomas Fields

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Photographs of New England from Joel Meyerowitz’s beautiful book A Summer’s Day (1985)

 

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