Never a good-bye when a life is lived and lost on the water

(Dedicated to all fishermen lost doing what it is they love doing)

We all do it.

We sit in a fancy restaurant and order the freshest thing we can find on the menu. Even before ordering we make it a point to make sure by asking the server, “Is it fresh?

Most of the time we never really give a thought to the hard work that goes into growing or catching the food we eat. And we especially never think about the dangers that lurk, both on land and in the coldest of waters, in search of the food we consume. Well, at least I didn’t until I heard the news that another fisherman was taken much too soon.

This past summer Jon Popham, a husband, father, son and fisherman was taken much too soon by a freak accident on the water while hauling his traps. My only consolation: he was taken while doing the very thing he loved, and many of us today cannot say the same.

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From the waters that we grew up with on the Jersey shore to those that we sit in awe over on the California coast, to the cold and deep Maine waters that hold the bounty of the “bug” we like to eat called lobster; these are the waters of our youth and are always close by in memory whenever we are in sight of water.

From a very early age, water pulls us in and often never lets go. And it’s salt runs through the veins of every fisherman seeking to tame that pull and provide a life for himself and his family. No matter the age or the years spent doing it, the pull is there and the drive to tame it grows with each haul of the trap.

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This especially is the quest of the young fisherman, to live a life on the water and provide for a family. Perhaps it’s to pursue a livelihood which has been passed down from generation to generation, or simply to do something they were taught, something they love, and something that they believe will sustain them and their families But the risks of an occupation such as this are high and are many times intensified by the weather and unpredictability of the sea,

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With its ever-changing ways, the sea does carry a certain beauty that it alone holds. It cannot be replicated anywhere because water is magical as it changes continuously. The allure can sometimes be mystical as it speaks to us like a siren’s call, soothing us with gentle, rhythmic sounds. And it can also be relentless, unforgiving, and deadly.

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Ask any fisherman who spends his days on the water if he has ever had a close call, and you will see a turn of the head, a slight smile form on the face which quickly ebbs out into a labored exhale with the answer, “oh yea.” If I were to talk to ten fishermen, I would get ten stories of close encounters of the water kind, and each one would be unique.

Dangers lurk everywhere when on the sea. Weather certainly is the biggest culprit and the most unpredictable. Be it a rogue wave, a gust of wind or a shroud of thick, heavy fog; there are no weathermen on the sea and likely the forecast is best to leave to nature. It alone sets the tone of the day on the water and can easily turn minutes into long arduous hours, which will test the skill of anyone, no matter the age or experience. The dangers can also be man-made, be it another boat or a simple mistake involving mechanized motion in direct polar opposites to those movements made by the waves.

Whether we are close up or looking at it from afar, when the sea speaks, everyone on it, in it, and all around, listens. It is lovely. It is unpredictable and unforgiving. It simply is and will always be there to remind us how fragile life can sometimes be.

But if there is one thing I am certain of, it is that once a life is lived on the water, it can never die there.

That life continues out there amongst the waves, the foam and

DSC_0874spray. Out there where the gulls frolic and whine, where boats move from ledge to point pulling bounty from the waters, where
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Out there the fisherman does not die; he lives on forever, and visits us with each and every turn of the tide.

Photos - 247 Fare thee well, Jon

RJ Heller

About RJ Heller

Having arrived here from Pennsylvania over a year ago, there has been plenty to learn and even more to observe. This place is different, but I mean that in a good way. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, I am a college graduate with a teaching degree, a business founder and seller, and a father of two children with my wife Stephanie; life has been full and somewhat adventurous, but finding Maine remains a high watermark in my life.