Piscator potator

RANGE: In the bitter cold Atlantic waters of the Grand Banks, off the rockbound and forbidding coast of New England and Canada’s Maritime Provinces, the Nymph O’Maine splashes and sports in the sea, carefree as a starlet in the Baja surf. She is commonly sighted off shores where people wear oilskin slickers the year round, and she has never ventured south of Boston. She winters near Cape Cod but prefers to summer on the shores of Labrador (the Canadian territory, not the American house pet).
HABITS: The Nymph O’Maine is a small mermaid: half human, half salt cod. A benign and helpful sea creature, she guides the dories of poor fishermen to such meager schools of fish as elude the two-hundred-mile-long electrified fine mesh nets of the Russian cod sweepers, out beyond the twelve-mile limit. She inspired painters (like Edward Hopper) to sketch the shores of Truro and bootleggers to buy the shores of Martha’s Vineyard. Her gifts are many: she enables her human neighbors to subsist and thrive on a diet of unsaleable fish parts and small potatoes; and (in season), to skull their dories unerringly through fogs as thick as their brogues, to ice floes laden with fur seal pups no bigger than a Greenpeace budget. Not on the high seas only does she serve as guide and pilot to these hardscrabble farmers of the sea, but when they make land, she manages to direct each man to his own strong weather-reddened wife, at the door of his own blizzard-beaten shack. No respecter of national boundaries, the Nymph O’Maine guides American and Canadian mariners to clandestine high seas rendezvous, where they swap (duty-free) a quart of Moosehead Ale for a case of Narragansett Lager, or a carton of Export As for a pack of Lucky Strikes.
HISTORY: For many centuries, silkies and kelpies, seal men and seal women, mermaids and mermen, lived in the stormy arctic seas around Scotland and Ireland. Their descendants, the Nymphs O’Maine, inhabit the unspeakably frigid waters off the Canadian and New England shores for the same reason their mortal Celtic counterparts sank roots in the stony land there: it was cold and wet and miserable, and reminded them of home,
SPOTTER’S TIPS: There is no need to describe the Nymph to the working men and women of Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, or Maine —they know her when they see her. And there is no point in describing her to the rest of us—she is quite invisible to Summer People. The Nymph O’Maine is also a friend to the fisherfolk of Canada’s Maritime Provinces.

Location of Fair Folk: Private Collection (gift from JoEllen)


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