As a kid growing up in North Carolina and Virginia there was a primal curiosity and thrill to crabbing that lured me in like a ravenous Jimmy holding on the flesh of a fresh chicken neck.
Crabs are so fun to net when walking in the odiferous tidal salt marsh in old sneakers.
Crabs are perfect because they are stubborn and never surrender.
The scrappy Atlantic blue crab with its poetic and fitting Latin name Callinectes sapidus is a creature that possesses legendary tenacity and a glorious taste. Callinectes translates from Greek to English as “Beautiful swimmers” and sapidus translates roughly to “tasty.”
The steamed crab is a southern cookout staple, tossed on newspaper and picked with varying degrees of skill. When paired with cold beer, corn and a little bowl of butter it is a meal that makes the poor feel wealthy and the rich feel humble.
The memory of a first crab boil always makes an impression on a child. My late mother, who had a caring heart always told me how the sound of scraping claws bothered her when the crabs were in the pot. However, sympathy for these tasty, armored psychos often fades when you feel the power of their pinch or dip their claw in butter.
Our region more specifically the Chesapeake Bay produces nearly fifty percent of all blue crabs eaten in restaurants and at picnics across the nation.
Crabs often make a great metaphor in addition to an epic crab ravioli and fried soft-shell sandwich.
Crusty old columnists, watermen, comics and even rappers have pondered the pinch.
Legendary Baltimore Sun columnist H.L. Mencken, “The Sage of Baltimore” pondered man and crabs.
“Have you ever watched a crab on the shore crawling backwards in search of the ocean and missing? That is the way the mind of a man works,” he wrote.
Recently, a new billboard was unveiled in Baltimore by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) it shows a blue crab with claws outstretched and the words “I’m Me, Not Meat. See the individual, Go Vegan,” written next to it.
In Charm City, the very home of Old Bay Seasoning this billboard was taken as a direct attack on its most cherished crustacean. I mean they love them, really, they do… steamed.
Mencken once wrote, “In this town there are 50 ways to prepare a crab---all of them good.”
To me the Blue Crab is a creature that doesn’t need a high degree of cuddling. They are the living definition of defiance with their claws held high—they give no quarter, nor do they expect any from a human trying to make them dinner. A crab lives and dances on the tides—eating all types of nasty dead stuff. They are delicious, yet malicious and I’m not all together sure that they even like each other. The lone exception seems to be mating or when they are soft and vulnerable like a hipster after a pumpkin beer.
“You cannot teach a crab to walk straight,” wrote Aristophanes, a comic and playwright in ancient Greece. It was funnier in 300 BC.
Political discourse in Washington, D.C. often reeks like a salt-marsh, especially in August. Crabs are remarkably stubborn, snappy and shortsighted just like our friends making political arguments on social media.
“Washington is gripped by crab-in-the-bucket syndrome. And there's no cure in sight. Put a single crab in an uncovered bucket, and it will find a way to climb up and out on its own. Put a dozen crabs in a bucket, and 11 will fight with all their might to pull down the striver who attempts escape,” wrote political commentator Michelle Malkin.
Rapper Kayne West even spoke about crabs once. He said, “We have the ability to approach our race like ants or the ability to approach our race like crabs.” This could mean that it’s better to help each other along rather than latching on to each other in anger.
Oddly enough crabs are notoriously surly before they take that final swim in the spicy hot tub.
I recall discussing the impending doom of a dozen crabs with my 7-year-old daughter.
“I think if they’d stop fighting with each other they could escape,” she said staring into a bushel basket. “Are they like that because you released all the girl crabs?”
I explained it like a wise old waterman, “It’s always more gentlemanly to free the ladies.”
“Girl crabs are prettier anyway dad they have painted tips on their claws,” she added with the impish charm of a smiling little girl.
People with big hearts tend to question the need for live steaming---I like to think it is fitting and even a bit karmic. Maybe inside one of those little crusty crab’s carapaces is the soul of a former dictator, Cowboys fan or telemarketer.
Let me explain. You see if a person was somehow reduced to the size of a crab, those delicious claws would be gleefully ripping them apart for food.
Have you ever lost a crab in a boat and have it slide around? How about a kayak?
These Spartans of the salt-marsh show no fear.