SI Vault
Clare Boothe Luce
August 18, 1958
A fish in the hand, finds the diplomat turned diver, is worth two in a bowl—and that goes for lobsters, too
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August 18, 1958

Adventures On The Reef

A fish in the hand, finds the diplomat turned diver, is worth two in a bowl—and that goes for lobsters, too

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Today, Louisa gets down 30 feet with Coles, and she uses up a whole tank of air. The first thing she does is pick a sprig of sea whip, and for some strange reason she carries it in her hand the entire time she is down. She even clings to it when she finds herself mixed up in an underwater ballet. It is quite a lovely thing to see: a trio of gray, purple-backed amberjacks move in on Coles and Louisa. They are almost a third Louisa's size. At once they begin to circle round and round and round her, rolling curious golden eyes at her. Louisa is a little scared at first; she keeps turning and turning to keep them in full view. Coles turns even faster as he tries (without success) to get planet Louisa and her satellite amberjacks into one camera focus. After Louisa realizes how friendly they are she tries to make them a peace offering of her sprig of sea whip, but they just spiral off and then come in again, circling as though she were a subaquatic ringmaster and they her circus horses. It all wants music badly—lovely, gay, underwater calliope music.


When the sands are all dry, he is gay as a lark,
And will talk in contemptuous tones of the Shark;
But, when the tide rises and sharks are around,
His voice has a timid and tremulous sound.
from Alice in Wonderland

Weather—light overcast, windless. We drop anchor on a 30-foot bottom. A hundred yards off the Big Seven's stern, a forest of brittle elkhorn coral grows to about seven feet from the top. After Louisa and I gear up, Coles and Dave go off snorkeling together. They hope that today they can get some good reef fish shots without flashbulbs. This leaves Art to "buddy" Louisa and me. Reluctantly, as always, Art gets into the heavy scuba gear and for good measure brings along his underwater motion picture camera.

I see a walloping big lobster in a coral pot. It is a Florida crawfish or spiny lobster. I lie flat on my stomach watching him. Reared up on his forelegs, he is motionless. His carapace is yellow and black coromandel. I poke a tentative forefinger in his direction. His two long whips circle clockwise, then counterclockwise. I see they are studded with sharp spines. His bony eyebrows, jutting from his occiput, overhang black beady eyes on thin sticks that swivel. I see he has five pairs of legs, each four-jointed. He has five pairs of swimmerets on each side of his six-jointed armored tail. His tail fan is in five sections. He is really an incredible contraption. He has intricate appendages on his undercarriage on either side of his mouth, which is in itself equipped with all sorts of extraordinary devices for sucking, separating, mincing and shoveling in his food. His underside looks as complicated to me as what I see when I lift the hood of an automobile. I reach out swiftly and nip one of his antennae. He twirls it away, insolently. I grab. He withdraws deep under his ledge. Art, swimming over the ledge, finds a hole in the top and with a gloved hand reaches in and jabs the lobster in the tail. He scuttles right out at me, looking so like the advance guard of an underwater tank brigade I half withdraw in fright. Art swoops, grabs him, whoops! by the back. The lobster flaps his tail in a fury. Art hands him to me. I take him gingerly. His back spines dig into my palm. I let him go quickly. With a powerful clip of his tail, he jet-propels himself backward into a hole higher up on the ledge. I am definitely annoyed. I motion Art to lend me a glove, put it on and poke into his new hideout. He rears back and up. Now, underneath, for the first time I see the rich red burden of eggs the tail carries. He is a she. I pantomime this fact to Art. He nods, swims away. No man he to torment a pregnant lobster.

We spend a half hour stalking lobsters who are not in a delicate condition. Finally, with Art's help, I unhole one and grab him by the back. I swim about with him, waving him thisaway, thataway. I want to tire him so I can examine him at my ease. I let him cling to rocks with all 10 legs, then rip him away. I am certainly mean. I carry him out to a wide stretch of sandy bottom, drop him. He shoots backward, I pounce, then let go, then pounce again. I turn him over, examine his shelly segmented abdomen. Now I feel I comprehend him. I say to myself, "He is just a very big ugly bug, and it would be a calamity for him if he ever got arthritis." Then I set him down, quite free, on a shelf near a hole. He doesn't move. I nudge him. His antennae droop, and his 10 legs wobble.

On board, I tell Coles, "You have no idea what a delightful thing a lobster quadrille is: you advance twice, change lobsters and retire in the same order. You throw the lobsters out to sea and then swim after them."

Art said, "She was acting like a kid with that lobster."

So I was. A real Alice in a real wonderland, where real lobsters become neurotic.

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