Twelve thousand years ago, as the water trapped within the receding glaciers in the gulf of Maine was released, the granite landscape carved out in their wake began to submerge. Only its highest peaks remained above water, becoming the rugged spruce clad islands now scattered along the perimeter of the coast.
For thousands of years they served as seasonal camps for the native Wabanaki people, who came to gather and pursue the great abundance of the sea, a pattern of use that continued for centuries after European settlement. One such remote island outpost in Penobscot Bay has remained in near continuous service as a seaward fishing base for local residents since the 1700s, its protected harbor offering safe anchorage for the sail powered fishing fleet that existed into the early 20th century.
Still owned by local residents, it has served as a home for the Atlantic Holdfast Seaweed Company since 2010, providing access to the remote ledges of the outer bay where the powerful tides and highly oxygenated water offer the ideal habitat for these delicious wild plants.
The harvest takes place early in the morning, during the lowest tides of the spring and summer months that accompany the new and full moons. We travel in small boats to the kelp beds and exposed ledges to harvest, working at the lowest point of the low tide line where the seaweeds cling to the rocks. The work is a delicate balancing act between the harvester and the incoming waves, as the plants are briefly exposed between each swell before being swept up again in the surf.
We work carefully and methodically within this turbulent environment, selectively cutting each variety with specific techniques developed to ensure the long-term health of the individual plants and this unique ecosystem. Once landed the seaweed is immediately hung to dry, reaching a shelf stable condition within 24-36 hours, at which point it stores indefinitely.
A ‘holdfast’ is the means by which seaweed attaches itself to the rocks. A root-like structure that serves to anchor plants in the midst of pounding surf, powerful tides, and fierce winter storms.
Some of the oldest and most resilient organisms on earth, seaweeds have been noted throughout history for their tremendous nutritional and medicinal benefits, aid in removing accumulated heavy metals from the body, and use in the treatment and prevention of cancer. There is additional evidence indicating their ability to prevent the uptake and absorption of radioactive isotopes released by nuclear facilities during normal operations, and especially in the event of a nuclear disaster.
These “plants” have evolved in one of the most turbulent niche ecosystems on the planet, and can lend some of their strength and tenacity to our bodies in holding fast during times of stress and transition.