Popular Mechanics
The Neighborhood Workbench Image Credit: Popular Mechanics
The Neighborhood Workbench Image Credit: Popular Mechanics

The Neighborhood Workbench

What started as a fishing-cleaning mini-project became a community centerpiece that enhanced our family’s life.

C.J. Chivers

THE IDEA THAT we needed an outdoor butcher’s table formed from what felt like necessity.

While living overseas in 2005, we bought our first family home, a century-old, single-family house in a former mill town in coastal Rhode Island. We were not due back in the states anytime soon, so tenants would occupy the place while we were away. But our longer plan, to be realized at some time unknown, was to treat the house as a base camp and homestead—a home in which we might raise our family near the sea, and from where we might also grow and catch a portion of our food from habitats we chose to call our own.

Near the center of it all would be saltwater fishing. The fish we would catch around the mouth of Narragansett Bay and Block Island would form a large share of our diets. Fish carcasses, buried in the soil of our small lot, would in turn fuel the gardens and the fruit trees I intended to plant.

When we returned in mid-2008, this old plan became our new lives. Gradually we equipped for it.

First came fishing tackle and coolers, which we filled with fresh-caught fish and squid we cleaned on the tailgate of the pickup, or pine boards over collapsible sawhorses.

Over several years we developed a routine. We would cover our fish with ice on the boat and bring the catch home to clean in the yard or the drive, thereby keeping the messy work out of the kitchen while saving the carcasses to fertilize the ever-richer dirt.

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