The John Henry

We put another coral thicket in last week. Lu and Bonnie and I put it in the middle of the two other thickets we’ve put in together. This takes our staghorn coral thickets to a grand total of three.

We put this one between the other two thickets so, as Bonnie says, they can talk. This is exciting: talking coral. It’s also exciting because I get to use the enormous hammer. We take the hammer down to knock the metal pegs of the coral into the sea bed.

I call the hammer the John Henry hammer. This is because we used to sing a folk song in school about the legend of a man, John Henry, who took part in a hammering contest against a newly-built steam-drill in the 19th century. His gang were building a tunnel through the rock for a railway line. John Henry was the enormously strong steel driver who hammered the steel bit for explosives to blast the rock.

I dont remember the tune of the song. I do remember the story. You know when stories stay in your head? John Henry and his hammer has floated around mine. When I saw Bonnie’s enormous frame-bashing hammer, the story came home.

Plus, I discovered it’s more interesting to use a hammer underwater. We lumber it down the beach to the water. You can literally place it down in the sea while you put your fins on. It’s not going anywhere. Then, holding onto it while you dive down, no weight is required. The John Henry hammer pulls you right to the bottom.

Oh Deccan Plateau, you may be thinking. How on Earth can a person use a hammer underwater? Bonnie showed me. It’s like magic. You inflate your BCD jacket and eventually, if you put enough air in, you rise up – hammer and all.

Bonnie has all the pieces of the coral frame neatly packed. She also carries a big wooden set-square. It has holes in each end, so we can accurately put the pegs in a square shape.

Bonnie co-ordinates this part. I stay protectively close to the hammer. This is because, well, I’ve taken over the hammering. Bonnie humours me. When it’s the time to hammer, it’s the fun part. You grab it and inflate enough air in your jacket so you rise up. Not enough that you don’t stop rising though. Then, with just the right amount of air versus weight, you can start bashing the metal rods into the seabed.

John Henry was thought to be a real man. The exact location of his legendary contest is disputed. Some versions point to the Big Bend Tunnel in West Virginia on the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) railway line. A railway line ran right behind our house in Maryland too. Some trains were so long, you could eat a bowl of cereal, read the box – and the train would still be passing.

John Henry won the contest against the steam-drill. Bonnie and I have another frame to build next week.

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