The Block Islander

The Man Behind the Lobster Pot Tree

Every year, Harold Hatfield gives the gift of Block Island’s iconic holiday centerpiece


After a one-day visit, Harold Hatfield knew Block Island was home. Not afraid to get his hands dirty, Harold came ready to work: while an island community loves its scallywags and characters, it mostly needs those who will roll up their sleeves in a field, dig deep into an estuary and skip the circumstance of pomp. Twenty-two years on, Harold’s wife Heather and their two young boys live a good, balanced island life.

When he’s not planting bulbs or clearing dry stacked stone walls, Harold’s clamming and fishing from the shore or a small skiff. Twelve years ago, he was inspired to join the Block Island Land Trust because that good, sweet island life relies on giving back. He contributes a steady, necessary passion and refreshing common sense to the critical cause of conservation. Understanding that collectively they’re “doing God’s work,” Harold proves how amazing and productive a meeting can be when it’s held while leaning on the bed of a pickup truck, figuring how to do, not schedule.

“I don’t like country music,” he says, not because of its twangy, predictable chords but because of its lyrical reliance on drama, argument, dissent and superfluous foolishness which often pervades committees and small towns. “Turtle,” as Harold is affectionately known, avoids the easy quicksand of politics and braggadocio.

He also builds an amazing Lobster Pot Christmas tree. The weekend after Thanksgiving each year, he stacks 175 lobster traps loaned by island fisherman Jon Grant in the center of Water Street’s Estas Park as the town’s holiday centerpiece. Wrapped with lights and spotted with colored, patterned buoys, its star is visible for miles.

“The island’s pre-school children set up a hot chocolate and cookie stand to raise money while it’s being assembled,” says Molly McQueeny O’Neill of the Chamber of Commerce. Fifty percent of all monies raised go to maintenance of the town-owned park, with the remainder donated to the Block Island School Friends. This “really helps soften” the many expenses from island students visiting and competing with mainland sports teams, Harold says. True to his heart, Harold avoids any official tree lighting because, in his words, “I don’t want to take anything away from the Christmas tree.”

After the holidays, traps are hauled away and rebuilt for another lobstering season while Harold continues caring for gardens and futures. Heading north past Clay Head on the last night boat, visitors will wipe circles on cold, steamy windows, squinting for the last reds and greens from the Lobster Trap Christmas Tree, Harold Hatfield’s annual gift to the island he calls home.