It is easy to make fun of the romantics and the starry-eyed tourists but I'll grant that is a bit unfair. Flying home over Penobscot Bay when the weather is fine must rank up there among the greatest scenic experiences you can find in this country, and we just take it for granted, gossiping into the headset with the pilot about who's getting the flowers or the pizza or the whiskey in the back of the plane.
It's not as if those of us who live here don't indulge in a little selective reality ourselves. Since it is a known fact that with anything said about Matinicus Island, the opposite is also true, we may at any point choose whether to express our warm community spirit or our curmudgeonly anarchy, our organic ethic or our piracy, our away-from-the-rat-race tranquility and our mufflerless industrial-strength 4AM waterfront racket. Visitors, and even worse, reporters (doomed from the start by definition,) may pick their poison…we can more or less argue or belittle whichever bit of island culture they should latch onto first. They cannot win.
They say (I have not seen this myself) that one of the yachting guides specifically warns the better class of mariner away from our harbor, with assurances of unfriendly natives and stone-cold, noncompliant dock flunkies. My own limited experience has taught me that some who visit us by water indeed deserve the cold shoulder, so bizarre are their assumptions and rude are their behaviors, but should any sailor come limping in with some unmet need and is reasonable in his manners and halfway normal in his demeanor, he should be able to get at the least a straight answer. I have seen radars repaired, pies delivered, precious gasoline scrounged, wiring and pumps made adequate for the short term, not to mention the more serious rescues. It is not for the yachtsman to decided whether or not the islander feels like piracy or anarchy on any given day; hoping to encounter Long John Silver, you might find instead a good mechanic and some whoopie pies, just out of spite.
It generally takes at most five or six seconds for those on the Matinicus wharf to ascertain whether some stranger is benign tourist, just an idiot, or real trouble. Total lack of awareness of one's surroundings, and the fact that there are other people beside oneself, likely trying to get some work done, is bad enough in a native lobsterman (but hey, what're you going to do?). It is intolerable in a visitor; when those trucks are starting up, and are about to drive up that ramp and off that ferry, you had best be getting out of the way. Visitors with the common courtesy that they should have learned as children, or at least with the understanding that not everybody is in fact on vacation, will generally do fine. If you think it is your role to stand in the middle of the roadway adjusting your hair while somebody else unloads your belongings, you have journeyed to the wrong island.
If a woman wearing high heels and carrying a shiny white handbag disembarks, it is a fairly decent bet she somehow boarded the wrong ferry in Rockland. A couple of years ago we did have a poor unfortunate attorney, complete with three-piece suit and briefcase (and nothing else,) aboard the Matinicus ferry. He was headed for a closing on North Haven, and since the Matinicus ferry vessel is called the North Haven, it was an easy error, except that the ferry crew should have read his ticket and pointed this out. Upon discovering his situation some islanders did (perhaps uncharacteristically, given his profession,) offer cell phones, advice about the air service (which could fly him to North Haven at that point,) and a snack. He was so mad he just rode the ferry back to Rockland, figured it was an unexpected day off, and billed the whole mess to somebody somewhere.
An auditor from the state, who didn't like the idea of small airplanes, was obligated to visit Matinicus to under-run our excise tax records and make sure our exceedingly part-time town officials were doing their jobs and that nobody was enriching themselves on outboard skiff registrations.
He climbed up out of George's boat, clearly not a familiar maneuver, made his way around a large pile of lobster traps, and announced to his arranged driver that he expected the tax collector to meet with him right away. He was informed that the tax collector was rather busy and he'd have no choice but to wait. The auditor assured us that he was here on the state's business and not a man to be kept waiting. I assume he had taken no notice of the small fuel tanker also tied up alongside the then-very hectic wharf, nor of the large hose underfoot. Somebody pointed to a man in overalls on top of one of the large cylindrical diesel fuel tanks at the head of the wharf, where stands our small "tank farm."
"There's your tax collector. He's receiving oil for the power company right now. Let me tell you something about Matinicus: electricity always comes before paperwork. Would you rather wait up at the bed and breakfast?"
When, by the way, our tax collector has to sign the hazardous materials manifest after the fuel is pumped, I am told he writes his name and, where the form requires his "title," writes in "dock flunky."
Supposedly Mrs. Booth (late of the island) told a story about Merrill Young, whose name may be known to those familiar with the old Matinicus pea-pods. Merrill Young's been gone quite some time now, but it could just as easily have happened yesterday. Evidently some blue-blazered yacht captain with scrambled eggs all over his cap and rather too much starch in his shorts lit on the Matinicus wharf and inquired loudly of the first person whose attention he could get, that being the boatbuilder, Mr. Young:
"My Good Man… where are the moorings?"
"There ain't any." (Straightforward, honest, what more could you want?)
"But My Good Man…that means I shall have to continue on to Rockland!
"We won't miss ya."
Eva Murray lives on Matinicus Island, where she arrived in 1987 as the teacher for the one-room school and expected to stay for one year.