The Year of Living Insularly
By Eva Murray
Created Oct 11 2007 - 5:23pm
There was an essay in Newsweek a few weeks ago about this raft of books out with titles which knock off "Year of Living Dangerously;" where writers of sufficient moral fiber and with patient spouses challenge themselves through a year of living Biblically, or eating locally, or doing without the manifold manufacturers of China, or whatever. The assumption is, and it seems to prove out, that people enjoy reading the details of somebody else going to a fair bit of trouble, in mind to make a point or to better themselves or to get out of their particular domestic rut.
We hear it all summer, something akin to the same reasoning. Everybody thinks they'd love to spend one winter on the island, for there they would try themselves. They would reach down deep. They might finally bring out the inner poet, or learn to cook, or experience the deep quiet they long for, or actually get to know their neighbors. Sounds like heaven.
Herewith, a few tips for your Year of Living Insularly:
1. Bring your wrenches. Bring your gas torch and your socket set and your sledge hammer and your snow shovel and your car jack. Bring your air compressor. Bring your chainsaw and your electric drill and your battery charger. At the very least, bring your Leatherman tool and a decent flashlight.
2. Don't expect it to be cheap.
Here's what you will certainly wish you had but wouldn't have known to think of: empty 55 gallon oil barrels. I am not kidding. A fax machine. A mountain bike. Peterson's guide to the birds. Caller ID.
Here's what you won't need: Your kids' soccer cleats. High heels and a pocketbook. An electric dryer, range, or water heater. A good haircut. A basketball. Roller skates. Any pet you cannot ever leave alone. A cell phone.
An old-fashioned, hard-wired telephone is good to have (without one, you cannot call anybody and tell them that your electricity is out, when the storms bring the branches down on your service drop, and you'll end up walking over to Bill's to make the call, because he has one…only remember, it's really nasty out.) A sump pump. Don't even look at what it'll cost you in electricity…if you need it, you need it.
You will learn to never dump your bacon grease down the sink drain again. You will pay what seem extraordinarily high rates for utilities. You will ration milk. You will sometimes curse the four-wheeler idiots and sometimes wish you had one of those things yourself. You will, very likely, sleep better.
The furnace will give you no end of trouble, or the wood will be wet, or you'll run out of kerosene at just the wrong moment, or the wasps will have built their castles on your propane regulator.
When then oil boat is in, you must be prepared to drop everything and get in line. You will know who to invite for supper and who to snarl at by which islanders help out on Oil Boat Day, and which ones cut the line to gas up their trucks and leave.
There's always the question for the newcomer of how to "get in" with people. The answer is simply to show up for stuff. Show up when there's a fire, and not with your flip-flops on. Show up for any funeral, and bring a plate of cookies. Show up when there is a lumberyard truck to be unloaded quickly on ferry day. Show up for anything going on at the school, with your eyes open. Show up for town meeting, with your mouth shut.
The trick is finding that fine line between doing everything yourself, and engaging with the community. The wiser attitude is to assume you'll have to do all the work yourself. If you are skilled at something even remotely mechanical, offer to help. Your toolbox will surely regret it, but in the long run, it'll stand you in good stead, if you care.
I asked my neighbor Lisa, who knows of what she speaks, what item she wished her family had packed when moving out here for the Year of the Big Island Experiment. The reply was immediate. "A pump."
"A fuel pump. For all those times we had to fuel up that @#$%^& furnace." No, you cannot just call up Main Street Oil Coal and Ice and have them send over the truck and deliver you a couple hundred gallons. Not at the moment, anyway. Getting oil into one's heating plant is one of the larger struggles, for all of us, at present.
A few myths: "I'll plant a big garden and live out of that, and I'll hardly ever have to buy groceries from the mainland. I'll eat a lot of kale." "There's always some fisherman going across so when I need supplies I can get a free ride with him." "I don't consume much, and this will teach me to consume even less. I can stock up on lentils and brown rice and live simply, like they used to."
These are each just a refined version of that old chestnut "Once I'm here, I never want to leave." This makes perfect sense in only two contexts, both common to Matinicus: 1. Summer vacation. 2. There is a bench warrant out for your arrest.
I suppose either of those makes a better neighbor than some idiot trying to write a book about living this way.