Down East 2013 ©
Thinking of coming out to Matinicus to “find yourself?”
There is a mystique about islands and other remote places, deep woods and lonely deserts, outposts and outback stations and jungle postings and mountain tops, places where you cannot hear the freeway. People think that given such solitude, such silence, they will dig deep within themselves and discover something inspired.
Might be they’d just go crazy, too.
Allow me to make a couple of suggestions, seeing as I have been there, and I am here, and have been here for twenty-three years, and seeing as it is February and the National Weather Service is telling us the seas may rise to twenty-six feet tonight (I am not making this up). One man on the island today badly needs to get to the mainland, where his wife is ill, but he will not get there. County Emergency Management has called to check on us; I assured them we were fine. The lights are still on, but the lineman won’t be getting much sleep tonight.
You’ll be better off if you discover your inner strength before you get here.
It is raining sideways. Those who keep dogs are out today, in the teeth of it, because dogs have to be walked. The weatherman says it will likely gust to sixty miles an hour tonight.
We brag, in a twisted way, about how we can offer no latte, no take-out, no traffic cops, and no sidewalks. There is also no way off this rock on days like this, but if all is well in your own kitchen, that’s okay. Here, we are warm, lugging in firewood and eating birthday cake and drinking cheap wine, selling propane and providing the flour so the neighbor can make his biscuits, watching the Olympics and knitting up multi-colored fluff. If the power goes out, we’ll still be all right; we’ll just have to go to work.
Before you apply for this teaching job, consider your small pleasures. If they can be made up easily with a good book or a bit of sugar or your oboe or your snowshoes, you’ll likely do fine. If that doesn’t sound like the real world, you might take care. Here, such humble fun is as real as it gets.
In February of 1988, the aforementioned lineman brought the isolated Matinicus schoolteacher an applesauce cake on her twenty-fourth birthday, which date he’d done a little research to discover. We’ve been married over twenty years.
This is not a good place for you if your intention is to live cheaply and save up your salary so that you can go sailing next year, not unless you have another source of spending loot. Don’t be foolish; the pipes will freeze if you’re too miserly. You will not be happy living on lentils and kale, shivering in your woolies, and cutting ties with your mainland brothers and lovers and friends. There is no point in trying to talk yourself into thinking that a Spartan, monastic, or third-world lifestyle will do you good. It will not. You will find yourself tried in other ways, likely much more meaningful, and the business about “living simply” meaning eating crusts and sitting in the dark will just seem silly once you’ve spent a winter here. You surely will live simply, but not like that. There are other battles, more important ones, when you are the one and only teacher and there are only a very few neighbors.
Friends will make all the difference-- both new island friends, with whom you will, if you are smart, share every indulgent treat you can get, and old mainland friends, whom it is strongly suggested you not shirk. It is not inexpensive to live here, and you’d be well advised to plan for the same. You will want to fly off every now and then, to run the heat, to order cookies and steak and beer from Shaw’s, and to play your music loud once in a while.
This is not to make light of a propensity for poetry, or the reality of long walks on perfect beaches, and the cry of the loon and all that. Those pleasures are real, and they are to be treasured. They cannot, however, get the fire started when the wood is wet, cook your supper if you’ve run out of propane, or make sense of the mercurial ways of lobstermen, whose children may or may not show up for school. The sunrise and the sunset and the shooting stars and even, once in a while, the northern lights will delight; the bioluminescence will make you smile, and an audible stillness after a two week gale will please you more than you’d ever suspect. Just the same, the groceries might not come for a week. You will, most assuredly, run out of milk. Things will leak. Things will wobble and occasionally break. You, if you are the right person for the job, will not.
If you mean to sing in the shower, sketch the gulls while perched on the ledges, pile up stones to make transient art, or read out loud to the dog, this might just be the perfect spot. This whole place is one living, breathing poem, although it might feel at times more like “The Charge of the Light Brigade” or some Yukon doggerel by Robert Service than anything too airy and sublime. If you intend to make art, come ahead, but you will also be the art. If your desire is to write the great American novel, more power to you but you won’t have time. If you think you’re going to write about us islanders like an anthropologist among the savages, I will personally be the first to slash your tires.
Eva Murray submitted this to Down East before her deadline, in case the power went out overnight.