On the first 'Snow Day'
As I write, it is Monday December 3rd, and the first big snow of the year. Eric called early in the morning from Bethel, as delighted as a little child. It takes a lot to make a seventeen-year old get all bubbly. The promise of a foot of fluffy snow does it.
Such is rarely the weather of islands.
This morning we walked down to Betsy's intending to snap a few pictures of the snow on the holly bushes. Starkly beautiful at sunrise, or whatever you might call the gradual gray beginning of such a day, the steady gale had abated for a while last night, and with a rare wind speed of zero every tree branch, every stick and stalk and winterberry had a little white blanket this morning. Tromping only a quarter mile closer to the ocean, and already the stuff falling out of the sky changes to slush-balls and wet splats as if each large snowflake had melted in the air but the resulting water was still spread out across three-quarters of an inch of space. Throughout the day it has been changing back and forth every few minutes, hovering around the freezing point. This waffling on the part of the atmosphere is generally perceived by islanders as intentional malice, and we all speak impatiently of the weather as if it is some sentient meany who sits up late planning to put another thumb tack on the pew bench.
Soon enough the wind was back, of course, causing many of us to share a thought:
"I sure am glad I'm not on the water right now."
Actually, I spend a large part of each winter mulling over that thought.
One of the younger guys is charging around the island looking for something to plow with his four-wheeler. After checking the electric company powerhouse and shoveling off Kathleen's steps, Paul went down to the dirt floor Quonset hut truck garage yesterday (referred to by some of us as "the municipal culvert") in mind to start up the town's plow truck, just in case. It's just an old pickup with a not-exceedingly well-fitted snowplow on it, and maybe it was worth the six thousand dollars the town paid for it. I suspected the dealer found out we had six thousand in the budget, so the truck cost $5999.99 or some such. Discovering a burnt-off plug wire and a stony-cold-dead battery, it was just as well he tried it ahead of time, although so far today there hasn't been enough accumulation to really need to plow. He borrowed a battery from somewhere else and ordered one from the parts place but of course it cannot arrive until after the storm.
Storm, they say. Sure. For most of Maine, off the turnpike, it's actually just a snowy day. Compared to the hammering they are getting out west, it's just a snowy day. It is a storm out here, I suppose, in the sense that there is no safe transportation off, but that is the marine weather, nothing uncommon, no worse for the snow and rain. A few inches of snow is hardly a big weather event, no matter what the frantic hyperbole of the local news people out with their sound trucks insists. This is just winter.
A primary concern for the extraordinarily informal public works of Matinicus Island is the airstrip, and often that means keeping the well-meaning, the over-eager, and the fuzzy-minded the heck away from it. To drive around on a soft gravel strip, to create ruts and bumps and edges, even when the idea is to remove snow, is often worse than to do nothing. Worse, that is, once these ruts and ridges freeze to become permanent until the next significant snowfall; worse from the perspective of the pilots who have to land the little Cessnas. The truck guys don't always think about what the plane guys have to go through, especially if they happen to be among the people who only travel back and forth by boat anyway.
The other concern is the power. I mean "the other" assuming nobody gets hurt, or is ill, or has any other urgent need to cross the bay because that would be a singularly unpleasant trip. This would be no time to decide to have a heart attack or a ruptured spleen or a baby or any such messy business, but there are many days like this; anybody here in the forty-knots had best be resigned to staying put. Electrically speaking, though, we're sometimes way ahead of the mainland. With something under ten miles of overhead wire it is usually not very hard to find the cause of any outage (there are exceptions, not easily spotted by naked eye from ground level, such as salt-induced corrosion, random acts of gunfire, stuff like that, but let's think "trees down" and keep it simple.)
So, I'm sitting here in the kitchen, toasting my feet in the open wood stove oven, considering a second pot of coffee and mindlessly tapping sloppy drum rudiments on the sides of my laptop. I have work due, and deadlines, but I am finding it difficult to focus. I keep thinking the phone is going to ring and somebody's going to make me get up and go out and do something. The telephone has been busy today, but it has been incidental business; will we be here to drive somebody's tractor on to the ferry next week? Do I have so-and-so's phone number? Can you fix my stove? People are home pacing the floors and thinking of things.
Let that be a lesson to everybody who thinks an island an ideal of peace and solitude. When you've got peace and solitude, you don't necessarily appreciate it, because you're sure it's about to be interrupted with a furnace failure or a twisted ankle or a power outage or a stuck truck or a spruce down across the road, none of which is assured to be somebody's else's responsibility.
Eva Murray lives on Matinicus and never complains about her commute.