Writers Headed for Matinicus Island Advised to Bring Their Own Lunch
You want to know what it’s really like around here?
I was about to send just a few notes about regular life on this fair isle, where crocuses are in bloom and the “Greep Bird” (woodcock) has begun to call in the dawn and dusk. I have a few regular readers who like the inconsequential realities, the island-life routines, the details eclipsed by the Real News. We enjoyed a movie night at the schoolhouse, and the first bits of green grass have appeared, and the tons of scrap metal leaving us aboard the Island Transporter might do for news this week. An island high-schooler, home for a week of spring break and fresh from integral calculus, determines the volume of a doughnut. We had Oil Boat Day, and the smaller children partied on St. Patrick’s, and all seemed quiet, at least on dry land.
Then, a guy comes through my door at lunchtime today. “Did you know that there are writer-bozos down at the Tuckanuck?” “No, where are they from?” “Vermont, somewhere way up by the Canadian border. They said they had never heard of Matinicus and then they heard about this trial and they thought it sounded interesting and they figured they’d come out and look around. They said maybe they ought to write a book about all these islands….”
“What did you tell them?” I inquired of the poor sap who delivered this news.
“I told them they’d better plan on spending some serious time here. Of course, they won’t. They said they figured most of the islands were pretty similar. I said, ‘Not really.’ They wanted to know what was so different about this place. I mentioned our dependence on the air service. It didn’t seem to sink in…”
“Somebody ought to hand them a copy of Dinnie Thorndike’s book,” I said. (“Islanders”, published by Down East Books, 2005.)
“Somebody ought to hand them a ticket off of here,” he replied.
Somebody ought to suggest they go write a book about Little Diomede. I would buy it.
I wondered to myself if anybody’s told them that they’d need to pack a sandwich. Bill, who owns the Tuckanuck Lodge B&B, doesn’t normally serve lunch.
Now, if those individuals or any other writers should read this, I beg you take only minimal offense at the nomenclature. You are not the only ones referred to around here as writer-bozos. Lots of people are writer-bozos. Pretty much all journalists who come out here have been called that. I am a writer-bozo and I know it. It could be worse. A few are real morons.
Here’s what I know about Matinicus that they don’t know, because I live here:
Some dude who used to live here called up the power company the other day—he called the actual generating station number, not the billing clerk—and left a threatening message on the machine, something to the effect of “you guys are going down.” The disgusted plant operator called him back and said now look, you don’t even owe us any money, what the hell is going on? The other guy suddenly got all pleasant and chipper, and while muttering unkind comments about certain third parties, made out like he was the finest kind of friendly fellow, and that all this entirely rational. “So what’s the deal with the threatening message?” inquired the still annoyed station operator. “Oh, well, that’s when I thought I owed you money.”
You just can’t make this stuff up.
My slide show at the Camden-Rockport Historical Society earlier this month was fun; they served these yummy crabmeat snacks and a big round of Monhegan doughnuts. The islands of Maine may well be the last best hope for the endangered American homemade doughnut. Cities can make all the rules they like about the legality of fat, but some scofflaw’s got to preserve this historic and iconic delicacy. After my rather choppy (and determinedly loud) description of Matinicus logistics, several people, most of them named Maynard, came up to speak to me about their own island experiences. Captain Hall was there, retired from the Bay Pilots; this I considered an honor, and most reassuring as well. So far no threatening missives from OSHA about that island phone man up that ladder without his hardhat, or about school children without back-brace belts helping to load the recycling, not to mention from the TSA concerning my remarks about what sort of items we might have in our possession as we board the common carriers bound across the water. We’ll see how much trouble this causes; regulatory agencies, take notice: please direct all wrath and criticism to me personally. That hockey stick on the airplane? That was us.
Speaking of school kids, four young ladies of the island learned CPR this week, here on Matinicus, and that brings to 17 the number of islanders who have taken or renewed their CPR recently. For a town with just 100 registered voters, roughly the same in electricity customers, and a winter headcount that dips to around 40, that’s not a bad statistic. More islanders have indicated their interest in the class next time around, which will probably be later this spring. We may have 50% of the population with a CPR card before the year is out. I suppose that depends quite a bit on what is the population. More later.
The cardboard boxes, dead electronics and Jagermeister bottles are piling up in the recycling sheds, so I’ve been all morning talking to the folks at the Rockland ferry terminal and the truck rental agency to schedule the recycling trips this spring. I’ll also take defunct appliances and the town will pay whatever it costs to dispose of them (which ain’t much.) Soon, the island population will double from its wintertime low point, and then double again for summer. We need to get the ferry reservations well ahead of time to haul the trash and junk off; our ferries are few and sometimes far between, and truck spots get taken fast. For those who have asked, yes, most island households make use of the recycling program. No, it isn’t “required.” What a dumb question.
The project of the moment is working up a mechanism for getting old fisherman’s float rope off the island, at no cost to them, for any old fishermen who wish to dispose of it in such manner.
Actually, I’m not sure we really have any truly old fishermen left. Ken, our oldest neighbor and a retired lobsterman, passed away last month, on a lovely, sunny morning, at home on Matinicus, where he was receiving hospice care. A few days ago another man with a Matinicus connection, known to most as “Hossa,” died here at a friend’s home, also while receiving hospice care. There are some people on this island who deserve a lot of credit for making it possible for both of them to be here for their last days. Hospice care is no small effort. Think of what that means for the flying service pilots, as well. Yeah.
The guys are still cleaning up little bits of storm damage from the last couple of big blows. We filled out the forms for the County Emergency Management estimating the damage to power lines, and quite a few shingles lost, but storms like the recent two are pretty common occurrences out here. We’re still dealing with small trees down on telephone lines on isolated roads around the island, stuff like that. The metal sign over the public phone box on the wharf was ripped off by the wind. (Have you seen our phone box? It’s a residential wall phone mounted inside a big Stanley tool box on the pole. ) The phone man calls his boss at TDS Telecom and says “I guess you’ve gotta make me out a maintenance ticket, the storm just wracked this thing until the aluminum broke right in two. I’ll just drill two holes in it and bolt it back on to the pole.” The paperwork and the corporate protocols and procedures for recording such a five-minute job seem akin to arranging for the moon shot, but we ratepayers don’t have to understand such things.
Now, it’s off to order my flag of Switzerland. Tires were slashed on the island last week, that is true; it is also true that an island handyman lent the recipient of that subtle notification a wheel wrench, in plain sight front of everybody. If we fly the flag of Switzerland up here it’ll look a bit like this place is the Ski Patrol office, but one could do worse.
Eva Murray, admitted writer-bozo, teaches CPR, hauls trash, and fries doughnuts on Matinicus Island. Those from places afar who wish to write about Matinicus might ought to show up on trash day and help load the truck. On second thought, don’t. It’ll be easier if we just do it ourselves.