Battling the Pace of Island Life on Matinicus
Last Monday was a lovely day on Matinicus. I had finally rounded up some Kennebec seed potatoes to plant, which took some doing because everybody’s starting their gardens early this year and my usual sources were sold out. I was delighted with the news that on this fine spring day the garage guys in Rockland could meet my jeep on the mainland side when the ferry arrived later, meaning I would not have to ride in with it today. I determined to consider that a gift of precious “spare time” — a Matinicus ferry trip basically shoots the whole day. I was sending my island car to be worked on (itself highly irregular) and am able to do so because we have two ferries two days apart, meaning a Matinicus to Rockland to Matinicus round trip is possible. This only happens five or six times a year. At any rate, I was given the privilege of an extra day at home, and excellent weather, too. Maybe, for the first time this season, I might actually sit outside and read. I was looking forward to a pile of National Fisherman back-issues — in my spare time.
Expecting it would only take five minutes, I checked my e-mail. Several potential summer ministers want to know whether they can bring their dogs to Matinicus. The Congregational Church of Matinicus, denominational in name only, is served by a series of volunteer summer pastors of most any liberal-to-center stripe, and they stay in an old house called the parsonage. The parsonage, which is also sometimes the teacherage and is now in part the post office, is maintained by a board of trustees, and it is their feeling that with all this turnover the fewer animals, the better. I am at present that special volunteer entrusted with the duty of communicating with possible summer ministers, and my tasks as such are threefold: to keep the fire-and-brimstone missionaries far away from here, to scare the livin’ pete out of any perspective Sunday preacher who has to be somewhere else first thing Monday morning, and to break the sorry news that Mister Boots, Fluffy, and the mynah bird should stay home.
That was only the beginning.
The phone started ringing, and it would ring steadily all day, and the e-mails kept springing up. Mr. Martin from the Maine Emergency Management Agency calls up and we talk at length about how to apply for storm damage reimbursement. We’re talking about that storm back in February when the harbor bell buoy came adrift and banged its way almost onto the store beach. I try to explain that we’ve never attempted this particular bureaucratic task before and that I have a great deal yet to learn, and that no, we cannot hire any professionals to come haul away the debris. Sam from the State Planning Office e-mails answers to my questions about a grant for our recycling program. One of the fishermen wants the name of “that guy from Yankee Magazine” who has been around trying to interview people. My editor at Tilbury House sends an e-mail about sales tax rules, and in the middle of all the work-related correspondence (such as how to spell “whoopie pie,”) she suggests a sign in the bakery: “Buy my book and I’ll throw in a free cookie.”
Shed City sends an e-mail about my order for the recycling project. I repeat that I need the gross vehicle weight and the overall length of their delivery truck before I can even find out whether we can get a ferry reservation. Maury stops in because he needs Sarah’s house key, which was left off here, and we talk about spring and dogs and recycling sheds and how the idiot reporters think every man-jack out here lists “assault and battery” as his regular hobby. He’s been working in Rockland a lot this winter and he’s heard all the insulting descriptions of Matinicus. He takes the key and goes to work.
Kevin the pilot calls on the phone. I’m supposed to pick up a submersible well pump coming out on the next flight.
Paul, who has been outside loading propane cylinders for delivery, steps into the house and says, “Leona says she wants doughnuts” (but only in my spare time).
A summer neighbor walks in, sternly announces that her water looks funny, and that it turns her tea strange colors. I tell her I will bring back a bottle from the water company test lab when I go to the mainland tomorrow.
Dave from the Island Institute e-mails to assure me that yes, the Nancy who wrote the Whoopie Pie book is the same Nancy I thought it was. At least that settles the spelling of “whoopie pie.” I have always seen it this way, with an “ie” in cookbooks, but this foolish computer keeps trying to change it to “whoopee.” It appears both ways in the draft of my book, and we need to settle on one spelling; Nancy’s book sets it in stone, as far as I am concerned. To heck with what the computer thinks.
Another journalist is curious about Jarod Bray, the Matinicus lobsterman who’s beginning a program where he’ll take money to not harvest lobsters. I don’t know much about the arrangement but I wish Jarod the best of luck and we (the other writer and I) decide that we are both in the wrong racket. Jarod’s my neighbor and a good kid; this should be interesting.
The emergency management guy wants to fly out here and help estimate our storm damage and needs to talk about how he’s going to do that. I explain about the air service and the mail flights and then tell him not to come on Friday because there is a funeral on the island, before which I need to spend the morning frying about a truckload of doughnuts, and after that a school budget workshop if the superintendent can get here. The day is entirely spoken for. We settle on a day when he’ll only have to compete with a contractor looking over an electric company line work job, a couple of plumbers from Rockland and a somewhat high-strung summer cottage owner for our simultaneous attention. That morning’s mail flight will be full. Let’s just hope it isn’t too foggy to fly.
The ferry comes in, two lumber trucks unload, and I go down to the harbor and drive my jeep aboard. Not one of the crew can find the tickets. The Maine State Ferry Service has no terminal or office on this side; the tickets must be lost in the Rockland office somewhere. Emily the deckhand has brought her lunch but there is no fork or anything with it. I take Paul’s truck and drive home and bring her back some plastic silverware. The ferry spends its usual hour here and then hurries away; our wharf is high and dry when the tide goes out; it wouldn’t work for the ferry to stay longer than scheduled. I called Eastern Tire from the telephone on the wharf, to let them know that the boat, and my jeep, will be in Rockland in about two hours. This public phone, should you ever be in need of the same, is found by opening the gray Stanley tool box which is bolted to the telephone pole.
Eva Murray didn’t get any potatoes planted in her Matinicus garden last Monday.