Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sweet Sunday at Home

Doubts and uncertainty and financial stress have been part of my landscape for years now. Can I justify paying for this house, staying in an unpredictable business that I'm inexperienced in, bringing my kids out here, beating on my joints and back, not pursuing the conventional job situation? On this chilly breezy late July Sunday afternoon with windswirl sounds coming through the screen as I wake up from a short nap on the couch, having had breakfast of Cait's egg's, Eva's bread, my crabmeat and Megan's alchemy with those ingredients, I have no doubts at all. It's home.

"Any idiot can fish the shore" one mentor told me. That idiot would be me. I started out in the peapod among the rocks and kelp. I've started learning my way outside a bit more on Close Enough, but I still like working around the shore. This is my fifth season running my own boat, which seems impossible-I just started. This year, though, I'm not sinking, snarling or losing track of as much gear. The workflow is steady and consistent and more orderly and rational. The steadiness gradually turns to better paychecks and fewer nightsweats. The boat is itself a home of sorts and helps us stitch together a life where we have transportation options for the kids and ourselves, and can keep the house up. That way it's not a house on the island, its home.

So today is not the Downeast Magazine kind of late July day, not like last week when we went in the water and stayed in, but it is a sweet Sunday at home.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Rise of the Jellies- Cue the Theramin

At my office on the Damariscotta River, I get distracted and need to walk outside. This is because I have never quite adapted to indoor sitting work, or because I am lazy, or both. Several times over this early part of summer, on the bridge between Damariscotta and Newcastle, I've seen legions of moonjellies rushing up on the tide or back. It struck me as improbable if for no reason other than I'd think the current and rocks would shred them. There sure were a lot of them.

Then I recalled doomsdayish prophecies of acidifying ocean water making conditions hostile to many forms of sea life but friendly to jellyfish. My ocean biologist friend Pati at the Bigelow Lab said that moon jellies eat all the plankton in sight. Plankton as in base of the food chain and indirectly the base of the livelihood of many fishing families. Cue the theramin.

Last year, on one occasion late in the summer off Matinicus, I saw my first comb jellies- fantastic five sided whispy zeppelins with dazzling light shows up to one end and back. This year, they're already everywhere and it's only June. Hopefully if it's an invasion, we can figure out how to make them a delicacy.

The lobsters are numbed up as they say.

Time to enjoy the place for a few days, play some tunes on the dock and crack a few crab claws. Life is good, even with the impending jellyfish takeover. Cue the electric guitar.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Recycling, Fava Beans and Anadama Bread

Any reference to criminal activity is for entertainment purposes only. Any resemblance to me is purely coincidental. 

She decided the bathroom wall color had to go, and rightly so. It was a shade best enjoyed with fava beans and a bottle of chianti- f-f-f-f. We both enjoy painting projects, but hadn't done one together. I came in late, but was happy to cut and roll the ceiling.

Two rooms away is a possession I've had longer than most anything else. At a job site in Bowdoinham, I was tasked with continuing a paint job also from the internal organ series- the kind of grotesquely poor taste that can only be obtained from pricey architectural firms. In a pile of sawdust, lumber scraps and other construction debris was a half gallon cardboard paintpot, half crushed in. I picked it up, straightened it and put it back to work. Many colors later, the pot was no longer flimsy cardboard, but could probably be run over by a lawn tractor with no damage. Thirty years on, it lives in my den and holds things like pens, audio adaptors, spare guitar strings and such.

I've had a nerdish compulsion to reuse things all my life. Part of what drew me to setting my own traps here on the island was the great abundance of lost and abandoned gear. There was a giant mound of rope in my back yard, along with some well aged traps. Along the rocky shore are tons of lost buoys, rope and mangled traps.

I was running short of buoys  a few days ago and knew where to find them. On the wild southwest corner of the island is a rocky cove that is prone to buoy accumulation. We walked down the trail to the shore and picked our way over the rocks to the sweet spot. Dozens of buoys were wedged between rocks, driven up into the puckerbrush and in twisted bales of rope and other gear.

We cinched up three dozen or so, and dragged them back over the rocks and up the trail. One I recognized and took to my neighbor. The rest have been whale-proofed, scraped and painted and now hang in my cherry trees off the side of the shop. They're all different sizes and shapes, but all my colors. They are no longer abrading microplastic bits into the ocean.

It is very satisfying.


P.S. along the lines of reuse, Eva's anadama bread stands up very well to a longer life cycle than you would think. I only had use for half a loaf a month ago and the rest went in the freezer. After thaw, its still very sweet and fresh.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

You're Really Back When...

How I can tell I'm really back on Matinicus:

Aside from starting work at 5:30 on Sunday and going 11 hours or so, it was really the lawnmower afterwards that confirmed my official welcome home.

After said day's work and a couple of congratulatory brews with a friend, I got inspired to start mowing the lawn. This is the season when about the time you finish one end, the other has grown 4 inches or so. I am exaggerating. It actually looks plush for at least 6 hours before becoming shaggy.

I pulled out the Trusty Rusty and found the throttle cable to be corroded in place. Somebody probably left it out half the summer last year. WD-40, pliers and eloquent profanity all fail to loosen the cable. So here it is- how I know I'm really back. I clipped off a piece of trap wire and muckled it around the throttle lever on the engine, and off I went, plushing up the place.

I hadn't thought about how to stop the engine. Usually, thick grass works fine, but not so today. Pliers come back out and silence the motor.

After supper, I went out to finish and knew I was really, really back. The last couple of tablespoons of gas went in the tank and then wouldn't you know it, the elastic band holding my ziplock baggie gas cap in place lets go. After installing the new rubber band, I give a stout tug on the starter cord which parts company with itself.

I pull on the tail end what's left and get it done anyway.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Third Time's a Charm

Smoke in the chimney. Lights in the window. Laundry on the line. Battery on the charger. Long johns a week and change before May 1. Having spent the last 3 winters off the island, returning is abrupt- a portal instead of the halting, lurching, gradual coming of spring on the island.

The last two years, the abrupt personal climate change of returning to Matinicus was tough. The first time, the place showed my family's hasty departure of the prior fall; furniture and stuff ripped out of place leaving dreary sockets along floor and walls, emotional scar tissue fresh and painfully visible. I didn't want to know it at the time, but it was the end of a life and the start of another.

The second time, Aunt Belle's house reflected chaos and uncertainty, two to three foot mounds of "what do I do with this if I ever have the time to figure it out?" A takeover by rats, their stenchy opportunism filling the vacuum created by me not having a plan. A week of cleaning and hauling to help the place show well to real estate shoppers. Clothes the kids outgrew a year ago still in their drawers.

This year I washed a few dishes and got the stove going. And stopped by the piano.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Return from NOLA

Watching a movie many times over many years with the vague expectation that things might go differently this time is a funny quirk of my brain, and perhaps yours. I'm always a little sad when Dorothy decides to go back to Kansas. I think I'd have stayed in Oz. I definitely could have found a way to soldier on in New Orleans for a good while longer before I'd go looking for magic shoes, my trusty winter hoodie or boarding passes.

I absolutely would have stayed behind if I'd known what yesterday would be like.

Today's air travel system is an exquisitely complicated web of communication, logistics and hardware that works reliably most of the time. Fat Monday was not one of those days of sleek and shiny modern aircraft whooshing people and their bags of stuff in all directions to the right places on time.

I'm afraid that sophistication breeds vulnerability into the system. We observed this pillar of modern technology crumble pathetically on account of what appeared to be barely a whisp of a snowstorm.

We were dropped off at Louis Armstrong Airport at an uncivilized hour (especially for New Orleans), only to learn that our flight to Houston was going to leave a couple of hours later than expected. Simple arithmetic meant we could not possibly make our flight from Houston to Boston without a daring mid-air transfer of some sort. We'd also miss our 5 PM train reservations and be stuck in Boston in the wee hours.

After a leisurely coffee and a short numb spell, I approached the gate to politely inquire as to our options. The agent commanded that we run several gates to the eastward and immediately board for Washington D.C. which she assured us would get into Boston in plenty of time for the train and the rest our our journey. She was at least one cup of coffee up on me. But?...Wha?... Go!    Now!

As the day unfolded things became more inexplicable. By afternoon, I felt we were being slowly digested by this monster of human ingenuity, as well as by our own snap decision in a moment of stress.

The flight to DC was great. The pilot assured us during the descent in that great way pilots have, that he had heard of no delays or problems at Dulles. He had a different story after we had sat for a half hour idling 8 and a half or so feet from the snorkely thing that sucks people out of the plane and into their next gauntlet of peril. According to Captain Confident, we were just waiting for snow equipment because "it's a mess out there." During this period of contemplation, simple arithmetic again presented a problem. We needed the time travel Delorean to be warmed up on the concourse in order to catch our plane to Boston.

Things have a way of working out, though not necessarily a good way. Our concern over missing the plane to Boston was unfounded because the flight had been cancelled. The next patient agent of the empire kindly offered us a flight the following evening. nuh-uh. Then I had an inspiration: we could fly into Portland and catch the train for the last leg with time to spare. The agent said we were "lucky" and booked us for Portland.

Portland it was. The weather radar showed no precip in DC or in Portland. The tote board had the flight- still 3 hours into the future- on time.

Then the voodoo happened. After a leisurely lunch and contemplation of our clever choice to go straight to Portland and the good fortune to get seats, we headed for the gate. We never made it. The tote board-evil oracle of high irksomeness-changed our flight notation from "on time" to "cancelled". Several repeat starings made no difference. I was baffled that even and especially after the demi-storm was long over, the cancellations sprouted and eventually included 80% of the departures.

The line at customer service was 2 hours and a couple of hundred feet long. We were the lucky ones. By the time we were done and on our way to a friend's place in Silver Spring for a wonderful evening, the line was at least a quarter mile back along the corridor and out of sight. Simple arithmetic again leads to an inescapable conclusion.

I'm home now so it's funny for me, but some of those far back in the line may have just now reached the desk.

Friday, February 21, 2014

How Things Look on the Water


Near the end of my first day aboard the C. Kristy Lee, I learned the difference between being on the boat and being in the water. It was a swift and effective lesson.

For the first couple of months, that was probably the extent of my maritime knowledge. Aside from knowing that I was in the boat, I was Mr. Magoo. I did not know the names of ledges, islets or other features and I certainly had no idea what Pecker’s Goldmine or the Prong might possibly be, and wasn’t sure I wanted to find out.

I slowly became aware of my surroundings and of the limits of human spatial perception when on the water. Things that look close to me or near to each other are often neither. 

Charlie would make the occasional comment about this or that boat in the vicinity. To me, those vessels were more or less identical specks. I wondered how he could tell which was whose. Lobster boats share many features. They’re pointy on one end and square on the other. They have wheelhouses and antennae. 2 or 3 orange people are usually aboard.

In reality, every boat is as unique as a fingerprint despite the similarities. Now I’m pretty much aware of who is around me on the water without thinking about it or squinting.  This is a good thing for a naturally jumpy and inexperienced operator such as myself.

Then there are the buoys. Dazzling and individualized as they may be with bright colors and patterns, they all looked like black spots to me from more than a few dozen yards. This changed abruptly when I got my own. I’m still startled on occasion when I spot one of mine before I can really see it among many others at a distance.

The buoy is much more than a marker. It is a flag of a small independent nation. The colors and patterns represent the boat, the community and the family they’re connected with. Mine need a lot of cleaning and painting. This year I vow to fix my antenna and stick a buoy on at the base. Salute!