Thursday, October 22, 2015

Transportation and Taking Up 2015


This morning, at around 7:00, I was driving down Carrie's Hill toward Matinicus Harbor. Since it was blowing 21, gusting to 23 knots from the southeast, I had doubts. As I was doing the algebra of southeast wind, 26 foot boat, traps on the northwest shore needing to be pulled out for the year, getting out and back without dumping them off the boat, the sleepy voice of Maine Public Radio morning host Irwin Gratz advised me that my adopted community of Matinicus Plantation was incorporated on this day in 1840. Funny thing is how he's in a radio studio someplace and knows this, and I'm driving down the gravel road in ignorance. Today is the 175th birthday of the municipality. The community is a bit older.

I worry a great deal about whether we'll stay incorporated. Because of the apparently overpowering allure of the bland mainland life, fewer and fewer people want to live here year-round.

The power company had to recently drive up its already very high rates due in part to insufficient demand; insufficient year round households to spread costs over. This could either drive down consumption and exacerbate the problem, make an island household unaffordable, or move those of means to go off-grid. 10th grade economics says you can't solve a lack of demand by increasing price.

I see two choices. First is that the island goes Criehaven, becoming an outpost with no utilities, postal service, school, church or other institutions. Second is an active approach to livability issues. On this I feel some qualification for my otherwise eyeroll-inducing opinions.

My family and I were some of the last new arrivals to try and make a year-round life here. Energy costs, isolation, housing and grocery access are all hardships. The deal-breaker to me, though, is transportation; year-round, affordable, reliable, semiweekly access to the mainland; something akin to what the sparsely populated unorganized territories with roads that cost x many hundreds of thousands per mile per year enjoy.

The historical society has published a wealth of pictures from several decades ago. I see two things: a community of people and the Mary A. I don't think it is a coincidence.

My personal life has undergone a great deal of evolution. Work-wise, I've gotten back into legal practice by necessity. I'd much rather be stuffing bait bags, going all spiral-eyed from the fog and waking up sore, but the legal work is good for wretched days or months fit not for man, beast or lobster harvester. I can do almost everything in this line of work from the island. Knowing there was a ferry run a couple of times a week in the crappy months would make all the difference.

Unrealistic? Hmmm... Rutherford Island in South Bristol hosts 40 year round households. They are getting an $11M bridge upgrade. That's in addition to whatever annual plowing and maintenance costs are. Those investments don't just serve the residents, but as well all of the goods and service providers that do commerce over those routes. Is a water based transport system so different?

Taking Up 2015

Back to the boat. The north shore and Burgess Cove were swimming pool flat and easy places to take up fishing gear for the year. The morning was designed by Ansel Adams with infinite gradations of gray, my favorite being the rolling garden furrows of clouds to the west. I was thoroughly content to coil rope, pick out the few lobsters who didn't get the scheduling memo and stack traps in their places on the boat.

Although there is no obvious change in the underwater topography between Black Rocks and the southwest shore, there are funny water patterns. By funny I mean that even with no wind or chop, just as soon as the boat was full, a couple of eccentric waves came a hair's breadth from snatching a bunch of traps overboard. The row of gear slid and oozed, but didn't actually take the plunge. I credit my Uncle Malcolm for teaching me to cinch down on a rope in good shape and secure things that wanted to go astray such as haybales or large, iron-toothed farm equipment. Candidly, if I could've just picked which traps went overboard, I'd have shed no tears.

The remaining problem was that although the northwest shore was relatively tranquil, I could predict what was waiting around No'theast Point. Almost, because I am perpetually naive and optimistic. Not yet knowing what I didn't know, I still had to stabilize the load of traps before going 'round the corner. This meant climbing up the pile and tugging things back into some semblance of geometry, while remaining respectful of being alone on the water on a scowling gray day.

I had expectations fulfilled as I came around the point and was then forced to idle all the way in to the harbor holding my breath. I had expected a few good sized gray waves at the point and right outside the harbor, but didn't really think about everyplace in between. For the first time I can recall, I had to tack my way in to avoid being side-to which would have taken both the wicked and virtuous members of my trap collection.

When I got home, my list started with "dry pants" and "fire." After that,  I had a big stack of legal work waiting, but once the obvious email fires were doused and the paper mail checked, I just could not sit down to do it. Instead, I went for a walk that, which, for the latter half was quite wet. I was completely happy with evergreens and the red and orange of fall shrubbery and the wild waves and wind that I no longer had to contend with.

Now at dusk there are fat, warm raindrops and even a couple of lightning and thunder moments. It's October 22, 2015.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Backwards Told Story A

This one is best recounted in reverse order. Once the weather starts to change in October, working on a lobster boat changes with it. It's colder, bouncier, stays dark late and gets dark early. My brain still thinks July, August and September will last forever. Long hypnotic days of calm seas, though, must give way to a sense of urgency and a nervous (for me) eye on the weather. Maybe I treasure the experience a little more when it's a little tougher.

The fire is taking hold in the stove. It just started raining. Seamus, the cat appears at the door.

We're walking across the yard. I have an armload of firewood and Megan has our boat lunchbox and beverages. Even with the dark gray chill and wind, the yard and house are a womb of peace and comfort.

The boat is tied up, turned off. I've made a messy dismount from my skiff onto Robert's to get to the ladder, and we've stepped onto the concrete wharf, which moves under us as though bobbing slowly in the swell.

Since Clayton's and my boats moor very close, I am on edge coming up to the mooring in 30 knots of clammy southeasterly. As I'm pondering how to get tied up and deal with a lobster crate that's tangled ass-backwards with my skiff, the boat is shoved over the whole mess, threatening to sink the skiff, get tangled in my wheel and send me into Clayton's boat. Second time is the charm.

Coming up to the lobster car to sell our catch takes a couple of tries. I aim just like I always do, but slide quickly away from the tie up lines. After lurching my way in, we fasten onto the Matinicus Island Lobster car, commerce hub and gossipatorium. Not that we didn't earn it, but we did well for a day cut 40 traps short.

On the way in, the wind takes another healthy jump upward. The sea is pretty much either black or whitecaps and I'm glad I decided to bag the rest of the day. Close Enough rolls up and over, up and over and surfs into the harbor. 

I'm thinking maybe we should finish another day. But then, maybe we could do a couple more. As I'm thinking this, my hands are putting things away, so I've obviously made a decision. We are done.

The last couple of strings of gear are very sloppy and nerve-wracking. I spend a lot of attention wrestling the boat into the waves, rather than laying side-to and sloshing about. When a wave hits side-to, I'm letting my knees buckle so as to stay on the boat, much the same way as a wily toddler knows how to fold their arms quickly to slip down, out and away from parental control. It's an old reflex.

Along the north shore, the capillary waves come, telling of larger, gruffer conditions to follow. On the way out from shore for the deeper water traps, the wind jumps up abruptly, and with it, the waves.

Throughout most of the morning, enjoying the beautiful day is easy along any of 180 compass points. The other 180 don't look so nice- they are dark bordering on dusk. I figure the darkness will be on us in 15 or 20 minutes, but after a while, I realize the storm clouds are moving more up along the coast than out toward us. They'll find us, but not so quickly as I thought.

Megan and I know the forecast is calling for deteriorating conditions; wind and rain in quantities prohibitive of fishing in a 26 foot vessel. Right now, though, it's sunny and flat-ass calm, as they say. So we go.