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.