Industrial arts

Eva Murray: The last day of winter

Posted:  Wednesday, April 16, 2014 - 4:45pm

I offer some uninvited ruminations on a few of life's finer things, like community, and spring, and cake, and ice cream — and maybe even snow.

As I write, it is Wednesday morning (April 16). Of course we all awoke today to a dusting of snow. A few had more than a dusting; roads in some parts of Maine became, for one last time, dangerous. Car doors were iced shut, commuters were profoundly annoyed and a few high-country branches came down to the detriment of the electricity. Even the offshore islands — usually just enough warmer than the rest of Maine to serve up a tedious drizzle while the inland folks get the pretty white stuff — sparkled like Christmas cards this morning. Monhegan and Matinicus and Isle au Haut got online and compared notes. It seems most people have little good to say about the season's (presumably) last snow. I'm not complaining.

Without a commute, what's the harm in an inch of twinkly snow that'll melt by lunchtime? Beats rain, I say.

Spring is trying. We have crocuses, we have blue-star chionodoxa and snowdrops, and we almost have pussy willows. The robins have been around for weeks, and the usual mayhem with the flickers has begun. The daffodils will be late this year, but they are tough eggs and will show up eventually. This past Saturday, at the recycling sheds, we were down to our T-shirts sorting the trash, but this morning I'm back at my winter post, parked in the kitchen in a flannel shirt, my feet on the open wood stove’s oven door, tossing in sticks to keep the glow fed. It isn't really all that cold in here; I'm just more comfy with the fire going. I know this will be my last day of winter, and winter's peace and quiet.

By our lights spring actually starts tomorrow, Thursday, the 17th, and not just because tomorrow will be the first day after what we blithely assume is the last snowfall. Tomorrow begins this business of more than one vehicle ferry a month. With that comes the bulk of the neighbors. Tomorrow the population of this place will start upward with a mighty heave. (What's that? One ferry a month? Are you serious? That's right. In the winter, Matinicus gets one round-trip a month out of Rockland.) But on April 17, the Maine State Ferry Service vessel Everett Libby will arrive heavily laden with people and their truckloads. Vehicles will come stuffed with plants and bicycles and mulch and fertilizer, trim lumber and lawn mowers, coolers and crates and power tools and high hopes for great projects — and bins full of groceries, as there are none to be had here.

It's probably not really justified to call these friends "summer people," with all the prickly baggage that mean-spirited appellation contains. Some who will be aboard that ferry grew up here, some work hard through their seasons here and some have seen earlier snows on this rock-pile. Just the same, they are not winter people. They have all had their water drained and now call up the handyman to get things started. They are all, for perfectly sound reasons, island part-timers. At 7:30 tomorrow morning the Rockland ferry terminal will be a jolly reunion of hugs and smiles. The deck of the outbound ferry will be a chatty place. Let us hope, for their sake, for calm seas.

A lot of these folks are my friends, but I'll still admit to mixed feelings this time of year. I like the island winter. I like my days beside the wood fire. I like having very few neighbors.

I'm thinking I'll head in to Rockland on that ferry's return trip. It'll be me, and somebody's John Deere tractor headed for Hammond Tilton to be worked on, and very likely nobody else. I'll hang out a little with the ferry crew, and we might tell each other some stories. The deck of the Libby inbound will be quiet. Let us hope, for my sake alone, for calm seas.

We will not have calm seas, though. Of that I can be certain.

At any rate that cluster of people aboard the first "springtime" ferry of the year knows itself to be a special community. Perhaps not the winter-hardy or the dumb-enough-to-stay, but they deal with the complex logistics and aggravations of transportation required of a Matinicus homeowner. Not for them are the conveniences of civilization; not for them the golf courses, the restaurants or the "charming little Main Streets" seen in magazines that claim to portray the "hearty" side of quaint New England. They laugh at this stuff. They take pride in the sickening, soaking ferry crossings, the days that start at 4 a.m. so they can make Rockland to load on time, and their favorite island's complete lack of a place to buy arugula. They take pride in their connection to the Pirate Island, so called, when their winter neighbors ask with eyes wide and mouths agape about the storied Outlaw Fishermen of Penobscot Bay. They smile and say, "Yes, we live there."

But we who are here in January deserve our little bit of pride. We who have been here all winter still take some perverse pleasure in our resistance, if you can call it that. A few days ago, in mind to celebrate the spirit of "We were here, and not just in the sunshine," a bunch of us gathered at the island school and loaded a table with homemade cakes. We enjoyed a rainy Sunday afternoon drinking coffee and indulging in a good deal of the Demon White Sugar in honor of our winter boots, our sump-pumps and spruce fires, our Stabilicers and snow shovels and chainsaws and laying in the slush wrestling tire chains onto the bucket truck. We ate hot gingerbread. We ate banana cake with cream cheese frosting. We ate two kinds of chocolate cake. We talked about our neighbors and parents and friends and enemies coming back from R.V. Nation, and the several thousand — it seems — island lobstermen who return each spring from far less blustery places, in a hurry to set out traps and announce with authority how this island is their own. I think another slab of that gingerbread is in order; then, perhaps just a scrid more of the chocolate. We are the winter people.

We eat together, making light of slogging through the cold and the dark. Is that what makes us a community? Maybe it is.

The satisfaction earned by the winter resident isn't a matter of who is a native, by the way. The days when that was an easy way to sort "real islanders," born and bred, from "tourists," who expect to be waited upon, are behind us. Most of us are neither. A few natives stay the winter and quite a few do not. Some who have settled here by choice stay the winter and work their keesters off. Spare me the conventional wisdom about natives versus transplants: the real sense of community surfaces among the people who show up when work needs to be done. Who is here when you cannot stand up in the road without steel teeth lashed to your boots? Who is here when the oobleck falls from the sky? Who is here when the lights go out?

Meanwhile, across the bay in Rockland, folks have been watching and reporting gleefully to each other as recent activity has been spotted around the vicinity of Dorman's Dairy Dream. Dorman's is our real harbinger of spring, and a darn-sight more accurate than robins and crocuses. Word is out! Dorman's opens tomorrow, Thursday, the 17th! See, I told you tomorrow is the first day of spring. Who will be there? I will be, and straight from the ferry terminal if all goes well. Perhaps I shall tell them I made the trip to Rockland special for an ice cream cone. Online, we read how the community gathers, and each ice-cream lover plans his escape from his office. Donna and Cheryl and the guys from the hardware store will be there. Cousin Bill, the drummer, will be there, and Officer Troy, the friendly parking ticket guy, will be there, and Patti, who sells me my car insurance, will be there. Word has just come in that a Bowdoin College senior who has not once, in eight years of school, missed a single class without illness or the excuse of an away-game, will break ranks and drive an hour and a half to Rockland to have an ice cream at Dorman's on opening day. Now that's what I call a sense of community. That's what I call a celebration of spring.

Eva MurrayEva Murray lives on Matinicus.

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