Industrial Arts

Eva Murray: Quiet on this last day of the year

Posted:  Tuesday, December 31, 2013 - 6:30pm

Nothing is going on here. There is no news. All is well.

Each time we check the thermometer the temperature has dropped a bit more, but the three Really Scientific Weather Instruments upon which an islander with meteorological queries might rely all indicate clement conditions. One, we can see the microwave telephone tower from my house; two, the treetops aren't whipping around with the mighty thrash of a dog playing tug-of-war with a stolen roast; and three, every now and then we hear a Cessna engine. Who needs a weather stick?

Through this New Year's cold snap Matinicus will likely be the warm spot of Maine, as this island was last time, and the time before. But even in this tropical paradise, we'll be lingering in the single digits Fahrenheit. Our son calls us "the glowing red spot on the map," as a few offshore islands may be the only sites reporting in at above zero. The planes are still flying, and as long as the planes are still flying, life here is just not that heavy-duty. It isn't Alcatraz or Adak or Gilligan's Island until the weather stops Kevin's boys and the aircraft the Cessna corporation named "Stationair" back in the '60s, supposedly because it is "the station wagon of the air."

Sometimes, by the way, when we are left alone the problem is with conditions at Knox County International, not here. That airplane noise means there is no need for powdered milk, dead starter or unabated toothache, and we all, all 20-some-odd of us here out to sea, breathe a bit easier.

Today we shall have our polar bear dip, because tomorrow the wind is supposed to blow harder. The wind chill right now, in the middle of the bright day, is already around zero; no need to make this into SEAL training. We don't run, jump or sashay into the 39 degree northern ocean to raise money for any worthy cause, although we may be missing a darned good chance. We are merely, I suppose, an idiot or two, however many we are and that's not many. This year we do have an actual bona fide regulation Polar Bear among us in the person of a Bowdoin College jock. A truck is left running with the heat cranked up, and there isn't really any danger, but we do get bragging rights. We bring a safety committee, that being the phone man, who wouldn't miss it. The hard part will be running barefoot across any ice or snow on those rocks. No non-skid water shoes for us intrepid bears. There is consideration of Stabilicers strapped to bare feet.

I don't mind the cold. I do mind the mud, when it is 33 degrees, which it is far too often out here. And I mind the ice, especially should there be need to drive on the mainland, and everybody minds the wind. The wind changes everything here. The wind keeps us awake at night. The wind worries the guys who work on the power lines, and the guys who own boats, and anybody who wishes to cross the bay, and all who have groceries on order from Rockland. Such a list exempts none.

Officially hard at work scribbling away in my erstwhile office, I am parked comfortably plumb-dumb right in the middle of the way, pad on my knees, in a rocking chair beside the wood pile with my feet up on the open woodstove oven door. The phone man calls it "scrivening," but that brings up thoughts of Bartleby and his psychological retreat, and what I know of medieval copyists and drudge clerks, so I check to see how else it may be used. The online dictionary offers me the tidbit that "scrivening" is one of the least looked-up words in its database. Also, that it is merely an obsolete term meaning "writing" and secondly, "telling the future by shapes revealed in smoke, water or a crystal ball." "No, no," I argue with the circuits, "You mean 'scrying,' and that's an entirely different word." Believe me, if anybody around here had the knack with the crystal ball, the dispatchers at the flying service would pay good rate to subscribe to such a service.

All I wish for on this final day of the year is that the telephone will not ring, that nobody will come to my kitchen door in a hurry needing something serious, and that I will not be obliged to brush my hair and appear civilized, or to — heaven forbid — go for the orange jump kit and hope like hell all somebody requires is the most basic of emergency medical services. The phone man is chasing a DSL trouble ticket. That's Digital Subscriber Line, meaning somebody's Internet is wonky. Once provided with the Internet, denizens of small isolated communities such as may be located on spruce-covered ledge-piles halfway between Rockland and Ireland will not happily do without the same. First, though, he must lug a plate of food to a semi-feral tiger cat he hopes to soften up.

A neighbor calls to say he's heard a noise in an unoccupied home. It turns out to be the smoke alarm reacting poorly to the extreme cold. Somebody will go over with the key and take care of it, but it is a good sign when guys call each other and ask around about who's got the key to Kathleen's old house, just because somebody heard a noise. There's something to be said for living in a community like that.

So I'm saying it. There; that's enough sentiment. It is time to get ready for my little swim. Happy New Year! Don't worry about us; the phones work, the planes are flying, there's firewood and Emily is talking about chocolate pudding instead of champagne for New Year's Eve. We've got it easier than most people — and a few degrees warmer, most likely.

Eva MurrayEva Murray lives on Matinicus

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