Eva Murray: Brier, Muck and Igiugig
For the last few decades we've had a regular rotation of observers venturing out to Matinicus for a day or an hour and nattering on about ours being a "unique lifestyle." Writers, especially, and photographers, and various sorts of amateur documentarians, and hopeful young film-school students, and well-meaning graduates with newly-minted degrees in English seem to believe they are the first to stumble upon the eccentric and peculiar realities of Maine's year-round island inhabitants.
Sometimes these good folks call me and want information and encouragement. Despite temptation to offer supportive and helpful tips, such as "Go away! This is MY beat! Why'n'cha write about your own home town!" I can put myself in their shoes. I'll confess that a harrying inconvenience in the regular transportation and a complete lack of take-out ensures that our islands will maintain a certain mystique. That, and a reputation just disreputable enough to be interesting to those who work in cubicles, cannot help but attract the attention of fresh-faced journalists. They have my sympathy.
The fact is, however, that we are not actually unique.
I offer, by way of example, a few kindred spirits: Brier Island, Nova Scotia; the Isle of Muck, Scotland; and the lakeside municipality of Igiugug, Alaska, each of which has been brought to my attention on purpose. It should be said that residents of those communities would be well within their rights to say to me, "Hey! Go write about your own home town!" I yield the point.
Perhaps we are gluttons for punishment, but my husband and I have a history of tourism among the wind-blasted, the fogbound and the underpaved. We find places to recreate where transportation is multimodal and an effort must be made. The top of Mt. Washington, the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and the end of the macadam in Labrador (the traveling asphalt batch plant being on the same ferry as we were that day) all favorite places, and considered quite relaxing, if you pick your weather. We have admirable friends who take trips that are far more challenging and exotic, but we have achy knees and lightweight wallets, and do not own a ski-plane.
A small vacation was in the offing, after this summer of long days' labors, and we struck off for the bitter end of that spit of land in Nova Scotia known as Digby Neck. Brier Island, the westernmost bit, claims to be the home port of Capt. Joshua Slocum, first man known to have sailed around the world alone. Now there's a challenging and exotic vacation for you. Anyway, we are enough the maritime-history-buff types to have read Slocum's account of said voyage, aboard his little oyster boat Spray, aloud to our children while they were still too young to do anything about it. Also, our attraction to places at the end of the line, whatever that may mean, is well-documented.
At Brier Island my traveling companion, who works for the phone company around here, could hardly help but squint through the pea soup to discover both ends of the over-water microwave link, and following the heavier black cable to its on-island hub, we shamelessly drove up some guy's driveway in mind to check out the Brier Island telephone tower. Paul's bus-man's holiday resulted in a brief interaction with the property owner, who was friendly enough, although the local lobsterman in the flashy pickup had nothing to do with the telephone company, couldn't tell us anything about the equipment, and may not have been altogether sure about the random vacationing tech geeks in his driveway.
The elementary school on Brier Island is, sadly, closed. We heard that the kids take the ferry to school each day, which is not such an uncommon procedure on islands. The next island over is just a few minutes' ride across and the ferry runs frequently. I found evidence on a map of an airstrip having once been in the middle of the island, but saw no physical sign of it, even when the fog cleared, so I inquired of the waiter at breakfast in the Brier Island Inn. The young fellow explained how when he first took the job and moved to Brier he asked about how emergency medical transport works, and he was told that there was a helipad over on the next island, usable for medical flights.
In the cemetery, people from out of town were wandering around discovering storied uncles and distant ancestors, just like they do here.
Igiugig, Alaska, is not an island, but many of the characteristics these places have in common have to do with being small and being remote—not necessarily being surrounded by sea. Likely there are towns in the Dakotas that have more in common with Matinicus than with Bismarck. I met native Alaskan community leader AlexAnna Salmon at an energy meeting a while back. The topic — and you can ask Sen. Angus King; he was there, too — was expensive electricity in remote places. Somehow Salmon had found out about Matinicus. In her comments she mentioned us, and a few of our similarities and parallels, but once she began talking about electricity metrics in Igiugig (which sounds sort of but not exactly like "Iggy AH gik") things really struck a familiar note. 65 kilowatts. 70 cents a kilowatt hour. OK, we're in this together.
The airstrip, while longer than ours at 3,000-feet, is relatively primitive by comparison to most, although like ours it does have a public telephone. The trash and recycling system has recently won an award, and the 69 residents are urged to sort their trash. Best of all are the public notices, such as: "DO NOT leave your vehicle out on the apron where airplanes need to taxi, park, or unload!" Also: "It's a simple task. When you leave any public building, please turn out the lights behind you. Even if you plan on returning later. The next time you look at your light bill and start to complain about the cost of it, remember that we can't keep electric bills down when you keep public lights on!"
A reader in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, U.K., ripped out and mailed a clipping to me recently from The Times (of London, presumably) entitled, Island searches the globe for a teacher. The Isle of Muck, 16 miles from the Scottish mainland in the Inner Hebrides, shares many aspects of life with Matinicus, including puffins, lovely views and a wintertime population of about 30. Like us, Muck has no store, although unlike us, they have to manage without a post office, and we'd call that a genuine hardship. As has been reported on other Maine islands, Muck has had the experience of new teachers resigning immediately after their first ferry trip.
We've got a new teacher here on Matinicus this fall, and there are new teachers on several of the other islands, too. Doubtless some bright young journalism intern will show up and want to do a story about their adventures here among the "hearty fisher-folk." That's fine; just stay off my beat. If you really care about editorial accuracy, don't call us unique. And shut off the lights.
Eva Murray lives on Matinicus
More Industrial Arts
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• Search and Rescue (May 27, 2016)
• It's about the water (May 11, 2016)
• Eva Murray: In defiance of mud season - tips for the inspired homeowner
• Plesiosynchronicity, and a snowy day
• A day of planning and practicing in preparation for major storms (posted March 10, 2016)
• Time to take down the (island) Christmas tree (posted March 3, 2016)
• Snow Day on Matinicus (posted Feb. 14, 2016)
•Going to Rockland for pie (and beer and art glass and ukuleles...) (posted Feb. 3, 2016)
•Eva Murray: Pencil to paper (posted Jan. 21, 2016)
• A new year, a new winter (posted Dec. 31, 2015)
• ‘A tiny, happy place’ (posted Dec. 14, 2015)
• Metal artist Blair Clement brings wave-washed junk to life (posted Sept. 20, 2015)
•Maine veterans and a most sentimental biker (posted June 1, 2015)
•Wild Island Child (posted April 8, 2015)
• Last holdouts of offshore outpost finally accept reality (posted April 1, 2015)
•Truck on boat (posted March 16, 2015)
•Public works (posted Feb. 25, 2015)
• A constant struggle (posted Feb. 14, 2015)
• Pie Hero, Pie Villain (posted Jan. 29, 2015)
• Safely out to sea (posted Jan. 27, 2015)
• Je suis (posted Jan. 13, 2015)
• Making merry on Matinicus, with only a few (posted Dec. 25, 2014)
• The smallest emergency medical service around (posted Sept. 29, 2014)
• Islanders host 'Man Overboard!' discussion, rescue demonstrations (posted Sept. 8, 2014)
• Logistics (posted July 31, 2014)
• Black Hawks over Criehaven (posted July 16, 2014)
• On a sunny Saturday, when the steel band came to Matinicus (posted June 6, 2014)
• The last day of winter (posted April 16, 2014)
• Puppies, basketball champs not injured by explosive five-bulldozer wreck, dump fire, and zoning board (posted March 13, 2014)
• In a good old hardware store (in memory of Everett Crabtree) (posted Feb. 28, 2014)
• What is it like to be one of Maine's Search and Rescue volunteers? (posted Feb. 9, 2014)
• Arts and hobbies (posted Jan. 31, 2014)
• Santa Claus and the yard sales - why I own more monkey wrenches than you do (posted Jan. 15, 2014)
• Quiet on this last day of the year (Dec. 31, 2013)
• A one-room school Christmas (posted Dec. 21, 2013)
• Here's wishing us all a little rebellion in this happy season (posted Dec. 12, 2013)
• Roadside assistance (posted Nov. 27, 2013)
• On the many kinds of emergency responders (posted Nov. 18, 2013)
• (In defense of...) Breakfast for supper (posted Oct. 22, 2013)
• Fish Factory (posted Sept. 9, 2013)
• 350 dot Rockland... and many ruminations on small efforts (posted Aug. 30, 2013)
• Trains and planes and heroes (posted July 15, 2013)
• Joining the community of artists (posted July 4, 2013)
• Worth every penny (posted July 27, 2013)
• It's about showing up. Some thoughts on EMS Week (posted May 27, 2013)
• Ethanol, gasoline, and public safety (posted April 17, 2013)
• A system that makes it hard on people who want to do the right thing (part 2) (posted March 29, 2013)
• A system that makes it hard on people who want to do the right thing (part 1) (posted March 21, 2013)
• 'It's important' (posted Jan. 18, 2013)
• Tree crew (posted Dec. 28, 2012)
• Light the candles (posted Dec. 13, 2012)
• Firewood (posted Dec. 2, 2012)
• Missing man formation (posted Oct. 18, 2012)
• In the middle of the bay (posted Oct. 3, 2012)