Our kitchen floor is scattered with bits of the woods out back — twigs, fir needles, and the occasional snarl of pale green lichen, usnea I think, “Old Man’s Beard” — or that’s what I’ve always heard it was called. It is time to make wreaths. I have several sturdy rings made of copper tubing, formed with a pipe bender for me by the propane guy, and to these copper rings I wire the greenery. These hold up for re-use year after year.
One of the wreaths goes on the Murray headstone over in the cemetery, which is just a minute from our house. The stone is a hunk of granite from the beach, rather than polished traditional gravestone, and the rough surface makes tying on a wreath a bit easier. Natural, uncut rocks in the island cemetery have become a custom here, which is perfectly logical if you think about it.
I’ll confess to a little sentimentality about the idea of the fragrant green ring as a holiday symbol, with or without participation in any particular religion.
The structure of a circle of branches seems ideal for an every-man-for-himself philosophy, do-it-yourself abstractions of the season, beliefs celebrated in public or kept to oneself, with no more or no less mythology than any passer-by might wish. A wreath in December is like pumpkin pie or sleigh bells on the door; nobody need feel used thoughtlessly.
For the past few years, the doors of the island church have been adorned with a pair of wreaths. These, donated by a neighbor, dress up the little building mightily and really make it look like we do this holiday justice (which we do--not in numbers, to be sure, but in happy custom and certainly when it comes to the food).
The Matinicus church is nominally Congregational but is, in reality, quite uninterested in denomination. It is all about community, whatever that may mean to anybody, and those who speak in front of an audience in this sanctuary tend toward topics of gratitude and the subtle strength of togetherness, avoiding admonitions and judgment, which is only good sense out here.
Matinicus Plantation Electric Company receives the gift of a wreath from “the oil boat,” Maine Coast Petroleum, which outfit sells us the diesel fuel to keep the lights on.
This year’s wreath is now hanging on the Old Schoolhouse, our historic one-room school building (without plumbing) now used as the municipal, power company, and school district office. It looks perfect.
The handmade, usually balsam fir, and often minimally adorned Christmas wreath is a big deal in Maine. We know this, of course, but I add this comment for those who read this paper online from elsewhere — and they do.
Some may not think about where the truckloads of greenery for “Wreaths across America” originate, and likewise all those welcomed holiday shipments from L.L. Bean and other wreath suppliers. Maine makes wreaths, a lot of them. My uncle Danny is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, and it is a neat feeling to know the wreaths at Arlington are from Maine.
Nobody ever taught me how to make a wreath, and I definitely don’t build mine with efficiency or expertise. It is still a satisfying experience to assemble a few – for the door, for the “ancestors,” maybe for a friend.
I don’t choose to decorate mine with a lot of ribbons and bows, although if some holly or winterberry is available, or a few cones, or some of that Old Man’s Beard happens to be stuck in a bough, those additions don’t look too bad. The best part is what my hands smell like when I’m done.
This afternoon, as I write, the temperature is dropping fast and the wind screeches. The air service has made a few trips but only because of the exceptional skill of a couple of specialized pilots. There aren’t many of us left on the island this time of year, and very few will be here for the Christmas Eve supper in the church basement.
Seeing wreaths here and there around the island reminds me that we are still a town, we still decorate our doors and places of public business because, we assume, somebody will see our decorations. Nobody is here alone. It’s a warm feeling, if we let ourselves get that mushy.
You’ll have to trust me on that.
More Industrial Arts
Looking back over years of island Thanksgiving
Maine, where it's perfectly normal to be self-employed
A home for the teacher, a wringer washer, a sea turtle...How to get a teacher to an island
Cardinals, cows, and computers – A few things have changed in 30 years
A great place for honeybees
• Apple blossom time (June 7, 2017)
• Old fogeys, twitchers and stowaways: a birder's evolution (May 22, 2017)
• LifeFlight visits Matinicus Island for community training (March 20, 2017)
• At what risk? (Feb. 7, 2017)
• Using it twice (Jan. 25, 2017)
• Christmas on Matinicus, back a ways and these days (Dec. 19, 2016)
• Remember civilian heroes – A Christmas tree, two guys named Coleman, and a lot of other people (Dec. 19, 2016)
• Eva Murray: Haul away, haul away, boys... (Nov. 23, 2016)
• Politics, the middle ground, and a few probably unwelcome observations (Nov. 5, 2016)
• Islander (Oct. 20, 2016)
• Eva Murray: Brier, Muck and Igiugig (Sept. 28, 2016)
• Doctor Lightning (June 27, 2016)
• 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)