A seasonal ceremony of leaving

Eva Murray: Edamame, rotgut, and rats

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 11:30am

It’s time for many among us to begin thinking about closing up for the winter. Well—you, maybe; not me. As I write, rocking and rolling on the state ferry vessel Everett Libby Rockland-bound from Matinicus, several of the other vehicles on deck are my part-time neighbors, inbound to stay on the Continent until spring. 

Obviously people all over New England dance this seasonal jig. Friend, if this is you, I am not calling you a “summer person.” Don’t let’s get insulted. Heaven forfend, as Marcia up the road likes to say, and I hope you won’t feel the need to slash my tires or damn my name in the online comments section. We gnarly-knuckled grunts from the maintenance division mean no offense but let’s be realistic: it is getting to be that time of year. If you don’t have buried water pipes, you must winterize. If you don’t like airplane travel from Matinicus, you must decamp soon.  And, if you don’t want rat damage, you oughtn’t leave the cleaning up for the last minute.

Many will instruct their handyman, should they be lucky enough to employ such a specialist, to “do them last,” meaning keep the water on until absolute certainty of imminent freeze-up. They harbor hopes of one more autumn weekend at the cottage (camp, cabin, lake house, island house, whatever you call it, even—forgive me—summer place). But everybody cannot be “last,” and the water in the pipes will freeze one of these nights if left too long, and the list of people who want to be “done last” grows worrisome. The seasonal homeowner needs to make that tough decision. 

Here’s a suggestion, after some decades of careful observation of the relevant science: if in doubt, take all the food--every last crumb. Leave nothing for next time. Leave nothing, I mean, for them beady-eyed bast…well, you know, rats. 

The evening news reports on rats. We all know about the squirrel baby boom and subsequent roadkill overload (blamed in part on the recent passing of my mother-in-law, who shot hundreds of furry little vandals in her Scarborough subdivision until the neighbors took pity and called a cop). Evidently, in many places, the rat population is booming as well. Beware, snowbird; beware summer neighbor. Even you must beware, neighbor lobsterman who takes a winter vacation, and leaves home and hearth for a month or two. Beady little eyes, you know…

In my opinion there’s no real sense to this business of saving the dry goods for next year anyway, even if you conscientiously store things in glass jars and Rubbermaid bins with enough supplementary duct tape to repair a Carolina skiff. Nobody is likely to get food poisoning from five-year-old biscuit mix, but it won’t taste as good as a fresh box next spring. I am not one of those who get too exercised about sell-by dates if the food has been carefully and properly stored, but a whole winter of coastal Maine freeze-and-thaw cycles won’t do your canned soup any favors. If the texture of refried beans and the flavor of bathtub caulking is your thing why then, by all means, store your provisions indefinitely. 

People’s end-of-season wrap-up lies along a spectrum, from our friend Peggy’s extremely methodical checklist to those who shut the door thinking they are coming back, but who for whatever reason do not, and thus they do absolutely no close-up. They return in the spring to burst pipes, chomp marks in the soap, taco crumbs in their pillowcase and reason for profanity upstairs and down.

Adding to the fun, a dead mouse in the wall smells a good deal like a gas leak, if you are not one used to the smell of ethyl mercaptan (and our sympathies you if you are). That chemical odorant, added to propane, is intended to be obnoxious and hard to ignore because the gas itself is odorless. It can, though, resemble Death Behind the Sheetrock, resulting in a decidedly unnerving quandary for the homeowner until the mystery is hopefully solved by gas man or carpenter.

But the reality of an island location means that sometimes the packing-up is abbreviated by an urgent message from the air service or your buddy the lobsterman, who yells “Hurry up! If you’re going we have to leave right now!” That would mean the weather is shutting down, be it fog or the roiling of our Leaden Sea or hurricane Hortense.  Basically, one is forced to make a run for it. Escape from Alcatraz, that is, while a ride is available or stay and take on the weather. Of course, thinking it was time to pack up for the year, you are at that point low on supplies. You may have a large frozen ham but nothing for lunch. You likely are down to coffee without milk or vice versa, butter without bread, tonic without gin, and some demoralizing form of large squash without the culinary requirements for its improvement.

Back before this island community had its recycling system, the custom among seasonal homeowners was to talk themselves into earnestly believing that somebody out there truly needs that last half-inch of mustard or ketchup or low-fat, low-sodium French dressing in the bottom of the bottle. The lucky fellow who had among his cottage industries the winterization of cottages was frequently saddled with several dozen jars of each. It wasn’t pretty.

Now, when the neighbors clear out their fridge and pack to leave us here for the colder months, we get kale and edamame. That’s OK; we understand the ground rules. To get the meat you have to take the vegetables. It’s just good manners.

Whatever is left will attract genus Rattus extralargicus, var. wharfii, and the handyman already has plenty of condiments, and the recycling truck leaves nearly every month hauling away empty pickle-relish jars now, so clean your pantry to the last particle. Give your friends the frozen meat, the eggs, and the good beer. Eat the cookies as you nail up shutters or pack bedding. Leave not a solitary Milk Bone. Compost the stale crackers, the leftovers in that bowl in the fridge, that shopworn eggplant, and all of the condiments. Leave the Lite Beer accidentally on the wharf for somebody deserving. As for the zucchini, remember: friends don’t make friends start locking their doors.

It has been discussed, among those who deal with these things, whether it is advisable from a chemistry standpoint to pour the last of your rotgut into your sink trap. That story started with June Pemberton, an island homeowner who supposedly did just that when leaving in a hurry after inadvertently dumping some water into an already-winterized sink drain. That tale more or less went into the folklore. 

We did get left off a half bottle of “rum” once which was so bad, and so resembled a solvent better suited to washing paint brushes, that June’s method was seriously considered for its disposition. A couple of the guys (it was Eric and George, if you must know,) tried to drink the stuff and the consensus was, “I wouldn’t use that to winterize a sink drain.”


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A bit of flowery writing

A truckload of rope

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Freeboard Logistics, at your service
Winter beach redux
Enjoying, and supporting, our local small businesses
I know why they call it the ‘holidays’


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)
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 Eva Murray: Brier, Muck and Igiugig (Sept. 28, 2016)

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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 
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Wild Island Child (posted April 8, 2015)

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• 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)
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• Logistics (posted July 31, 2014)
• Black Hawks over Criehaven (posted July 16, 2014)
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• 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)
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• What is it like to be one of Maine's Search and Rescue volunteers? (posted Feb. 9, 2014)
• Arts and hobbies
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• 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
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• Here's wishing us all a little rebellion in this happy season (posted Dec. 12, 2013)
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• (In defense of...) Breakfast for supper (posted Oct. 22, 2013)
• Fish Factory (posted Sept. 9, 2013)
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• Trains and planes and heroes (posted July 15, 2013)
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• A system that makes it hard on people who want to do the right thing (part 1) (posted March 21, 2013)
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• Firewood (posted Dec. 2, 2012)
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• In the middle of the bay (posted Oct. 3, 2012)