Industrial Arts

Eva Murray: A new year, a new winter

Thu, 12/31/2015 - 1:00pm

The old year wasn't so bad. I like snowshoeing.

As I write, we are experiencing our first winter weather, and here on this island the sleety sound of not-quite-snow rattles on the skylights in between bouts of the pretty, fluffy stuff. Reasons to be grateful are easy to find, including the comfort of a wood stove and a nice pile of free wood (you get what you pay for, though, and my gnarly island spruce gleaned from power-line trimming means I don't leave the stove for long. I don't object.) Above all I am grateful not to be obligated to a daily commute, and I worry for those such as my kids who must undertake the bumper-cars in the dark. Would that every fool on the Interstate with an expensive SUV and a need for speed realized that no amount of four-wheel-drive capability will let you stop short on the ice. Jerks.

Here, if you drive too fast—meaning over about 20 mph—hit some ice, and end up in the ditch, you hitch-hike the maybe half-mile home, stomp around and swear for a while, go get your neighbor to pull you out, and bring him a couple of lobsters or a plate of cookies a week later without a word being said.

Thinking back over 2015 there was plenty to recall warmly. Summertime brought this island chickens and pigs, which became roasts and chops. We got used to strawberry Popsicles and LED light bulbs and fresh eggs. Autumn proved an amazing season for apples, and we had kids in school once again, and there are a pair of cows living across from the Post Office. Cows! Who'd have thunk it! The Fire Department got a wood chipper from the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation, we trucked off more than 25,000 pounds of trash, and you may have read about our start-up library—teeny but cozy—now under construction. By all accounts, lobstering must had been decent as the young fellers are buying homes and building shops and upgrading boats and for the most part—smiling.

Yup, I'd say we of this island have reason to feel satisfied and content. To be sure, there were only 16 at the community Christmas Eve dinner, but two were children, and Santa stopped in, and presumably this is the low point in the population curve. We know of at least six or eight more who will be here some of the winter. I become increasingly curmudgeonly toward the idea of neighbors as I get older anyway. The fewer neighbors, the less the phone rings.

This New Year's Eve I expect to be staying home and keeping it simple. The other day, driving past Big Al's Fireworks and Pyro-City and such places, as we headed down Route 1 (part of our usual and annual extended piece-at-a-time Christmas,) my husband suggested that perhaps we ought to stop in at one or more of such emporia and stock up on explosives. Our own efforts toward fireworks wouldn't garner much attention in this neighborhood, though, where a lobsterman might subsidize a Fourth of July that rivals the offering of a moderate-sized city. We'd do just as well to go out in the back yard at midnight and yell "BANG! BOOM!"

We might do that, actually.

In the summer, folks visiting like to ask with some artificial astonishment, "You mean people live here all year?" The license plate on my jeep reads "ALL YEAR." It doesn't do any good. "All year" this particular year meant being here through last February, which delivered something like five consecutive blizzards. That month most every able-bodied islander dealt with snow removal one way or another, excepting those who managed tickets to the Super Bowl in Arizona. After the warm December we've had this year, this week's first snow cannot help but bring to mind last winter's heavy-duty reality.

In February, 2015, as I snowshoed around writing down everybody's kilowatt-hours (a leisurely duty I might confess to enjoying,) Chad plowed with the truck and Clayton thrashed through drifts with Danny's backhoe and Paul scooped along with the John Deere tractor until they bought the snow-blower attachment, which made all the difference. As we joked halfheartedly with county Emergency Management about getting the National Guard to haul equipment out to us by helicopter, and as we had nuts and bolts for the plow truck (but not—despite the rumor—buckets of hydraulic fluid) air-dropped to us when the runway was snowed in, and as we stood amazed to watch bush-pilot Mike take off on what seemed 12-feet of runway, and as we owe a debt of gratitude to Fisher Engineering for their generosity, and as we knew to take seriously the techniques employed by the National Ski Patrol should anybody get hurt while roads were impassable, and as those of us who owned snowshoes lent them out to those who had chickens to tend — I didn't call it a bad winter. The airstrip got plowed, the chickens got fed, the meters got read, nobody got hurt and we are the only Maine island that I know of with an active ski patrol.

Two months later, at annual Town Meeting in April, the Matinicus Board of Assessors (similar to a select board out here) recommended the purchase of a brand-new tractor with a heated cab, a snow blower for the airstrip and some other implements. All those in favor? Everybody's hand went up, including those who weren't even supposed to really be voting. There was no discussion. There were no questions about the considerable sum being proposed. Nobody insisted on forming an advisory committee, or holding a second meeting or examining the cheaper options. Yes, said the voters; go and buy a decent piece of snow-removal equipment. We need our airport. Done and done. I think that was a first.

In early 2015 everybody out here invested in some mechanism for dealing with the snow. People bought driveway snow-blowers and tire chains and cross-country skis, built woodsheds, and thought long and hard about their motor vehicles. Seasonal residents who had plans to come out on the April ferry were advised to bring snowshoes or wait another month. There was some concern that all this preparation and expense would ensure us an open winter in 2016. To be honest, I hope not.

No doubt I ought to watch out what I wish for.

EvaEva Murray lives on Matinicus

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