'How was work today, dear?'

By Eva Murray | Feb 03, 2012

What am I doing in Stonington with a… minivan?

I was off to visit the Isle au Haut school because that is the sort of thing I get to do for “work,” being a freelance writer, which means I mostly get paid in pie, good one-liners and very small income tax deductions. The plan was to take the mail boat to Isle au Haut one afternoon, and there to join the Sunbeam at the wharf, and spend the evening loitering aboard, sucking down excessive amounts of coffee and watching other people play cribbage. I do know how to play cribbage, but it’s been a while. I would not have been up to snuff with the Isle au Haut regulars. I once beat one of the best Drinkwater cribbage players in Spruce Head, but that was unlikely to happen twice. Back when I was a teenager, I played a lot because not a lot of other kids my age did. (Hell, maybe he let me win. You reading this, Ash?)

So after a jolly evening of Sunbeam desserts and idle chatter the plan was that I would awake early with the nurse, captain, minister, engineer and cook, join half the island and the mail boat guys again for a large breakfast, and then toddle off toward the library for coffee and snacks, until I would at last make my way to the Isle au Haut school.

I love my job.

First I had to get off Matinicus. The 9:15 a.m. mail flight off Matinicus actually left at 2 p.m. because Owls Head was thickr’n boiled owl poop most of the day, while oddly, we had clear blue skies out in the middle of the bay.

That has got to rank as one of the weirdest expressions currently in common usage. It isn’t in common usage where you live? Well, it is here.

So, I booked passage on the “morning” mail flight, at 2 p.m. The afternoon mail boat leaves Stonington for Isle au Haut at 3:30 p.m., and there was no chance of me making that boat. The sad part is you can just about see Isle au Haut from Matinicus if you stand on a ladder, but the reality of inter-island transit being what it is, I could not get there.

Headed down the peninsula and over the causeways and across the Deer Isles after dark, I spent a fair bit of the trip pulled over in various wide spots so that A.J. Foyt and his buddies could screech though. That road being windy and hilly and dark, and sometimes surrounded by water, and me being by all means an out-of-towner (and in a mere minivan) I didn’t feel it the better part of wisdom to go 90 miles an hour around the hairpin turns. The locals disagreed. Not one of them drove a minivan, either.

I stayed the night in Stonington, at Boyce’s Motel, in a nice clean room facing the main drag, which was perfectly fine and rather educational. I learned that rush hour in Stonington, Maine, is at 5:15 a.m. when roughly 200 large pickup trucks go past at about 75 miles an hour. Maybe it just sounded like that.

Stonington is an extremely small peninsular town with a few businesses and a winter population of several hundred thousand, judging from the traffic on Route 15. Of these, about six at a time eat in the only open restaurant. The guy from Boyce’s told me that the Harbor Café would be open until about 7:30 p.m. so I of course went over there for a burger and a beer, where I learned who is running for school board, whose uncle is in the hospital, and a few other things I didn’t understand. Being the conspicuously from-away foreigner is just part of this freelance writer racket, and I’d better get used to it, but there are a few general lessons I ought to hurry up and learn.  Number one: Don’t ask for draft beer unless you actually see a tap. You may as well ask for sheep’s knuckles and brie.

There’s this myth that living on Matinicus I must sit home by my fire and eat lobster chowder all day but in reality, the only way I can do what I do is to climb aboard the Cessna, bother the pilots for 20-some-odd air miles asking questions, and once in Owls Head America to plunk down my air service fare and get on the road. Last year at this time I was on Monhegan, also working on some research. It was 15 below zero. Talk about being a conspicuous foreigner! The Monhegan boat guys were just a tad skeptical of this strange woman who wanted to go to Monhegan on the coldest day of the year. I was trying so hard not to be “high maintenance” but my luggage was a bunch of fresh produce, requested by my Monhegan friends, which I had to somehow protect from the Arctic blasts. (I did get a decent title for an article out of it: “It’s 15 below zero and you want organic spinach?”) The crewmen were left scratching their heads, or would have but for all their balaclavas, mad bomber hats and industrial-strength mittens.

Speaking of boat rides, the trip to Isle au Haut the next morning, at sunrise, and back off the island later in the day —coincidentally just at sunset — were alone worth the trip. Beautiful. The very finest kind of tourism: Stunning, uncrowded, with skies of red and orange. I listened to the boat guy tell stories of the Most Eccentric Man in Maine, or at least in Deer Isle; maybe it was even deductable. Somewhere in here I also wish to mention how much I absolutely love the Deer Isle Bridge.

It all reminded me of the time a while back when I was visiting the one-room schools in Shirley and Rockwood, up by Moosehead Lake, a couple of years ago before they closed. In hopes of a sandwich and a bunk I found myself driving around Greenville in the minivan. I suspect I had the only minivan in Piscataquis County. To this day I shudder to think about it.

Next time I go to Isle au Haut I’ll plan to practice with a few rounds of cribbage first. Also, take the truck.

 

Eva Murray lives on Matinicus Isle.

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