For a little background (and photos of the first leg of our trip), go here.
Also, before we get started, I want to say that a majority of these lovely photos are compliments of Mo. She was sick the whole time we were on the island, so any pictures I took of her turned out green around the gills. That’s why there are few of her from the trip.
We got to the island late. We visited with Uncle Arch, unpacked the truck and got settled into our rooms. Mo and I had the Southwest room, and Rocky took the little red room at the other end of the hall, with the beautiful old fishing town mural that I’ve always loved so much. The night was the darkest black. Without vision, the smell of salt air from the open bay windows was sharp, and with the little whining winged vampires curiously absent, the silence was utter and enveloping. I forget about that kind of dark and quiet, having lived in the city for so long. Sleep was velvety deep and dreamless.
I woke to thin grey dawn and the sounds of Arch downstairs in the kitchen. I lay still for a moment, waiting for the usual early morning sleepiness to close my eyes, but the dawn light seemed to turn on a switch in my brain. I was absolutely awake, almost in disbelief that I was actually here, my childhood home, a place the memory of which has faded like an old photograph over the past twenty-five years. Now here, this morning, the spell was vibrant and alive and potent again. A day full of possibility stretched out before me. I had so much to do!
I greeted Arch, then grabbed the camera and jogged out onto the front lawn just in time to catch the sun as it appeared through the mist over the eastern treeline.
While the girls slept on upstairs (after all, it was something like 6 a.m.), Arch and I enjoyed conversation and breakfast together. I was leery at first of what he calls his “special breakfast”, but was quickly won over: a generous serving of hot rice cereal, topped with black beans, topped with two eye eggs (little Blue’s name for poached eggs), topped with raw garlic, avocado, Cholula hot sauce and Bragg’s liquid aminos. It looks like hell, but it’s heaven for the tastebuds. Powered up, we headed out to start the day’s work.
Day 1: get the dock out on the water.
Others in the Pirate clan will tell you that when Arch (or Pops, my grandfather) said, “Today’s the day, lets get the dock in the water!” you were sort of tempted to give yourself whooping cough or TB in order to get out of it. I’ll tell you my previous dock story in another post. Something always Happens.
For the record, Arch didn’t draft me into dock duty. For some reason, I volunteered. Maybe I didn’t want TB to ruin my vacation. Anyway, luckily, Arch had wised up and gotten himself a nifty little ATV for hauling equipment. Off we go!
(Ry, upon awakening, had her chance at the ATV, too.) (p.s.: Mom, they weren’t really going that fast.)
If you’re not interested in how a dock gets put together by someone in my family, skip ahead, but in my opinion you’ll be missing out on an essential aspect of who we are. We’re not Us without Dock Day.
The dock was in these big pieces, see. See the pieces?
We went through a long series of attempts at putting the pieces together. But it wasn’t going so well. Eventually Arch managed to get the two parts that float hooked together. But the put-together part of the dock abjectly refused to join to its friend up on shore. It was Improvise Time.
And Improvise Time is where the oddly-wired, messy, slightly-to-moderately insane Pirate mind really shines. It has too, or Dock Day would never be a good story.
This is what Arch called a bridle.
Okay, so this Dock Day story ends fairly simply. After much leveraging and grunting and heaving of things, and cursing (Arch: “God damn it, we are going to put this f***ing dock together, and it’s going to be FUN!”), Archie got a bridle hooked up to the cleats of the shore section, I threw some rope under the edges of the joining middle section and cleated the rope off, and we winched the sucker up there and tied the whole damn thing together with rope. Who needs a silly joiner bar?
I took this picture of the dock, in all its serene glory, and the end of our Dock Day fun. It looks nice, doesn’t it?
But, well, that only shows the two sections that had the right joiner.
Remember this? From two photos ago? Yeah, that part pretty much just stayed that way. Even walking surface? Pshaw! We’re not afraid to trip and fall into crab-infested ice-cold saltwater.
Onward. With project number one complete, it was time for a hike, to show Rocky where I played when I was little.
The Preserve is what it’s called now, since the family donated the land to a local trust some years back. In the 1940s, when Pops and Nonie bought the farm and land, they made a promise to the man who sold it to them to keep the land wild. With taxes on the Maine coast being as high as they are nowadays, a land easement, followed by the gifting, was the only way for my less-than-rich family to keep it from falling into the hands of folks from away salivating for shorefront summer homes. Bastards can’t have it.
This land is rich in history and natural beauty. To depart briefly from my vague attempts at blogonymity, I invite you to read here about the vibrant ecology of this place, and the history of the people who’ve lived here, from the Abenaki Indians thousands of years ago to modern-day Uncle Arch.
At Mill Cove, we clambered around the old mill foundation, which stretches across the mouth of the cove. My brother Tugboat Bill and I used to catch crabs out here and dig around the tidal flats for artifacts from the mill’s 1800s operation.
Let me introduce you to Pinchy. Pinchy the Crab.
On the dam, watching the tide rush in through the mouth of Mill Cove
Here’s a view from the point of the little toe islands where cormorants dry their wings and gulls hang out. The little toes are fun to explore, if you don’t mind the smell of sun-baked seagull feces and don’t mind coming home with huge gobs of poo stuck to your feet. On second thought lets skip the little toes.
Rocky’s prize find: a mooring buoy, washed up on shore during a storm or high tide.
The way light changes as a day passes on this island has always caught my attention. This is the light nearing the end of that day … notice the shadows pointing East? …
As compared to that morning’s sunrise.
The days that followed were equally awesome. The sun was out the entire time, mosquitoes and biting flies were only somewhat awful, there was lots of good work to be done and personal projects to carry out. I rescued a big stack of Pops’ old folk song and maritime history books from the boat house, plus several frames full of photos (some of which were of Bill and me as little kids). Also in the boat house I found and re-claimed my ceramics tools and some pots I threw (read, “made on a pottery wheel”) when I was a teenager, but the wheel itself was rusted dead. Not surprising, since it’s been sitting in the salt air for twenty years. I scrubbed the kayaks and life jackets, cooked and cleaned in Archie’s beautiful open kitchen, and picked wild raspberries from the banks above the cove. We rowed out to my favorite haunts: Great Toe Island (left the little toes to the gulls), Mill Cove and Witch’s Cove. I spent hours with Rocky in our own Thomas Cove, facing her from the stern as she learned to row, row, row a boat. I had this crazy amazing energy that seemed to never run out. I was a superhero. I was HAPPY.
Of course, everyone works on the farm. Rocky had the opportunity to help Uncle Archie with several tasks that required heavy, dangerous-seeming wheeled equipment. Here’s Arch screaming in terror as Ry takes them four wheeling.
They hauled stuff in the bucket of the tractor. As far as I could tell, other than working the pedals, Rocky was really doing the driving and operating the bucket. Arch is a good uncle.
Along the same eight-year-old-being-taught-to-drive lines, Uncle Paul arranged for a friend to take us on a motorboat trip around the island, and Rocky got to drive the boat. I mean, she really drove the boat. She had to navigate around and through a jungle of lobster pots and channel marker buoys at a fairly good clip. I was so proud. Not really, I was a total nervous wreck. We did get to see a bunch of seals and close-up osprey that day, so that took the edge off.
(NOW she’s going fast, Mom.)
In my opinion, steering and powering a rowboat takes much more skill. It took Ry about a day with me in the boat, harassing her, and then she was good to go. She picked it up quick!
When I looked at Ry in the boat, and all over the farm, I kept seeing little me.
I told Ry that just like with horses, once the ride is over you’ve got to take care of your boat. In this case it means stowing the oars and tying the boat properly to the dock. It occurred to me that boats are for me what horses are for other girls. I’m in my element on the water. I may not be good at sports, I may be afraid of flying balls, but – wait, what? Flying balls? Sorry, that distracted me for a minute.
How to tie rope to a cleat
We made friends with a baby garter snake;
an enormous, tattered old luna moth;
There was lots of family time. In the island’s neighboring sister town, we ate chowder and pizza and enjoyed music on the wharf with Uncle Paul and Aunt Brenda.
My stepsister, Steppy, and her sweetheart Steve came up for lobster boil night with some of Arch’s friends.
Oh my gawd, I LOVE THEM
The table was piled with food that night, people. Lobster, grilled steak and chicken, corn on the cob, homemade salsa, a huge salad, bucketloads of warm, melted butter. I wish to hell I’d gotten a photo.
Oh wow, I’m really hungry.
Here’s Rocky kicking back and enjoying a brew with Arch. She’d like me to tell you that it was a good stout beer, just for shock value, but it was a decidedly un-stout ginger ale.
Rocky’s never far from a drawing pen and pad of paper. Here she is on the front lawn drawing a picture of the house.
Check it out, Mom!
The final product:
There’s even wood in the woodshed.
On our last day. I was up at first light, again, and waited around outside for this shot of the crabapple tree and Archie’s little dory.
The sun rises, the light changes dramatically, the mist is quickly burned away.
And it’s another stunning day. This view – the front lawn, the white pines, Thomas Cove, Great Toe Island and the bay beyond – is a beloved memory for many good friends who’ve come and stayed over the decades.
A few final images of the island:
…can you see it?
In the end, Home is wherever I am with Ry and Mo.
See you next summer, Maine.
But it’s not over yet! The Green Mountains of Vermont and my sweet sister Sy, plus her honey and little boy, were waiting for our arrival. Stay tuned for the final installment.