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home : columnists : columnists
January 21, 2020

7/23/2015 11:02:00 AM
From Offshore: I can't see the telephone tower
by Eva Murray

The island women got together Sunday afternoon in a beautifully decorated church basement to eat crabmeat sandwiches and coo over cute infant gear at a baby shower. The new mom-to-be was very close to her due date, so getting stuck on the island, where there are no facilities for having babies in any degree of comfort, was not an option. The fog was upon us; it might be a rough boat ride off, but she would be leaving after the party.

A tourist in a rental cottage asked that we fax his grocery list to Shaw's (that's how we do it), but his grocery order will not arrive if this fog lingers. Another homeowner has the wrong water pump and needs to send it back and get the correct model shipped out here quickly; that may not happen as quickly as desired. Oh, and one of the Rockland-based passenger boats that serves this island is currently out of service with engine trouble.

Fog is a big part of island life, song and story. The Gulf of Maine is one of the foggiest spots in the world, and there are many days when the rest of the state of Maine is under clear skies while we ledge rats squint through the dampish murk, unable to make out whose pickup truck is racketing up the rocky road until it is nearly upon us. The realities of ocean and atmosphere bring us a great number of foggy days. Ol' Albert used to say it was "thicker than boiled owl sh*t," which is an expression of some note around here. My husband occasionally quotes Albert for posterity; more often he just observes that he "can't see the telephone tower."

The 100-foot tower that supports the microwave dishes for our telephone service is roughly one-third of a mile from my house as the crow flies. You cannot see the water from my place - I live up in the middle of the island - so we use that TDS Telecom microwave tower as our weather gauge.

Vacationers tend to be irritated if their visit to the coast of Maine includes much fog and they cannot enjoy their lovely (and potentially expensive) ocean view. Living out here in the real world, the obfuscation of views is the least of our concerns. Here, an extended "fog mull" can mean a significant interruption in transportation. It can mean running out of milk, not getting mail, and the delayed arrival of needed supplies for work. In my children's story "Island Birthday," a young boy is annoyed that his birthday presents are held up by the weather, but while chatting with his neighbors he discovers that everybody is waiting for something - fisherman's rope, lineman's tools, art supplies, dog chow, mail. It's just island life. At present we have no store on this island, and we have no regular daily boat. Groceries come for many of us by airplane, and that means groceries come when the weather permits. In early summer, the problem is usually fog.

We try to impress on visitors that they really shouldn't ever count on anything out here, least of all getting off the island when they absolutely positively have to be somewhere Monday morning. The temperature inversion doesn't care whether you get to work. The Matinicus-based passenger boat Robin R. is an option on some days, but sometimes it's already full. It's hard to get mainland colleagues and bosses to understand that you aren't pulling some sort of vacation scam when you call up and explain how you cannot be at your desk because of the fog.

One might occasionally get a ride across with a fisherman, but no fogbound vacationer should expect any lobsterman to act like he or she is in the customer service industry. They aren't in business to make a trip at your convenience, wait for you, carry your luggage, fuss over your obnoxious little dog, or watch their language in your presence. They will not be troubled by the smell of the bait.

The pilots of Penobscot Island Air bring all manner of necessities and luxuries, from household grocery orders and essential repair parts to important paperwork, prescriptions and pizzas. They bring visiting nurses, satellite TV repairmen, oil burner technicians, the superintendent of schools, and the property tax assessor, not to mention the grandmothers and sweethearts who are somewhat more happily greeted. In the fog they bring nobody.

Once in a while it'll be sunny and clear over Matinicus while the Knox County airport in Owls Head is fogged in. Sometimes they can land at the Matinicus airstrip but can't see Vinalhaven, or vice versa.

If somebody says, "I can't see the telephone tower," it means there is no flying, and there may be no deliveries until the fog clears. It could take a while.

Eva Murray lives, works and writes on Matinicus Island.

Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, July 31, 2015
Article comment by: Anne Wagner

I love Maine vacations, and began to read your columns years ago. It always astonishes me how everything you write takes jabs at "visitors". People pay a lot of money for that "expensive" ocean view, and I'm sure the revenue benefits several so you might want to ease up some on those folks "from away".. I seriously doubt many of them would even consider intruding on your particuliar neck of the woods anyway..but you don't refuse to sell them baked goods should they appear, 'eh?

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