Swan's Island Vacations

Rentals on a Maine Island

Weather Muse August, 1989


This month's article should be called "Weather Abuse". The tourists are unhappy, basically, but some explore and feast their eyes when the fog lifts, for a moment. The fishermen have been visiting their traps, relying on radar and wits to get them along. Housekeepers have been swamped with soggy laundry and, well, soggy houses! Lawns have been dew-laden and uncut; the growing craze of July has passed, so the crisis doesn't seem so urgent-or is it that we just tell ourselves these little lies, just to get through the misty misery?


Yes, there have been little windows of light...very little windows in which washing machines can be heard churning all over the island and clothes lines hum with tautness as loads and loads go on up for their all too brief hour in the sun. In the come the limp things when the window closes, again. Up they go on racks or hanging from hangers in doorways and over chair backs while the family weaves in and out Back to clothes lines. Over the years I have noticed that my clothes line seems to have its own biome. On the foggy days, these things are easy to notice because the eyes are not used to looking into the distance. One year I found some sort of bee rasping away at a clothes pin. As I looked up and down the line, I noticed that several pins had stripes of new wood showing on their weathered surfaces. I watched awhile as the creature rasped up a supply before flying away to some hidden nest. Always present, are at least a couple of species of spider which live in the clothes pins with lengths of web lazily looped along the line. One spider edges up to the woodshed or house to make large Charlotte's webs. Once in awhile I forget, (in a sunny frenzy), and accidentally kill a spider, but mostly, I pick them up and carry them to the tall grass nearby. I know that they are Clothes Line Spiders and will have to make it back there, but maybe the wash will be dry by then. The line itself is a haven for lichen which never stains the cloth, but gives me an uneasy feeling anyway because it reminds me that I read somewhere that our own skin is covered with such things. On the other hand, the same knowledge is sometimes comforting: it is all part of the natural process.


Well, the darn fog has been here for YEARS! It is like when winter first comes on: you forget how to drive in the stuff, but after a few days, you blunder out in it and continue for months on end. It is the same with fog. The first week, you stay in, regretting all; the next week the bikes come out and the walking shorts slither out of sticky bureau drawers. Last week, my friend, nephew Ross and I ventured out on a grand expedition into the foggy harbor where we explored four islands and ate blueberries, huckleberries, gooseberries and a blackberry or two. We made discoveries too awesome to mention here and collected returnable cans to boot! Our red canoe slide quietly upon the waters and made it home, just ahead of the changeable weather, which began to stir and churn. Home after hours of adventuring in the foggy, mysterious Sunday, the fact that our laundry was not going to be dry in the near future seemed entirely too petty to fret over.



Weather Muse September. 1989


The sound of summer's dry weather crickets still rings in the air in mid-September. The meager rains have done little to green the dead spots in yards around the island. Soon enough the winter will drain the green from almost everything anyway; the green will return in its season. And though there is a certain dread about the coming change, there is relief too: the seasons cannot be swayed yet from their certain course, not matter what man has done to the atmosphere to date and the winds from a hurricane hundreds of miles away cause the seas to roar outside a black-glassy harbor.


These last few weeks have been for the owls and eagles. A great horned owl has been seen regularly on the island, particularly near the Odd Fellow's Hall in Brad Ames's field. One night, a large bird landed on the edge of the road next to my car as I was driving by the I.O.O.F. It was a startling moment! I hadn't seen the bird before, but after telling people about the experience, I confirmed in my mind that it must have been the resident Bubo virginianus. And then, I was to see Bubo in the light.


One early evening I saw the owl on the roof of my neighbor's house on City Point. My friend and I stopped the car, took out field glasses and watch it just a few feet away. When I tried to sneak around to tell my neighbors about their house guest, it flew off a few hundred yards and then perched on the top of a tall spruce. The Cheneys brought out their excellent telescope and we spent a good fifteen minutes excitedly observing. We laughed at how "owl-like" it looked with its beautiful bright round yellow eyes and half-closed lids and especially with how it moved its head.


And then there was an eagle morning. Early one Friday, my neighbor Bill Cheney, called to tell me that there were two eagles on the mussel shoal in front of the house. I could see one as we talked on the phone, so I struck out running too see more. When I arrived, Bill had the excellent telescope trained on a duo of eagles with their feet in the mud of a sliver of mussel bar. An adult eagle, in full regalia, stood near the center of the scene and an immature bird was off to the right. After a few minutes, the young one, which we saw had a red band on one ankle, tried to land close by the adult, but was spurned and flew off to the left where it landed nearby on the same mussel bar.


There the younger stood in the advancing tide. It began to play with a loose mussel which it picked up and dropped repeatedly. In the telescope I watched the young one's talons grasp the shell and then put it in its mouth. Finally, it flew off, mussel in talon, across the harbor where it landed in trees below Tom Lunt's house.


This left the adult, still standing in the coming tide and looking about lazily. Suddenly, an osprey appeared in the sky above it! This other bird of prey circled and then dove at the bald eagle! The eagle stretched its head upward to watch the attack and then jumped up, with mouth open, to meet the osprey! The osprey split the air with its sharp cry, but repeated the attack twice more and was met each time with the mighty jump and gaping mouth of a bird of prey much larger than itself. The osprey flew off. After a few more minutes in the rising seas, the eagle rose and sailed to the same trees the younger one had gone to. The tide soon took back the theater for its own plays and we humans went to breakfast.


I have heard from another neighbor across the harbor, that the eagle still visits behind my house and that the owl too still can be seen. We speculate that the owl is feasting on rabbits...we hope so: the Minturn rabbit population may soon resemble a real plague. And this brings to mind that the deer population is a problem. Next month I will have a report on a proposed deer survey to be conducted by the state...and "hunting season" will soon be upon us.



Weather Muse October, 1989


October days and nights are with birds. Geese stretch their necks that undulate with each wing beat. Quick ducks in vee wedge through the silver air. Blue herons still wade silently until night and then fly with an un-earthly song in their throats. Nuthatches busy and noisy on tree trunks. A dead robin along the edge of the road. Perfectly brown pheasants scoot among the fall grasses and then disappear. Eagles reel, Grackles flock and fleet. Crows subtract red from black alder.


Sharp temperatures have prompted caretakers to go from house to house turning off and draining things. Antifreeze. A few of us have storm windows up and the house banked for the things to come. Summer cottons have sadly been taken out of drawers and closets. And yet summer lingers: tourists still ride the. roads and find the lighthouse, the beaches, the restaurant, the gift shop. Schooners still sail these waters and take anchor in Burnt Coat and Mackerel Cove.


Part of the wintering process involves the ferry, which shrinks this from 12 cars to 8. This time she will keep the summer schedule until the 28th of October. It is already dusk when the last boat in...before long, the winter 4:15 last boat will deliver us to night time on Swan's Island.


Around the island life proceeds. There are marriages, work of all kinds, politics, croquet games fiercely fought on many fields. There is relief in the coming winter. There is tension too, because sometimes winter can be hard for everyday living and for the long dark days that keep you in. The strange beauty of seagulls sitting on the frozen harbor will moderate the effects of temperature. For now, the fall is perfect. Leaves color patches in the spruce and fir trees forest and the air seems so clear…



Weather Muse December, 1989


November had been a dream of warm, clear days and crisp nights: perfect weather for forgetting winter. One night, the winds came chilly from the north and then, as planes humped up from the south and landed on wet and icy strips, Winter blew in and wrapped herself ground Maine.


On Swan's Island, the electricity went out around 11 one morning. There was water that had boiled eggs still in the pot on the stove and a little in the tea kettle. There was enough water in the toilet for one flush, but the old outhouse is still setup a few steps outside the back door. No radio. Don't want to telephone the Electric Coop to add to their miseries.


After and hour and a half, the wind chill wickimg heat from the quiet house, I started up the wood-stove and the woodbox got filled. Onion soup (instant off the shelf), and toast cooked up for a fast lunch on the thick iron stove top. Out in the yard, hundreds of spruce and red pine tips fell. Out back the top of a tall spruce broke off, leaving bright wood glaring into the storm. The storm windows had iced up almost completely but left us little sections where we could peer out at odd angles and see an apple branch or where the harbor should be.

Three hours. No electricity. We walked to the store where Jerry and Nancy Smith unlocked the door and gave us flashlights to search the darkened aisles for bottled water and English muffins. They had little news, but somehow the mail truck had made it. We wondered what problems the ferry crew was having and then we wondered about how our neighbors were faring.


In winter, darkness comes by 4 o'clock and I began to think about kerosene lamps and candles. I reckoned that there was enough fuel in the lamp to last the evening, but the light isn't bright enough to read by. "What about talking as a pastime?" In the darkness, the power came on: the icebox hummed and the furnace roared. We rushed into the kitchen to draw water and as the pot filled, the power failed again. 5:30. I worried about the heating pipes that looped around in the attic way, where the wood fire heat could not reach; the expensive automatic circulator I had installed of course works on electricity.


Under the influence of wood heat, I recklessly imagine the beauty of the snowstorm swirling around the island, but soon come to my senses. The temperature was around 15 degrees outside and I worried about the deer. I could imagine the poor deer that got to be on the outside of some circle. I don't know what they do in storms. Perhaps they continue about their business, eating carefully planted shrubs at Island Retreat and Garden Cove. The smaller animals must be in little hair-insulated holes nibbling on grass roots and hoarded seeds. Crows must be hanging on to icy branches as the storm builds snow banks around their nests. I wonder if snow clings to their shiny black feathers.

After 8 hours, the electricity comes back on and stays on. We hurl ourselves at the television and note with content our good fortune at being who we are at this moment in time, at this place in the world, in a snowstorm. The week continued to be snowy and the roads bad. Thanksgiving fishermen went out to haul; some suppers waited and others were eaten as usual, but with an ear to the CB. Warmed up leftovers and pies are something to look forward to after day's haul…sounds like there is nothing better!


December blew in with the same icy blasts that held us in November and hasn't yet let go. The temperatures are in the low teens day after day and the nights reach zero. The ferry has had to cancel many trips because of high winds and icing. Several trips were delayed because the ramp cable had broken. The repairs were carried out, but the men must have suffered working with the frigid metal!


Canceling trips has been par. Workmen must return to the mainland early because the afternoon trips aren't running. High school kids must board for the night off island. Christmas shopping is delayed. The bitter cold makes every project that much more difficult to complete. Some of us hold out hope for change on the "first day of winter"...SPRING will be on its way!



Weather Muse January. 1990


On New Year's Eve, the rains began. By morning, yards and green grass appeared all over the island Some dirt roads became even more dangerous with ice, but the air took on the feel of a kind of spring; one is brave in spring.


While walking, I noticed that the trees were alive with noisily flitting chickadees. The tiny birds stirred the spruce branches and shook out seeds which drifted down onto the softening earth. High in the sky some seagulls circle while a pair mysterious hawks drift off toward Stanley Point. Crows quietly scavenge along the shore. A decayed pheasant is exposed in a neighbor's yard, its legs and feet recognizable in the debris of its wilt feathers.


January's relief from the cold soon followed by the horror of having to pay for December's fuel. Kerosene is $1.41 a gallon and propane is $42.00 a bottle. The wood stove still sits waiting to needed again. The cost of labor to have wood cut and then having to deal with it after: is it worth it? Certainty there is romance in burning of wood, indeed, in keeping warm, but love is being tested.


The fishermen have been taking up traps. Carlton Joyce's boat came into Burnt Coat Harbor laden with one hundred traps. Like the other fishermen, he'll spend the next month or so repairing gear and getting ready for another season. This is the time of year that the fishing is slow. Gear needs to be repaired anyway, so it works out well. A couple of the fishermen are scalloping. These will taste good come summer if you are lucky enough to get some for the freezer!


On the 11th, the tide reached way up onto the shore and left weed necklaces prettily arranged under the chin of the land. these high tides I always note some boulder on the other shore disappears.


These high tides can be more interesting if there is a storm behind it that pushes it even higher. The wharves seem different when the sea is nearly level to them; memories of other moon tides whipped by winds stir and one is for the calm of a kinder January 1990. There will be other storms, but for now, let's rest.



Hans Borei Gathers Swan's Island Weather Data January. 1990


Hans Borei, ever the fact gatherer, handed me data of weather measurements taken in the harbor that he compiled over the five years. He noted such things as first day of winter, length of winter, days of snowfall and so forth. He calculated averages and found the following facts:

November 30 - FIRST DAY WINTER.

There were 109 days of winter. The first snow fell on November 20th.

There were 32 days of snowfall.

Lowest temperature of the winter on average was -6 degrees F.

Snow accumulation was 54 inches.

The last day of snowfall was on a April 4th.

FIRST DAY OF SPRING (temps over 32 degrees F.) was March 20th.

Last frost, May 1st.

Length of spring, 62 days.

FIRST DAY OF SUMMER (temps over 50 degrees F.) fell on May 21st.

Highest temperature of summer 79 degrees.

Length of summer, 139 days.

FIRST DAY OF FALL (temps fall below 50 degrees F.), October 7th.

First frost, October 17th.

Length of fall was a mere 54 days.

Yearly precipitation, 43 inches.

There were 130 days with rain or snow.

There were 9 days with thunder storms.

And last ... there were age, over the past five years, 51 days of fog every year.



Caterpillers & Frostheaves February, 1990


The big snowfall of early February was defeated slowly by warm temperatures and then by rain that fall one day. Yards revealed heaps of broken branches and flotsam from these months of winter. A child' s kite reel finally fell to earth from electric lines where It had been for the better part of a year. It rolled off Into the dead high grassy the side of the road. My laziness tells me to leave it for some other child to find in the new season's green grasses. The road crew has been exploring the island for bumps and dents to fill. The roads are cracking and heaving and drivers are learning where to slow and where to swerve. Dirt roads and driveways look as if Spring has visited: great muddy ruts alternately deepen and harden as the weather works its will. The island roads are still in better shape than many off island...and more interesting....


On a Sunday I walked from City Point to the Valley down harbor. Just a few steps up on the eleventh of February, winter in Maine, there should really be a little caterpillar walking across the road. It looked as if it may have crossed the full width of the road and only had a few more feet to go to safety. I picked it up and felt that its body was very cold. I put it off the road so that the next car wouldn't blot out the little larva. As I left it, I wondered how it ever came to be in winter and if it would survive. The roadsides were piled with crusty snow and the woods beyond looked no safer, but such is life, for caterpillars and people too.



Weather Muse February, 1990


The dog's grave was some two and one half feet deep and the earth was pretty dry down there. Hard pan was struck, the edges smoothed and scooped out. The dog got kissed, wrapped in an old torn pink single sheet (nicely fitted the dog), and laid in where we guessed she'd be forever after, until the bugs and things got after her and spread her around again. Her body kind of shook a bit as the first bits of earth went down. Rocks were carefully fitted around her until the dirt was deep enough so that we guessed it wouldn't hurt to throw stones. Near the top, the earth was firmed with feet and then the sod refitted. Three large flatish stones were brought up from the shore and these became a sort of triangle grave. We both sat and cried over the dog, felt sorry that such a thing had to be done to a dog that could still wag her tail.


Just two weeks before she had struggled to keep up on a small journey of exploration. She walked by Spring's first skunk cabbage and sniffed thin blades of greening grasses by the side of the road. She finally just sat to wait and then followed us back to the car and home where she could sleep and dream her dog dreams.


One very cold night, the temperature around 15, she didn't come back from her toilet. I couldn't find the black beagle In the dark and she wasn't giving any clues away. I knew then that she had an agenda of her own. Sometimes she had refused to eat or drink. I would get It into her somehow, but was scared. Her legs began to wobble, her toes to turn under; movement an effort. She spent more than 6 hours in the cold that night. I found her next morning, after a long search, curled up, in the sunlight, under a tree. She was alive and followed me home.

Four days have now gone by since the dog died. I bring offerings to gulls and crows and place them on the stones of her grave. The seagulls are at their Annual Scale Worm Festival just below as they have done for many years when the harbor warms. Ducks and crows compete quietly. There are more signs of Spring to help us feel better about our lives. Just today I saw a sparrow hawk perched on the wires above the road. Its spotted breast beautiful against the just-cleared-blue sky. Files are buzzing in every house, winging at windows. Water Is rushing down from unfrozen streams, ponds and bogs in the Interior. Culverts sometimes thunder, and foam with the power of the melt; the flats bathed and diluted. (Is there some tiny miracle that takes place during just this time?) show many courses where small rivers have gone. Robins have been back for awhile and starlings and crows are carrying straw and sticks to make this year's nests. In April I miss the dog and I wonder about the caterpillar I saw in February.



Weather Muse May, 1990


How can it be that I've cut the lawn twice and haven't yet put away my long johns? People are saying, "What spring?." Indeed. The slow progression of time tears away the days: the trees have sent out their group of this year's leaves, but all is quiet on the warm front. Spring is silent save for our chattering teeth and the sound of winter coats zipping. Did we do this last year? I can't remember. I do remember the pleasure of the daffodils on Buckle Island. This year the daffodils came up but weakly.


Summer's flowers, trying to grow, have been eaten by deer all over the island. Day lilies are repeatedly chomped just by the door. Lists of green things are on the deer's menu and we shall not feast with our eyes on these things this year.


But, my uncle's cherry bloomed! Those dally pink blossoms stayed on the tree for a week. Chilly bees and humming birds came by to sup; people made special trips to see it. One day, the sky was blue-bird and the pink cherry was spectacular! The petals are falling now. I will wait for the sound of poplars leaves rustling In the wind: I guess it won't matter how cold it is, because there are many pleasures other than warmth to be had on an island.



Weather Muse June, 1990


Does anyone remember last year's mosquitos? Forget it.


Lilacs, narcissus, bluets. Crows walking wet yards cocking their heads to listen. An osprey seen flying towards Roderick's Head with a branch twice its own length. Pollen wafting in the air like a yellow mist. Hatching insects. Sprouting seeds. Mowing lawns. Evening fires in the woodstove to cut the damp and chill. Dinner with friends and talk about the summer ahead. Rearranging. Cleaning up. Change. Flowers again, (Welcome! So good to see you again!). Another June, still at home by the sea watching things come and go; ebb and flow, the way it should be.



Weather Muse July, 1990


Suddenly, one day, it is really summer. Painting the house, the wind is warm and the paint dries quickly and the laundry goes up and down in a few hours. That moment is perfect and you think that it would be a perfect thing to have the weather just like that forever, even if there are mosquitoes. The harbor is glassy and quiet and when the sun sets, rose colors bloom in the clouds and fall onto the black mirror of the water. Even the cannon fire of a skin boat cannot disturb us. We slide out for an evening after dinner canoe trip and explore the familiar shore and go to see how things are going at the new lobster pound.


Before, we have been able to navigate between the piers there, but this last time, two nights ago, the walls were too complex for this adventure. We pushed by a few logs and headed back to City Point, passing under the stern of the "Harvey Gamage" and saying hello to some on board. This afternoon we are waiting for some rain, but if it comes it won't be enough to help some who have already run out of well water. You just can't defy nature with modern thought: no amount of wishful thinking can raise water where there isn't any. The well driller said, "Might as well burn a house down that has no water." Upon reflection, the old idea of a cistern might seem a better thing to do. A friend at Island Retreat has just had one built, a hedge against dry times and a generally smart act of conservation. A few things are different this year: I can't mow my lawn because of a bad foot and have to limp around trying to do the things that I do, and there are actually more than a handful of cherries on my little tree out back. Now if I could only get to them before the crows do! Oh well, they will most likely win, again.



Weather Muse October, 1990


For the first time in five years, Columbus Day weekend was warm. Two years ago. snow fell and the electricity went out. I remember five years running because I have been going to Haystack Mountain School for their Open Door session, always that same weekend. This time I packed very little to take to Deer Isle: this time only heavy socks and a couple of warm shirts. On the sixth of October the temperatures climbed to the mid-seventies and I was trapped, looking with envy at the silly ones who actually brought shorts and sleeveless shirts to wear! Ah, Maine!


October, October. The next morning, again beautiful and warmish, we heard geese honking down from the north, winging over Jericho Bay and Deer Isle Thoroughfare to parts unknown to us. We all glanced at their lazy wedges strung out, ebbing and flowing in the autumn air, but returned to breakfast and another day of trying to be like geese: free and easy within the constraints of earth.


The entire next week was just like a summer week. Every day was clouded, foggy, damp, cold...one afternoon the fog lifted and I saw people rushing to the shore to photograph the mussel shoals nicely black against the dull gray of the water and that set against the houses on the other shore. The other shore! A wondrous sight! Hurricane Lilli sent us humidity galore, but sailed elsewhere to blow herself out. Other high winds shook leaves off of trees, but not before we had a chance to revel In gorgeous scenery In little pockets on the island where maples grow. Long brown needles from red pines pelted my windows In one high wind and the yard looked like a pin cushion after. But. now daintily growing up through the dangerous carpet are mushrooms of many different sorts. The tiny fungi are another announcement of the things to come. They know nothing of storm windows and plastic banking. We both go about the business of living the seasons out, each in our own way. I have to haul out the storm windows. The fungus has to play its part in breaking summer down. The geese, the storm windows, the fungi...I have been here before. My October poem is a song to my struggle with Nature. Luckily, I can laugh about it!



Weather Muse November 1990


The early days of November still sheltered blue heron which fed in Long Cove. Burnt Coat filled with loons and old squaws which floated and made their funny noises along the edges of the harbor. In other waters, great masses of sea birds gathered and fed in the chilling seas. One day the leaves fell off the trees and these swirled around the yards and roads in a great brown and yellow tide. Windrows piled up along stonewalls and foundations, a few made it into the compost heap.


Another day I woke to frozen pipes! My usual skirting of plastic had not been put up and the wind, knowing this, reached under the bathroom and staunched toilet and shower. By 7 AM I had hammered up the plastic, balanced a room heater on the granite ledge under the bathroom and opened the faucets. By nine, the water was flowing again and no damage was done, except that I missed the ferry and an eye examine in Ellsworth.


The winds has blown relentlessly for two solid days. Storm. It is this wind that froze the pipes. The sun shines as fiercely as the wind blows today. The blindingly silver harbor streaks to the east and the grasses lay down too in that direction. Soon there will be snow in this, but that can wait. Now the grass is still green though it grows so slowly that it will have a cut in the spring. The lawn mower is actually done up for the winter: this was exchanged for the snow shovel a few weeks ago. Green grass, please stay awhile!


November, 1990 Democrat Maili Bailey carries Republican Swan's Island & Frenchboro Republican Maine spoke once again this last November 6 by reelecting several Republican representatives. Though Swan's Island and Frenchboro are indeed Republican, the two communities voted for their candidate, Maili Bailey. a Democrat, for Registrar of Deeds, 121 and 14 respectively. These were the only two towns in the county that she won. This must prove something about name recognition. She got 6,407 votes in Hancock County, but the Republican incumbent got 12,966. Maili says, "The bright side is that I don't have to move to Ellsworth and the file I kept called "I was the 1990 Democrat Candidate for Registrar of Deeds", will be amusing stuff to look through in the years to come.



Weather Muse December, 1990


How can we keep warm this winter? The price of oil is scary. But I remember friends I visited in France years ago who heated their apartment with a small, roll-around electric heater: It was cold! You live differently there. You expert the cold and think nothing of it, I guess. Wear lots of clothes and don't bathe too often. This year I have a woodshed full of hard wood that I will (convert into BTUs come next heating season. This heating season finds me rationing dollars for energy. I compress my living space in winter, so heating is within reason. In summer I expand upstairs onto the second floor which is unfinished. I like, perversely I suppose, the fact that winter tries to come in for the season. On the coldest night, you can hear and feel her quietly filtering in though the smallest pinholes in the old house. Upon entry, she skitters under the chairs and beds where she grabs your ankles and holds on when you go by. More socks and thicker slippers sends her to the cats and. under the sink where she will convert warmth to cold by some process of elimination.


These December days have been wonderful so far. The spectacular effects of lunar/ solar/global alignment were mostly an interesting occasion on the island. Nothing was damaged so far as I know, but the sea did come up and visit places it hadn't been in many years. Below me, the water came up completely over the old wharf and advanced about a foot onto the terrestrial grasses. At the ferry dock, the town float had to be moved again to higher ground. With the high tides of November 6, the float did a lot of moving and was tied, but it had to be really secured this time. With the extreme high tides, the harbor looked smaller somehow. The line of rocks usually seen at normal high tide were almost completely covered. I like that we cannot control it. I also know that we are lucky this time that the wind was from a favorable direction. Outside the harbor, the little Islands were awash nonetheless. And good things float in! Lumber of all sorts comes and goes on all the shores. Enough timber to build something really useful ... I never know what, but I haul up what I can and store it. I will make a couple of new sitting areas to replace rotted ones I built 15 years ago. Jim and Elsie GilIespie who live in deep water in Atlantic tell me that after the high tides and heavy seas, the Otter Ponds beach was littered with thousands of dead starfish and sea cucumbers. They watched about 200 sea gulls feast on the bounty.


I wonder what plants will sprout in new and interesting places where seeds were seaborne or where the earth rearranged itself. It will be fun to look when things begin to warm again, come spring.



Weather Muse January/February, 1991


On the first day of February, the bitter bright day had people rushing about, spending as little time as possible in the outdoors. Other inland places in Maine lay under a foot of snow. Swan's Island lay almost bare and icy under a bright sun that hung low in the sky. Some of us were able to have a few skiing days since Christmas, but the earth now seemed ready for spring.


It smelled like spring one day in January. The earthy moss smells of damp thawing forests filled the air. Seagulls placidly made their livings on the mussel bars and at the dump and a few gathered near the edge of a thin ice sheet that materialized on the harbor. Out in quiet waters, large floats of sea birds floated and bounced in and out of the sea.


Skaters have been partying at Malleye's Pond and those athletes pray that there will be no snow to mess up the smooth surface of the Ice. While the snow lasted, kids enjoyed sliding on Root's Hill, Finney's Hill and various tracks famous among the children. The family from Tasmania enjoyed the snow to the fullest while it lasted.


The price of heating oil was $1.40 on the last refill. Sweaters and blankets are close at hand to temper a chilly house. Fishermen and their families have found the winter especially frigid because the price offered for their lobster catch is around $2.10, half of what lobsters fetched at market last year. Some are holding them in lobster cars, hoping that the price will go up; some have sold and taken what profit they could from the long months of work. Better to plan for another season, and hope that the economy and the war in the Middle East will bring better news as time goes by.



Weather Muse April, 1991


Before the clocks changed Time during World War I, I suppose Time hung around lazy people who stayed in bed all day. But science and governments decided to make Time civil time". What an idea. There go humans again, trying to tame things. What an idea: taming Time. I have heard of people and even places, like Hawaii, who don't do "civil time". But here on this island, we tame Time and lose sleep too. Let's see: if it says 6:30 it is really 5:30...like a little kid. sometimes I get overwhelmed with the intricate way things work.


But never mind. The skunk cabbage is up and has been for a few weeks now. Rows of them grow alongside wet roads. Their deep maroon spathes harbor smelly secrets best left untold. From a distance the mystery is amusing enough.


Oh! that morning when I noticed that the gulls had gathered below my house! That was on March 22, but I had noticed that gulls had been busy in Atlantic days before. It is time for the Annual Scale Worm Festival. That time of year when millions of scale worms somehow manage to spawn in the first seconds they writhe to the surface of the mud flats before they are eaten by half a million gulls. Scale Worm Day is a milestone day for me. It means real spring is here. The sea is warming. Alder and such begin to swell at the leaf nodes and I can't resist cutting forsythia and a sprig or two from my uncle's cherry to bring indoors.


After being away for a few days. homecoming was especially nice. In the quiet, gray corner of the room, the forsythia bloomed! And on the table, the cherry began to show edges of deep rose. In a few more days, the delicate petals began unwinding into the room. It is nice to be able to watch the slow rhythm of it because the dance itself, the splash of extravagant flowers, lasts for such a short time.


Other plants are coming. Bachelor buttons and dwarf day lilies are doing well by the doorway. The deer will chop some of the lilies down, but others will make it. And the grass. Yes, the grass is pushing up between the dry blades of last year's lawn and I'll have to fuss about it. But it looks so well when it is cut and tamed. I admit to taming things myself: the mowing of a lawn growing wild in the height of the season or the pulling of a troublesome stone from the path. I feel satisfied that Time really cannot be tamed by a convention of scientists and governments. What an idea, taming, Time.



Weather Muse May, 1991


Suddenly my yard needs mowing. The prediction that even the deer couldn't keep up with it proved true after all. And suddenly, despite my feeling that winter hasn't really finished with us. the violets and bluets were blooming on the shore path. Everywhere I could recognize familiar flowers and weeds reaching up and out of the dried winter field and woods around my house. At The Carrying Place, beach peas were at least five inches high and growing father back into the parking area where the sea had gone a couple of times this winter under the influence of moon and wind.


One day. in the first of May, the island was bursting with THINGS HAPPENING. The sky above the harbor was busy with eagles singing to each other and circling higher and higher. The four of them whirled in the blue sky while from the south. I watched a group of five birds, also flying very high, coming in the direction of the eagles. These five changed direction slightly, going around them and headed north again.


Meanwhile, a hawk flew just over my head and made its way across the cove. Later that day I saw a crow fly up from the road with a snake looped in its feet. The black bird alighted in a locust tree and stayed a long while as I slowed my walk so that I might get a good look at the diner and the dinner. The poor snake must have been basking in the first warm day as I had been. ..thank goodness pterodactyls are an extinct species!


I had such a day that day! While walking I had seen a large red insect flying very fast at knee height. I watched it, hoping that it would land so that I could get a good look, but away it went over the alder field and towards the ocean. Rats! I really wanted to see it! I contented myself with more ordinary creatures like slugs, rabbits, seagulls, loons, and old squaws making silly noises on the water. While watching sea birds, I saw the season's first sail appear around the head and float into the harbor where its mast added its vertical line to the posts of the lobster pound below the valley.


Oh gosh, the ferry wasn't working for about 24 hours and our mail came to us by lobster boat and schedules were messed up and the electricity kept going off and on and there was a lot of rain and more high winds that took more trees down all over the island and...oh gosh, I had a very nice day that the sun came out and the grass grew so fast that the deer couldn't keep up.



Weather Muse July, 1991


Oh, to be on Swan's Island when it is summertime! That feeling that winter wasn't quite over has left me now', now that the heat and beat of summer have really taken over. Extraordinarily picture-perfect days have distracted us from the fact that rain is an essential ingredient.


Day after beautiful day, from June to date. the sun has shone with one day and night of rain. Dry patches in yards are growing, Valiant little wild plants that grew in the crevices of ledges have died. Small streams are moist muddy paths. Mosquitoes are practically rare. The little cherry in my back yard is close to triumph this year! I suppose the fact that one morning the crows will get to the bounty before I do, really has no meaning to the cherry. Hundreds of small, wonderfully tart cherries are getting redder by the hour. The cherry tree has done its job and the crows will do theirs. I hope to have a taste, remember those foggy springs when the bees could not do their work?


The summer is full of fretful work. The scenery sometimes is hard to see for the racing with phones and water systems that stop working and the knock on the door to answer this or that concern and that disaster.


Fishermen are doing their best at lobstering, but the catch will not be caught this year. The price is down. The larder in freezers is being whittled away. Little jobs are sometimes the main ingredient in the week's wages. A day on the beach with all the kids is a relief from the worry in the house. The children still play for hours in the freezing cove. Horse flies manage a bite or two and all seems right with the world.


The hard edge of living sometimes dissolves in an instant. A friend of mine was driving home down a dirt road one night a few weeks ago and suddenly saw in his headlights a swarm of moths. He stopped, got out, walked into the light and became completely surrounded and covered with luna moths! Thus he was transported from his worries for a few; moments. Later he drove home and when he returned to the spot to show his friend, the moths had disappeared into the night.... into the moon?


Sometimes I forget my telephone and slip away in the canoe somewhere one thousand miles away. Crows continue to quarrel in the trees, eagles hunt in the harbor, osprey gather and whirl high up in the cloudless sky. We below who measure everything are yet perplexed. Spiders live among my papers and out on the clothes line. At the edge of the yard, the birds clean out my rice pot while the cats hunt along the drive for mice and grasshoppers. Away from home for a few hours, exploring other little wildernesses, gives me rest. If the tide is right when we return to the point, I won't even get my feet wet.