Maine Island Days
We leave early in the morning, though not nearly as early as the 4 o'clock launch time of the lobster fishermen. Many of them are already back on the moorings at 7 when we load up our gear and set off.
The air smells characteristically like that fresh, salty smell it takes on only in the heat of summer. My grandfather Floyd, a fisherman and wooden boat builder, told us kids that smell meant the lobsters were coming soon. It's sort of reminiscent of cucumbers or freshly cut hay, but with a twang of old bait and outboard oil.
I take my spot by the motor as we all settle in, on buckets and various bits of boards and dunnage. Being careful to not break headway speed in the harbor, we pass boats of all shapes and sizes, from dingys to sternless monsters. We have the usual chat about who's fishing and what they're up to.
It's always an assortment of folks we take to the islands. Usually there are a few kids from the village and friends. I remember when I was young several times each summer children would come walking down the long driveway, or we'd see a car drive away after letting off a few small passengers. They'd tell us their parents told them to 'go to the farm for the day'. These free farm hands usually had dubious job experience, but we put them to work anyway. Today Abigail and her grown brother Jacob join us, and lucky we are, as they're experienced help!
The large barges, nets, and bouys of the salmon factory are the last things we pass as we emerge between Bar Island and Dry Rock. In front of us lies the bay between Bucks Harbor and Cutler. The ocean is a mirror, completely undisturbed but for our snowy wake behind us. Normally I'd hang on and ride out the bump, bump, bump on the floor of the boat as we hit the frothy waves, but there's no need today. Islands pass, thickly coated with evergreens and uninhabited but for a lighthouse here or there. Their image is reversed beneath them, reflected perfectly in the water.
We land in Craven Cove off Foss Island, taking care to miss the seashore ledge and the gunning rock. It's a great place for a seal to take a nap or for a duck hunt, but also for tearing out the bottom of a boat! Foss island has historically been a sheep island, meaning it contains much grass, shelter, fresh water, and easy access to endless seaweed. Oftentimes the Flora and Fauna are just a bit different out on the islands, as the trained eye may notice. There are many large purple and sparkly rocks that fascinated me as a child. Well, I guess they still do!
We lug our gear up the beach and choose a flat spot for shearing. It's always nice to pack the bare minimum, as slippery trips up the rockweed have resulted in many a gash or bruise. So, we bring our handshears and do a bit of blade shearing for these ladies.
We have a textbook gather - you couldn't ask for a smoother one. We sweep the island and once we discover the sheep, we swoop them toward the pen where they are successfully funneled in. Of course we owe much of our thanks to Jack, the clever border collie. A quick leap from Jacob and the pearly white ewes are safely captured, each with a gleaming lamb by her side.
We congratulate each other on a successful gather as we ready the blades and stretch out our backs. Jacob is a fledgling shearer as well, so between the two of us the pen is clipped in no time. Abigail and her father are apt wool handlers, making the shearer's job that much easier. The island wool is unbelievably creamy and beautiful, we call it 'foam rubber' for that's what it looks like coming off the back.
The tide is close to turning and our haul-off anchor is reaching the end of its rope, so as we finish up shearing we decide to let her beach and have a dinner of hot dogs on the shore and wait for the tide. The smattering of clouds against the blue sky looks like a fresh batt of roving. I am coated from the top of my head to the tip of my toe in lanolin, grease, and sheep, but it doesn't seem to matter out here. After the girls are all clipped, checked out and given a clean bill of health, we let them go. Some leap through the aperture, others saunter slowly up the hillside, nibbling and blatting as they go. We get a smudge going, just enough to roast a few red hot dogs on sticks, slather them in mustard and chomp them down.
The hesitant tide gives us a few moments to poke around the ledges, looking for a dulse snack. Covered in draping seaweed, I've always thought them imposing and other-worldly figures: oddly-shaped and at times impossibly large. The ocean carves strange shapes from the rocks, like an eccentric artist.
I'm a tad disappointed when the slap of the waves reaches the boat and floats her, signaling it's time to leave, for I had been in the middle of spinning a skein of yarn from the discarded dags using a rock as a spindle. The busyness of motherhood seldom affords the pursuit of unproductive relaxation, but the best of days draw to a close just the same.
The sail home is a tad choppier as the changing tide rips through the channels, but this time instead of splintered old boards I rest on a bag of fluffy wool. Between the comforting smell of lanolin, the soft up-and-down of the waves, and my tired muscles, it's all I can do to stay awake. This is perhaps the best part of an island adventure, returning safely to home with our wool treasures neatly sewn into burlap, ready to be washed, flicked, carded, twisted, knitted, woven, punched, and otherwise fretted-over until it becomes a beloved handmade item.
Appendix A, a thrilling assortment of curious island rocks:
(A natural sock blocker maybe?)
Until next time,