Fragments of European clay pipes intrigued Spiess most. “This site is important because it may turn out to be a key piece in the puzzle of early Indian-European contact. It’s a humdinger!” Up a rise from the dig, granite cross near the wharf promotes the idea that explorer George Weymouth, diarist James Rosier, and the crew from the Archangel were the first Europeans to stop here. They are said to have celebrated Pentecost Sunday in 1605.
We left that island, so rich in beginnings, and set out across Penobscot Bay. Past a lather of breakers frothing the flanks of Roaring Bull rock, we made for Metinic Island, where generations have worked for more than 200 years; the current family descends from the first.
Morning was sunny as we poked into a cove of Greens Island called the Tombs. A sailing scow, little more elaborate than a heavily timbered raft with a simple gaff rig, was tied to a wharf. It was part of the life Bill and Elaine Drury had made from an overgrown farmstead by cutting, clearing, planting, and building over three summers, living the while in a tepee now used as fair-weather guest quarters and a playhouse for their children, Rebecca and Jamus.
Their house was up and mostly insulated, and, Drury said, they had turned to using the island’s natural resources. “This magical place offers us everything we need, really. You have seaweed for fertilizer, wild fruit, and fish. If you do it right, you can make a good living out here.”
Realists, they also had pigs, sheep, the garden, as well as their sailing scow, portable sawmill, and a draft horse. Drury cuts cleared trees into logs and mills those into planks for building or for sale. The sawmill comes apart in five pieces. He can take it aboard the scow and sail to jobs on other islands. That work would go easier if he could also take a horse along, but when the scow was ready, Osiris, his 35-year-old Clydesdale, lay down one day and did not get up.
Osiris’s replacement, a part Belgian, part Morgan mare named Sadie, has proved herself an “ambitious worker.” Still, she has shown no interest in becoming a sea horse. Drury was considering taking her new colt, Jasper, “out on the scow while he’s still little to give him a rousing good ride. Then after he gets to be 1,800 pounds and I can’t make him move, maybe he’ll want to go.”
After paying respects at the side-by-side tombs of Joseph and Dorcas Green, who came to farm the island before the Revolution, we went to put the scow on a mooring. Drury took out a cow’s horn and trumpeted a bellow on his “official scowboy foghorn.” He blew a longer blast and declared with mock solemnity:
“Take the crew away!”
We took ourselves away from Greens, from each other, and from Chance.
BY AUGUST lobster prices were up in the $3.80 range, and Skeet MacDonald was getting ready to run his traps off Isle au Haut. MacDonald began in the trade at about age 12 when “my uncle gave me a dozen old lobster pots and an old rowboat.” That was in 1912 or 1913. He also went in his father’s Friendship sloop, built by Wilbur Morse in about 1908. “I was seasick every time I went out. I swore I’d never go aboard again.”
He came to Isle au Haut in 1921 and worked as engineer on a boat of the wealthy rusticators. In 1922 he went into lobstering. Wrapped in her travels, an Ohioan finds a patch of solitude where Acadia National Park meets Frenchman Bay. Acadia’s four million yearly visitors make it the second most popular national park, after the Great Smokies.
232 full-time, starting in a launch with a “one lunger” make-and-break engine.
“In my lifetime I’ve only had to go to two people that was robbing my traps. I waited and watched. What you see with your eyes, you can believe.
“I told them that if they wanted to go fishing, they’d better leave me alone. If they didn’t, I said, ‘You ain’t going to fish. You won’t have nothing to fish with. If you doubt my word, try it just once more.’ I meant it too. I never had to go back.”
MacDonald now fishes 50 traps with the help of a retired clergyman as volunteer sternman. “He won’t take a penny. I love to have him too, and he does a lot of work. I go out about every day that’s suitable, but, ye gods, there’s nothing to fish for. As a whole, I don’t know how the lobsters hang up as well as they do. You know, there’s a limit to what there is out there in the ocean, and, by God, they’re fast depleting it, too.”
Last year MacDonald, at age 84, and his boat Poozie, at age 35, got put to the test in the Stonington lobster-boat races. MacDonald came in first in his class and won a depth sounder, a coil of rope, and a trophy. He wasn’t looking ahead to more racing. “I don’t know how much longer they’re going to allow me to fish. Old Father Time, he’s got a limit on it, I guess.”
Time was in short supply as Frank Simon talked in snatches between phone calls. The subject was mussels. “OK,” he said, “let’s take an end-user look. We had to change the image and packaging. Mussels were considered low class—you used them for bait. They were sold in dirty old onion sacks with rocks and broken shells all mixed in.”