Due to the generosity of my wife's ex-husband John (long story, don't ask), I have the opportunity to spend some time each summer in Swans Island, ME at a beautiful house overlooking the lobster co-op and a terrific harbor. Each morning, as the sun rises, the water is electric with color as the lobster men (and women) set off to haul their daily catch, returning in the late afternoon hoping to sell the creatures to the co-op's agent who market the lobster to those on the main land who each such things (I wouldn't know...).
This is one of the most beautiful places in the world. My wife calls it her "happy place."
So what happens to the echo chamber when we are here? It fades, and wonderfully so. Until it returns in surprising and sometimes disturbing ways.
Today Elizabeth and I went to the annual "Swans Island" Independence Day festival that benefits the Swans Island school.
The festival brought the echo chamber back into focus.
Sitting at the table eating our blueberry and apple pie (delicious! -- welcome to Maine!) I spoke with a female relative of John's. Not 35, she has seen it all. Probably no more than 110 pounds wet, she is a lobster woman. She heads out on those cold mornings (I'm not sure how she gets her two young kids to school -- probably with the help of a neighbor since she split with her husband a couple of years ago) , gets in her small boat, rain or shine, and hauls lobster traps to the surface all day long. This woman has seen it all... One year she won the Maine moose license lottery and "took" a moose. Her family ate that moose for at least six months. She told me that two weeks ago she broke her tail bone. But, off to work she went that morning -- ibuprofen in hand.
She reports that this has been a tough year for the lobster industry. In a normal year, the lobster men and women earn about $6-8 per pound in the winter and $4 in the summer. This winter the lobster went for $2.50 - 3.00 per pound. In the summer about $2. Traps went uncollected and the debt rose.
Also with us at the table was Dorothy, an older woman who cleans this terrific house between renters. Surrounded by her grandchildren, she is joyful and wistful at the same time. Her husband is home, in perpetual recovery from the emphysema that has taken his ability to work and at times to even breathe. When I ask about him, I am told he is doing better - he's lost a bunch of weight, but he is holding his own.
Last winter, Dorothy broke her leg after a nasty fall on the ice near their small home. I don't recall the entire story, but on the island going to the hospital in the middle of night requires a helicopter and a long ride to Bangor. Dorothy elected not to go despite the urging of all around her. Amazingly, she got through a long night and took the ferry the following morning to the mainland.
I have to wonder how the folks who live here do it.
Swans Island has about 400 permanent residents year round. The school has about 30 kids (K-8) with three teachers.
It's a rough life for those people living in paradise.
I wish we had paid extra for our pie today.