First Day on the Island

 
The air on this Sunday morning is quite still on the porch at the Big House. Even with that wretched racket called tinnitus resounding in my ears, I can hear the clicking sounds of insects and a distant boat advancing through the waters of Penobscot Bay. It is perfectly beautiful here. Elita and I arrived on the island late yesterday afternoon, leaving the mainland behind for a week. 
For a century, the Porter family has owned and cared for Great Spruce Head Island. The Big House remains much as it was a hundred years ago. Eliot Porter wrote about the island and the Big House in his book 'Summer Island.' It's a good read. This is my fourth visit to the island and already I am falling into island time. Cars and freeways and full calendars have slipped away.
It is noon on the first day of our week on this island in Maine. Elita and I have just finished a breakfast of French toast smothered with local strawberries and blueberries, fragrant and so ripe that as we reached for them in their baskets, we brushed away fruit flies. The baskets were immediately covered with a soft old dish towel. Elita lingers over a cup of strong coffee and I, a cup of Chinese herb tea.
We've had two visitors this morning. Anina arrived around 9:00 with a painting in hand, just as I heard Elita rousing herself from a night's sleep.There was conversation on the porch as Anina pulled staples from the stretched canvas, freeing the stretcher for a new painting. Then as we ate French toast, Chris joined us at the big porch table, happy to see Elita and filled with bits of news about folks on the island.
In Seattle, on the 'other' coast, Kelan celebrates his tenth birthday. August 10th was Mom's birthday too. It's been a decade since Mom and Dad and I shared her celebratory birthday lunch and then drove to the hospital to join Dan, Heike, Caroline and Mary B, where all of us watched over Jeanne as she labored mightily to give birth to this first born child. Kelan is a robust ten year old, exceedingly verbal and aware of the politics of the world around him. I wish him a life filled with adventure and good deeds, a life in which social justice is confronted with action. He's already made this world better by his presence. May he continue to make a better world by his openness and sense of fairness. Happy birthday, Kelan McGrady.
I ask about low tide times. Speak of my intention to gather mussels. Anina and Chris both tell us that the numbers of mussels are rapidly decreasing in Penobscot Bay. They themselves don't even bother to search for and gather mussels anymore. This saddens me because I remember hundreds of mussels among the rocks at low tide in 2004.
Anina speaks with a degree of equanimity about the 'next great extinction of species'. 
"And what are we leaving our grandchildren?" I respond. It sounds to me as if she feels these changes are all in the scheme of things and that our grandchildren and great grandchildren will indeed find their way in a greatly different world. 
In the afternoon, Anina invites us to put on our bathing suits and walk to the cove for a swim. It is high tide and the muddy bottom of the cove is deep with water. Anina takes off her pink bathing suit and prepares to enter the very cold water. Thinks better of it, but encourages Elita. 
And so, Elita leaves her swim suit on the rock and edges herself into the brown cold water on her bottom, the better not to slip and fall. I never even contemplate entering such cold water.
"I am frozen", Elita says, yet she swims one way and then another. She is conversing, laughing, squinting in the sun and freezing cold. Her breasts float to the surface of the water, something my breasts would be hard pressed to do. At last, she eases out of the water on her hands and knees and takes cover in a bath towel and grey sweatshirt. 
"Can you button me up?" she asks Anina. "My hands are too cold to function." We walk back over the moss covered foot path, I trailing behind to photograph tree limbs and mushrooms.
"Stop by my house for some mackerel," says Anina, when we are in the vegetable garden picking snap green peas and string beans. 
So, suddenly Elita and I will have an island lunch, nothing from the mainland except those hand picked local strawberries, which, by the way, I bought in Blue Hill, not only for their sweetness, but for the wooden basket that held them.
Late in the afternoon, I retrace our steps to the cove wearing my Fitbit and discover that we'd taken many fewer steps than I'd guessed. On this second walk, I tucked Lulu's shiny pink shoes under my arm and paused here and there to photograph them under birch bark and on soft moss. So, something of Lulu traveled to this island, just as something of Lulu traveled to Paris and Big Bend. Her pink shoes often travel with her Mameau. I'll print a few of these new photos and take them to Seattle to augment the pages of her Robert McCloskey story books on Maine. Perhaps Lulu can then imagine herself wandering these woody footpaths. 
The fresh cool air is powerful, sending Elita and me to our bedrooms for late afternoon naps, where we sleep until nearly 7:00 p.m. Sometime during my sleep, I hear a woman's voice, but am too groggy to respond. It is after sunset when we head for Anina's and lobsters, as earlier in the day, the three of us talked of eating together.
"I couldn't rouse you. So I've already eaten," Anina says.
And then, "Well, if Rose said she would have lobsters for you, they will be down off the dock."
Still sleepy and not quite with it, Elita and I struggle to pull the crate out of the water. It hit the edge of the dock again and again and we simply could not lift the thing. We drop it and lament. We will prepare and eat lobsters another night. After all, this is our just our first day on the island. There is time.

We fry ground meat with garlic, add zucchini, tomato sauce and lots of fresh basil. Boil that gluten free pasta. Make an arugula salad with cucumber. Sit at one end of the big table, our dinner lit with a single candle. We tell each other stories about husbands and children.
Dishes are piling up in the kitchen sink. Perhaps tomorrow, we will wash them? It feels good not to have anything at all to do. After supper, in the quiet, we stand on the lawn to watch a full moon rising over the water. Near the shore, the water flashes with light as if fireflies played on its surface. 
We agree that the day has been fine. And that it is way past time for bed. It is Sunday night and it feels as if there are endless island days ahead.

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