A Letter from Matinicus - Survival Rations
By Eva Murray
Illustration by Ted WalshLate in the day before a forecast big snow, half the island gathers at the airstrip for the last plane in. This is January; half the island doesn't mean that many. We arrive in pickup trucks with and without four wheel drive, some more able than others (the same being said for us humans, with and without yak-trax or stabil-icers on our boots.) We arrive in small cars with and without some of the less necessary amenities (doors and windows, for example) and on four-wheelers which, despite the cold, are often one's best bet on these roads, until the snow fills the bomb craters. An odd camaraderie is noticeable; we will not all eat and drink together, but at the airstrip, we are all equals, all ready to help unload each other's consumables, merrily readying for the heavy weather, sort of unofficially checking in on each other. Privacy, in the matter of items delivered by common carrier, is out of the question. We've been waiting some time for the plane, delayed through no fault of the pilot, and if some clever fellow had thought to bring beer and sandwiches, we might have had a party here on neutral ground. As the tiny airplane circles the island “on final” to land, we ready ourselves. Some roll up windows, anticipating the prop-wash and concomitant dust-storm. Some move trucks around a little. Some ought to, as they are in rather obviously the way of their neighbors, but they choose not to notice. It does greatly resemble the arrival of the pack mules at the bottom of the Grand Canyon (have you ever seen that action? Tecate beer and good steak hauled in for Phantom Ranch, the familiar red and white boxes from Grainger Industrial Supply in for the maintenance guy, wire and cable and copper tubing, Hershey bars for starving rafters, and those T-shirts no man can buy without physically presenting himself at the bottom. Then, onto the mules and out of the canyon goes trash, mail, over-tariffed duffel bags belonging to some of the spleenier hikers, and lots of empty Tecate cans.) I imagine it might have been something like this in old Amarillo or Prescott or Denver or Fort Bridger when the stage came in, with the Montgomery-Ward packages, the mail, the rotgut and camisoles, bonnets and bullets and coffee and tea. As the sky began to gray and the weird feeling we all can detect and don't know why (it is the drastic change in atmospheric pressure, and does not bode well for flying weather,) the little Cessna rolled to a gravelly stop and was set upon by islanders and, despite the warnings of Homeland Security to eschew such behavior, all freight is tackled by all civilians, swarming sometimes like ants, and not above loading one man's provisions into another man's rig. Rick and June had several cardboard cartons (actually banana boxes, ubiquitous out here, and used at least three times before proper disposal, but I digress...I'll explain later...) Digging through the boxes resulted in the discovery that several orders had either been inexplicably spliced together at the grocer's or somebody had called in and cabbaged onto the other orders without notifying the originator of the list (this has been known to happen.) “Hey, there's Diet Pepsi. I didn't order Diet Pepsi. Did you order Diet Pepsi?” “I did not order Diet Pepsi. Maybe it's Kathleen's.” “I don't think she likes Diet Pepsi.” “Well, beats the sh** out of me whose it is. And, I don't exactly call four pork chops a 'family pack!'” A bag with my name on it (on one of those neon-orange freight stickers; do not attach these directly to the lovely new paint on your bicycle, by the way) contained items procured for me by a helpful relative on the other side, and delivered to the airport in Owls Head for transport to Matinicus when convenient. My order consisted of some lovely locally-roasted bean coffee, a gallon of milk, and rat traps. Somebody's wine was unloaded, with some small worry about breaking the bottle and the wrath of sweetie that would follow should such a mishap be allowed, and furnace filters came off the plane, as we have endured altogether too much water in the kerosene this year, and white sugar in all its forms along with other addictive and comforting substances, and here were items ordered from a great many mail-order catalogs including something in a Grainger box for the power company, and antifreeze, and dry-gas, and Ford parts, and god knows what else and, as the feller says, He ain't tellin'. I took my coffee, my precious gallon of milk and my rats traps and headed down the road. I live exactly one mile from the airstrip parking and loading area, and was home in a few minutes. Before long, the snow began to fall, and there would be no more flights until the “precip” was over, and the plowing was done and, if there was ice, until that had yielded to either sunshine or the crunching of many tire chains, and until the wind had calmed or at least come about into the north. (An easterly or westerly gale is more than the little planes can safely land into, as nobody fancies ending up in the woods.) Anybody who wishes ice cream or Canadian Mist, pizza, prescriptions, Cat. 5 cable or ten-penny nails, cigarettes or dog chow or granola bars or baked beans or printer ink had best already have had it, for there will be no more deliveries from the mainland for awhile. We are left bumming from each other, which we do. Last I heard they had not figured out who belonged to the Diet Pepsi.