A Letter from Matinicus - Edge of What?
On the Edge of What?
By Eva Murray
In the post office recently, a few of us were making the usual helpless observations about the weather. On Matinicus Island, the weather is the final arbiter of everything: whether your eight-year-old has ice cream at her birthday party, whether you get to the hospital when you're sick, everything. The forecast on the television bore no resemblance to what we were experiencing, and this surprised nobody. "Well," said Wanda the postmaster, "we are on the edge." Meteorologically, geographically, psychologically, we live close to a lot of edges. Obviously, we are on the nation's physical edge. Dig out your map. Strike off to the east from here in your little yellow kayak and should you fail to hit the southern tip of Nova Scotia, it's next stop, Portugal. The weatherman reminds us that we're just barely still in America. You know that part when they talk about the marine forecast "from 25 miles to the Hague Line?" That's what we listen to. They have a different culture over there in America. They have Chinese takeout, newspapers every day no matter the weather, Amato's on the way home from work, pee wee foootball, and TV reception even in the rain. On the other hand, they have stop signs, and nobody gives out homemade cookies on Halloween any more, and you have to drive on your own side of the road no matter where the potholes are, and if the power goes out it could be out for days. Matinicus people—natives and transplants— abound in demonstrations of edginess, marginality, borderland mentality and frontier spirit. Descriptions of edge-worlds make sense here: a sometimes blurry sense of where reality ends, difficulty in describing this life to those who have not been here, arrested developments, petty kingdoms. People move here when they realize they aren't ever going to join the bowling league, or will never be a company man. The edge is an accurate metaphor, in a long list of ways. I am endeavoring to negotiate an unstable and socially awkward edge in writing even tangentially about Matinicus. I am skating on the edge of common sense, and here's why: The conventional wisdom has always been that you cannot—must-not—write about Matinicus. Well-meaning mainland friends and scholarly tourists (an oddly common summer feature of our little world) innocently repeat "I hope you're keeping a journal." "I hope you're writing this stuff down." "You ought to write a book." Don't be silly. If you write the bad truth, says the accepted gospel, "they" will break your windows and slash your tires. This is not entirely hyperbole. In 20 years I have seen a good bit of damage done, and have outlasted many of the perpetrators. One is always advised to attempt the jungle path with care. If you write the good truth, the fear is that unrestrained hordes of summer jerks, replete with quantities of trash, accents, and irritating questions, will overwhelm our single-source aquifer and our supply of seaglass. That may be true, but access is irregular and expensive, moorings are few, there is no Starbuck's and-—public take notice—there is no place to pee. If you write the political, municipal, structural truth...oh, but one must never, never, for they in Augusta surely do not know we are here; if they did, they would descend with monstrous ticket-writing pads and cite us for lack of school hot-lunch programs and yield signs. Issues of psychological analysis and red-tape compliance aside, this irregular polygon is still positively loaded with edges: *We're on the edge of holding on as a town, a community, and a functioning social unit, rather than just as an outpost of individuals. *We're on the edge of our patience, with mushrooming bureaucracies, stupid assumptions, stereotypes, overboard trash, monopolies, reporters, boorishness, and mythology. More on each of these later. *We're on the edge of our sanity, particularly when the deep spring mud stops the flying service from landing on the airstrip, or the winter wind screeches incessantly for day after day, or the endless fog shrinks our world to what we can see, which is barely across the road. *We're on the edge of being tamed by the better nature, rather than being "Lord of the Flies" island. *We're on the edge of staying. *We're on the edge of the law, doctor's orders, ceremony and sacrament, the taxman, and that hard wooden chair in the principal's office. Anarchy is sweet but tricky. *Finally, we're on the edge of being in love. We'd have to be in love with it to be here; it's too hard to make sense of it any other way. That doesn't make it easy. I am really walking on the edge by presuming to say "we" at all. I was not born here. I do not fish for a living, and more significantly, my husband does not fish for a living (hey, I don't make the rules). I have absolutely no right to speak for Matinicus and I will be the first to admit it. There's a lobster boat in a side yard in a mainland town not too far from here, the bow lettered with the name "On The Edge." Each time we drive by it my husband chuckles something about sneaking up there and painting in an "L." If my neighbors take umbrage at my efforts, I guess I'll be "on the ledge." We all, out here at least, know what that means.
Illustration by Ted Walsh
Illustration by Ted Walsh