I know it’s the information age. I know it’s a global village. I know history is being made every day. But I don’t listen to the news.
No TV. No daily paper. No live feed for devices, smart or otherwise.
I could listen to the radio on the way to work but the only English language station is a language tutorial. About all I can understand on the rest are the brand names in the car and mobile phone ads.
I did watch the screens in the vision center the other day, a mayoral race on one screen and a bicycle race on the other. Making promises and spinning wheels. Not much in the way of news there. I glean the big stories from the chatter in the staff room. If the world ended, I’d find out. I find out about the weather when its light enough to see in the morning or as it happens.
There is a certain comfort in not being caught up in the endless, moment-by-moment, blow-by-blow complete with running commentary and punctuated with snap judgments from people who know very little but still ought to know better.
But I remember other times. Times I kept a weather eye across the bay. Times when I could see the weather form off to the westward. Times when I gauged the shifting wind.
Dickie set the barometer about 5 times a day and tapped it every time he passed.
He knew his fronts and wind’s dance with the tide. He knew the diplomatic interplay of currents coming in and going out. He knew how far inland the line of fog would extend.
It’ll be another bright sun shiny day in Ellsworth today, he pronounced. Not that we’ll see a ray of it out here.
Sure enough we trundled through a dungeon fog all day.
None of it was news to him.
Them fellas act like they invented the weather, he snorted then blew his nose tremendously into his white pocket handkerchief .
I had a little transistor radio down in my workshop at the shore. I listened to Boston talk radio until the chatter drove me nuts, then I’d listen to the gulls and crows and the endless discussion of permanence between wind and wave and stone.
It was a steel grey afternoon in early March. Half a day away to the south all the talk was of the Storm. They ran fresh numbers every 30 minutes:
houses without power
and you’ll want to get the boss to let you go home early
My only commute was up the hill to feed the chickens and shut the barn door.
My water came by bucket from the well
The fridge was the earthen floored cellar or the uninsulated attic.
The wood was split and stacked and covered.
The only boss was me and I figured I’d finish painting the buoys I had primed and patch another stack of traps while there was still light enough to see.
I started back up the hill just after sunset. The ground was bare and still frozen hard under the thin layer of mud where the sun melted the surface for an hour or two on either side of noon. I glanced out into the Fore Harbor and remembered the boat at about the same time I saw her. The tide had been out when I got back from town the day before. I had left her on an outside mooring and then got busy and there she was. Idly turning, first to face the dying westerly and then hauled round in the flow of the outgoing tide. I’d forgotten to shift her into the Pool when the tide was up and there wouldn’t be water enough to get back into the shelter of the Pool until well after midnight. The mooring was fine, a great slab of granite worked well down in the mud, long as it had out there.
Trouble was, the chain was the same vintage. I’d seen more than one boat come ashore off the old moorings. It was all a matter of timing: Gust, wave crest, and tide. Line those three variables up and even a healthy chain lets go. These antique links were hand forged thick as a fisherman’s thumb back in their day. They were built to take whatever God and the weather threw at them. Now they were mere wisps, worn and pitted, about as much use as a chain of paperclips. I trudged up the hill, made a stack of sandwiches and a thermos of coffee and headed back to the shore. It’d be dark in an hour, I didn’t have much time.
The plan was simple. If I waited for the tide to be up enough to get into the Pool it’d be too rough to launch a punt into the surf. The thought shoving an eight-foot rowboat into white-capped seas on a deeply overcast night with a wind chill of well below zero even if it had warmed up to snow, was daunting. Best chance was to row out now and sleep aboard the boat until the tide was up enough to run her into the safety of the Pool. If it got too wild, I’d be aboard and could crank her up if the chain broke and at least keep her off the rocks.
I rowed out with just enough light left to see my footing on the rocks, hauled the punt aboard so I’d only have to deal with one boat in the water. Soon as I was aboard, I realized just how cold it was and how long I was going to be out in it.
A chained boat doesn’t ride easy. She jerked and tore at the bind and chafe. I couldn’t see the shore or the ledges scattered through the narrow channel between the islands but I could hear the surf build when the tide turned and brought the swells from the open sea with it.
The wind rose and snow spattered against the cabin and swirled in ghostly patterns when I shone the flashlight to try and check the tide’s progress. I had a fathometer so I’d know when the bottom shoaled but, by the time I got the news on its screen, neither the boat nor I would be a position to do any more than mutter the classic incantation when all has gone amok, “Oh shit.”
About 2:00 a.m., I figured I had all the water I needed to get into the Pool. I glanced into the darkness, Not a gleam of light on all the island. Just me and the remains of those who set out and don’t return. The six Portuguese stone cutters on their way back from a strawberry social, Harvey Miller and his boy, Austin, Rooster, Buddy and the boys aboard the Risky Business. Just one small island and not a soul but me, yet the night felt crowded.
I cranked the big diesel, crawled up forward and cast off the mooring chain, skidded on the ice making on the rails, dropped back into the cabin and spun her around. The light for the compass had never worked, so, by memory and the feel of the wind at my back, by the crash of surf marking the ledges , I climbed each wave slowly and slid down again faster than I dared go but needing to keep more speed than the wave’s momentum so I wouldn’t spin and go side too.
When I reached the calmer water of the Pool and caught her proper mooring I shut her down. Out there, the storm built, its voice exultant and raging but my small piece of the world, my thirty square feet of deck, was an oasis of calm. I wondered for a moment about being out and being in. Then I ran the chain over the bollard up forward and tied her down. Swept what snow I could off the platform and rails to leave her tidy, shoved the punt off the stern and left her.
By the time I rowed ashore and hauled the punt up out of the storm’s reach, walked up the hill and home it was past four o’clock and time to start the fire, make coffee and watch the storm move in.
Down in Boston the storm was yesterday’s news. The roads were plowed and the walks shoveled. Already the chatter had moved on to other topics
I turned the radio off, poured another cup of coffee from the pot on the woodstove and listened to the voices in the wind.