Petrels Mackerel and Blackberries

Tuesday June 8, 2010

Putting our kitchen scraps, which we’d like to compost, under the grass clippings in a big pile in the weeds just off the lawn wasn’t such a good idea.  There were gulls into it this morning.  I certainly don’t want to start feeding the birds around here.  Can you imagine the first picnic outside grilling tuna if we did?

The pipes made funny noises and the faucets were spitting when I showered this morning and washed dishes in the kitchen.  Did we flip the wrong switch in the pump house?

However, adding seaweed to the grass clippings and spreading them in the garden, as ground cover and to keep back the weeds (Ethan’s suggestion), was a great idea.  We’ve started to collect rainwater with pails under the drain spouts and consolidate it in a big brown plastic garbage bin we found in the Whistle House.  It fills up fast.  We’re using it to water the garden every evening.  I’m not sure what the iron and other minerals in the brown water from the hose would do to our plants.  Probably nothing but we’ll still give it acid rain instead and hope for the best.  It’s another drop dead gorgeous sunny day with breezes and clear views of Monhegan, and Portugal but for the curvature of the Earth.  The stars last night were magnificent, viewed through our canopy of light.

France found a dead bird by the kitchen door late this morning.  It looked like a catbird to me but from her book she identified it as a Leach’s Storm-Petrel which I’ve never heard of.  France says it’s a seabird and shouldn’t have been here. It wasn’t on the ground near a window so we’re not sure how it died. Maybe it flew into the tight and bounced down to the ground.  We photographed it and put it to rest in the weeds behind the big bench on the lawn.

I think we’ve finely mastered the art of the weed whacker.  We’re making a lot of headway on the north trail.  The blackberry bushes are in full bloom along the trail.  (The photo was taken in the rain on June 10.)  A family visited today on their boat, a couple from nearby with their son and his girlfriend.  She had visited Vieques where France and I met years ago so we had a lot to talk about.  The dad wants to come back with his brother.  His wife was afraid to step out on the catwalk and the son was concerned that there was no vantage point to see their boat in the cove, which he was worried about.  I think they tied it up on a channel marker.

You can’t drop anchor in the cove because there is a cable that feeds electricity to the island from the mainland.  If that ever got severed, the Coast Guard would replace the Fresnel lens (hundreds of pounds of original leaded glass valued at 6 or 7 million dollars) with something modern and more economical and the original would end up in a museum somewhere.  It would be very expensive to fix the cable and the Friends would have a very tough time recovering.

Later the family went for a walk on the north trail and passed me a couple of times.  I was wearing goggles and ear protectors because that thing is really loud.  They looped all the way around the trail and spoke of a boardwalk down by a marsh.  We should have discovered this by now.  Maybe if we put the “Loop” sign back that we found in the Whistle House we’ll be able to find our way.

Ethan brought a family from Atlanta to the island in the late afternoon whom he had taken fishing.  They had a young boy with braces on his teeth and had come ashore to dodge what looked like a little storm even though it was a gorgeous day and most of the sky was bright blue.  On the mainland we could see a few spots of dark clouds pouring rain on some locale and it looked like it was heading our way.  They really enjoyed the visit, went up to the top of the Light and signed the guest book and toured the museum.  France brought them iced tea made with fresh mint we’d thinned from the garden just as they were about to head back down to do some fishing.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Having gotten up at five with plenty of time to prepare for Ethan’s arrival at 7 for our second planned visit to the mainland to pickup provisions and stop in to the Friends office and meet Dee, the president of the board, I got a little sidetracked checking e-mail and had to hurry to load up the tram to head down to meet the boat.  While France closed up the house we decided that I could bring the tram down by myself.  So I loaded up the cart with everything we were taking with us, which included a big blue plastic bin which we shuttle back and forth to the office to pick up the items we sell in the gift shop.  To keep the lid from flying off in the wind, I draped the black garbage bag over it to hold it down.

You really can’t see the cart at the top while you’re operating the engine in the Donkey House very well through the window, and if you’re doing it all alone, you just have to trust that all is well.  You need someone else to give you hand signals to tell you when to stop it going up.  And here you really need the kind of ear protectors you wear while riding in a helicopter.  What are they called?  The engine cranked but for some reason I thought the cart was moving awfully slowly down the tram.  I kept watching out the other window facing the cove to see if Ethan was in sight.  We don’t want him to wait for us.  Then I looked out the door and saw where the chimney vents from the engine and it was billowing thick gray smoke.

As the tram got closer I couldn’t see the garbage bag until I noticed that it had fallen in front of the cart and was being shredded along the way strewing a weeks worth of garbage all along the tram, just as Ethan’s boat appeared approaching the cove.  There was nothing to do but bring it down the rest of the way and pick up the pieces as quickly as possible.  Scrambling up onto the tram I picked up what was close and visible, especially what was left in what remained in the bag.  It was like a short review of what we’d consumed over a weeks time: the bones left from the carcass of the chicken I’d made soup out of, all the vegetable scraps that had gone into it (wasn’t that three days ago?).  You get the picture, and it wasn’t pretty.  I would have documented it with a photograph but Ethan was waiting in the cove and we had to get our stuff down to the beach.  I knew the seagulls would clean up part of it for us but I also suspected that we’d be finding bits of plastic and paper under the tram near the trail all summer.  Is this what we’ll be know for among the Friends?

Captain DeBery had his new boat on the ready at the dock in Popham, which we raced to meet even after having called to push the pickup time to five because we were running late with everything we had to do before we left the mainland.  Just for the record, this included:

– Breakfast at a funky little place in Bath called the Starlight where they make cinnamon buns as big as your head and homemade hash.  This could be a dangerous precedent.

– Laundry and grocery shopping.

– Friends office meeting to turn in receipts and pick up goods and meet Dee.  We chatted much longer than we thought we would.

– A trip back to the Skillin’s for plants and seeds.

– A stop at Cyndy’s to fill up a water jug, which we left behind because she happened to be home and we got to chatting…

– A detour back to Plant Seafood for shrimp and scallops.  We’d seen this sign and thought, how cool:  you can get fish at the same place you can shop for garden stuff.  Not so fast.  The fisherman owner’s last name is Plant.  Oops!  Tell him Cyndy sent us.

– A quick stop at the firehouse in Phippsburg so France could ask them about the neck brace in the first aid bag kept on the island, which she couldn’t figure out how to work.  They think it’s defective.  The driver was James Totman aka Jimma whom I spoken with by phone from New York a couple of months back.  I’d been told that if there was a beater vehicle to buy or rent for the summer, he’d have it.  He remembered speaking with me and said he’d never come up with one.

– The post office was closed by the time we got there but we could still get our mail out of our box.

– There’s a parking spot in the back of the chapel in Popham facing the guest cottages for parking reserved for “islanders” where I left Fred’s truck for him to pickup, after we unloaded the stuff by the dock.  It’s not a long walk back.

Ethan was with a couple of friends and they’d caught a pail full of mackerel.  Gratefully this boat took the rough seas between Popham and Seguin even though the trip is a slower one in it.  We’d have been drenched in his smaller boat.  We chatted with Richard who fishes for lobster with his family in their boat Rebel while Drew cleaned some of the mackerel in the back of the boat which he gave to France and me.  The boat was too big to nose onto the shore like Ethan can do with the little one so we tied up at a buoy and loaded the dingy so full France could hardly row.  She made another trip for the last of the provisions while I started to carry everything over the rocks and up the stairs to the cart on the tram.  I couldn’t see any garbage but France discovered some on the trail on the way back up to the lighthouse.

What a meal!  We fried them up just the way the guys had recommended in oil with a lot of salt and pepper to which I added some flour:  hot oil and five minutes on a side to really crisped them up.  This way, once you separate the filets, the main bone lifts right out and the little ones crunch right up and you don’t notice them.  That together with a salad and some red wine and we were spent.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Dave had left a new double toggled circuit breaker he’d ordered for us at the Friends office.  I specifically wrote on my application for this gig that I could rewire a lamp but as far as doing electrical maintenance that required me to poke around in a live box, I’m quite the pansy.  I’ve been shocked before even with a wet sponge wiping off an outlet and I’m not fond of the jolt.  It creeps me out.  So do we wait for Dave to come to install the filters for the drinking water and say oh, here’s the breaker for you to install too, or do we show that we are really capable of gaffing life on the island without cries for help every so often by doing it ourselves?  After breakfast, France and I braved it.  Wearing gloves and armed with flashlight, plastic handled giant screwdriver and the new breaker, we headed down to the box in the basement.  We took off the cover and threw the main switch above the box that took out all the power on the island (no not the Light – that’s fed separately).  It really wasn’t hard at all.  Now we have the big heater functional again in the living room, which really warms up most of the downstairs.  Yipee!

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8 Responses to Petrels Mackerel and Blackberries

  1. debbie winkleman says:

    Oh Michael….. this is getting better and better each day. It has become my bedtime story. Sunny just got home from Durango tonight and I have been reading her your adventures. Each day I look forward to the next installment.

  2. Darko says:

    I agree with Debbie, great blog Mike and the pictures look amazing! Although I do get te feeling Ill be put to work once I get up there 😛

    • Hey thanks Darko. You’ll have fun with the work I have in store for you. You’d think you might get bored here with no amenities that we’re all so used to but in fact there’s always something to do. You can’t watch TV or run to the corner for a slice. But in fact, I could sit and stare and not be bored. We’re so high up, the sea is the backdrop in any direction you look. The light, the ocean, the clouds and the vegetation; it’s all in a state of transition and flux and changes practically as you’re looking at it. Can’t wait for you to come. Did you mom book a flight?

  3. gaflick57 says:

    Love the thought of that fresh mackerel dinner. (Wanted to make mackerel teriyaki a week ago but no luck at the local market, so ended up with monkfish.) It’s wonderful to track your acclimation and broadening perspective. You’ll be real “down easters” by the time I arrive! 😉

    • I think they only use it for lobster bait here and it’s too strong a fish for me to use as sushi. They were delicious fried up and France wants to marinate the three big ones we froze. That should be a sort of sushi.

      • gaflick57 says:

        Consider: Kikoman teriyaki sauce (or any brand of choice), vegetable oil, a couple minced garlic cloves, minced fresh ginger root, red pepper flakes. Marinate refrigerated in a zip bag for a couple hours. Make a very hot oven. Brush solids off mackerel and strain from marinade. Bake fish. Add some vermouth or white wine to the marinade and reduce in a fry pan. “Lacquer” over fish when serving. Improvements upon method welcome.

      • I like your method. France has done an alternative: place fish in a glass loaf pan with thin slices of carrot and lemon, bay leaf, a sprig of fresh thyme and parsley. Boil white wine vinegar and white wine and pour over fish. Cover and refrigerate for three days. Eat at room temperature.

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