Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Muscle Ridge

There are some 200 islands in and around Penobscot Bay. A few are inhabited, and famous: Isleboro, Vinalhaven, Isle au Haut, North Haven, Monhegan, the Cranberries. Most are neither. The ones guarding the southwestern entrance to the bay are perfect examples of the latter.

Some maps call them the Mussel Ridge Islands, but their cartographers must have been de-poeticized. When you look at the islands from Lucia Beach, they look very much like muscles, flexed on an arm, or a back, bulging from the surface. On a bright clear day like today, they seem to ride slightly above the water. The Channel between them and the mainland is a well-known shortcut for ships coming to Rockland from the south, and a dangerous one, for although there are three or four miles of water in the Channel on the southern end, it narrows to a few hundred yards in Owls Head Bay, and the elegant three-masters and the groaning lime and granite boats sometimes paid dearly for the hours potentially saved - not to mention the danger of the incessant fogs between the warning horns of Whitehead Light and Owls Head Light. Not much problem today: electronics makes purposeful travel in such well-known waters boringly safe. And kayakers and windjammers buckle no swash.

In the 19th century a dozen families lived on these islands, fishing mostly. There was a brief flurry of granite mining. Now in the press and pressure of the 21st century Muscle Ridge is beautifully, ironically deserted: fishermen have motors now and three miles is nothing; rich people need big lots and croissants; regular people need something to do; only a few artists are as well-off as Jamie Wyeth; mad people need their anti-psychotics; and mixed-up romantics such as me like only to look. Yet it's good to know that just off-shore, just out of reach, there are no phones, no cable, no internet, where they can't get us if we don't want to be gotten.

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