Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sea wars

The news this week that the State of Maine, for the first time ever, has closed a section of ocean to fishing because of territorial conflict gives me an excuse to mention Elisabeth Ogilvie again. The section of ocean surrounds Matinicus, that speck of land 25 miles out from Rockland. The conflict involves one lobsterman shooting another over cut traps. Little has changed in the 60 years since Ogilvie wrote about such things, in her Tide series of novels about Bennett's Island, today's Criehaven just next to Matinicus. She wrote about conflict between lobstermen, yes, but also about peace and beauty and simplicity, with the backdrop of the insanity of World War II.

Imagine Jane Austen writing about Maine island life - that's Elisabeth Ogilvie. Quiet, funny, insightful, with flashes of savagery. (And of course, there's the confluence of names - Elizabeth, Bennett.) The sea wars have probably been going on since Austen's time, since Criehaven was settled in 1750. And so Ogilvie makes it a place mythical to American literature and life, and I rue the chance to have met her; the Austen of the 20th century died just 3 years ago, down the road in Cushing.

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