The Great Unmasking (Cont.)

Yesterday I was on the road and in an airport for the first time in months. It was my first exposure to a mandatory mask environment after weeks of mask-free or at most temporary entry/exit masking on Deer Isle, where you see fewer and fewer people—residents or tourists—wearing their masks. I adjusted to a no-mask existence pretty easily and quickly, so being back in a mandatory mask environment was a bit jarring.

My travel day got messed up due to mechanical and weather issues, so I spent a lot of time in airport concourses, watching the world go by. And based on one day’s experience I’d say people are a lot laxer about masking now than they were at the height of the pandemic.

In part, I think this is due to the reopening of most businesses in the airport concourses, especially food businesses. Once you plant your behind in a chair in an airport restaurant or bar, you’re magically freed from the mask mandate. It’s kind of weird to think that food consumption creates a magical no-mask zone, but it’s a recognized loophole and people were taking advantage of it. I had dinner in a typical pub/restaurant place in Reagan National, and it was packed with people, crammed into seating areas that, like every airport dining option, was set up to leave you elbow-to-elbow with other patrons, and everyone had their masks off, chatting and laughing and inches away from unmasked strangers. No one seemed troubled by that. And yet, when you leave that magical mask-free zone, you’ve got to mask up again. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, and it makes me wonder if patrons are lingering longer, or consuming more, just to enjoy a few minutes more of unfettered breathing. I would guess it is boom times for all airport bars and eateries.

And speaking of consumption, travelers seemed to be taking advantage of the food consumption loophole to doff the mask and chow down in the gate areas, too. I saw one guy buying an armload of every kind of junk food you can imagine being sold by an airport concourse outlet—chips, soda, popcorn, jerky, cookies, and candy—and later saw him, mask off, noshing away on his calorie hoard. Others had bought take -out from fast food places and were taking their time and enjoying multiple gulps of maskless air as they ever-so-slowly ate their food. And one guy at National casually walked around, mask cinched up on his upper arm, carrying a cup of airport coffee, as if holding a beverage and taking a sip every few minutes excused him from mask requirements. He talked to a gate agent for a while without masking and she didn’t call him on it, either.

In this food loophole setting, the dire broadcasts over the loudspeakers about wearing only approved masks (no “gaiters”!) and being disciplined for not fully complying with mask mandates seem almost antique. Airports and airplanes will be the last bastion of masking, but I wonder how long it will be before they give it up. Yesterday’s food exception experience suggests the population is ready to bare their faces and accept the consequences.

Day’s End In Castine

We drove over to Castine to grab some food and listen to some live music. Castine is a pretty seaside town that is a lot bigger than Stonington. And Castine is very much of a recreational boating town , whereas the boats in Stonington’s harbor are almost all working craft.

Usually the Castine harbor is filled with sailboats and motorboats. By the end of the day, however, the boats are gone, and the harbor seemed vast and totally empty under a yawning sky that was trending towards twilight—except for one rogue boat.

Sunset Lobster At The Burnt Cove Boil

Tonight we paid our first visit of the summer to the Burnt Cove Boil. This classic outdoor venue operated by owner Jake McCarty became a favorite of ours last year, and I’m happy to report that it’s still terrific.

Why is the Burnt Cove Boil great? For one, you get a great view looking straight west at the sun setting over the islands in Penobscot Bay. For another, you eat sitting outside at picnic tables, and there’s just something fun and kind of magical about eating outside on a cool evening. And for still another, the natural remains of your meal get tossed back into the water, to return to the marine ecosystem. If you don’t think it’s fun to fling an oyster shell or crab claw or lobster tail into the seawater after you’ve finished with it, you’ve got another think coming.

But here’s the best thing about BCB: the food is excellent, and Jake is a great host. Tonight we started with local oysters, followed by stone crab caught about a mile away, then corn on the cob and lobsters caught just offshore. Everything was absolutely fresh, and that’s a big part of the reason why it was delicious. We used some rocks —also local—to crack open shells and made a merry mess of our picnic table.

While we waited for our next course to cool we enjoyed the quiet of the cove and the setting sun reflected on the water next to our table. The sky had cleared a bit and it was pleasantly warm in the sunshine. It wasn’t a bad view, either.

By the time our lobster arrived our paper trays were pretty well drenched, but we carried on anyway, ripping the steaming lobsters to shreds in search of every last morsel of succulent lobster meat. And after the lobster came the piece de resistance—individually wrapped ice cream sandwiches for dessert.

By the time we polished off our ice cream sandwiches and took our last swigs of Allagash White, the sun was a blaze of golden glory sinking low to the west and the seagulls were bobbing on the surface of the water. it was a beautiful scene to top off a great meal.

“Yes,” we thought, “we’ll come here again.”

Pent-Up Demand

Our local newspaper, Island Ad-Vantages, reported in its most recent edition that it’s looking like it could be a very good year for the Stonington and Deer Isle tourist businesses. An article said that the “summer people”–that is, the visitors and part-time residents who drive the tourist part of the local economy–have come to Deer Isle earlier than ever before, and the hotels and motels are reporting full bookings. I got visual confirmation of that when I walked past Boyce’s Motel in downtown Stonington over the weekend and saw its “no vacancy” sign.

The owner of Boyce’s Motel is quoted in the article as attributing the surge in visitors and reservations to what he calls “revenge travel,” in which people who have been staying put at home make a special effort to get out and about. My sense, too, is that there is a pent-up demand that was created during the prolonged shutdown period, and people now just want to get away from the too-familiar surroundings where they waited out the COVID pandemic. And taking a trip to get a welcome change of scenery is a good way to make a personal statement, to yourself and to the world at large, that as far as you are concerned things are getting back to normal.

Whatever the cause, the increased tourist traffic is good news for the town and those businesses who suffered through a lean lockdown year in 2020. I’m hoping to see a lot of that “no vacancy” sign this year.

Cutting Through The Mist

It’s been rainy and cool all weekend, and today fog and a ground-hugging mist were added to the mix. Fog and mist don’t stop the intrepid lobstermen of Stonington, however. Betty and I watched this solitary fisherman navigating cautiously through the murk and returning to dry land—although, given the wet conditions, it would be more accurate to say “solid ground”—this afternoon, just before another cloudburst drenched us all.

A Purple Riot

If you like purple—and who doesn’t?—Stonington is a great place to visit right now. The lupines have bloomed earlier than their traditional Father’s Day arrival, and the vast majority of them are purple. Couple the lupines with the lilac bushes and their fragrant purple flowers, and you have a sweet-smelling purple festival in the works.

Why have the lupines arrived early? Some locals say it’s because we’ve gotten less rain than usual, some say it’s because it’s been sunnier than normal, and some say Mother Nature just decided to give us a post-COVID break and let us enjoy some pretty flowers earlier than she usually does.

Shades Of Gray

We had an interesting sunrise this morning. The sky was cloud-covered, but the clouds were thin enough to allow a fair amount of sunlight to illuminate the harbor. The diffuse sunlight left the water looking like hammered metal and cast all of the boats resting at anchor into shadow, thereby creating a landscape that, with a battleship gray dock in the foreground, covered pretty much every shade of gray in the gray rainbow–from pewter to slate, lead, flint, charcoal, dove, and every other shade of gray you can imagine.

It was a beautiful scene as I stood there at the edge of the expansive dock in the early morning stillness and quietly took in all of the awesome, overwhelming grayness. I like this picture of the scene very much, but even so it doesn’t fully capture the live moment.

Buoyish Charm

Every where you turn in Stonington, you’re likely to see lobster buoys—the colorful plastic bobbers that float on the surface of the water and mark where a lobster trap can be found on the ocean floor below. The lobster buoys have different color combinations so the lobster captains can easily identify their traps as they chug alongside in their boats to haul them up.

When the buoys aren’t in the water, though, what should you do with them? Some people pile them in colorful heaps on their property. Others, like this homeowner, make more creative use of the buoys. Why have a plain old chain-link fence when you can have an explosion of color to mark your your property line?

Island Gull

Seagulls are a big part of the ambiance in Stonington. When you’re down by the harbor they are always swooping around, stark white against the blue skies, and their cries provide a contrast to the deep basso thrum of the lobster boats chugging in and out. From time to time gulls will even circle around our house on Greenhead, and when you see them up close you realize they are very big birds. There’s a reason they were among the flying horrors Alfred Hitchcock featured on The Birds.

One of the things I admire about seagulls is their attitude. They act like they own the place. The seagull in the photo above reflected that ‘tude as he perched on one of the rock outcroppings in the cove near Greenhead Lobster. He casually surveyed his domain on a cool but sunny day and pronounced it good, before taking wing to dive bomb some of the boats.

Muddy Work

As a native Midwesterner who grew up about as far from oceans as you can get, I’ve still got a lot to learn about life along the coastline. So I was fascinated to watch these two people taking advantage of the low tide to dig for clams, mussels, quahogs, periwinkles, whelks, or some of the other abundant shellfish that can be found in the seaside mudflats of Maine when the tide rolls out. They were toiling away in the basin between the dock and the rocks just below the Greenhead peninsula.

It looked like very hard work. They were wearing rubber boots that came up to their knees and sank into the mud above their ankles as they dug and searched. You could only imagine the sucking sound the mud must have made on their boots as they moved steadily along, and the smells they experienced, being nose down and only a foot or two from the thick, briny mud. And the tide put a definite deadline on their efforts, because it was only a matter of time before the seawater rushed back in to cover the mud again. It’s not work that permits dawdling.

I can only hope that the mudflats rewarded their efforts, which were interesting to watch.

Signs Of A Stonington Summer

In seasonal towns like Stonington, many businesses close for the winter. When spring comes, residents start to look for signs of when the businesses will reopen. The businesses reopening sends the welcome message that summer, when Stonington will (we hope) welcome happy and free-spending tourists back to the town, is just around the corner.

Because all of the businesses are locally owned, each one follows its own timetable, which means the town-wide reopening is really a gradual process. Some businesses have partially reopened, some have shown activity that suggests they are getting ready, and others remain dark and shuttered, with no signs of life yet.

I like to look for clues about where things stand during my walks around town. Sometimes the signs of reopening are literal signs, like the hand-lettered notice in the door of one of the shops shown below, and sometimes it is doing the things that get a space ready for business—like painting the gray wooden deck and putting up the signs and the bright red lobster at the Stonington Ice Cream Company stand, above. When the handwritten list of flavors goes up next to the order window, completing the last step in the reopening process, we’ll know that summer is really here.

For The Artists Out There

We’re lucky to have some talented artists as friends, and I am flattered that they have liked some of my Stonington photos enough to use them as the basis for paintings.

It’s a beautiful, sunny Sunday in Stonington today, with perfect conditions for some photography of the scenes around town. Above is a photo looking east form a spot next to the mailboat dock, and below is a shot of downtown Stonington, and a big patch of floating algae, from the public dock next to the Harbor View grocery store. They both have some interesting colors and lots of different shades of blue.

I’ll keep taking the pictures as long as someone else does the painting!

The Stonington Salute

On my walk this morning, a few pickup trucks–the official vehicle of choice for most of the hardy residents of Stonington–passed me on the road. I gave the “walkers’ wave,” which is a cheerful smile and an upward flap of the right hand, fully exposing the palm. In return, the drivers of the pickups gave thestandard two-finger wave from the steering wheel, which I call the “Stonington salute.”

The two-finger steering wheel wave isn’t unique to Stonington–not by a long shot. Texas apparently has tried to claim it as a Texas invention; in the Lone Star State it’s evidently called the “hi sign.” Others describe the gesture as a “rural wave.” I like calling it the Stonington salute, even if it wasn’t invented or perfected here, because I’m a fan of alliteration. But I also like and appreciate the friendly thoughts behind the gesture. The drivers want the walkers to know that they see us and are acknowledging our presence, and the walkers want to be sure that the drivers are aware that we’re sharing the road, too.

The Stonington salute is a small-town thing, for sure. When I’m walking down the street in German Village, passing cars don’t give a wave. If big-city motorists waved at every pedestrian, they’d be waving their arms off. And there’s really not the need to do it, either. Pedestrians aren’t walking in the roadway, like they do here; they are on sidewalks, separated from the street by the devil strip and, in the case of German Village, a row of parked cars, too. The safety concerns that are part of the motivation of the Stonington salute and the walkers’ wave just don’t exist.

Of course, another part of the motivation for the salute and the wave is just that people are friendly around here. I like that, too.

The Canvas Above

I notice the sky a lot more when I am up here in Stonington than I do in Columbus. I think that is because, when you are down by the harbor, the sky seems so huge and wide and sweeping, with a horizon that is absurdly far away. The sky is not fenced in and limited by trees, houses, and buildings, like it is in Columbus or any other city.

The unfettered sky seems like a gigantic artist’s canvas, where the wind and sun shape and color the clouds into brushstrokes on the blue background and illuminate the island masses below. And when a stray seagull wheels into the frame and soars past, as in the picture above, it’s like Mother Nature generously shared her artwork just with me.