Matinicus Islanders Have Electricity and Telephone While the Mainland Waits
“Sounds like we are in the best shape of anybody around.”
These were the words of the Matinicus local service technician for TDS Telecom, our telephone company, after consultation with the guys from other TDS service areas…Swan's Island, Isle au Haut, Bass Harbor, Stonington, part of Warren, and presumably some spots farther down east.
“A lot of those places are out of commercial power,” he said, phrasing it just like that; I got a mental image of “fresh out” of some limited quantity of physical product, like a household being out of milk. TDS Telecom guys were evidently driving around eastern Maine with a portable generator, charging up batteries on remote location distribution equipment.
We had telephone, we had electricity. The machinery reported a gust of 67 kts at Matinicus Rock Tuesday night; my house felt 59 kts up in the middle of the island. It shook my bunk. To the east, they say, it was actually rather blustery.
The Bangor Daily News (on-line, because we had Internet too) reported 40,000 Maine customers without electricity early Wednesday morning. My mother's and sister's homes in South Thomaston were two of those; here on Matinicus, everything was humming along merrily. I heard the airplane at 9:00 in the morning, bringing the mail (we still don't have a post office, but Maury is working on it, and he worked right through the storm, by the way, except when he went to help with the tree down on the power line.) Yes, of course we had trees down on power lines; it would be foolish to assume we could escape that. However, our “power failure” in this case was not a “failure” at all. Rather, you might call it a “success.”
At about 3:00 in the afternoon George the carpenter (passenger boat captain, veterinarian, ski patroller) stopped by to alert Paul the electrician (who was home almost anticipating this sort of thing) that he was on a job site when he actually heard a tree crack loudly and fall onto the lines, pulling the whole works down rather dramatically. Paul called Clayton, who along with Nick had made his own willingness to go out on these sort of chainsaw calls known. I was told that they would probably decide to shut off the power in advance of trouble so they could clear it up easily and safely. When they got to the fallen tree it was obvious that such was the right course of action as the tree was on fire, and also because before long approximately 500 people showed up to assist.
Whenever the power does go out on Matinicus, whether it be on account of storm damage, an intentional brief shutoff to clear a dead seagull out of the wires, or to exorcise evil spirits from the Detroits, the first trouble report call comes invariably from Maude's down on Harbor Point. This time, knowing what was coming, I called her first. “The lights are likely to go out for a while,” I told her, “so the guys can clear this up safely.”
It was still more or less daylight, and usually our outages are brief anyway. This time, as it grew darker, and as I dug out my headlamp and lit a few candles in the kitchen, I could see from my window somebody in the blue Subaru headed north…that would be one of my grown kids…and soon, back came the Subaru and the bucket truck…that would be Paul. This was taking longer than usual. It was full dark, maybe 4:30PM, and power still out, when I saw the large excavator that happened to be on the island this month for another project headed toward the site.
Few people, as it turns out, still have old-fashioned hard-wired telephones that will work independent of household electricity (I will not say “work without electricity” and risk a lecture on ring voltage; I trust you get what I mean.) That cordless phone will not do you a bit of good in a power failure. (Suggestion: tell Santa you want a real phone.) I answered the calls from those who could call,intending to alert Paul (the Matinicus Plantation Electric Company trouble line) of the outage in
case it was just their own section of the island; all were at least somewhat reassured to hear that it was everybody and that the guys were “on it.” Most of these calls were from women, as most of the men were out looking to help. Some of the calls were from robots, as several islanders who live here part-time and are located way out at the ends of
roads have “sensophones,” which are a clever proprietary contraption programmed to dial a caretaker or emergency number if any one of several situations arise (power out being one of them.) “Alert condition 2 exists.” Yeah.
Some used the opportunity offered by the controlled interruption to cut leaning trees which were threatening lines near their homes while there was still a little bit of daylight. Assurance can be given that power will stay out until each person working on trees tells the station operator he's done and clear. It's pretty old convenient to have that level of access to your power company.
We were only out for about an hour and fifteen minutes, something like that. The school play and Native American Studies program that was to be offered by the six school kids at 4:30 went up at 5:15PM, with most of the audience freshly in from clearing trees. It turns out they'd gone for the excavator to push over a few other trees which probably would have come down on the lines during the night. Oh, and Maude called the next morning, to say she appreciated the “heads up.”
Summer people see the national weather and usually call up from far off and worry; mainland family members assume we're sifting through the destruction. I am considering just what to report when Knox County Emergency Management calls to inquire about damage. “Well, we had a lobster scow flipped upside-down in the water, but on the whole, we're one of the more comfortable spots on the coast of Maine…”
People moved neighbors' trucks away from where trees leaned, anticipating that they would fall. I was thinking about the forest fire we did not have, and how we were fortunate to have George hear the tree split, and all the guys who had not left the island for Thanksgiving this year, and that it was not the torrential rainstorm which the weatherman had forecast, and for the excavator, and that the schoolteacher, who is new here this year, is not one prone to panic.
We also had a message from an islander who lives alone in an isolated spot, saying that having spoken to her daughter on the mainland, who had no power, she appreciates what we have here.
As do we all.
<I>Eva Murray lives on Matinicus Island, where she keeps a screwdriver, wrench and cinnamon bun handy at all times.</I>