And In This Corner…
To understand the International Incident that is brewing around Grand Seal Island, you have to get a really big map of the United States. At the extreme upper-right corner of the map, you’ll find the beautiful state of Maine. Off the coast of Maine, near the Canadian border, you would see a little speck that is Grand Seal Island, except that it’s so un-Grand your map isn’t big enough to show it.
So you have to return that map and buy one that shows only Maine. If you stand under a pretty good light, hold the map nice and steady, put on a pair of drug-store reading glasses that are three times too strong for your eyesight, and squint just right, you’ll see a teeny dot. The better maps label it Grand Seal Island, or GSI if they don’t have enough room between the mainland and the Bay of Fundy for the complete name.
This wee spot is what all the trouble’s about. Both the United States of America and the Cheery Federation of Canada claim this bitty rock as their own, although up until recently there have been only a few attempts on either side to assert that claim.
Things began to get ugly — or at least as ugly as things can get between two of the bosom-buddiest nations on Earth — when Canada decided that it was so completely strapped for cash that enforcing tax collection on GSI was the nation’s only hope of solvency. So the Prime Minister of Canada — with support from the Premier of New Brunswick and, undoubtedly, the Lord High Minister of Miniscule Meddling — sent a revenue-collection agent and three members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to Grand Seal Island.
As near as I can piece together from the stories I’ve been gathering, the Canadian Contingent launched this effort at international effrontery by chartering a small boat that took them directly to Matinicus Island, well to the south of GSI, where the esteemed revenue agent and his armed escort checked into a bed-and-breakfast and enjoyed a pleasant meal, a bottle of excellent Down East wine, and a luxurious night on comfy pillowtop mattresses before tracking down the captain of the small craft the next morning, threatening him with immediate incarceration in one of Canada’s nastiest prisons unless he took them, for free, to the right island this time, and getting back into the boat. By the end of the day, the agent and his well-rested retinue disembarked on Grand Seal Island.
The agent had a list of the people and businesses in the town of Grand Seal Island, and he began delivering to each person, each shop, and each boat a bill for taxes owed to the Canadian Government. He was using a somewhat outdated list, of course, so about a fifth of the town didn’t receive a bill, while the agent tried to deliver bills to the bait shop that burned down last year, the Belinda Grey lobster-fishing boat that was sold two years ago to some guy on the mainland after the owner won the Maine State Lottery and promptly moved to North Carolina, and the Porthole Tavern that was shut down in a town-wide but short-lived bout of prohibition about five years past.
It was when the tax agent tried to deliver a bill to the town’s mayor, Henry Coffin, that things really got interesting. Henry is an ancient, wrinkled, gaunt man who stands about six-foot-three even with his perpetual stoop. He has short white hair, he scowls over half-glasses with tortoise frames, and he is one of those scrawny old men whose skin drapes off of them like pizza cheese. He’s been killing fish and stomping out political opposition for decades, and he wasn’t about to put up with any declaration of debt from some pasty-faced bureaucrat from Ottawa. He tore the bill in half, wrote “Piss Off!” on one half and “Don’t Ever Do This Again!” on the other half, jammed both pieces back into the trembling hands of the revenue agent, and told the esteemed representative of Her Majesty’s Government to get the hell off his island. The agent, now escort-free because the Mounties had gotten wind of the kind of things that go on in The Village and had high-tailed it south for a little shock-and-awe of their own, decided that discretion was the better part of getting one’s butt kicked and returned meekly to the mainland. In war, parenting, and the training of dogs, you should never issue a command you aren’t prepared to enforce.
Word of the attempted Exercise of Sovereign Rights by the agent from Ottawa, however, somehow made it to the Party of the Second Part in Washington, D.C. Certain that the genteel Friends to the North would not be willing to go toe-to-destroyer with the most heavily armed and lethal fighting force ever assembled on Earth, someone in the federal government made a few calls, signed a few papers, and caused orders to be issued that led to the relocation of the USS Peter Francisco from its near-retirement in Norfolk to the front lines of the American-Canadian conflict.
The Francisco steamed northward, past the Chesapeake and New York and on into New England, and it arrived at the southern end of Grand Seal Island just as I was checking out the cultural amenities of The Village. The ever-vigilant sailors aboard the Francisco, always eager to practice their drills, opted for the “Binoculars to Port” exercise and spent considerable time ogling the sunbathers on The Village beaches.
Forty-eight hours later, the ship arrived at the GSI docks.
— Donovan Graham, “The Shadowless Writer”
Comment—PeaceNick: i’m Nick DiAngelo fr Portland ME. this seems like just another ex. US aggression & hegemony. is island REALLY worth FIGHTING over????? cant we work this out????
Comment—FreedomFirst: No way. The only language people understand is raw power. I say let’s send more ships up there—really teach those damn Canuks a lesson they’ll never forget. You don’t mess with the U.S.
Comment—WomynFire982: what a classic male argument. aren’t you boys aware of the concept of multivocality and the negotiated nature of social reality? please—grow up first, post to blogs later.
Read previous blog entries in the Island Wars story by clicking here.