Another Island Fire
Damn, what a year.
I heard about the fire on Swan's Island through their telephone man, Steve, who speaks most weekday mornings with the other TDS Telecom guys, including Paul from Matinicus. The night before, we'd been up listening to the thunder, thunder which followed awfully close to the lightning, worrying that our phone would ring with something wrong on Matinicus, or that the power would go out, or that one of the pagers would alarm… his about utilities, or mine for medical emergencies. By the next morning, we were grateful for a night without incident… although we and our neighbors were pretty certain that the lightning had struck around here somewhere.
A bit farther down east, I don't imagine anybody slept. The lightning struck the old (town of) Atlantic schoolhouse and a fire broke out. The people of Swan's Island lost their library, historical collection, and a local gathering place, according to Steve, who described the destruction of the building as fast and complete. Thankfully, the rain helped prevent more fires, as “it looked like the Fourth of July, with stuff blowing in the air…”
I can't describe it any better than that. I read about the whole thing in Friday's Bangor paper (BDN 7-25-08.) Here's what I want to say, to Steve the phone man, and to Donna and Dexter and Gwen and everybody else on Swan's: we are very, very sorry for your loss. We all are. We here, who have been through a similar experience ourselves, wish to extend our genuine, if not very useful, sympathy.
What a rotten thing to have to experience.
The loss of such a structure is not really about the stuff, not nearly so much as it is about the intangible, psychological kick in the teeth which the entire community feels at least to some extent. The loss of somebody's grandfather's baby cradle, or of a place to say something to a neighbor, or of a place to hold community events is more than the loss of a building. All those books…some of us are saddened by the destruction of a library no matter what the circumstances; I was just raised that way, thinking of a book in hand as worth somehow a lot more than just the price on the cover. Though perhaps especially treasured on an island, a library is a special institution in any town, and is so even in the minds of many who might never darken the doorstep of the place themselves.
So, a few words of advice to the rest of the world…not to the people of Swan's, who have enough on their plate right now, but to the rest; based on our recent experience with the Post Office burning down on Matinicus. May I respectfully suggest:
-if you go to Swan's Island, or speak with people there, that you don't keep asking “What are they going to do?” It takes time to know what to do, and often, on islands, it takes time to figure out who “they” are.
-that you resist the temptation to tell your friends on Swan's Island what they ought to do, or pester about the time frame for rebuilding, or think for a minute that you are the only person asking the same questions (for even with the best of intentions, and your friends know that you don't mean to be demanding anything, remember that the stress level will be immense for a time, and almost any question, repeated too often, feels like nagging after a while.)
Swan's Island is a good deal larger than Matinicus, and there are committee aplenty, and there is the Swan's Island Educational Society which owned the building, and there is the Swan's Island Library Fund at the Bar Harbor branch of The First Bank Consider that option, if you can, and if you wish to assist. Swan's, being a bigger town, is perhaps more organized than we were, but the people there are probably just as shell-shocked by this sudden public loss. Go easy on them at first with your need to know everything; they don't need to re-live that night for every distant acquaintance who calls. It may be better to help, quietly, from the background. Give them time to heal a bit, to reconnoiter, to plan.
Times like this are rough, there's no getting around that. Historical artifacts cannot be replaced. Structure fires are frightening. Islands are islands. Nothing is simple in the land of “the simple life.”
We are truly sorry.
Eva Murray lives on Matinicus Island.