Island Ironies

“Ern Doughty went to sea every day of his life – come home an’ drown in his well.” His wife, Mame, spoke these words with a thick Downeast accent about the man who made a living trapping lobsters on an island off the coast of Maine.
On this island the ironies of life seem sharper and clearer to me than anywhere else. Never a car or bike goes by without a wave or hello. But a feud that split the island into East and West a century ago still hangs on by a few threads. Water protects the Island children from strangers, but its icy depths are unforgiving.

For years there was no law enforcement on the island as there is today. In the 1950’s the island population grew from a few hundred year-round residents to about 1500 in the summer. People policed themselves and their children. Kids were free to bike, walk, swim, and explore the whole Island, learning all of the paths and great hiding places.

Teenagers created their own night life and had plenty of time for creative thinking and planning. Most islanders laughed and enjoyed hearing the stories of the harmless pranks — usually figuring out who had done what to whom.

Disney could never replicate this real life adventure land of boats, beaches, woods, and — yes — even a black powder cannon! The barrel was about 10 inches long, nicely lathed, and set on a wooden base with wheels. It looked like a toy and provided hours of playful misadventures and great stories, though it has not been heard in more than 20 years — since the last time it was used.

The story goes that one warm summer weekend, an association of police chiefs in Maine met at the island hotel for a convention. This grand hotel had an expansive open-air porch that ran the across the front of the building and overlooked a golf course. The chiefs were relaxing, enjoying cigars and after dinner drinks in the quiet eveing on the porch. The afterglow of the setting sun backlit the hills and spread deep red across the bay and golf greens.

Two youthful island pranksters, experienced with the toy-like cannon, knew just where to find access under the hotel porch without being seen. Careful not to make a sound, one placed the cannon on the ledges as the chiefs traded stories above. While the other stood guard, the first lashed a rope from the base of the cannon to a porch pillar to keep it from flying away. He stuffed paper in the barrel and then poured a little extra pinch of black powder through the hole in the top of the iron tube. With a nod to the guard, he lit the fuse, stood back, and covered his ears!

The two escaped with the black powder cannon on familiar paths through the woods, impressed by the enormous sound and commotion they had caused. It seems ironic that such a loud noise would create an extraordinarily long silence.

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By Betsy Hanscom of Maine Warmers, LLC

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