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Thursday, September 8, 2016

Beyond the Isle of Shoals

            “One thing life taught me—if you are interested, you never have to look for new 
            interests.  They come to you.”     
American stateswoman and humanitarian

Isle of Shoals, 10 miles off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire
Sometimes when there’s little wind and we’re motoring for long periods, and especially when it’s foggy, like today, I eventually become curious about something or other that niggles its’ way into my brain.   Sometimes, things that appear to be fairly simple on the surface can be mined for further clarity.
Isle of Shoals Lighthouse in the distance

Often, I first toss my (seemingly random) curiosity over in Carl’s direction.  As I’ve mentioned previously, he’s a biologist and a scientist and often has very interesting things to offer.  Sometimes, however, that avenue does not lead to a treasure house of information, as I might have hoped it would.  Last week, for example—
Brown algae, NOT a leaf, although it looks JUST like a leaf!

Place:  Riggs Cove, Maine.  
Setting: Dockside, looking into the water.  
Ardys’ question: “Wow!  Did you see that giant leaf in the water?”  
Carl’s answer:  “Oh, that’s algae.”  
Me:  “But it’s a giant leaf!”  
Carl:  “It’s algae.”  
Me:  “But it LOOKS just like ONE. GIANT. LEAF.  Right?”  
Carl:  “It’s brown algae.” 
Pregnant pause——— 
Me:  “Come on, you gotta admit, it is shaped like the biggest leaf ever!”  
Carl:  “Algae.”

Protected harbor between the larger islands that comprise the Isle of Shoals.  Northern Star at anchor on the right.
Other times, I bypass my spouse when I’m looking to satisfy my curiosity about something.  So here we were today.  In dense fog.  Deep water.  Very few lobster pots. Carl prefers to be at the helm. I had already entertained him with bits of information about our next port of call, Gloucester (pro. GLAW’sta).  After that, it was just me and my brain, passing the time together. 
Stone houses on Star Island

Here’s how it passed time today. We had arrived late yesterday afternoon at the Isle of Shoals, about 10 miles off the coast of New Hampshire and Maine.  After seeing nothing but fog and water the better part of the day, to finally see the Isle of Shoals--the small rock islands jutting up from the ocean floor, was awe inspiring.  The islands appear as largely barren surfaces pounded smooth over many of their etched faces, but with deep crevasses and unexpected pools of water standing here and there, too.  The sort of terrain that begs to be explored!  
Gosport Harbor and Hotel.  Now a retreat for spiritual renewal.

Today, I found myself thinking again about the name itself.  "Isle of Shoals"--hmmm, there are obviously many tiny islands there, not just one "isle." So, I took out my dictionary (on my iPhone 6+). I found that there are more definitions of "shoal" than I had realized.  In this instance, I believe that perhaps the intended use of “shoal” is this— 
        4 Shoal   noun: a large group or number, 
           as in <a shoal of fish, or in this case a 
           shoal of islands. 

Wild Gooseberries?
 People have been living on these rock islands for several hundred years.  The Native Americans were the first; John Smith made a stop here at one point (that guy really got around); then came the first permanent white settlers—the northern Europeans.  These folks were fishermen, actually from the Scandinavian part of the world.  They probably landed on this shore, saw that it was barely tillable, cold, wet, and inhospitable.  So they mumbled, “Hmm, looks like home.  We’ll fish here.”
There are few houses on the Isle of Shoals.

Speaking of Scandinavians, there was a much publicized murder (actually a dual murder) case that took place in 1873 on Smuttynose Island, one of the larger of the islands that collectively form the Isle of Shoals. 
Isle of Shoals cemetery

Being of Scandinavian descent myself, I am aware that these somewhat reserved folks are not known for their murderous tendencies (notwithstanding that tragic and bizarre guy that went on a rampage killing 77 people in Norway back in 2011).  But that fact alone perhaps makes this story even more intriguing.  If you ever get a chance, do read the story, The Anatomy of an Ax Murder or one of the other accounts that have been written about the Murders on Smuttynose Island. 
Old stone parish house

And dontcha just love the name “Smuttynose?”  It’s a word I’ll probably never forget.  Smutty “nose?”  So, out comes the dictionary again. I have become aware while on this East Coast “walkabout” that our forbearers have had to struggle and stretch to name all the bits of shoreline that protrude into the Atlantic.  They have taken to naming some pieces of land or water, after human body parts.  
Smuttynose Island across from Star Island

“Neck” is very common all up and down the Atlantic seaboard—Sandy Point Neck, Eaton’s Neck, Lloyd Neck, Pea Neck. “Head” seems to be ubiquitous—Hilton Head, Friar’s Head. “Finger” is less often used, e.g. Finger Lakes; as is “Elbow” —The Elbow; and yes, even “Nose”—Smuttynose. These are the kinds of things that I find interesting, especially on a very foggy and quiet day on the Atlantic. 

A manmade causeway connects Star Island with Cedar Island
So, now, here I am, down below in the cabin, writing.  Up on deck, at the helm is my husband with the boat on autopilot. Carl will call down to me for any one of three main reasons.  Either, #1) He wants me to refill his coffee or bring him something; #2) He needs to use the head (toilet) and wants me to take the helm; or #3) He has spotted some interesting marine life and is alerting me so I can come up and look.  It could be a Harbor Seal (we’ve seen several of those), a dolphin, a shark (only seen one so far), or a WHALE!  He’s seen two.  I’ve seen one.  Sigh.  
Old barn preserved as an "art barn"

I’ve been prodding my husband to use a “code” for sightings that fall into the #3 category.  I say, “Think of the boat as a clock face with “12” at the bow and “6” at the stern. He could then call out, for example, “9 o’clock-whale!”  That’s all he needs to say. Even without identifying the animal, if he yells out a number on the clock, I will come running.  Saying my name first is unnecessary.  Since Jax does not (yet) speak English, I will assume it’s me he’s talking to about marine life.  It is possible for things to get a little jammed up here however.  
Headstones dating from the 1700's.

“Ardys……there’s a….…a….a….over there……it might have been a seal… I think.”  Sigh. I’ve missed a few seals.  Of course, I’m not watching the water all the time, like he is, so what can I expect? I am betting that the “code” could be my biggest boost in animal sightings.  This morning the code worked perfectly.  “2 o’clockSeal!”  Yup, I saw it.  Lazing about on the water eating a fish or a clam or some other delectable seal food.  Life is good.  And I didn’t have to look that up.

Looking east from Isle of Shoals.  Lighthouse on outer island.

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