Well, they do say that if you don’t like the weather here, wait five minutes. And it would be one of those days. The morning started out with shreds of fog evaporating off of the quiet sea…and moved from there to a fine, sunny, warm day with a light breeze…and has now turned dark and threatening, with the wind lashing the ocean and whipping up the waves, even in the sheltered moorings. The dinghy dock is writhing like a serpent, and the wavelets have become surf, and is pounding the rocks as the tide drains out. The management has covered the pool.
I walked down to take a ride on the dock float – it was quite nearly as exciting to my inner ear as any ride at Disneyworld, and with no lines at all. As I rode the float as it rode the surf, I got to watch a fisherman latch his boat onto one of the moorings and ready her for the rain, and debark. This was High Adventure: the guy had dropped his wife off on the float and needed to position his craft close enough to the mooring to leap under the bridge with the gaff hook, grab the mooring rope, and tie the boat up…all as the craft was pitching and yawing – the nose of the boat was describing an arc in the air that was easily 10 feet top-to-bottom. While that was all very fascinating, even more fascinating was watching him exit the boat into his old-school dinghy, the kind that involves oarlocks and oars. I was absolutely impressed that the guy managed to get into the dinghy and over to the dock without taking a dip into the drink.
Fortunately, the middle part of the day (the “fine, sunny, warm” bit) encompassed our clambake cruise. And what a cruise that was! Part of the pleasure was simply observing our Fellow Travellers on the boat out. We had an octogenarian dressed in black from head to toe…with four earrings in each ear. We had a mother of four with a golf shirt, the requisite canvas capri pants, and a big spiderweb tattoo covering her calf. We had aged relics, we had small children, we had four generations traveling in one pack. We had middle-aged parents, we had singles, we had a group of college students. We had a 6 foot tall blonde Dane in a sundress, matching jewelry, and a pair of cute white espadrille-style sandals, and a handbag. The selection of guests covered virtually the entire demographic spectrum…with the exception of those families too poor to consider a motel, and those families so wealthy that they own their own islands and have private clambakes serviced by their private launches. It really was a fascinating blend.
And, it seemed, well over 75% of the people aboard were repeat visitors. We enjoyed the hour-long harbor cruise on the way to the island – we saw a seal (yes! the day was not wasted!), a harbor porpoise, and an osprey. But it was when we arrived at the island that we started to grasp why so many people felt the desire to do this again…and again…and again.
The boat pulled up at the dock and we were greeted with what I can only describe as a heavenly organic aroma: woodsmoke, seaweed, and salt air rolling off the island in waves. And the island itself was an absolute gem. Five acres of paradise: a small forest with beaten paths. A small beach loaded with stones of the perfect shape and weight for skipping. VISTAS galore. Rocky outcroppings from which to view the sea. A lovely house, grey and weathered, and perfect for its time and place. The Most Charming Boat House On The Planet. And, of course, plenty of shaded picnic tables for enjoying the clambake after one has tired of exploring the island.
There have been Developments in the Science of the Clambake: we have, evidently, moved beyond big holes dug in the sand, and into metal super-structures, which sounds all fancy but is really large quantities of sheet metal welded together to make boxes in which the fire is lit. On top of these are more metal boxes into which gallons and gallons and gallons of seawater are emptied – this whole process takes place right on the rocks. Over those are bottomless, topless boxes (rectangular frames of welded metal) into which the foil package of clams are loaded, which are then topped with the lobsters. A separate frame holds the foil-wrapped potatoes, the onions, and the corn (it is clear these take longer to cook, so that may be why they are separate…or this could be to avoid trouble for people with shellfish allergies – they eat chicken, prepared in a totally different place). Over the lobsters, a thick blanket of seaweed, and over that, sheets of canvas that have been steamed, heated, cooked, boiled so often that they are crispy and brown at the edges, like newspaper that is catching on fire.
The seaweed, by the way, makes a difference. Yes, it does. A delicious difference. I’d have it that way every time, if I could. The flavoring from the steaming seaweed makes its way through the lobster shell, into the corn, into the steamers, even. And the blueberry cake they served for dessert? Jesus, Take Me Now. Wash all this down with a glass of cold local microbrew? Xanadu has nothing on this.
Watching the crowd put me into a philosophical mood. The table we chose was on a porch, and it didn’t have a sea view, but it was right next to a grassy clearing that had Games Impedimenta on the fringes. It didn’t take very long to wind up with a father-son badminton game, and a father-son whiffle ball game, and two college students playing horseshoes. And various and sundry children rushing about, making new friends, wanting to climb a tree, wanting to go wading in the water, and one brave soul, 8 years old, who lobbied her mother to secure permission to go swimming in her clothes (granted, and those of us on the rocks at the time applauded when she held her nose and did a big dolphin dive).
This is how we played when I was a kid, and you know, video games have a time and a place. Heaven knows, I play solitaire on my smartphone when I’m standing in a slow line at the post office. And I definitely like to blow things up on the screen from time to time. And I actually did have a computer in the house when I was growing up…but most of my childhood involved playing ad-hoc games of capture-this, tag-that, run-there. And we negotiated out the games and their rules and the enforcement of those rules amongst ourselves. We climbed trees and played in streams and ran wild in the woods. Somehow, we got along fine and better than fine without extensive parental involvement, without having our time scheduled to the last second, without massive and overwhelming quantities of organized sports. And we definitely got along well without texting.
Then I realized what I was enjoying about the scene so much: this area is total crap for cell reception, and you can forget accessing the data grid. I was looking at a crowd of nearly 200 people of all ages, and no one was holding forth on the cell phone, and no teenagers were sulking in the corners and shooting each other texts. Everyone was interacting without the benefit of advanced technology. It really was a lot like things were when I was growing up.
And here’s what I’ll say: it was better. It’s often hard to assess this – is it better because it was better, or is it better because it is covered with a glowing haze of memory? You don’t usually get a chance to see it side-by-side like this. So now I know. I don’t think it used to be better because I have a defective memory and a delusional bent. I think it used to be better because it was better. I think we ought to make a stand on this one. Yeah, I know, it’s an irony when I’m putting this on a blog…but I’m not blogging it from the freaking event. I’ve had the pleasure of participating fully in the event, and contemplating it in memory, and now I can reflect on it briefly.
In the meantime, I’ve scored my bubble gum ice cream, I’ve gotten to climb on rocks that were being lashed with surf, and I’ve taken a ride on a dock float. The sky has just gone, in an instant, pitch black, and we are getting some thunder and lightning. It is my fear that this day has been so perfect that it will arouse the anger of the angels. Thank heavens I got a slight sunburn on the boat – that may be the flaw that saves us all.
* Andy Stewart, “The Fisherman’s Song”