Keepers of diaries are disciplined people, and their reward is a degree of immortality few of us obtain. Samuel Pepys, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt kept at their journals for most of their lives; a great deal of what we know about them today comes from their daily scribblings. So if you want posterity to remember you, or at least be able to find out what you thought or did on a given day, start a diary at an early age, keep at it and hope someone preserves it after you’re gone.

Ted Spurling, Sr., who’s kept a journal of happenings on Islesford in the Cranberry Isles for decades, went public with his daily writings in Inter-Island News a dozen years ago. A retired merchant mariner grounded in the history of his family and his community, Ted chronicled happenings on Islesford and nearby Great Cranberry, with an occasional foray off-island to Mt. Desert, in the pages of Working Waterfront until this past August, when he announced his intention to retire.

For Working Waterfront and Ted’s readers it’s a change that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

“The Cranberry Report” appeared every other month, summer and winter. Six times a year for more than ten years: at least 60 columns, undoubtedly more than that. Ted took a break of several months a couple of years ago due to illness, but he came right back.

Long by modern newspaper standards (3,000 words), the Report has usually filled about two pages. Entries typically begin with a glance at the sky, at the sea, at the thermometer:

Sunday, June 1 – wind NE at noon and 20 knots. Temp. 49 and foggy. A cold day to start the month.

The style is that of an 18th or 19th century seafarer or farmer – weather-wise, cognizant of life’s rhythms and the natural forces that determine what can be done during the day to come. “Church today,” he continues,

… Barometer low at 29:14. I remember an old weather verse from my boyhood. Here it is: When the wind is in the north, the skillful fisher goes not forth! When the wind is in the east, ’tis neither good for man nor beast! When the wind is in the south, it blows the bait from the fishes’ mouth! But when the wind is in the west, then it is the very best!

And that’s not the only verse Ted knows, either – over the years he has shared dozens of them with his readers, pulled up from a memory that can only be described as prodigious.

“The different points of the compass,” he writes in the very next sentence of that same June 1 entry,

… remind me of the day in May in 1941, when I went to Portland to hopefully get my first marine license. Things were simpler then and the shipping inspector asked me to “box the compass,” which required you to name the 32 points. I was able to oblige and then after answering a few more questions on safety afloat and rules of the road, I passed the exam. He had visited the Cranberry Isles, he told me, and also said that most of the good seafaring men he met while there were either Bunker, Stanley or Spurling. I said, “my mother is a Stanley,” and this seemed to please him. Possibly it helped. The licenses at that time were by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce and not the U.S. Coast Guard as they are today …

Ted’s associative writing takes his readers seamlessly from idea to idea, scene to scene, then back to the starting point by the march of a diary’s days. It looks effortless, but of course it’s not.

The themes in the Cranberry Report have always reflected the author’s interests: astronomy, phases of the moon and the traditional names of the year’s several full moons, the price of lobsters, the activities of children and grandchildren (his own and island kids in general), island visitors, local history, the local museum, both island churches, town government, fishing, ferry service in its winter and summer phases. Ted is decidedly a native, but he never short-changes Islesford’s summer community. Through him, readers have attended scores of island weddings and funerals and kept tabs on islanders who have moved away. Like his friend and Islesford neighbor Ashley Bryan, he is a true storyteller.

Ted’s work has not gone unnoticed. Several years ago segments of the Cranberry Report were incorporated in a documentary film shot on Islesford for a Maine Public Broadcasting series, “Our Stories.”

In office where Working Waterfront originates the Report has always had a cycle of its own. Occasionally Ted would telephone, inquiring about the month’s copy deadline. On other occasions a postcard would arrive, announcing that the Report would be in Rockland by a certain date. It always was, all nine or ten hand-written pages of it, triggering a little ritual in our production cycle that I have missed since he stopped sending them: setting the entire Report in type. It takes me a couple of hours, at least, to typeset ten legal-sized hand-written pages, but I have never begrudged this chore or assigned it to anyone else because it offers me a quiet, very personal immersion in the life of a small island community through the eyes of a learned and perceptive observer. I’ve set a lot of type over the years, but very little of it from hand-written copy like Ted’s. His handwriting isn’t perfect (he would acknowledge that with an anecdote from his school days, I’m certain) but I have learned to read it without difficulty. No, I have never urged him to convert to e-mail.