This was the kind of summer we’ve missed for the last two years. Warm sunny days, cool clear nights and once in a while some fog and rain to give everyone a chance to catch up with indoor chores and reading. Even the mosquitoes weren’t so bad. From July into August there was a fast pace of community activities, centered on food, fun and fundraising. On July 16, folks on Great Cranberry Island came together for an auction that raised $10,000 for their library. Our librarians, Ruth Westphal on Great Cranberry and Cindy Thomas on Islesford, do an excellent job of turning community financial support into strong up-to-date collections. Both libraries consistently make the State of Maine “top ten” list for public libraries in several categories. In 2004, Islesford was No. 2 and Cranberry was No. 3 for total print per capita. This translates to an average of 60 books per person on Islesford, and 55 books per person on Cranberry. (In case you’re wondering, Monhegan Island takes first place with 287 books per person.) Other events to raise funds this summer included the Ladies Aid Fair, the Masquerade Ball, a murder mystery dinner theater, the Art of the Cranberry Isles auction, the Islesford Fair, and a pot luck supper for the Cranberry Fire Department.
Music played a big part in summer entertainment. There were songs about island history at the annual meetings of both historical societies. A fine concert of chamber music took place in the Islesford Congregational Church, and a live band played for contra dancing after the Masquerade Ball. Musicians from Sutton Island and Islesford have been gathering informally to play on Tuesday afternoons in the art gallery. For the annual Maypole dance in the Islesford town field, 10 musicians showed up from a variety of places to play for all of the dancers, who wove intricate patterns with colorful ribbons. Even a power outage failed to keep people from getting together for community singing on Great Cranberry.
The same power outage inspired an Islesford fisherman to bring a portable generator to the Neighborhood House so that the weekly movie night could continue. There have been inter-island softball games on Sundays and women’s softball practices on Fridays. People have been racing sailboats and renting kayaks, and some have even been surfing.
The month of August will finish up with the annual meeting of the Islesford Neighborhood House Association, the “Cranberry Jam,” the “Wits and Nitwits” variety show, a participatory concert on Great Cranberry Island, a night of poetry and music to benefit the Cranberry Library and the “Literary Evening” to benefit the Islesford library.
How do people find out about all of these island activities? Everyone has a telephone, quite a few carry cell phones, many have computers with Internet access, and most people subscribe to a local newspaper; but in the summer, on an island, these are inefficient means to advertise an upcoming event. The island grapevine is also unreliable when visitors come and go on a weekly basis and populations swell to four times their winter size. The best way to find out what’s going on is to look for a sign. Literally.
Posters and signs are everywhere during the summer, and they are a tradition. About 15 years ago, during a change of ownership at the restaurant, Bruce Fernald rescued a large wooden sign from the garbage. It read, “Excursion around Mt. Desert Island — Moon Light — Search Light — and Picnic Parties — By Appointment.” It was most likely made for his great-grandfather, Bert Spurling, who used to take people out on his boat, the RESTLESS. Where there are now signs for the Islesford Artists Gallery and Aaron and Erin’s Farm Stand, Richard Alley once had a sign: “Fresh Fish at Alley’s.” He sold flounder, halibut, crabmeat and shrimp, which he was able to store in the refrigerator on a dock owned by Lee Ham. That dock is now the Cranberry Isles Fishermen’s Co-op, and there are signs there for fresh lobster. For a number of years, Earl Spurling placed the “Island Kitchen” sign outside his house to advertise his cooking expertise with breads, pies, baked beans and chowders. When Elmer Spurling ran the Islesford Ferry, he also ran a “movie boat” to Southwest Harbor. You could find out the schedule from a poster at the store. It was the same when Wilfred Bunker started taking people to the movies. Remember when Skylab started to fall out of orbit in July 1979? Posters went up on telephone poles to advertise a party at the Islesford Dock. The first restaurant owners, Conley and June Salyer, were serving a special drink called the “Look Out Below.” They were also the originators of the “Foggy Night Specials,” a discounted dinner for islanders, which would be advertised, by a poster, late in the afternoon when the weather was bad.
Through the years of many different owners, posters at the store have announced upcoming events. Want to sell your old stove? Looking for a baby-sitter? Need someone to walk your dog? Want to know the agenda for the upcoming Selectmen’s meeting? Need to know the date for a concert? Plan some extra time when you go out for a walk, fetch your mail, or pick up some milk at the store. It is both entertaining and worthwhile to stop and read the signs along the way.
Islesford, Aug. 15, 2005