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An Eclipse and Some Butterflies to Hold Back the Mayhem

by Eva Murray

Solar eclipse corona.

Summer is over half done. That’s over half good. So say the working grunts, not on vacation, sleep deprived and harried. Between parking struggles and repetitive questions and being told that our businesses are cute, we seek out the profound, appreciate the lovely, hunger for the uncommon. We do if we want to stay sane and out of trouble with the sheriff, anyway.

As I write we don’t yet know if we’ll get to see the eclipse, whether the weather will cooperate, but this island’s local amateur astronomy enthusiast has obtained several dozen certified-safe cardboard-framed “eclipse glasses” to hand out. We’re hoping the fog will stand back and permit us a peek at the rare event.

I’ve got eclipse-viewing plans involving a lawn chair and a welding helmet. That ought to make for quite a sight when the neighborhood kids, the random sailboat tourists, and the usual sternmen come straggling into my bakery dooryard after whoopie pies and blueberry popsicles. I am not apt to notice anybody at all through that #14 glass. Perhaps, for my little summertime bakery, something special for the day: an “eclipse cookie” with an offset chocolate circle covering a geographically accurate percentage of the round yellow cookie. Is the general Maine tourist public nerdy enough to get it?

It’s fairly important to pay attention to things like the solar eclipse, and the shooting stars of the Perseid Meteor Shower, and the pink sunrises, and the red cardinal in the bush by the kitchen window. By late summer we might all benefit from the distraction. I know I do. It would be easy to take on semi-permanent scowl of annoyance. It would be easy, by mid-August, to spend our days thinking only of things like, “I wonder when old Mrs. Spacklecheeks is leaving? Isn’t it about time she got the hell off this island?” or “I wonder why nobody has snuck out in the dark of night and cut the wires on that police siren sound-effect noisemaker those little brats have on that Gator?” or “I wonder how much sugar it really takes to kill a four-wheeler?”

Much better for the mental health to pay attention to the view.

I was on the state ferry with some reporters the other day, one of the familiar faces from WCSH Channel 6 in Portland, and a couple of photographers. Also aboard was a full deck-load of vehicles, but unlike the other ferries this time of year, our trip was all about getting house painters and stonemasons over the water to work. The day was uncommonly fine and the seas were so calm we could all stand around on the deck and gab and not even hold on. That alone —a warm, dry, level-plumb-and-square crossing on the F/V Everett Libby—was acknowledged as a rare treat. One could remark upon the preponderance of regulars, the usual suspects, the carpenters, roofers and mechanics, and me with my U-Haul to haul away the recycling. I pointed out to the journalists that this sea voyage was somewhat unlike that of the Captain Charles Philbrook or the Captain Neal Burgess and conspicuous in its lack of tourists. Most everybody, excepting perhaps the guys with the granite countertop standing upright in the bed of their pickup, had made this trip many times before. We took this ferry ride in stride, whether wet and miserable or easy.

The reporters asked me whether people who live here grow oblivious to the beauty of the place, and if we eventually stop appreciating the visual feast. I told them it was good—for me, at least—to be exposed to the astonishment of visitors who are swept off their feet by the view.

While we’re looking up and having science lessons, in the interest of keeping our minds healthy and our hands off certain peoples’ throats, we might also take note of the monarch butterflies. The fact that there are monarch butterflies this year—and more than just the odd one now and then—brings a sense of relief to those who notice. Last year and the year before they were rare and scarce, their numbers dramatically depleted by several troubling factors, among them a shortage of Midwestern milkweed brought on by an excess of Roundup. The milkweed plant is the favorite—maybe the only—food of the monarch caterpillar, and without this plant, considered a weed in the soybean fields of Big Agra, there is hunger in the ranks. No monarch actually flies from Maine to Mexico and back; several generations of caterpillars make their bright green, metallic-gold-spotted chrysalises along the trail somewhere, and there must be food for the youngsters. Those noble orange butterflies, while not ubiquitous on Matinicus as they were twenty-five years ago, are at least around.

Watching them fly grants a momentary reprieve.