The Working Waterfront

Snow sapped energy, left many stuck in place

The winter that was made its impression on island

Barbara Fernald
Posted 2015-03-13
Last Modified 2015-03-13

When it was 50 degrees in the Cranberry Isles on Christmas Day, was anyone else wistfully remembering a good old-fashioned “white Christmas?” I know I was. It felt so strange to actually have to dig out a spring coat to go for a walk when plenty of warm down parkas and mittens were hanging at the ready.

Bruce bought a snowblower in the fall and by the second week of January we wondered if this was going to be one of those purchases that was good insurance, but not needed for years. I promise we never said the words, “I sure wish it would snow so we could try out the new snow blower.” We know better than that. 

Like so many others in the Northeast, we did not dig out spring jackets again for the rest of the winter. Instead, we dug out cars, driveways and sidewalks again and again. It is hard to believe that merely three years ago we never once needed a snow shovel for our car on the mainland. Then, when the parking area at the Northeast Harbor marina was being rebuilt, islanders forged their own paths through the winter construction site, lamenting the lack of lighting and the rough footing, but marveling at the fact that the crew had such a mild winter to continue their work. All over the state, people were worried about the impact of the second-warmest, least-snowiest winter on record in Maine. Who knew we would be breaking records this year at the opposite end of the scale?

I usually don’t mind winter too much. March is the month that throws me off and makes me want to double up on anti-depressants. But this year, my spirits plummeted in February, leaving me with little reserve to face the March melancholy.

“I feel so stuck!” said my friend and neighbor, Kaitlyn. “Stuck on the couch, stuck with a toddler, stuck not being able to get off the island, stuck not being able to go outside because it’s too cold and windy.” My sentiments exactly, minus the toddler.

One of the best parts about island living is that one is never far from a walk on the beach. Fresh air and a view of the ocean is one of the best antidotes I know for emotional distress. Time and again the excuses for not getting out were real; below zero windchill, four-foot snowbanks to wade through before reaching the beach, and icy walking conditions on the road. 

Unfavorable conditions for leaving the island were every bit as real. Between the commuter boat and the mailboat there were a record number of canceled trips this winter. One could make plans to go off-island, but there was no guarantee of being able to leave or get back when planned.

The boat companies wisely would not put lives at risk by running a boat when icy spray could build up, compromising visibility and safety. Every time the words “gale force winds” were in the forecast, boats were canceled. We experienced gale force winds and single-digit temperatures several times each week in February.  

With the record cold, ice has built up in Somes Sound and the Pool on Great Cranberry. When the wind and tides are right, the ice breaks up and floats out into the open water, causing a navigational hazard. Those little icebergs are sharp and can slice right into the hull of a boat, so visibility is more important than ever.

On one night in February, low tide and an overabundance of ice chunks at Islesford prevented the commuter boat from being able to land. I never realized how much I count on my freedom to come and go as a coping mechanism for an island winter. Whenever the weather caused a boat cancelation I was peeved, even if I wasn’t planning to go off the island that day! I was exasperated that the weather had once again taken away my choice. 

Now, in the first week of March, we’ve experienced a break in the endless snow and the temperature is actually up to 40 degrees. Warm weather is also predicted for next week. We’ve made it through a whole week without any boat cancelations. Perhaps the bad-mood battle of February has made me more resilient for March. I certainly hope so.

I’ve heard summer residents express an interest in “seeing the island in winter” or “spending a winter on the island” and I understand that pull. I spent the first 23 years of my life as a “summer girl” and I always dreamed of getting to see Islesford in the winter someday.

This winter, in the Cranberry Isles there were days of quiet beauty. There were absolutely no mosquitoes or deer flies or ticks to worry about. There were places to ice skate, and ski and go snowshoeing without ever leaving the island. The sunsets were stupendous.

It’s like being in on a really good secret to see your favorite island in a state that many others don’t get to see. But, lest you feel like you were missing out, you now know the rest of the secret. This winter, the islands just weren’t so quaint. 

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Update: In the afternoon of March 5, a large migration of ice chunks from Somes Sound lodged in the harbor at Great Cranberry. It was touchy for the afternoon boat to get in to drop off students on their way home from the Ashley Bryan School on Islesford. When temperatures dropped into the single numbers again overnight, the ice stayed packed in tight.

By the morning of March 6, the mail boat could not get into the dock at Great Cranberry, but could still pick up passengers at Islesford. The Cranberry Isles Information page on Facebook was more active than ever as people posted photos and information as to whether boats would run or not. Mike Johnson, captain of the Sunbeam, which docks in Northeast Harbor and is owned by the Seacoast Mission, posted that he would make a midday run to Great Cranberry. 

Barbara Fernald lives, writes and makes jewelry on Islesford (Little Cranberry Island).