The Working Waterfront

The islands explode into bloom

Busy season is cheered by flowers and plants

By Barbara Fernald
Posted 2023-08-22
Last Modified 2023-08-22

Everything Everywhere All at Once is the title of an award winning movie I have yet to see. It also is a perfect description of the frenetic time of year in the Cranberry Isles between the middle of May and the middle of June. Our island populations are about to quadruple and there is work to finish before everyone gets here.

On Islesford the co-op store has been moved across the street. On Great Cranberry there is much progress on the new store being built after last winter’s fire. Houses that weren’t opened up for Memorial Day now move to the head of the line for caretakers and cleaners to do their magic, sometimes dealing with ancient plumbing and mouse or mink invasions. There is always something more to do.

All around people are getting their gardens going. Most are hoping to get as much work done as possible before the mosquitoes strike.
It’s a fascinating time to ride the mailboat. On almost any afternoon boat ride there is at least one person bringing plants back to their island.

“Wow, where’d you get those gorgeous tomato plants?” “I’ve never seen petunias that color! Are they from Frost Farm?”

This is the season when the Double B is in the water and the afternoon ferry fills up fast. The larger Sea Queen is hauled out for her annual maintenance, so space for seedlings, groceries, and passengers is a bit more limited.

We keep an eye on each other’s plants on the boat lest an errant foot or grocery bag snaps a brand new perennial stem. Sometimes UPS or groceries get put off on the wrong island, but this never seems to happen with vegetation.

Things felt slightly different to me this year as we entered the summer pre-season. Mother Nature seemed to say, “How about this for a movie? I’m calling it ‘All Spring Blossoms, All Over the Place, All at the Same Time!’” It was as if all flowering plants were competing for the limelight with the flats of geraniums arriving by boat.

The apple trees were covered in pink and white while my late double tulips were still going strong. The purple lilacs joined in with the yellows of wild mustard, dandelions, and hawkweed. Azaleas and honeysuckle came out. The blues of veronica and forget-me-nots were showing up everywhere.

By the shore the beach peas flowered next to daisies and clover. Wherever I looked, something was blooming. I don’t remember experiencing this kind of timing before. It was quite something.

This short season has its share of aural intensity as well. The first time I notice the wind blowing through new leaves and the first time I hear the hermit thrush are two of my favorite sounds of the year.

I’m learning to identify a few more warblers like the black-throated green and the common yellowthroat. The northern parula warbler sings all the time. Last year, after listening to an online bird seminar from Cornell, I installed the free Merlin app on my phone. You just hold the phone in the direction of the birdsong, press record and it will identify the bird that is singing.

Merlin hears things I can barely hear. Quite a few of us use it. One day our postmaster, Joy, let her Merlin app record for an hour while she was attending a Zoom meeting. It identified 26 different birds that were singing nearby.

“I thought I missed the orioles this year, but now I know they were here even if I didn’t get to see them,” she told me. Joy then mentioned that this year the leaves appeared to have become huge overnight. She concurred that all the flowers seemed to be blossoming simultaneously. Odd but beautiful.

This pre-summer season on the island has been a crazy busy time and feast for the eyes and ears. It reminds me of something I heard many years ago: “I’m SO busy. My life is just full of good things.”

Barbara Fernald lives on Islesford (Little Cranberry Island). She may be contacted at