December 3rd, 2009

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The Destiny Hole

Yesterday, babymonkey and I went walking down to the other cemetery on the island. The first cemetery is right near our house, and bears the awesome signage: Ye Olde Towne Burial Ground. Pass At Ye Own Risk.

But that cemetery is mostly small graves worn down by time into indistinguishable grey. The one we went to, on the oceans's edge, is small but lovely, full of white stones and long green grass and bittersweet. The graves have astonishing engravings and poetry on them--I'll be taking my camera next time, no fear. Beautiful suns and moons and weeping willows, and dates going back to the mid-1700s. Since shipping a body to shore is prohibitively expensive, most everyone who dies here gets buried here. (Especially if your name is Brackett--they're like the Borgias of Peaks Island. Or, em. I mean, I'm sure without any poisonings.)

One of the things I love about old graveyards is the names. I always notice them, and sometimes they're Sarah and Anna. But sometimes they're amazing.

There was Thankful A. Griffin, a young woman who died in her thirties, and I cannot express how fanastic that name is--first for being named Thankful, and second for the image of a thankful griffin. There was also Paryntha Salter, which I will definitely be using in one book or another.

Even more than usual it strikes me that these were people who lived on this island--who must have loved it, because it could never have been easy to live here, it's not even easy now, and we have a ferry, and stores and restaurants. (Though an odd fact of this place is that in the late 1800s and early 1900s this was actually a more bustling and populous place than it is now, as it was a summer theater resort where the Barrymores played. John Ford was once the honorary mayor of Peaks Island. And in fact there used to be many stores, one for each neighborhood. In a lot of ways island life has shrunk.)

But they lived here, named their children Thankful and Paryntha, and walked all the same paths I do. They thought and loved and weathered the winter--all cities are palimpsests, but it feels like little really dies here.

Over Thanksgiving we brought flashlights and explored the rooms in Battery Steele, the WWII fort here that most of those buried would never have seen. It is a truly bizarre and wonderful place, a maze of dark corridors and hidden rooms, abandoned, lightless, half-flooded. It is so very much like the Barrens in It, you could believe something awful lives there--but you could believe the Turtle lives there, too. We shone our lights, our flashlights, our headlamps, our cell phones--and there was a room covered in paintings of the same elfin face, drawn over and over, at different distances, small and large and close and far. Another one with wasps stenciled in neat lines over the walls, as though crawling in a line. In one giant antechamber, flooded and dripping, there was a hold gouged in the wall. Someone had painted the word destiny below it, and an arrow pointing into the hole. Of course, there were plenty of Van Halen sigils and Nick Was Here! June '83! and high school team booster slogans, but there was also, in a small stone room, a square of red paint with neat white letters written on it, reading: He Will Strike Your Head and You Will Strike His Heel. On the opposite wall, in the same white on red print, it said: Perelandra. Malacandra. Earth. Elwin Ransom, Philologist. (A reference to Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis--which just floors me, that such a thing can be written in the dark on this island.)

Of course, generations of kids have gone to the fort to light fires and drink and have sex and do drugs, and all those things are there too--a bench, a chair, a tin of potted meat in the corner. Relics of old and new childhoods, of life after the war, of paradise lost and gained, the terrible innocence of Perelandra, all there in the shadows, the inky black. Shine a light on them, how they glow.

There are so many secret lives here, so many secrets. Buried, hidden, drowned.
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MERMAN WHAT

I post this without comment, because no comment could equal the awesome I am about to report:

Peaks Island is not famed in history or song. The poet has not sung of its beauties and the historian has passed it by, but it has its history and its beauties are acknowledged by all.

The earliest voyagers found Casco Bay adapted for a playground and a summer resort. Christopher Levitt, in 1623, said that there was good fishing and much fowl. He found plenty of salmon and other good fish in Fore River.


Michael Mitton told Josselyn of seeing a merman who came and laid his hands on the side of his canoe and that he chopped off one of his hands and that he then sank, dyeing the water with his purple blood.


--A History of Peaks Island and Its People