Believe it or not: Life does go on


— This is to the guy who said the walls of the Yampa Valley are too high to climb. That the world is too large a place and what would he do out there, anyway.

I tell this story just to show there are many smaller, safer places that are much harder to leave, but once you do, life goes on and your time there becomes just another anecdote you use to seem interesting on second dates and dinner parties.

I remember:

It was raining the entire first week I was in Vinalhaven, Maine. I would watch the puddle form on the roof of my tent and wait for it to start leaking.

About 10 o'clock, I would get the energy to sit up, put on my yellow raincoat and walk into town to look for work.

The island was 3 miles long with 1,100 year-round residents. It took five minutes to walk from my spot in the woods to the downtown block locals called "downstreet."

My first stop was the fisherman's co-op. I asked the couple at the counter if they knew anyone who needed help.

They went down the list.

"Harold. You'd like him. He hauls hard."

They looked at each other.

"Single. Don't know why he's not married. Hard worker, that's not the problem."

I scribbled a note on a scrap of yellow paper and tacked it to the bulletin board. "Hard worker. Looking for second or third man position. Can haul until October. Autumn Phillips --4406."

I had enough cash left to buy a pair of rubber fishing boots. They had to order a pair in my size.

The woman handed me my receipt and welcomed me to the island.

"Vinalhaven is like a high school," she said. "And the lobstermen are the football team."

I walked outside and up the street to the store. Still raining.

Behind the counter was a guy named "Boongie." He won the lottery that winter, a millionaire before taxes, and he used the money to increase his inventory and to open a pool hall across the street.

Boongie's place was full of dusty children's toys still in their boxes. Tourist T-shirts that would never sell. Steamed hotdogs and a jar of pickled eggs. The only thing that wasn't covered in dust was the beer cooler and the rack of Hustler and Penthouse magazines.

I told him I was looking for work, and he wrote down the phone number of a captain who wouldn't mind hiring a woman.

Main Street stretched up a hill toward the library. You didn't need a library card as long as the librarian knew your face. The shelves were full of books on how to be a good galley wife, books on collecting and cooking seaweed and books about the salty sediment that is always snowing toward the bottom of the sea.

The library had four volumes of "The Arabian Nights," which I read in the evenings. I would remember the story for the next day on the boat and tell it as we fished through our traps for lobster and threw them back out to sea.

My life slowed down and for that summer I stepped off the newspaper deadline chain gang.

There was one pay phone on the island across the street from the post office and pop artist Robert Indiana's house. He moved to the island from New York and lived year-round in the old Oddfellows Hall. On the top floor of his house, he hung a doll that looked like a woman in a long dress staring forever out to sea.

I watched that woman as I talked to my mom on the phone and told her what it was like to see the sunrise over the wake of our boat, to see the Outward Bound class doing their 6 a.m. jumping jacks on Hurricane Island.

Toward the end of the summer, someone called to tell me about a newspaper job, and I decided to move back to the mainland.

A red-headed boy in a pickup gave me a ride to the ferry with my bags. He'd never been off the island in his entire life. He was afraid of the mainland, he said.

I handed over my one-way ticket and found a seat on deck. As we left the island, I was surprised at how I felt.

I was afraid.

I was afraid of all the faces I wouldn't recognize, of the size of the landmass we were headed toward, of a world that consisted of more than a post office, a library and a five-aisle supermarket.


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