If you have visited a city in old New England or The Empire State chances are you have seen several mountains of stone harvested from the coast of Maine reshaped into buildings of various designs. Back when lobsters were considered prison food and blueberries were harvested to feed pigs, the living rock was cleft from islands, loaded into stone sloops, and hauled away to build cities and pave walkways of edifices great and small.
Before reinforced concrete, granite was the chosen material for impervious monuments to industry and capital. While called mines, these were really pits, often at the core of the chosen island. Sharing a similarity to the limestone pits of the Hudson Valley or the bluestone quarries of the Catskills, the Maine mines benefited from their access to the ocean and the carrying capacity of ships to hoist large blocks to be dressed later. For a time this was big money and many villages that people mistake for quaint fishing villages were once rough and boisterous boom towns where men went out to sea only if they fell into the water drunk or made dead beforehand.
In Them Olden Days (TOD) the blocks were cut by dark magic, the same as how Stonehenge and the pyramids of Central America were constructed. That or perhaps monotonous hammering at spikes, occasional blasting (I may have made that up) and sweat of the brow. Also, braided cable was a thing then as was a common understanding of fulcrum and the formula V = ( (L)(B)(H) ).
Of all the islands, perhaps the most important is Crotch Island, off the coast of The Great Deer Island. This island is important in history, at least my journey through time, because it may be the last remaining quarry, and because I went there, having never intending to and after regretting what became a perilous adventure.
As anyone with access to The Googles Maps knows, the Coast of Maine is dotted with islands and winds out and in as dictated by ice ages, the Gulf Stream and shifting tectonic plates the behavior of which we yet are to fully understand. There are pleasant islands to visit and should you rent a kayak or canoe from [redacted] they will assure you a safety flotation device, an appropriate paddle, and a map, or what boaters call a chart.
A chart is like a map except rather than elevation it has little crosses and and other doodad markings that don’t really mean shit to me. But the blobs marked “island” that I can understand. Matching up the shape of the blob you can find your way and I guess sailors call this navigation. One such blob I was excited to visit was marked “the old quarry swimming hole.”
There’s a swimming hole in the middle of the island, the youth I had yet to learn was a bonafide sea captain, told me when he gave me the canoe. It’s full of rain water [and crystal clear, so much so you can see the bottom and it’s like swimming on a glass table], he said. I knew I totally needed a picture of that for one of my albums on The Book of Face. Hell to the yeah I wanted to see the old quarry. In my mind this worn trail led to some epic views of a pit where crystal clear water shown the bottom, ancient hauling machines sitting in the depths seemed just right in front of your hand… Maybe I would find an old workhouse, in there maybe a dial or handle to a steam engine overlooked yet in perfect condition.
I set out to sea with my companion… who also has no experience with charts. We had a canoe. As we were on vacation, we merrily paddled our canoe into the wind and against the current pushing hard. It was slow going but I was assured the return would have both wind and current at our very backs. The author of this Web Log has had double digit experience with canoes. I have paddled them at all hours and up and down rivers. I have sunk them several times and dragged them through mud and trackless swamps. However, this has been in a single canoe owned over these many decades and in all manner of speaking I am self-taught, a Folk Canoest, and have no experience with a canoe on the ocean. Nevertheless, I have some modicum of adventure and confidence and we made good time going from island to island. I then spotted the abandoned quarry, mine, pit thingy, there in the distance. I could see the white carved block walls of the pit and an old rusted derrick. We looked at the map… I mean chart. Neither of us know what we are looking at and that island looked like the “swimming hole here quarry Island” so we set out… across the shipping channel that lead to the now quaint and no longer saloon fighting drunken murderous Stonington. Just in time for the fishing boats to be coming in. Coming up to a couple kayaking, an older man and woman, we exchanged pleasantries. How does it go, weather, nice day, weekend can you believe it, enjoy have a great time have friends and be with others live long and prosper, to which the female in the kayak replied something that sounded like “that’s great” or “that’s brave” depending on which one of us you may have interviewed at the time.
We were indeed brave, or great, whichever. The the crossing was hard. It seemed that the wind was picking up a little. Not the hardest crossing I have ever made, since the mighty Hudson River is prone to storms, currents, tides, wind, and traversed by speed boats and oceanic tankers, but I have a slightly greater fear or falling into the ocean and the temperature of which would not be a refreshing plunge but a if-you-don’t-get-fished-out-in-20 -minutes-you’ll-have-hypothermia-cold that being tossed into the river. Shit, when I go, I want to be torn apart by wolves not have a sudden drop in body temperature politely kill me…
We made it to what appeared to be the first island. I tried to make the chart tell me I was right, but it was hard and it took a lot of skill to tweak the islands to match. We set into the space between the islands to stop on the closest island. It turned out to be a cove and we were but on one section of a much larger island that included the quarry I had seen.
The water was quiet and of a blue of a deep and almost tropical quality. The lagoon of sorts had a simple quietude and the waves and disturbance of the shipping, the winds, and current died down at once and our little craft pulled in at a glide to the shore. We were both fatigued and this may be that island of paradise, however, the surroundings were far from tropical. It was like the ruins of civilization itself. Blocks stacked and tossed into piles. The shoreline caught with refuse and bits of life. We pulled out little craft to the salty bog of a shore and found a rock to catch our collective breath and have a snack. I took to explore the surroundings. The way was scattered rocks punctuated by some angry large rusting cables and the remains of a structure that had past all willingness to be explored and just lay on the ground as a sigh of metal and ancient wood. It was if I discovered a new world. Yes, how could I discover a new world if people were already there and had turned that world into shit? This is true. I did not discover it, I merely brought it to the attention of myself and the camera of my iThingy.
After a scramble up and about, I had high hopes, but they were broken and ruined. I returned with little news and certainly no sight of the blessed swimming hole. I looked to the lagoon, maybe this is the swimming hole, I said, you want to swim here? was the reply.
Rested and having snacked, we returned to our canoe and out out past the safety of this lunch spot, we took again to the more open waters. The afternoon tour boats were coming close and their wake had me concerned. The shore of the island was despicable. Where was the path to the swimming hole? I demanded. The waves crashed against the cluttered and jagged discarded rock and mine car rail and rebar and chunks of iron and the plastic trash that collects today on our shorelines. I demanded we put in at a small cove, I was told there was a cove on the island. Indeed this protected area sheltered us from the wake of a large boat and the wind and waves were indeed picking up. Coming in, the shore was alien. The shallow part at the front did not meet land, but dropped off to depth since the irregular rocks had not been pounded by wave and ice into any particular order. We can set in here. No… wait… no we can’t.
Again we pushed off from this damned island, but again there was another cove of sorts. I pulled in and this time determined to have a looksee, I pulled the canoe onto some rocks and went up to see if I could find a path, this cove and beach and report back. Up the crumbling rocks to a ledge made of chips of even more rock all surrounded by brambles and shameful vegetation all angling to trip me, I pushed on in the direction of the derrick now a dark house beacon, a sinewy siren echoing out “swimming hole as shown to you at the rental center on the map I mean chart here.”
My expedition failed. At the sight of sink holes I became all too aware of this land being foul, and altogether dangerous. I suddenly heard a mariner’s hallo, a distressful noise and returned to the ship boat canoe craft to witness it being tossed and shunt about held to the shore by able but frightened hands. We emptied the canoe of water and made our way out to flee this barren collection of debris and decay frightening skull crap evil homeland of super villains and ghosts.
With the wind and waves and Crotch Island behind us, we made for the humble village. Even with these conditions the paddling was hard and the wakes of the boats ever more difficult to navigate. Nevertheless, we made it back to the camp from which we rented the canoe, and just in time to not have to pay a late fee. So, I asked the young man I did not know yet was a ship captain, we went to that island you told us about, but it was intensely ugly and hazardous. I then described it a little more. “That island is technically private property, you’re not supposed to be there. That’s not on our chart… You went there?” He then pointed out the island of our intended destination, which was much, much closer. Oh. That island. We returned our gear and in fatigue and the giddy accomplishment of going farther than most in what should have been a more restful day, were somewhat gleeful we had made it to the broken shores of Crotch Island.
And we both now understood the woman of the ocean kayak, and that she had said, “That’s Brave” the way polite older people mean, that’s the dumbest fucking thing I’ve ever seen.
Editor’s Note: A film from 1975 explores the island in better detail and from a time when cool souvenirs may have still existed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjiuCuuZQv8