Saturday, April 10, 2010

April 10: Mussel Shells

My friend Elizabeth and I have been enjoying our one full day on Vinalhaven for our alleged writing retreat. OK, granted last night we drank wine and read poetry to each other, but did we do any writing today? How could we, when after yesterday's fog we awoke this morning to a sparkling harbor and a day before us with no plans? Mid-morning we decided to walk around town. Before we could get far, the nice shop owner across the street (whom we met yesterday while doing our part to contribute to the local economy) offered to take us for a drive around the island. So we saw the relatively new Vinalhaven school, the Eldercare home where elderly island residents can enjoy the last phase of their lives without having to leave the island, a granite quarry that looks like an amazing summer swimming hole, a renovated old school that is now the town office, the launching place for boats to North Haven--which looks close enough to swim to from there--and the three giant, surprisingly graceful-looking new wind turbines, of which 99.9% of the islanders (according to our driver) are very proud.

Back on foot and on our own, we walked through town to Lane's Island, connected to Vinalhaven by a causeway. Most of the island is a Nature Conservancy preserve, so we wandered trails through bayberry and brambles along the windy water's edge and visited the old Lane family burial plot. We enjoyed views of a young harrier, a vocal male kestrel precariously balanced on the tip of a spruce, my first flicker of the year, a bald eagle, and my first north-bound yellowlegs. Also admired the architecture of many of the older buildings in town, as well as the colorful jumble of lobster traps, buoys, and ropes that I find so appealing in working fishing harbors. All that chilly wind and fresh air exhausted us, so Elizabeth is napping now to the white noise of the mill race on a falling tide. While she settled down to sleep, I stepped out to snap a few more photos as the light brightened, and that's how I came across today's haiku moment.

While wandering around the public pier next to our inn looking for photo opps of the harbor, I was startled to hear the sound of tinkling little bells. For a moment, I was reminded of a conversation I had this morning with a shop clerk about The Polar Express and how thrilled her young grandson was to receive a real "Polar Express" jingle bell for Christmas. It's not Christmas, but some sort of magic was making music in the bracing sea air. Upon close inspection of the detritus blowing across the parking lot, I realized with some surprise that sound was the result of tiny mussel shells--originally brought up on lobster traps now drying on the pier--blowing across the pavement. Here's one of the shells, in situ and larger than life (actually about the size of the end of my thumb):

With every brisk gust of wind, handfuls of these little shells skittered across the asphalt (which as you can see from the photo is not smooth), creating their own dynamic and exquisite wind chime.

Tiny mussel bells--
magic music of mollusks,
a living wind chime.

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