That crinkled shoreline.
Suppose you are a seagull. You decide to fly from the southern end of Maine’s coastline where it meets New Hampshire to the northern end where it meets Nova Scotia. How long a distance would you need to fly?
That’s easy. The distance is 228 miles.
But what really is the length of Maine’s coastline?
Once, when I was about ten, my mom and I were digging clams on the beach of a cove that is one cove to the east from our cove. We were having fun. We usually were. My little sister – about six – was splashing around.
Mom looked up. “Hello?” she asked, with a query in her voice.
I dropped my handful of clams into the bucket I kept awash as the tide dropped, and I looked up myself. A young man we didn’t know was walking toward us along the tideline.
He wore a sweatshirt, shorts, and mud boots. He carried a large reel of cloth tape, which he peeled off as he walked. I could see that he had staked the far end of the cloth tape at the spot where the rocky point that stuck into Penobscot Bay changed to the sand, mud, and rocks of the beach where we were digging our clams.
Mom, who was getting winded from digging, straightened and put her hands on the small of her back and bent back a little and sighed. She took a breath and let it out and smiled at the man. “Nice day.”
He paused in his peeling off of his tape. “Yes, Ma’am.”
“What are you doing?”
He smiled. “Everyone asks the same thing. I’m measuring the shore. We’re measuring the shore, I should say. I’m part of a team. It’s a summer job. Paid by the state.”
“You mean actually measuring the shoreline? Every foot of it?”
“Every promontory, every cove, every salt marsh?”
He laughed. “Every everything.”
“Well, that’s amazing!” Mom laughed too. “The whole coast?”
“All the way to Canada.”
“Dikkon” – Mom started, but then she looked at the young man. “Can we give you something? Are you hungry?” She turned back to me. “Dikkon, get one of those sandwiches from my basket over there.”
I did, and we stood around as people do on the shoreline of Maine, and for a while we told stories.
I recall this incident because I have always been pleased that our family made a contribution to the success of this measuring effort – a rather bent up egg salad sandwich though it was – and I was eager, later, to discover what their number turned out to be.
Two hundred twenty eight miles is nothing. Lazy seagull.
The length of Maine’s coastline is 3,478 miles. Not counting the islands.
Wanna be impressed? That distance is 397 miles longer than the distance between Portland, Maine, and Los Angeles, California.
What a crinkled shoreline!
Anything could have happened along that coastline. Anything could have happened, and most anything has.
What does the person who is new to our coastline want? Well, a boiled lobster, of course, and an ear of corn, and also a dish of blueberry ice cream. But what he or she wants after that is a quiet cabin, a comfortable bed, the night sound of waves lapping on the shore outside the window, and finally … a chance to slow down.
A chance, for once, just to be there.
Not just that. More. More than that.
More, because there is history too – stories and stories and stories to be told. To be told while standing around in the afternoon tired from digging a bucket of clams. Or to be told over an evening fire on the beach, while the children snuggle down, and the grown-ups swig one more cupful, and the last of the gulls patrol the shoreline before alighting for the night.
The stories are the tales of Maine herself, but also they are the stories of the teller as well.
“Please tell me your story,” is how it begins.
“Well, see those stars? Once those stars were seen by a man in a boat, who had crossed the long sea, and who was the first – the very first – from Europe to see this shore. Imagine him, the very first …. And it’s such a long, long shore, so indented, so much there is to explore.”
Nowadays, if I could have given that Maine measurer a lobster roll instead of a bent up egg salad sandwich, I would have. I would have because they are easy to find. Drive down any long peninsula sticking into the sea, and somewhere along your route you’ll find a lobster roll place.
Stop. Buy one. Take a bite. Look out at the sea. Be there.
© 2021 Dikkon Eberhart
Dikkon Eberhart is the author of The Time Mom Met Hitler, Frost Came to Dinner, and I Heard the Greatest Story Ever Told, Paradise, and On the Verge. Dikkon is a Maine native transplanted recently to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. He is a retired salesman, former actor and food critic, and always a writer.
Read more at www.dikkoneberhart.com