Judith Horky

5392 No. Pagosa Blvd.

Pagosa Springs, CO 81147


Memoirs/Personal Essay

1981 words



by Judith Horky


Colorful lobster pots bob on the waves as the Islander ferry cuts through the blue-green swells bringing me closer to my family, back to my roots. Salty spray cools my face as sea breezes and soaring sea gulls jar loose memories of my childhood vacations spent on Chebeague Island in Casco Bay, Maine. Encircled by sandy beaches and rocky shores, this ³land of many springs² with its medley of seashells, tide pools, starfish, jagged cliffs, seaweed, eel grass and rocks ground smooth as satin is my special paradise. From Dad I learned the ways of the sea and the wonders of the night sky. Mom was my playmate, my partner in the world of imagination. My time on Chebeague was filled with laughter and love, excitement and peace. Thereıs a lump in my throat and my eyes fill with tears as I drift back in time........


³School is out-- hurray! Weıre on our way to the island! Drive faster, Daddy. Hurry!²


Sunny days with brilliant blue skies and billowing white clouds were sheer heaven but when the dense fog rolled in from the sea, it added a surrealistic ambiance to the surroundings creating a quiet stillness that makes me feel very much a part of earth and nature. Fog or sunshine, it matters not when it comes to exploring deserted beaches and hidden coves, shorelines covered with millions of tiny little shells, pieces of sea-worn colored glass and seaweed drying in the sun...a veritable paradise for collectors, young and old.


³Will it be high tide, Mommy? Can we go swimming in the cove? Please?²

³I donıt know, Judy. For goodness sake, will you just relax.²


Yes, we all knew that island folks lived their lives by the tides. As the unending ebb and flow retreats out to sea, the soggy ocean floor is exposed inch-by-inch, exposing another world. The memory sends me on wondrous explorationsŠ.


The coves reveal gray slimy mud flats that squish between my toes. Theyıre speckled with telltale tiny holes that squirt when I stamp my foot, a dead give-a-way to hidden treasures--fat juicy clams. Low tide allows my cousins and me to search for starfish that come in all sizes, fascinating creatures that cling to rocks and pilings. They donıt look much like fish to me. Rough to the touch and shaped like a star, they have hundreds of tiny suction cups on the bottom that curl up and hide when touched. Tide pools captured in the rocky nooks and crannies and warmed by the sun hold tiny little fish and snails, grasses and mosses. Each pool offers a kaleidoscope of incredible colors that defy description. Once a month on the exceptionally low ebb tide Dad and I wade out on a jetty and search for sand dollars and sea urchins, scallops and huge chowder clams, all wondrous riches from the sea.




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Itıs fun climbing on the rocks growing out of the sand, many covered with firmly attached mussels and barnacles that cut my feet. Miniature crabs run sideways and backwards, seeking their dinner at the waterıs edge. Much bigger crabs hide in the resting seaweed, waiting for toes to pinch and the returning tide to sweep them back to sea. Big horseshoe crabs with their fearsome lances nestle just beneath the sand as they have since prehistoric times. Iım very careful about them.


Exciting rocky shores and cliffs, pummeled by the churning and swirling untamed power of the sea, roar as breakers crash into the crevices sending foamy white sprays high into the air. Iım in awe of how far those huge undulating waves have traveled to reach the shore, waves that had been smashing against the rocks from the beginning of time. And why, I wonder, is every seventh one bigger and more powerful than the rest. The clanging of the red buoys warns boats and ships to keep their distance and adds to the mystery of a day spent on the rocks at Deer Point. Iım mesmerized by the assault on all my senses as I count the waves and write the poetry of a young girl.


Iım drawn back to the present when a tanned and happy fisherman drifting in a dingy waves a welcome and I wave back, rememberingŠ.


Dadıs old boat is appropriately named ³The May-go² thanks to the temperamental motor hanging off the back. We putt around the shoreline and I live in utter terror of losing power, getting tangled in massive beds of brown swirling seaweed and having to jump into the water to reach the shore. Surely I would drown out of shear fright! But itıs okay playing pirates with borrowed abandoned dinghies and using stone outcroppings as ports of call. Flat rock skipping contests are endless. My dad is the champion with at least 14 hops on a good day.


³Oh Daddy, we might miss the ferry. I want to skip rocks with you again!²


A graceful white and gray seagull glides across the bow of the ferry. Theyıre scavengers of the sea, always looking for a handout or simply posing for tourist photographers. I remember the time Dad brought home a mess of mackerel (³mess² being a descriptive word like ³a bunch of.² Actually I think the term fits quite well.) After giving dozens away to friends or lobstermen to use for bait, he dumped the remainder at the waterıs edge. These shiny blue fish weighed up to three pounds each and were over a foot long--really quite pretty as fish go. It took the gulls about 10 seconds to find them. The huge birds began congregating, some strutting on the mud flats, others perched on the recently bared rocks and on bows of boats or just drifting on the water, patiently casing the competition and watching for their chance to swoop in and grab an easy meal. The squawking began, the feeding became frenzied and the fish dwindled. As we watched, fascinated, a big old bird waddled up to a good-sized fish and swallowed it whole. Then with amazing greed and astounding ego, he swallowed a second fish. With its tail sticking out of his mouth, he tried to make his get-a-way. He began running to get up enough speed for his take off and he ran and he ran, flapping his wings furiously, but the weight of the fish kept him grounded. He finally managed



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to lift off with the grace of a cargo plane, made it eight feet into the air, when all of a sudden the second fish popped out of his mouth as though shot from a cannon. With a look of surprise, the gull, having lost his anchor, instantly lifted ten feet straight up. An opportunistic cohort flew under him and grabbed the fish with a big ³Hah!² just as it hit the water. We laughed until the tears ran down our cheeks. And I laugh now, the happy sound lost in the hum of the motor and waves lapping against the bow. We didnıt need TV back then. Nature was enough.


Sometimes Mom and I needed a day on a mainland beach minus the debris of seaweed and midges. Ogunquit Beach was our favorite. Miles of soft white sand were covered with an amazing assortment of bronzed human bodies, all sizes and shapes, greased and laid out to broil on colorful blankets. As the tide rolled in, sunbathers retreated, bunching closer and closer together until even walking was a challenge. Dad called the frigid, numbing, bone chilling Maine water invigorating. I called it liquid ice.


³If itıs foggy, will you do a puzzle with me, Mommy?² She smiles at my impatience.


I loved foggy days on Chebeague. When the cool mists roll in colors fade and my world shrinks to an arms length away. Sounds mute and the dampness makes my warm sweatshirt feel so good. The mournful sound of foghorns allows ships at sea to test the nearness of land as they pass through the opaque clouds. Bells in the buoys answer back a warning of rocky danger. Sweeping lights from the lighthouse penetrate through the fog helping seafarers find their way to port safely. These are the days made for curling up on soft pillows by a toasty fire, playing puzzles and getting lost in my wonderful books.


On sunny days Dad and I walk up the hill by the old cobblerıs shop, past the brilliant patches of wild orange tiger lilies and deep purple larkspur lining the road. I love the rich perfume of wild roses and the soft fragrance of sea heather that fill the air. Succulent wild raspberries beckon me to taste them and the fields of blueberries result in Momıs delicious hot-from-the-oven pies and muffins. Dadıs a whiz at filling his buckets but I always put one in the pot and two in my mouth.


Intense memories continue to stab at my heart, traveling on the wings of the sea breeze, birthed on this island of the great stone sloops. Thoughts of crunchy Cushman Scotch cookies and delicious clambakes make my mouth water. I smile as pictures flash by of trying to milk Grampyıs cow in the old barn and of my cousin and me smoking stolen cigarettes in the closet, singeing our eyebrows. It was a dead give-a-way to our bad judgment and justly punished. I reenact every step of the evening strolls to Mansfieldıs ice cream shop for five cent cones and to Grampy Bowenıs General Store with its penny candy and postcards. The fragrance of hemlock tickles my nose as I laboriously stitch tiny pillows for my friends at home, and the pungent smells of drying starfish and sand dollars on the porch rail, outhouses and hen houses assail my nostrils in a different way.


East End Point comes into view and Iım transported back to World War II with the military bases, uniformed soldiers,  awesome ships off shore and the rumors of foreign submarines in the waters. And I remember the ferries--the small Nellie G and the big Casco Bay steam ships that connected all the islands to the mainland. The thrill of catching mackerel and lightening bugs and


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the pain of poison ivy and hornet stings (the result of throwing stones at their huge nest) linger for awhile. I smile thinking about sneaking into Grampyıs garage-sized Nazarene Chapel, banging on the old pump organ, sure no one could hear me. No doubt I raised the dead from their peaceful resting place in the cemetery, the lichen covered home to families long gone but one documenting the fascinating history of the island. The big family Christmas gatherings replete with a Santa Claus and sleigh can never be duplicated, nor can my uncleıs huge gray knit stocking with its red top hanging by the wood stove, a lump of coal buried deep within the red toe. Chebeague Island provided the setting for my first love and first kiss.


The old Stone Wharf, big white hotel and the 9-hole golf course with its picturesque views of the bay have changed little through the years, and neither have the old rusty relics chugging down the narrow road to meet the boat. They may fall apart thanks to bumpy dirt roads but they never seem to die. I remember it all and so much more.


The Islander ferry has arrived at that old Stone Wharf and the ropes are secured around the posts. My visit here will be all too short. For now I simply thank God for the beauty I see, the peace I feel and the salty taste of the sea breeze caressing my body and soul. Wiping away a tear, I inhale the intense fragrance of flowers and balsam trees once again, my senses overwhelmed, as I return to my beloved island of Chebeague.