The 11 or so miles from town are a constant in a world that is forever changing. The drive in either direction is a mirror image of itself. It is a pure Downeast drive. Old houses dot the road’s periphery, piles of fishing gear camp out in yards, glimpses of water appear around almost every bend, wildlife of all types come and go marking their time in the tracks they leave behind. And still, the peace and tranquility that is this place remains a constant, too. That place is Starboard.
Every Downeast town is special. And in every town there is that one person or persons who embody an essence that makes that place so special. They are a part of the community, yet the many others who live there believe that person or persons are the “soul” of that community. For anyone traveling from Machias down that 11-mile stretch of road known as Port Road you will eventually come to a slice of heaven known as Starboard.
It is a place that has captured time and stubbornly refuses to let it go. For many residents in or just outside Starboard, meaningful memories are plentiful: family picnics on the shoreline; generations connected in some way to its one-room schoolhouse; skipping stones in “the pond” when the tide was in; or as fishermen taking a break while taking in the serene calm that is the cove’s protected waters. Though change is all around us, a drive or a walk in Starboard still has that “old days” feeling amidst a natural beauty biding its time around every corner.
For those who have made that drive to Starboard, up until just a few short years ago they would have undoubtedly come across a husband and wife out for their daily walk. He, with his walking stick and a funny story loaded and ready; she with her hat on, arms up moving back and forth in sync with her steps.
They were two peas in a pod. Their walks down the road were legendary. They did not walk far, yet it still took them a good while because of all the stops they would make on their travels. A stop to wave, extend a greeting to a passerby, a neighbor, a stranger even, it did not matter — their walks were a greeting to any and all in Starboard. And by the time the roadside visit with them was over, one almost felt like family.
Their home in the cove is simple. Perched on the shoreline the house points southeast, towards the islands Cross, Stone and Ingalls. The house has a clear view— no matter the sun’s seasonal juxtaposition — of that glorious Starboard sunrise. The beach out front harbors an old rowboat used to hand-haul traps from time to time and is where one, if quiet, will find his footsteps and hear her laughter from their days in a cove that welcomes everyone.
Remnants of a small patch of ground where corn and other vegetables would be planted are still visible. That garden is now a thumbprint of their effort to take from the Earth only what they needed. In return they always remembered to give thanks for that bounty.
Just past their home at the end of the road —where macadam meets dirt— there is a one-room schoolhouse. Red in color, the schoolhouse is a relic from the Starboard past. It along with the old firehouse building next door is saturated in story. Floating like halos both inside and out are their laughter and their earnest desire to know how everybody is doing.
Vernon and Lois (Ingalls) Sprague were of this place. They lived on ancestral land that is part of that long-ago story. They were exceptional neighbors and dear friends. And even though they are gone, their spirit remains a steward of this place called Starboard, or as Lois would always say, “The Cove.”
They cared about this place, this community, and always looked for the good in people. Their laughter, the hugs, the stories Vern would not let you leave before hearing are still very much here. Their footsteps, like those of all living creatures in breath and substance, are still very much a part of this place and will always be because of who they were, who they still are.
Their essence and that of this place they called home is always present. It is held within the memories of family, friends and neighbors still living and working here; within that small single room that is still a schoolhouse; around a community club table pulling lobster meat from the shell; along the beaches and waters of this place that is held within our hearts eternal.
In today’s world it is easy to find fault with the past. Most of the country right now has a front row seat for finding fault with the past. Even here in Starboard it happens on occasion. The subtle and sometimes “not so” subtle complaints trickle up from the shoreline, the pond, along dirt roads spilling out into a community that mostly doesn’t listen because time is too precious. Here in Starboard most of us simply want to enjoy what we each have, share it with others, and love one another while doing so, just like Lois and Vernon did.
© 2023 RJ Heller
Published in The Quoddy Tides, January 13, 2023