Mary's Picnic

Back in 1979 my longtime friend Jeff Wylie turned out a book called ''Tides and the Pull of the Moon.'' It's a fascinating subject, which Jeff handled competently to produce a mother lode of tidal lore. However complete it may be, it does not speak one word about Mary's Picnic. Mary's Picnic is a down-Maine summer event of prime importance, and since it depends wholly on the tide, Jeff's oversight merits notice. When Jeff first told me he was working on this book, I should have told him about Mary's Picnic and spared him the oversight. I did mention to him the day the tide failed to serve, but he didn't use that, either.

There never was such a day except in my whimsy, but the possibility intrigues. I was cutting the tops off a row of carrots one time when the idea crossed my mind, and I would have done a little story except that the notion was too preposterous to sustain. I sort of contemplated the thing to extinction. I mused that in a little saltwater harbor such as ours here at Friendship, where everything is geared to the coming and going of the tide, a certain consternation would prevail if, one day, the tide failed to serve. When I at last gave up, deeming the fancy too far-fetched, I was amused at a memory of Leo Rabette. Leo, another ancient friend, was a newspaperman in Boston, and he fell to wondering one day if he could write a novel. He dwelt on this and decided to try. So he wrote his first line:

Crack! It was the break of day!

Then Leo realized that he could work for years and never bring forth another line to equal that, and that a novel beginning so propitiously could never sustain such quality. He gave up and continued his career on the newspaper. So did I quit on my tideless day, but I did hope a mite that Jeff could work it into his book.

Back in 1750 one James Bradford came to Muscongus Bay and took up residence on an island there. There had been fisheries activity in the area for a long ime , and many of the seaward islands had homes. But Jim was ahead of his time, and he liked his island because at low tide a bar was uncovered and he could walk over to the mainland. Not too many people, then, saw any great future for the mainland.

In time Jim moved some rocks and had a smooth place to cross with a wagon, but from a quarter flow to three-quarters ebb he couldn't use the bar. This situation regulated the Bradfords, and every phase of their existence hinged on the coming and going of the tides. Later, a fort was put up out on Jim's island, and for a time a company of soldiers kept vigil against some kind of an enemy, for which reason the island came to be known as Garrison Island. Today, Mary and Sumner live there, and once a year they consult the tide calendar to find the right date, and invite their friends over for a noonday picnic. This has become traditional, but unlike any other similar frolics, the Garrison Island outing must be scheduled so the guests can walk over the bar in time for the goodies, and walk back to ''the main'' after sufficient time to eat. Sumner is equally prominent during this, but over the years the gathering has become known as Mary's Picnic.

This year Mary checked for a midday low tide, sent out the word, and everybody made ready. The sun came up magnificently as advertised, but soon the sky clouded over, and while the tide was right that day, a heavy shower struck just about the time the bar was exposed for the approach. Mary telephoned a postponement. It was small solace to reflect that the same shower probably spoiled 3,500 other seaside picnics along the 2,500 miles of Maine's coastline. The postponed picnic was rescheduled for the next day, but because of the lunar day's 24 hours, 50 minutes, and 28 seconds, it was announced for 1 p.m. instead of noon.

Now, I wonder if anybody caught on while I was talking? It is not, really, that Mary must wait on the tide. The big thing to notice is that after the picnic, the tide turns, and everybody has to go before the connecting bar is under water. Nobody comes to Mary's Picnic and stays overlong to wear out his welcome.

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