In winter, Eastport’s population dwindles to a core group of hardy souls, mostly people who’ve lived here all their lives plus a few from-away types like me. Temperatures plummet, heating bills skyrocket, and downtown Water Street is so empty, you could roll a bowling ball down the middle of it and not hit a living soul. Everyone’s either gone south or indoors, to work on a winter project — on writing a new crime novel, for instance.
But in August, it’s different. The streets that stood cold and empty in February are full of happy-go-lucky summer residents and their guests, and so are the cottages, motels, and campgrounds. Tourists wander the streets past gardens booming with greens beans and dahlias, potatoes and black-eyed Susans. Their necks slung with cameras, the visitors can’t seem to stop gazing at a town that seems like a little slice of summertime heaven to them.
And to me, too, really. It’s fun to have the shops open and busy, the galleries full of new work from local artists, the restaurants bustling and music playing in the Arts Center theater, as well as in every club with room for players and instruments. The ferry runs to Deer Island, Campobello, Lubec, and beyond, and the sail-powered whale-watching schooners are operating, too, so you can get out on the water even if you don’t have a boat; if you want to fish, you don’t even need a boat, just a spot on the breakwater to stand and cast your line out for mackerel.
And as others have noted, summer in Maine means just breathing in and out is an excuse for some kind of festival; in Eastport, the Salmon Festival and the Pirate Festival are both still on the horizon. Even the local IGA gets in on the act, with offerings of specialty breads, exotic cheeses, barbecue items, and other delicacies you won’t find once our guests have departed.
And depart they will, as they do every autumn. Oh, we’ve still got a ways to go. Leaf-peeping extends the tourist season right up through frost. Then instead of at green lawns and sparkling blue waves, visitors will blink a little nervously at the hard, cold skies, and shiver at the merciless night-time temperatures. Ten seconds or so later, when winter comes to town, things will get really serious; before long, Mister Fuel Truck will park permanently in a snowdrift outside my house, pumping liquid gold into Mister Furnace while I buckle down to writing that next crime novel…
But now, winter seems far away and even leaf season is only a chilly blip on the distant horizon. Locals and guests alike luxuriate in these final few weeks of real summer, when it’s still light out at eight in the evening (but oh, just barely!) and we can stroll past the big old houses with their windows aglow, smelling the salt water and enjoying one last lick of ice cream under a full moon, on Moose Island in August.