A mussel wind chime

A mussel wind chime

This post is contributed by Coastal Rivers Trustee Barnaby Porter. Read the previous post here.

Editor’s note: This piece is from Barnaby’s archive.

I’ve got to say; I probably lived the best summers a kid ever lived. There were lots of reasons. Most of them were cousins.

My grandfather and his brother married two sisters. That in itself was a formula for a close-knit family. But then my grandfather’s and great uncle’s sister, Madeline, also married with family on her mind. Those three marriages managed to produce 15 children, including my mother, three uncles and 11 older cousins, once removed, whom we called “aunt” and “uncle”.

In my generation, there were 42 of us: brothers, sisters, cousins and second cousins – a real mess of kids. In the summers, we saw an awful lot of one another, and since we were all related and were well aware of each other’s quirks, we had a riotously good time. The most wonderful thing, even miraculous, was that we all got along. Oh, we competed alright, but our horseplay was flavored by good-natured cousinry, an endless choice of things to do and a huge dose of salt air, that inebriating, warm, hazy vapor that enveloped us in summer’s delirium.

I think about those summers a lot, and just why they were so happy. I think it was because nearly everything we did was great fun and there were 30 or more of us doing it all. I try to count the cannonballs off the wharf, the hide-and-seek games, playing spotlight after dark, charades, the butterfly chases (using birch branches instead of nets), the ghost stories and the blueberry pies. I remember the nights in sleeping bags on the lawn, digging clams, the rainy days playing Monopoly and the trips to Gay’s store for Coca-Cola and a corn cob pipe. And I multiply those times by 10 years and more, and by 30 or so cousins, and that works out to a pretty terrific number of very happy moments. Growing up, we took them all for granted; it was summer.

Of course, our parents had a lot to do with it; they allowed us a great deal of freedom in almost everything: the use of boats, bedtimes, where we could go, what we could do. But perhaps the greatest freedom, at least for me, was to be alone when I needed to be. I reached an age when that became very important.

Much of my thinking and awareness of things evolved during those summers, and being one of the older kids afforded me certain advantages in that it was supposed I was a bit more responsible than some of my younger cousins. One year it was proposed that I take a job on Cow Island in Muscongus Bay as “the hired boy,” hired out to my older cousins, Patsy and Donald.

shells on the beachThe day I arrived, I knew I had landed in paradise. I did work, but it never seemed like work. And though there were just three of us on the island, as the only kid, I never felt lonely – never in the least. I spent a great deal of time by myself, cutting and clearing trails, mowing lawns, painting boats, walking the shore and, in general, just inhaling and absorbing everything around me: the spruces hung with old man’s beard, the rocks on the shore, the green water, every smell, every sound. I discovered solitude, the companion to the soul.

That was the first of several summers as the hired boy on the island. That place meant a great deal to me, and I dreamed of little else during the school year. At some point I got in the habit of collecting mussel shells to make wind chimes. Nine lavender shells of the horse mussel made a beautiful sound, suspended on strings from a musical piece of driftwood. Encompassing that tinkling arrangement were the elements of everything I cared about, even the sounds. I still make mussel windchimes, each summer, to remember those summers gone by and perhaps in the hope that one of them will come around again.

Barnaby PorterArtist and author Barnaby Porter has had a varied career in marine research, aquaculture, and woodworking, among others. Most recently he partnered with his wife Susan as co-owners of the Maine Coast Book Shop & Cafe in downtown Damariscotta. Barnaby currently serves on Coastal Rivers’ Board of Trustees. For more about Barnaby, click here.