Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Jumping off the dock in Maine

Over the years we've developed a tradition that whenever people arrive at our Maine house for the first time that season, they have to jump off the dock into the ocean. Depending on the time of day, the tide, the month, and the weather, that can be a pretty daunting challenge. Last summer a French family we'd never met before visited. When they immediately trooped down to the dock in their bathing suits and jumped, any smidgens of doubt about French fortitude receded.

The dock is actually a stone wharf, with huge granite blocks held in by pilings. At high tide the drop to the water is only about six feet, but at low tide it's more like fifteen. That means a lot of time on the way down to think about how cold it's going to be when you hit. Once you're in and paddling as fast as you can back to the float, a new challenge looms: heaving yourself out of the water without looking too much like a walrus.

The past few summers, though, the water in Muscongus Bay seems to be getting warmer. It's often quite pleasant to peel away from work or cooking or tennis to plunge into the water and get a good salty sinus rinse. We often play the game of "Categories." Just as the jumper takes off, another person calls out a category, and the jumper must shout out a member of that category before hitting the water. Examples of easy categories are "Colors!","Girls!" or "Sports!" More difficult ones might be "Muscles!" "Ice Cream Flavors!" (the jumper has almost hit the water by the time you finish the question), or "Brands of tandem bicycle!"

For Categories, low tide is an advantage.

Every summer we take our old lobster boat out to Monhegan Island, the farthest east of any land in Muscongus Bay, and about ten miles offshore. The water is probably ten degrees colder there than by our house, but the girls still dare us all to jump off the town wharf before departing at the end of the day. It's like throwing a coin in the Trevi Fountain: it ensures that you'll return. People fishing for pollock off the wharf, tourists waiting for the ferry to return them to the mainland, and fishermen rowing ashore from moored lobster boats, all watch with something between admiration and incredulity.

All that attention--maybe that's what the girls are really after.

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