The talk on the island is of change. People who have summered here two years or 20 greet each other on the road and swap tales full of the evil omens of progress.
Can you believe that the town hall has put a quota on clam licenses? Pretty soon you'll need a license to pick berries. Did you see the big- city papers for sale at the store? The New York Times for gawdsakes. Did you hear about the old Hamlin cottage that sold to some highlander for $75,000? It's not even on the water.
There is much headshaking, followed by an exchange of memories of "what it was like when I first came here." Finally, one says in rueful parting, "Someday they'll be building condominiums down at the point." The word condominium is uttered slowly like a five-syllable obscenity.
The scene is reenacted up and down the Gold Coast of Maine and, I suppose, up and down the shorelines of the Atlantic and the Pacific. It's like this in every rural refuge that attracts its own loyal tribe of summer people.
For the most part, these summer people have spent their winter work lives in offices that must be reached by elevators. Many have moved two or three or 15 times until some cannot name their "home town" anymore. They telecommunicate or travel or high-tech most of the year in a fast-paced world.
But in July, even those who consider themselves progressives in their fields resist the advances on their summer retreat. In August they rail against each subdivided potato farm, each new onslaught of convenience, each inch of pavement that encroaches on their turf.
They want this home town, at least, to stay the way it exists in their winter imagination: warm and full of clear light, with an ancient red flannel shirt on the hanger, a mackerel jig in the top drawer, a wonderful waiting quiet broken only by the sound of gulls. They want it to stay the same, even if "it" is a view.
It's to be expected, I suppose. Summer people are not like the other vacationers who pick up roots each year and pack them into Winnebagos. They don't want to go somewhere different, new, unusual. What is unusual to them is a sense of place. What they want in a transient world is a right to return.
So it happens in a hundred summer places. The very people who come from the world of instant-money machines and 24-hour convenience stores are warm-weather boosters of inconvenience. Having found a place of their own, summer folk become its most fierce conservators.
Let others call them regressive. But it is the inaccessibility, the unreliability, the wonderful, haphazard independence of rural life that insulates a community where children can still hitch rides, where adults can leave doors open, where a crime wave is a midnight rider knocking down mailboxes. They know from experience: what a place does not have protects what it does have.
I suppose those who go to islands such as this one are a hard-core subspecies of summer people. Water is the last line of defense against malls and modernism. The ocean may be a saline preservative against change. Those who choose islands choose also to believe that the fog can protect their refuge the way the mists and magic protected Brigadoon.
Yet there is an irony that does not escape the people who measure and talk of change. Each year the world of their winter lives creates a greater demand for this small summer supply.
There are more gypsies who follow work from one city to another and try to put down roots in summer. The special attraction of country, space, quiet, water entices the crowds who inevitably transform them into subdivisions, neighborhoods, noise. The growing need for retreat impinges on each retreat. There is a fragile ecology that separates shore from suburb.
It hasn't happened here. Not yet. Not really. There are no condominiums. People still look up from their hammocks in greeting when someone walks by their cottage.
But lately there are tourists on the main road who do not know to return the island wave. And someone, or so I am told, has just installed an answering machine.