Reflections as the calendar rolls on

Shopkeepers’ little tongues are hanging out. The school-age tourist demographic is in the car, earbuds in, heading south. Beach towels are in the final rinse. Maybe, just maybe, there will be a parking space in town.

Vacationland is by no means closed, but it is shifting into fall mode. The absence of young‘uns means a much lower energy level. Empty nesters move at a different pace. Healthy into their 70s, they are still up for a hike, a bike ride or a tennis match, but it all tends toward the sedate. Bedtime comes early.

Gone are the screams of “Watch me! Watch me! Look at me!” with every cartwheel, handstand and cannonball. Frisbees and Wiffle balls have been retrieved from lawns and shrubs, and swimming holes are deserted. Sunset follows close on the heels of dinner.

No sooner did the door slam shut on summer than the schoolhouse doors swung open. A late Labor Day means an early start to school – Sept. 2 for most. There is a whole new crop of little ones off to school for the first time. Don’t count on them to be predictable. Drive protectively.

Police officers, EMTs and firefighters are cautiously taking a deep breath. There is a certain predictability to their jobs in winter; but in the summer, anything goes.

How about the naked guy in the trashcan on Bar Island? Stranded by the tide, he took refuge in the receptacle to stay warm. But wait, there’s more. Having soaked his clothing in his attempt to get back across the bar, he removed his wet garments and was found wearing nothing but the can’s plastic bag liner.

Were they not so scrupulously professional, local rescue units could make extra money doing stand-up comedy all winter long, regaling us with the exploits of summer visitors. Fortunately, most escapades have a happy ending. Many of those involved are the tourists who leave singing the praises of the men and women who not only saved their bacon but were calm, kind and cheerful while doing so.

A bus hits a car, a car hits another car, a car hits a pedestrian, a car hits a deer. Speeding, erratic driving, roll-overs, rear-enders. A stolen guitar, a stolen bicycle, theft of services. Drinking in public, drinking by minors, drinking and driving, illegal camping, illegal fireworks. A lost wallet, a lost child, a lost backpack.

Local police records are a catalog of human misfortune, mostly minor, but occasionally, there is a genuine tragedy. Repeated encounters of the sorrowful kind are bound to take a toll on those among us who make a life out of helping others. We owe them.

Tourists themselves are often first on the scene to lend a hand when a day in the great outdoors goes south. How about that Brazilian fellow who was bicycling by when a car went over the coping stones on Acadia National Park’s loop road, landed on its roof and caught fire? Grabbing a fire extinguisher from a passing Island Explorer bus, he put out the fire, kicked out a window of the vehicle and pulled the driver to safety. Holy rescue, Batman!

Pressure on our state and national parks, our community ponds and trails, our waterfronts and open spaces grows every year. Intensive use is bound to degrade even the best-maintained spots, but sadly, we are not the best stewards of even the most beautiful locations.

Beverage containers, food wrappers, cigarette butts, cashier receipts, diapers (used), dog waste, toilet paper (also used), clothing and other detritus from visitors and locals alike are common. Public works departments, take a bow. We are all tidied up by morning.

Our human infrastructure gets worn out as well. The aforementioned rescuers and town crews are not alone. Take the workers in the “hospitality industry.” The work is hard, the wages are not grand, and vacationers’ expectations are high. Yet, the service workforce still smiles. Tips, people!

Then there are the folks whose residential neighborhoods are swamped with parked cars, whose 15-minute errands take up to an hour, and who have to plan ahead to mail a letter.

There are fewer and fewer secret places where locals can go for relief. Forget your favorite restaurant, watering hole, ice cream shop or movie theater during July and August. House parties are the only refuge. Now, maybe, we can begin to venture out again. On the other hand, if we didn’t have the tourists, we wouldn’t have our generous selection of restaurants and amusements.

Feeling sorry for ourselves? We live in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. We have plenty of outdoors to use and love year-round. It is mostly safe in our towns, and the air and water are clean. We wouldn’t have all these tourists if our home turf were less spectacular.

When you’re tempted to sing “How can I miss you when you won’t go away,” close your eyes and count your breathing. Soon enough, we will be longing for summer to come again. In the meantime, it’s getting quieter out there. Get out and enjoy it.

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Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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