I broke a leg the other day, and I wasn’t even acting. The stage on which this tragicomic scene played out was the stone-strewn, sloping shore-line leading down to a sometime beach that twice a day is uncovered and then submerged by the tides of Penobscot Bay. This is the spit of sand that connects Deer Isle with Barred Island, a beautiful place in which to do something memorable. When you hike around to the island’s far side, you’re treated to a panoramic view of East Penobscot Bay and its many islands. The day I fractured my fibula was Maine–gorgeous, the brilliant sun warming the spring air and casting a galaxy of a million flashing stars across the sweeping bay.
Life turns on a dime; it all happened in a couple of seconds. I had come out of the woods, started down a path that was wet from an underground spring and stepped out onto the igneous stone that forms the slanting shoreline. My boots slid on the rocky incline and down I went. In the moment that seemed suspended in time as I fell, I remember being as surprised by the beauty of the rose-colored granite toward which I was tumbling as I was that I could be falling at all. And I was shocked to realize that I was about to land full-force on my ankle and there was nothing I could do to prevent it. Never having broken a bone, I had no idea what a fracture might feel like. But, at the moment of impact I knew something serious had happened to my lower right leg and that the wrenched ankle couldn’t bear much weight.
After proclaiming a few choice epithets, (it didn’t occur to me to pray, I’m chagrined to say), I lay still on the warm rock in the afternoon sun and finally determined that any injury was confined to the leg. (Maybe that was the moment of prayer.) Slowly I sat up and began a conversation with Elizabeth and our new friends, Bill, a fireman in our town’s volunteer department and his artist wife Margaret, as to how we would get back to the nearest dirt road, more than a half-mile away. If I had known that I had broken a bone, I would have stayed put and let myself be rescued somehow — let the authorities decide if it were to be by land, sea or air. But the initial intense pain had passed; I thought I could manage the root-strewn, rocky path back to the road Beatles fashion — with a little help from my friends.
Bill wondered aloud about waving down one of the lobster boats out on the bay and asking them to come in and pick us up. That would have involved too much drama for my tastes. All I needed, I told him, was a steady arm on one side and a hiking pole on the other to keep my weight off the right leg, and we could walk out by means of a shorter path to a nearby inn. And that was what we did.
Who knows if that was the right decision? I wondered if I would be making a bad injury worse by toughing it out. And yet, I really didn’t think so. No, walking out was the simple solution that would cause the least amount of fuss for everyone. Besides I like being resourceful and I’m always up for a challenge.
After some hundred yards of hobbling, I knew I could do it: slowly, a little painfully, perhaps, but I could do it. I found that I could follow the trail’s narrow places and sharp turns by grabbing hold of a tree and swinging my body around to where it had to go. All I needed was to keep the scene, (and my spirits), from turning grim. Humor was called for – and, as the pain and the pilgrimage progressed, the bawdier the jokes got, the better I liked them!
My new friend Bill, who had to get a lot more up-close and personal with me in a day than I’m sure he was expecting to, was very good at all this. Boy, was he strong! And he knew a lot of jokes that you could never tell from a pulpit! Like the one about the minister who boasted he could preach on any topic and told his wife he was going to deliver a sermon on horseback riding. But, on the way to church, he got cold feet and decided instead to preach on sex and marriage. So, the next day, . . . and you can imagine where the story goes from there!
We finally made it to the end of the trail which came out onto the deck, bar and restaurant of what must be the most incongruously-named establishment on the coast of Maine — the Cockatoo Inn. Only up here can you step out from the wilderness into a quirky old getaway spot like this. But, we had made it off the island and out of the woods!
I felt a little like John Wayne for having toughed it out, and, while Bill and I waited on the deck of the Cockatoo for Elizabeth and Margaret to return with the car, I got the urge to celebrate our accomplishment with a stiff brandy. (Maybe I’ve always just wanted to be in a situation where I could say gruffly to an admiring and pretty waitress, “Bring me a stiff brandy!”)
Alas, it was too early in the season. There wasn’t a pretty waitress in sight, the inn and its bar were closed, and I had to to go on to the hospital without the proper medication. I promised myself we’d be back, however. I’m thinking that the least I can do is to treat my good-natured emergency-response team, Bill and Margaret, and my long-suffering partner in adventure Elizabeth to an exotic meal at the Cockatoo. And we’ll cap off the evening by walking, (unaided by crutches or cane!), out onto the deck and drinking stiff brandies as we overlook the bay and the scene of the rescue!
Edward R. Dufresne © 2012