If I wanted to see the kitchen counters of Westchester and Connecticut in their natural state, I had come to the right place: Deer Isle, Maine. It's where the granite that built everything from Rockefeller Center to JFK's memorial was mined. Since the advent of concrete, granite is rarely used for construction and instead deployed for more modest decorative purposes, most often kitchen counters. So what's it like to see animate-looking boulders of granite that will soon become the kitchen counters of Greenwich and Scarsdale running free in the wild?
A bit surreal, to say the least. I joke with my wife that every time we go outside, it's like we're hiking where a neighbor is going to chop. But it's actually quite sad. Deer Isle is part of a series of islands off of mid-coast Maine in Penobscot Bay, all built on granite.
Getting the granite out and into high-end kitchens involves a bit more than giving nature's nose a tweak. Granite miners effectively take a pipe wrench to natural world. Granite mountains on the peculiarly named "Crotch Island" were lopped off, as men and their machinery burrowed down. Over time, the process amounts to this: a mountain to a valley in a few easy steps.
Sadly, there is no way to camouflage the void. The mountain, as it was, is present only by its absence.
They hunt lobsters off of Deer Isle too. Oh, do they hunt lobster. Figures from the Maine Department of Marine Resources puts Stonington, which sits on the southern edge of Deer Isle, as the state's busiest lobster port, hauled in over 13 million lobsters in 2010, most in the state. But at least lobsters replenish.
Not so granite. On Crotch Island, unusable pieces are discarded in strangely compelling geometric piles. 40,000 pound chunks are transported by boat and then truck, eventually sized, sliced and installed.
And beat the goes on.
Again: the advent of concrete means they mine far less granite here than days gone by. Crotch Island is the only island actively being mined. Green Island, where we swam in an abandoned granite quarry, now a natural swimming pool of unplumbable depths, is used as part of a popular eco-tour. There is even a little blink-and-you'll-miss-it museum in Stonington, The Deer Isle Granite Museum, on Maine Street in Stonington, a tribute to an industry that is a comparative relic.
Yet mining goes on at Crotch, a once majestic island that now suffers a frail existence.
We live in an age where people at least give rhetoric nods to their carbon footprint. And it's fashionable, at least in food purchasing, to realize that the source of your food is no abstraction: it's an actual farm, somewhere between Putnam County and the High Wheat Plains of Kansas. But when it comes to kitchen counters? Well, let's just say I don't know of any locavores. And so it's still open game on this free-range granite.
In the grand scheme of things, of course, it's hard to make the case for a countertop boycott. Or perhaps advocate plywood countertops for all. Then, of course, you are dealing with forest devastation, not to mention splinters. Less luxurious countertops are not exactly the answer. Even if you could make the case, I'm not the one to make it. I'm hardly a pillar of environmental correctness.
No granite countertops! It doesn't even make sense on a bumper sticker. With war and pestilence throughout the world, it's a low priority anyway. Maybe the sad fate of Crotch Island is destined to be a single easy lament, nothing more.
Perhaps it is simply enough to pause occasionally in life to say that vanity does—somewhere out there--have its price.
Marek Fuchs is the author of "A Cold-Blooded Business," called "riveting" by Kirkus Reviews. He wrote The New York Times' "County Lines" column about life in Westchester for six years and teaches non-fiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville. When not writing or teaching, he serves as a volunteer firefighter. You can contact Marek through his website: www.marekfuchs.com or on Twitter: @MarekFuchs.