So I don’t know precisely when it crept into the argot used by my friends and me. But I suspect that it wasn’t until the early seventies. I remember another carver up along the coast telling me that the Eagles were “…way gnarly, man.”
The way and the man fit into the hipster jargon we used ( old school hipster, not idiots running around in beanies and plug earrings), but gnarly…as in a tree trunk? Of course, being this was coastal Maine in 1972 and not Greenwich Village, NYC, I was possibly out of touch with the linguistic changes of the past several years. I smiled and covered my ignorance. Things moved slower in those pre-internet days, more like the speed of the wind rustling through the cattails on a calm day than lightning-fast.
I can read the New York Times fresh online every morning. Back then, the Times wound its way up from New York to Boston and up to Wiscassett in the cargo space on a bus. So if you knew a summering New Yorker, you might see the Sunday times on Tuesday. Then in casual conversation, I found that the other carver was from California. Ahhh, that explained everything. If I was “from away” in Maine, he was from so far away that the Mainers and I could almost consider him an alien. The Cap’n, Cora, Lyman, and all my friends assured me that, by comparison, I was a native from just around the cove. He was that rare bird indeed from truly away.
His tales of surfing in California were fascinating. Few natives ventured into the water voluntarily; it was too cold for recreational swimming. So stories of surfing in the waves seemed exotic. It was not until after the Second World War that pools in the region made swimming a real sport and recreational thing for youth. Old-timers did not know how to swim, and every year lobstermen and fishers drowned for lack of water survival skills.
When he left, we were once again watching the New Yorkers and folks up from Jersey and Philadelphia. I was again called upon to explain to folks at the cafe that we had English muffins but no bagels. Nor did we have any lox. And, of course, the island store carried the Portland and the Bangor papers, but not the Times.
The nature of rapid information flow is to gradually make the exotic common. But perhaps it also makes things a bit less exciting and discovery a bit more of an anti-climax.