Honestly, I must’ve been asked at least 1000 times how this photograph came to be. I love that Cowbird exists so I can share this with other storytellers.
Back in 1980, Betsy Wyeth, wife of Andrew Wyeth, bought Allen Island, off the mid-coast of Maine, and asked me to help her figure out what to do with it. One of the first priorities was clearing the northern end of the island, land historically in pasturage, but lost in the 20th century to scrub reforestation. Sparing you the details of the clearing process, we knew that once clear, the challenge would be keeping the land open. There was one answer, one with great historical precedent, and that was sheep.
So my great friend, and Allen Island partner-in-crime, Philip Conkling and I contacted the owners of an island eight nautical miles away, and made arrangements to purchase a number of sheep from their long established island flock. We also made arrangements with two Port Clyde fishermen to help us get the sheep to Allen Island. The night before the sheep resettlement was to occur, the two repaired to the local watering hole where they were at the receiving end of many ribald and off-color comments about their upcoming rendezvous with sheep. Sheep jokes....you know. "Maine, where the men are men and the sheep are nervous." And on and on and on.
The next morning, all went well until we got to the distant island at which point the disheveled skipper announced, “There’s not a single one of those goddamn animals getting on this boat today.” We had no choice but to borrow a dory into which we loaded the sheep.
Towing the laden dory behind SUSAN L, we set a course for Tenants Harbor where two sheep were to be dropped off on a small island at the harbor’s mouth. It was while delivering those first two sheep that the crew, worse for the wear incurred the night before, decided that the hair of the dog was the only sort of critter in which they could immediately get interested, so a smaller boat was dispatched to procure a case of Budweiser "pounders." In the course of that particular operation, I decided I would borrow Betsy’s Aquasport from which I could take photographs of the SUSAN L towing the dory… a good idea, it turns out, on my part.
On the run to Allen Island, we ran into a fog bank off Mosquito Island and all of a sudden the light went silvery…magical. From the center console of the Aquasport I quickly took a number of photographs as we were sliding into the cat’s paw of the fog, one of which is “Clearing.” Wanting a different angle, I gave the helm to Philip, telling him that I was going up to the bow and he was to get me right close up to the port quarter of the dory. I was using a wide-angle lens, and I wanted more in my foreground, so I kept yelling to Philip, “get closer, get closer dammit!” We both knew that we had achieved maximum proximity when the bow of the Aquasport slammed the stern of the dory a mighty blow. At that very second I managed to squeeze off one vertical frame, aka “Pentecost.”
No sheep were lost that day, the Budweiser significantly improved the morale of both the SUSAN L and Allen island crews, lasting friendships were made, the meadows of Allen Island were on their way, and I made a photograph that would for years be seen around the world.
Not a bad day.