CONVERSATIONS WITH MAINE

There’s something about islands: A visit to Frenchboro

A harborside scene.
A harborside scene.
Posted Aug. 25, 2011, at 12:39 p.m.
A happy, lobster-sated crowd at Frenchboro’s 50th annual Lobster Festival.
A happy, lobster-sated crowd at Frenchboro’s 50th annual Lobster Festival.
Eastern Beach on Long Island.
Eastern Beach on Long Island.

It is a universal phenomenon — we take for granted those things that are most familiar. It’s amazing how many years one can spend in the vicinity of unique and beautiful places without ever seeing them.

Maine poet, Rachel Field, expresses it well in her poem from the 1924 collection, “The Pointed People”:

Familiarity

Those who live by the sea

Too familiar grow

With the changing ways of it,

And its magic ebb and flow.

Nothing they see or care to know

Save when will the tide be high or low.

Though green waves glitter

With white flung spray,

By their kitchen fires

They bend all day.

They turn their backs on the selfsame sea

That makes the heart leap up in me!

There is something about islands. It emanates from the steady soundtrack of surf, the staunch resistance of shorelines pounded by the elements, the movements of the cosmos over and around your own defined pinpoint of existence on the globe.

Perhaps we Mainers can be excused for some oversight. Along our 3,400 miles of coastline we have thousands of islands. Still, after a lifetime of coastal Maine summers for my husband and 30 for me, we have only seen a handful of islands.

On Aug. 13 we expanded our horizons.

As contributors to the Maine Seacoast Mission, Jonathan and I were given the opportunity to take an 8-mile voyage on the “Sunbeam V” from Northeast Harbor to Long Island for Frenchboro’s 50th annual Lobster Festival.

It was a gloriously beautiful summer day that offered views of familiar places from a brand new perspective. Mike Johnson, the captain of the “Sunbeam V,” helped to orient us and pointed out sights along the way. He also sketched us a map of a hiking trail on the island.

Frenchboro sits at the head of the deep, well-protected Lunt Harbor, named for one of the early families to settle there. A couple of graveyards, a church and the island schoolhouse look over the harbor from the hillsides. In this charming, though very real-life fishing village, most of the houses, like the piers at the water’s edge, show the wear and tear of years of battering by sea and storm. There are only a couple of miles of paved road and not many cars on the wooded, hilly island. The rest is dirt roads and trails.

Maine’s 15 or so year-round island communities are not for the faint of heart. When the Sea Coast Mission’s boat comes around in the wintertime with health care, social support and nondenominational spiritual comfort, it is truly a godsend that helps residents through the long, rugged months of isolation.

In summer, however, the spirits of islanders bloom with their gardens. There was a live band playing in town, surrounded by picnic tables in the grass and lots of contented people enjoying lobster — two for $25! We basked in the sunshine along with the crowds, won a ceramic plate in the raffle, visited the library book sale, and looked at exhibits in the local museum.

The history of island settlements never ceases to subdue me with awe. Theirs are lives lived in constant connection with the powerful rhythms of nature, both soothing and devastating. Hard work, tenacity and uncanny resourcefulness with limited resources are perpetual requirements.

Nevertheless, they make time for music, storytelling and innovative artistry. In the museum’s gift shop we browsed the works of many local artists and craftspeople and came home with some beautiful sea glass creations.

Then we left town for our hike. Thanks to Mike Johnson’s hand-drawn map we found ourselves walking along a craggy coastline on our way to one of the most beautiful rocky beaches I’ve come upon in Maine, with the mountains of Acadia National Park in the distance. The peaceful setting was strangely reminiscent of the Caribbean on that sun-drenched day.

There is something about islands.

Jonathan and I left Frenchboro with a renewed sense of admiration for Maine’s islanders, and for those who work hard to help sustain Maine’s island communities. We were also grateful for a new outlook on this state we love to call home.

Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback and suggestions at robin.everyday@gmail.com.

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