DEER ISLE — At the end of a long, quiet paved road, there is a long, even quieter dirt road. And at the end of that road, a peaceful tree-lined driveway ends at a 17th century-inspired timber frame home.
The Deer Isle Hostel, a large three-story house, is home to a dozen or so passing visitors each day. Both homestead and place to stay, the hostel offers vacationers a chance to live off the grid while visiting one of Maine’s most iconic coastal destinations.
Owners Dennis Carter, 42, and Anneli Carter-Sundqvist, 32, opened the hostel seven years ago. Since then, they’ve created a wooded oasis bursting with hands-on lessons in sustainable living and opportunities for visitors to go “back to the land” for at least a little while.
A love blossoms
Carter and Carter-Sundqvist love to travel and have stayed extensively at hostels. Despite growing up on opposite sides of the world — he in Surry, she in northern Sweden — they fell in love at a sustainable hostel in Brunswick, Georgia.
They married soon after, and Carter-Sundqvist moved from Europe to Maine, where Carter was living in Deer Isle. She shared his dream of someday opening a sustainable hostel and after working to pay down their debt, they did just that.
One of their first visitors, Laura Kane, still comes every summer.
Kane, a 59-year-old teacher from Atlanta, Georgia, considers the hostel her home base for a summer of traveling Maine.
She always requests the couch instead of one of the beds and said it’s the accommodations and the Carters that make the hostel her favorite place to call home each summer.
“It’s been wonderful. It’s an anchor for me. … There’s a warmth here that’s hard to describe,” Kane said.
But the love goes both ways.
“I feel it would all in vain if it was just Dennis and me,” Carter-Sundqvist said. “I enjoy meeting people on a more personal level.”
A sustainable partnership
For the Carters, the hostel and homestead have a symbiotic relationship. The hostel supports their financial needs, but their back-to-the-land lifestyle keeps those needs low enough to be paid for by running a hostel for just three months a year.
While complete with several amenities that include a small kitchen, the hostel feels much less like a hotel and more like home. The property is well-manicured, with pine needle-covered paths winding through various sustainable features.
An outdoor shower is heated by a compost pile of vegetable scraps, leaves and seaweed from the nearby coastline. One hundred feet of tubing runs through the pile, which heats up to an average of 120 degrees each day, heating the water in the tubes. Bathers then clean off by filling a 2 gallon watering can with the warm water. They then hoist up the can with a pulley system, pull the nozzle down and use the falling water to spray off.
A large garden supplies most of the food cooked at the hostel during the operating months and feeds the Carters all winter. It has wide paths that allow visitors to wander through the many varieties of vegetables. Two pigs live in a small fenced-in area around the back, chickens strut in and out of a red hen house and a top-bar beehive buzzes on the side of the garden.
A composting toilet sits behind the house with a sign inside reading, “Welcome to North America’s most advanced toil, scientifically proven.” Unlike an outhouse or pit toilet, the composting toilet is virtually odor-free, thanks to the sawdust used to cover up human waste.
While guests can participate in the running of the homestead if they would like, most spend their days exploring the property and island.
Still, Carter said he hopes they take some lessons home.
“We want to demonstrate a totally different economic system,” he said. “[The hostel] can be a good door opener to the idea that you can live sustainably but comfortably.”
Creating a home
When the Carters looked into running the hostel, they knew they would need buildings in addition to the small cabin they call home. The property now includes the main structure, a private sleeping hut and a smokehouse that doubles as bike storage during the summer.
All the buildings sit on foundations made from local granite and are made out of spruce, either harvested from the property or surrounding areas.
The hostel offers dorm-style and private rooms. They range in price from $25 to $70, and most people prefer privacy. Carter-Sundqvist said they cap visitors at a dozen, not because of how many beds they have but because there often is a shift in the dynamic of the house with more than that.
“More than 12 doesn’t create the same sense of community and changes the social atmosphere, and that’s very important,” she said.
There are a few house rules: keep common spaces clean, make your bed and help with dishes after the communal dinner. But other than that, guests are free to explore the property and beyond. Many leave during the day to hike, kayak and peruse Deer Isle and the surrounding area.
They all return at night for a communal dinner made by Carter-Sundqvist from food grown on the property, often served while sitting around the large fire pit outside.
Beyond the hostel
In addition to the hostel, Carter and Carter-Sundqvist are busy year-round, running their homestead and offering education about their lifestyle to others. They end their season fairly early in the fall — about a week after Labor Day — because they need to turn their focus to harvesting food and preparing for the inevitable winter.
But during summer, they offer weekly tours every Saturday followed by a presentation about homesteading topics that include food preservation, wild edibles or solar power. Carter-Sundqvist also writes a homesteading blog with the Bangor Daily News and recently published a book called “A Homesteader’s Year on Deer Isle” about homesteading and running the hostel.
When summer ends each year, they’ll say goodbye to the final guests and prepare for winter. They’ll cut wood, butcher pigs, preserve food and fill the root cellar.
But until then, they plan on soaking up the summer days with their guests.
“A lot of people wonder if we can leave. And we’re able to leave more than we do, but why would we want to?” Carter-Sundqvist said.