Island Stories

Vinalhaven is another of Maine’s islands with a year round population and an interesting history. At one time it was known for quarries where granite was cut for use in buildings in New York, Boston and Washington, D.C. among other places.

DSC00085Today the quarries are abandoned though there remains evidence of their existence.

DSC00138Quarry men are of the past and now most of the residents depend on lobstering for a living and, to a lesser degree, tourism.

DSC00080 (1)Well known folks have lived on the island.  Until his recent passing, Robert Indiana maintained a studio on Vinalhaven and it was a favorite place for  Margaret Wise Brown. If the name isn’t familiar, her children’s books likely are. Particularly notable is Goodnight Moon still popular all over the world.

DSC00150She had two cottages on Vinalhaven, one she named The Only because it was the only one on that side of the island.

DSC00077Close to it she built another small quirky cottage with no electricity or running water and it became a favorite retreat.

DSC00067Inside are reminders of her presence. In the kitchen are cookbooks from another era.

DSC00068In the  simply furnished main room are nooks close to the fireplace where she would warm an evening brandy.

DSC00070There are shelves lined with children’s books, of course including some of hers.

DSC00118Margaret loved fairies and on the property is a flat area she called the fairy ballroom and a water filled quarry which is the fairy pool.

DSC00096How she must have loved the views from atop a defunct quarry.  They are some of the most stunning views of Penobscot Bay I have ever seen.

DSC00073The islands in the distance, bisected by the ferry that runs from Rockland, are breathtaking making it very easy to see why Margaret Wise Brown was enchanted with the island.

DSC00153It is here she rests. She died when only 42 suffering an embolism after a relatively minor surgery. One day she will be joined here by the man to whom she was engaged and to whom she left this beautiful place.  I believe she would be happy to know that three generations continue to enjoy her special place and share it with friends.

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Island Stories

Of the more than 3,000 islands off the coast of Maine, only 14 have year round inhabitants. One is Islesboro with a population of less than 600 people. It has a K-12 school and, unlike most islands, it is accessible by ferry leaving from Lincolnville Beach which  makes it possible for islanders to work and attend school on the mainland.

At the ferry landing there is a lighthouse which, like so many others, is no longer active.

If one doesn’t mind climbing narrow, rickety steps to the top,  there is a nice view of Penobscot Bay and the mainland.

There was a time when Indians summered on Islesboro, fishing and trapping.  Early white settlers earned their living farming and fishing.  Some of the history of these early inhabitants is in the Islesboro Sailors Memorial Museum and the Islesboro Historical Society and Museum.

At one time, Islesboro was home to the largest commercial shipping fleet in Penobscot Bay.  Life on the island changed, however, in the late 1800’s when wealthy folks from away discovered it and built stately homes, many of which are being used today by fifth and sixth generations of families.  As wealthy folks began spending time on Islesboro, the islanders adapted to their needs by becoming  carpenters and gardeners thus livelihood became more dependent on summer people.   Would you be surprised to learn that it took some time for the islanders to develop a cordial relationship with their new neighbors?

Islesboro, with its beautiful vistas, is like stepping back in time.

It is peaceful and a wonderful setting for relaxing or exploring.  A number of celebrities have found it a place to spend time without being bothered. For many years the pace was slow and transportation was by horse drawn carriage. It wasn’t until 1932 after summer people were gone that islanders voted to allow cars on the island.  That was a radical change, but it made life easier for those who were there year round.

Islesboro is just one of Maine’s islands with a rich history, and it’s fascinating to learn about past and present life on many of them.

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A Beautiful, Beautiful Bay

There are many reasons I enjoy time in Maine.  Primarily, it’s the natural beauty of the coast, especially as seen from the water which is my happy place.

Penobscot Bay is our cruising ground, and it is one of the most perfect boating places on either coast. I like nothing better than setting out in the early morning when the sea is calm and the sky a brilliant blue.

winter/lobster boatsExcept for an occasional lobster boat that left its mooring long before us, it is not surprising for there to be no other boats around early in the day.

Out in the bay, there are islands, hundreds of them created thousands of years ago by volcanic action.

islandMost are uninhabited, covered with spruce. Looking at them, I am reminded of the Tlingit stories having to do with regrowth that were heard recently in Alaska. How is it that nature can recreate without help from man?

Here and there a building is spotted, giving indication of life there now or in an earlier time.

Pumpkin Island lighthouse

Many of the islands have lighthouses, some still active but most not.  I always try to imagine the life of the lighthouse keeper whose job it was to keep boaters safe.

Some islands are connected to the mainland by a bridge.  This recently constructed one goes to Deer Isle where the much visited Acadia National Park is located.

Heading north from Rockport Harbor, islands are not all we see. High above Camden are the rolling hills which is why Camden is described as Where the Mountains Meet the Sea. What a wonderful combination!

Pipe DreamsAs we go along, I study the charts which identify the islands and make notes about islands that may hold possibility for picnics and new discoveries.

Moon over Penobscot 2 - Version 2Yes, Penobscot Bay is a beautiful, beautiful bay, Spruce covered headlands jut boldly from its shores, jewel like islands float on its surface and the gentle, glacier rounded contours of the Camden Hills look down on its broad reaches. 

Louise Dickinson Rich, Coast of Maine.

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Magic Moments

After scanning the cruising guide and choosing an island to explore, it is not hard to imagine that magic moments are ahead.

It is always magical to head out on a calm sea beneath a sky so blue and clear it almost seems unreal.

With children on board, it is a magic moment seeing the excitement over “driving” the boat ably assisted, of course, by Otto the auto pilot.

Once arriving at the chosen island and securely anchoring,

it is a magic moment watching a child making his first effort at rowing the dinghy ashore.

A magic moment is hearing shrieks of laughter as cold water washes over bare feet

and sharing a child’s excitement at finding a walking stick and pretending to be an explorer.

It is magic to find an abundance of sun warmed and sweet raspberries and eating them as fast as they are picked.

A magic moment is the sun shining on a child’s face as he dozes and dreams of the just finished adventure.

Magic moments are what make cherished memories.

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On the Water

Over the years, the hubby and I have boated in many different places.  While the experience is always pleasant, when it comes to great boating, there is for us no place like the midcoast of Maine.  Why?  Let me count the ways!

Maine islandsThe Islands.  There are some 3500 islands off Maine’s coast.  If all were connected to the mainland, it is said that the coast of Maine would stretch from its northernmost tip to Key West.

islandsMost are uninhabited, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be explored.  

Warren IslandOn some is evidence of lives once lived on the island.

heart rocksShorelines may yield unexpected treasures such as heart rocks or sea glass or sometimes raspberries and blueberries ripe for picking.

Maine islandFor sure every island is different.  All have rocks, some large and smooth,

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some craggy and difficult if not impossible to scale.

BrimstoneStill others have layers of small stones warm and smooth to the touch.

Perry Creek, fogInlets and harbors.  Nothing beats finding a secluded inlet or a protected harbor where you can anchor for a quiet afternoon or, perhaps, spend the night.

Perry CreekThere’s nothing like being on the boat under the night sky and seeing the moon lift from the horizon and climb higher and higher to cast its reflection on the water.

Yarmouth/lighthouseLighthouses.  I’m crazy for lighthouses, and there are many along the Maine coast.  

Most are no longer operative, but that doesn’t mean they don’t continue to stand proud.  

Matinicus RockSome are isolated, and I find myself wondering about the lighthouse keepers who once manned them.  Surely there are stories that could be told.

Fun places to eat.  The coast is dotted with dockside places to eat, and it’s so much fun to stumble upon a new one or return to a favorite.

fried clamsMost menus focus on seafood fresh from the water, and I always have a hard time refusing fried clams though recently I had a lobster grilled cheese that may be my new favorite.

Hey, enough writing.  It’s time to take advantage of a beautiful day and do a little boating!

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One More Time

With the end of summer comes the end of boating for us, and that always makes me a little sad.  I love cruising the Maine islands noting and appreciating their differences.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll have rocky shores, some craggy,

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some with stones worn smooth by years of the sea smashing against them.

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Others are forests of green

flag/maine/North Havenor lichen covered

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAor bare but for a lighthouse standing guard.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAImages of all are etched in my heart, especially those of my favorite, Brimstone, where one end is rocks of all sizes and shapes

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand the other is layers of stone with one lone stubby tree

cimg1722and grasses swaying in soft wind.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat makes this island special to me are the rocks, dark and shiny in the water

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand on a beautiful sunny day warm enough for a hot stone massage.

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A path leads to the top of Brimstone and standing there looking across the sea, one can imagine Europe’s coast in the far distance.

It is exploring the islands on days kissed by the sun and gentle seas that remind me Maine is the way life should be.

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Buck’s Harbor: A Favorite Destination

MaizyOn a lazy, hazy day Maizy is ready for a little cruise, so off we go to Buck’s Harbor, a peaceful and protected cove perfect for an overnight stay.

Pond Island
Pond Island

The getting there is one of the most beautiful passages on Penobscot Bay.    Cruising along , we pass islands with the most descriptive names: Pond, Butter, Eagle, Horsehead, Beach, Deer.  Each has its own character, and several are among my favorites to explore.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs we near Buck’s Harbor, way in the distance is the bridge that separates the mainland from Deer Isle.  Perhaps this is Maine’s version of the Golden Gate.

Buck's HarborA little closer, sitting on a rocky island, is a single dwelling that once housed a lighthouse keeper.  Like most other lighthouses in Maine, it is no longer in operation.  Still, I love thinking of them as guardians of the sea.

Buck's HarborBuck's HarborBuck's HarborBuck's HarborEntering Buck’s Harbor, we find we are not the only ones who think this a great spot.  Thunderstorms are forecast for later tonight, but all will be safe as the harbor is protected on all sides by land.  If you look at the differences in the sky, you can see those storm clouds brewing.

Linda  058Like many places in Maine, Buck’s Harbor has an interesting history.  It is the setting for many of Robert McCloskey’s children’s books including Blueberries for Sal, Time of Wonder and One Morning in Maine.

Buck's HarborIt is home to the Buck’s Harbor Yacht Club, built around 1912 and the third oldest yacht club in Maine.  Interestingly, its  burgee was the first private flag to be carried through the Panama Canal.

Buck's HarborAside from the yacht club, there’s not a whole lot in the town closest to the harbor, but what there is is quintessential Maine. There’s a real throwback general store where the motto is “We want to be the best little market in Maine”.  I can’t tell you whether or not it’s made it, but I can tell you it has some really good homemade cookies!

Buck's HarborShould the boat need stocking, there are also some good eats there.

Buck's HarborThere is a sweet little Methodist church which is why spending Saturday night here is a must.   Dogs are allowed to attend Sunday morning service, so Maizy can go, too.  I don’t know what it is about that church, but it feels so very right.

Buck's HarborWe managed to get ashore before the rains came, but when they came it was a downpour with lots of thunder and lightning.  The storm lasted more than 2 hours which meant a very leisurely dinner at Buck’s, not a bad deal at all.

Buck's HarborI hope you’ve enjoyed this little visit to Buck’s Harbor.  It’s a simple place where one can be surrounded by the beauty of nature and the charm of a very unspoiled Maine town.    As the sky clears and stars pop out one by one, illuminating the sky with sparkling diamonds, it seems the perfect place to be. 

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Eagle Island: A Favorite

One of my favorite islands to visit is Eagle, for us about a 30 minute boat ride from Rockport Harbor.  It is a 263 acre island that once was prosperous and, if memory serves me, was home to a casino. Today, Eagle is owned by and home to one family with a long Eagle history and to vacationers who rent a cottage there for a real get away from it all experience.
Eagle IslandArriving at the dock, we share space with the owner’s lobster boat.
Eagle Island,lobster buoysTraps line the dock, and buoys hang from the shack ready for the next time to be put out.
Eagle IslandWalking along paths to explore the island, there are remnants of times past. Eagle IslandIt’s easier to leave worn out vehicles and farm equipment where they fall than to get them off island.

Eagle IslandEagle IslandEagle IslandEagle IslandIf the island owners are to be found, we can get a key that allows us to visit the old schoolhouse that hasn’t been used since the 1950’s.  I love this building with its old fashioned desks and that was once heated by a pot belly stove.  There are books and magazines there that date back to the early 20th century, and the blackboard is filled with signatures of visitors.

Eagle IslandA real treat is meeting Mr. Quinn who in his dry Maine way can entertain for hours with tales about the history of Eagle and Butter Islands.  If we are really lucky, he  reads us some of the humorous poems written by his grandfather.  My all time favorite of Mr. Quinn’s lines  is when asked how people found out about renting on the island, he answered that his daughter did something online but he didn’t know anything about that.  The only line he knew about was the one attached to a lobster pot!  I still chuckle remembering that response.

Eagle IslandIf a summer visit is timed right, it’s possible to find sun warmed raspberries bursting with flavor growing along a path.  I can assure you they never make it back to the boat!

Eagle IslandViewing the canvases that are sunsets and sunrises off Eagle is reason enough to anchor and spend the night.  When night falls, a velvety sky fills with stars twinkling like diamonds, another of the gifts found in Maine.  Is it any wonder I love this place?

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Island Hopping

We may never get around to exploring all 3500 islands off the coast of Maine, but  every time out on the boat there’s the possibility of seeing a new one.   For sure, there will be some feature that makes it different from any other island.

islandSome islands are little more than rock formations likely created by volcanic activity thousands of years ago.  If there is surface where a tree can root, it’s not surprising to see a few.

islands
Isle au Haute

 There are lovely tree covered islands with paths leading through the woods to who knows where which makes exploring a real adventure.  

Roque Island
Roque Island

Occasionally there is an island with an expanse of white sand beach,

island
Butter Island

but most have rocky shores that can be craggy

Brimstone
Brimstone

or worn smooth and covered with lichen.  Since access to most islands is by dinghy, you can guess which shoreline is preferable!

islandSpeaking of rocks, in summer it is wonderful to find an island with sun warmed stones that are perfect for relaxing or maybe napping.

Calderwood Island
Calderwood Island

Some islands are preserves and if you time the visit just right, you may find them lush with blueberries and raspberries.  Your may also find that you share the island with wild sheep or deer who compete with you for the berries

islandor there may be items on the shore indicating you are sharing the island with other people.

Matinicus Rock
Matinicus Rock

Far out to sea are a few scattered islands that are nesting places for puffins in the spring.  Catching sight of these perky little birds is quite exciting.

St. Helena
St. Helena

Here and there are surprises like the remains of a quarry

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Squirrel Island

or fairy houses left behind.

islandNo matter the shape or size  or topography of an island, its rugged beauty always has distinguishing features.  Some are so inaccessible it is possible to think no human foot has ever touched there.  No matter how many islands I visit or see from afar, each holds a special mystery waiting to be discovered.

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Magic Moments

Pipe DreamsIf you were hearing shrieks of delight today, they could well have been coming from me as this was a most magical day.  It was one of those perfect Maine days, a little warm perhaps, which provided a great excuse for a boat adventure.

A few days ago Peter Ralston, a photographer friend, said he had been out to Matinicus Rock and saw hundreds of puffins.  That was all the information I needed to get very excited about going there as in all the years I’ve been coming to Maine I’ve never seen anything other than a photograph of a puffin.

Matinicus RockNow, Matinicus, Abenaki for far out island,  is the last outpost between Maine and Bermuda, some 28 miles off the Maine coast and sitting high in the rolling Atlantic.  There it is right up ahead.  From a distance it’s a little hazy due to the warm air meeting the cold sea.

Matinicus RockAs we get closer to the rocks, we become aware of the astonishing color of the water  crashing against them.

Matinicus RockAt one time there was a full time lighthouse keeper who lived on this solitary spot, but today the only humans are those who come from time to time to study the wildlife there.

Matinicus RockMatinicus is a protected wildlife refuge for the species that come primarily to breed.

Matinicus RockWe had to go round the rock a couple of times before we spotted puffins.  In case you are thinking they are large birds, they are not.  They are quite small which to the untrained eye makes them somewhat difficult to identify.

Matinicus RockMatinicus RockMatinicus RockJust look at these little beauties.  At this point I can hardly breathe I’m so excited.

Puffins on Matinicus Rock Peter Ralston
Puffins on Matinicus Rock
Peter Ralston

If I had a really great telephoto and had been on stable ground rather than a moving boat, maybe my photos would have looked like this.  Thanks, Peter, for sharing.

Matinicus RockThe little ones were flying overhead moving so fast it was hard to capture them, but you get the idea.  

Matinicus RockMaine is the only place the Atlantic puffins find nesting sites which are on roughly five rocky ocean islands.  The best time to see them off the coast is June and July.  Once the weather warms, the puffins move on to cooler climes.  Remind you of people?

There is much more to share about Matinicus, but It will wait until tomorrow.  In the meantime, enjoy the puffins and feel the cool ocean breeze blowing in your face.

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