We left home in late July as planned and drove to southern New Jersey in order to get a couple of hours down the road and thereby enabling us to get around New York City at a decent hour and avoiding the traffic heading down the shore. It turned out to be a very restless night and I was happy to be on the road again the next morning. To make matters worse, I was feeling under the weather when I got up - not a very auspicious beginning for a vacation that has been long in arriving. I began feeling better the farther north we drove - solid evidence of the restorative powers of a New England landscape - and I was fully recovered by the time we arrived at our hotel a stone’s throw from the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse. When we left New Harbor for Monhegan Island after a relaxing day on the fringes of Muscongus Bay, I was feeling my old self again.
We were counting the days until we would once again step off on the Monhegan Island wharf. We have been making the 12 mile off shore trips for eight summers now, and we are always itching to get back. And after a cold and very wet early summer, the islanders were on the threshold of some very delightful weather, the first of the summer by all reports, and we were there to enjoy it. You take your chances along the coast of Maine in the summer, and so we considered ourselves very fortunate. Early morning sea fog is frequent, but this is to be expected and it usually burned off by late morning. We could not have asked for better weather. It was a glorious week!
Each morning we enjoyed a quiet breakfast at the Monhegan House, the quaint and rustic hostelry which has been our home on each of our annual summer visits. Afterwards, we would take the path through the village to the wharf to meet the Laura B., the mail/packet boat from Port Clyde, off-loading supplies for the island while on-loading whatever was being sent to the mainland. This afforded a wonderful opportunity to chat with the captain and his mate while taking photographs of the comings and goings. When the Laura B. finally departed with its cargo and a few passengers around 9am, some days quickly disappearing into the morning fog, passengers would often follow the old tradition of throwing a small floral bouquet into the water. If it drifts ashore it means the traveler will eventually return to the island. There is also another tradition - island children will leap off the wharf into the cold water as a boat departs, a brave act that insures the safe passage of the boat and its crew and passengers (we would experience this when our own boat departed later in the week). The rest of our days on the island were spent hiking the various woodland and shoreline trails, eventually ending up on one of the headlands on the backside of the island. Monhegan is only 1½ miles long and less than a half mile at its widest, but there are over 17 miles of trails.
While we were out on the island I also had a delightful conversation with the unofficial island historian (she has been coming to Monhegan for the past 81 summers), and she filled me in on the island’s history far beyond anything I have read or heard during our previous visits. She knows the people who have lived on and visited the island for decades and she has cataloged every building on the island for the past two centuries and who lived and worked in each. Our innkeeper, whose family has been associated with the island since the early 1920s, has also been a wonderful source of information, anecdotes, and scuttlebutt in the years we have been coming to the island. One more reason for returning to the Monhegan House every summer.
Artists have been coming to Monhegan since the late 19thcentury - Robert Henri and members of the Ashcan School in NYC, George Bellows, Rockwell Kent, James Fitzgerald (a personal favorite of mine through his connection with John Steinbeck when Fitzgerald painted in Monterey in the 1930s and hung out on Cannery Row), Reuben Tam, Samuel P. R. Triscott (another favorite), and, of course, Jamie Wyeth who still has a cottage on the island. As you walk around the island you regularly encounter artists at work - up on Lighthouse Hill, down among the ancient fish houses along the harbor, or out on the headland towering nearly 200 feet above the rock-strewn surf below, the highest cliffs on the coast of Maine.
Although we hated to leave Monhegan, we spent the remainder of our summer sojourn at the lake cottage where we relaxed . . . just sitting by the lake, swimming and canoeing as the New England weather turned warm and dry. We were saddened to discover that our favorite little roadhouse/general store which I used to frequent for breakfast while listening to the locals solve the problems of the world over their morning cups of joe, is now shuttered, the latest victim of the rerouting of the main highway between Portland and the western Maine mountains. I figured it was only a question of time, but I am sad to see it gone; I have a lot of fond memories of the place.
NEXT WEEK: With the Suddenness of a Dream