I was blissfully in an eddy of time for the past week, out on an Island 12 miles from shore in the Gulf of Maine. I shared this time with dear family and good friends and with no electricity, no white noise, no workaday crises to detract from the here and now. Monhegan for me is one of those enchanted isles that rises to the surface every other year or so and offers me a 1930s summer for a brief and blessed space of time before receding back into the mist. It restores my soul with a sweet expectancy that that can neither be rushed nor conjured at will. It is a place that I carry in my heart through the long seasons ashore until the next time I surface on its rocky shore.
It had been three years since the last time I was able to take my children to Monhegan, and watching them respond to its wonders and make it their own was one of the great joys of our time together. Emily the seal girl swam out over the cold blue water with such joy she forgot she would eventually be chilled to the bone. Elias explored every tide pool and found young urchins, went to the library for a book about dolphins and picked all the blueberries and red raspberries in sight. There were six children aged 6-9 (2 girls, 4 boys, 4 cousins,2 great friends) and five adults, including my sister and her husband who I love and see far too rarely. It was a time of fresh discoveries and views so familiar I know every crease in the rock and contour of the cove like I know my own sun-bronzed smile.
I love this island of gaslight and fog. One afternoon I pulled out the red kayak and slipped over the dulce and Irish moss into Deadman's Cove and paddled out along the shore toward the Seal ledges while the rest of the crew took the shore path behind our scampering children. I went out toward Eastern Duck rock with its harbor seal colony and watched them arched on the rocks or bobbing in the swell watching me with their dark, curious eyes. The wind was stiff behind me and fog coiled around the next headland, reminding me that I was in a little craft low in the water and far out to sea if I let the mist close behind me, so I did not linger. But a seal followed me all the way back to the shelter of the cover when I hauled back out on the rocks below the cottages.
I have been coming to Monhegan since 1974 when I was younger than my son Elias. It used to be a week or 10 days every summer for at least a decade, and I remember when the cod and pollack were so large and plentiful than three hours of jigging off Sherm Stanley's "Phalarope" or his son Shermie's "Desperado" would fill a skiff to overflowing with 20-30 pound fish. I remember the island before the dwarf mistletoe decimated the spruce forest, opened up the headlands as they were a century before when sheep grazed above the surf. Eli and I walked the graveyard below the Lighthouse where the Islanders had to build up enough fill and soil to bury their dead in six feet of earth atop this granite mountain in the sea, and saw that I knew many of the names on the markers as individuals as well as representatives of old Monhegan families. As with our beloved Windrock, I have strong place memory here that allows me to be simultaneously in an older time as well as the present.
In a place where some things seem immutable, there are always changes in the wind. The community is fiercely debating the merits and concerns about a possible wind generator on Lighthouse Hill. The "poop and power" discussions are critical to sustainable living on an island where there is no more topsoil for leaching fields than their is to cradle the dear departed. The small winter community has its own dynamics and relationships with those they support during the summer and with each other during the long stormy lashed winter. There are just 13 working lobster boats in the harbor, where once in the 1950s there may have been three times that many making their living from the sea. Now there are more artists in residence than fishermen.
There are parts of this Island, not 2 miles in length nor a mile broad, that get very few visitors. Out by green point and some of the spur trails, one can be alone with the sound of the bell buoys on distant ledges and the mist dripping from spruce tips in delicious solitude. There are trails where I know to look for lowbush blueberries, or a rock that looks like a smiling seal, or a weathered pile of driftwood above the wrackline, and lose myself in my five visceral senses, and the inner sixth sense that spins like a gyroscope to keep me centered in time, be it fast or slow. What I carry forward refreshes and reinvigorates, even as there is longing when the time comes to sail back to shore. On our return trip there were porpoises and a minke whale and diving gannets to send us over the water and back into the mainstream of our lives with joy in our hearts.