New England

Treasured Islands | Inside Yankee

Decades ago, on a blustery spring day, I boarded a ferry in Rockland, Maine, and a long two hours later, after a wave-tossed crossing of 23 miles, I stumbled, white as a ghost, onto the wharf where a watchful contingent of Matinicus islanders waited to see the hopeful prospective teacher for their one-room school. I […]

By Mel Allen

May 29 2019

MelAllen

Yankee Editor Mel Allen

Photo Credit : Lori Pedrick
Editor Mel Allen
Photo Credit : Lori Pedrick

Decades ago, on a blustery spring day, I boarded a ferry in Rockland, Maine, and a long two hours later, after a wave-tossed crossing of 23 miles, I stumbled, white as a ghost, onto the wharf where a watchful contingent of Matinicus islanders waited to see the hopeful prospective teacher for their one-room school. I am certain my wobbly steps and ashen countenance did not encourage them that I was the chosen one.

My wife had accompanied me, and a generous-hearted lobsterman and his wife put us up and fed us for the several days we would be interviewed by islanders. I remember sitting in the home of a fisherman who was on the selection committee and being asked if we would be keeping the curtains of our house open or drawn. Others wondered aloud if we understood the isolation that newcomers can feel, this far out to sea. (I don’t think they felt I would relish the heaving ferry crossings to reach the mainland when island life proved a bit too “islandy,” especially in winter.)

It worked out for the best that I did not become their island schoolteacher. But I left with the profound certainty that there were few places on this earth as elemental, as beautiful, as compelling as an island in Maine. I had walked the rockbound shores, smelled the salt-soaked air, listened in the dark to the wind banging against the lobsterman’s cottage. When dawn broke over the sea, I had wandered down to the harbor and watched the fleet heading out to the lobstering grounds, where there would be no mercy for carelessness.

Last summer Yankee sent photographers Mark Fleming and Winky Lewis to five Maine islands—Peaks, Monhegan, Vinalhaven, North Haven, and Isle au Haut—to capture this intimate world. Both Mark and Winky have deep ties to Maine: He grew up in the Midcoast region, while she has long summered on Isle au Haut. To complement their images, we spoke with people on these same five islands about what made their home special. The only things missing from the resulting story [“Maine’s Magical Islands,” p. 82] are the haunting sounds of foghorns, the steady churn of fishing boats coming into the harbor, the cry of gulls, and the deeply satisfying scent of the ocean. For those things, you must—and should—see a Maine island for yourself.

In the conference room where our pages are hung on the wall before going to press, every time I looked at our islands feature I found something new: a dart of light on the water, or the mood of the sky. I never taught in that one-room school, but I learned long ago that an island in Maine is impossible to forget.

Mel Allen editor@yankeemagazine.com