haven’t gotten off the island in a few weeks which, while you can certainly lose perspective on the world ashore, is not all that bad considering how beautiful it is now that the days are becoming longer and less miserable. And since there’s no real formal economy out on Frenchboro, that means no cash machines. Which means I’ve had little to no money to speak of. Which is fine. There’s nothing I need to be spending money on, anyhow. Except stamps. Paying for mail to be sent across the country or down to Portland is a daily activity and is completely necessary, both for maintaining the job I have been handed and my own well-being.

So the past few weeks I’ve been slowly going from paying Marissa the postmistress in singles and quarters to small change, apologizing when all I have is a few dimes and a pocketful of pennies. She always tells me it’s all right, that change is always good to have in the post office which is, incidentally, a community center kitchen with a galley window separating me from Marissa. Informal, yes. But USPS certified.

Over the years, the town’s post office has migrated around the entire island. Because, up until a few years ago, it was always located either in a resident’s house or combined with a general store, it has relocated depending on the postmaster or postmistress. But there was a time when having reliable mail delivery alone was a rarity.

In the late 1870s, when the island’s town was known as Long Island Plantation, the community still lacked a proper post office or mail service. Mail came infrequently from residents or visitors coming over from the mainland or Swan’s Island by sloop or schooner. It wasn’t until islanders created a relationship with E. Webster French, a practicing Tremont lawyer, that the possibility of having an operating post office arose. Taking interest in the needs of those on Long Island, French agreed to help the village through the legal process of establishing a post office. He only had one condition, to which the islanders agreed: to name the new post office after him. The village and town subsequently followed suit, taking French’s name and becoming what is now Frenchboro.

However, even after an official postmaster took the reins when the post office opened in the early 1890s, mail only came a few times each week and less frequently during the winter months. Finally, in the 1920s, a daily mail schedule was implemented, with outgoing mail traveling by mail boat to Swan’s Island and then to Rockland via steamship. During World War II, steamboat service from Rockland was discontinued and mail came from Rockland to Stonington via Barter’s Express, then to Swan’s Island and Frenchboro on private boats. Then in 1952, the passenger vessel Seawind was contracted to run the mail daily between Bass Harbor and Frenchboro, making the eight or so mile run to the island. But, less than a decade later, that service was discontinued and the Maine State Ferry Service began running two boats to Frenchboro a week that took the mail back and forth between the island and Bass Harbor. On the other four legal postal days, a private boat would run the mail from Swan’s Island to Frenchboro. It continues to work that way today.

The responsibilities of postmasters/postmistresses and mail carriers passed through dozens of individuals over the years, as was the nature of running a daily operation: sometimes it got to be too much for one person. The most memorable post office for many living residents on Frenchboro was kept at Raymond and Norma Teel’s house, the old Israel B. Lunt homestead, on the eastern side of Lunt Harbor. Norma acted as postmistress from 1972 until 1997, when she retired and left the island. For many, the Teel’s house was the gathering spot, the place to catch up on news while waiting for the mail to arrive and Norma to sort through it all. Everyone on the island was involved in the goings-on of daily mail.

“Carrying mail to Norma Teel’s post office was a regular chore for island children,” Dean Lunt remembers. “I carried mail for my parents and my grandmother, who usually put hers in a yellow Country Kitchen bread bag, knotted at the top for extra protection.”

I had two letters to send yesterday. One was to the woman I love very much, a letter that took all morning to shape and cut and tape and give my attention to. The other was a quick note to my grandmother’s best friend, a 95-year-old pistol named Peggy Kirby, telling her that a theater date in the spring sounded like a fine idea. I went to my change bin and found that I had a quarter, a nickel and about a dozen pennies left in my stipend. Clearly not enough to send both. So I pocketed it all, along with both letters, and decided I’d see if I could strike a deal with Marissa. And then I thought about something that was sitting in my paperclip tray: one of those rings made out of a dollar bill, cleanly folded and the “1” proudly shown on the face. I’ve had it for years and often considered unraveling it and using it for its original purpose when my funds had dipped into the brown. But something always stopped me.

But yesterday, since stamps are what I needed, not rings, I unraveled it carefully on the cold walk across the island to the post office, trying not to rip any part of it. I couldn’t tell you how lousy I felt. I couldn’t even remember who had given it to me or if I had found it on the street somewhere, but I felt as if I was betraying its maker, turning it into something far uglier than what it had been ten seconds before. I made a silent wish that nothing terrible happened to the ring maker. But when I got to the post office, Marissa forgot to charge me altogether. I forgot too. We were so busy shooting the breeze about the elections that she just put the stamps on both of the letters and stuffed them in her mail sack, ready to take down to our dear friend, Paul Joy, faithful mail carrier who runs the Frenchboro mail to and fro between here and Swan’s Island on its way to Bass Harbor. Chances are good that she’ll forget about that 78 cents. But maybe I’ll get a Post-It note in my narrow mailbox telling me what I owe the post office accompanied by a smiley face, no name. Informal, yes.

I walked back home on the high road, feeling the wind shift and the sun break through the thunderclouds that had been building all morning and I felt the dollar bill in my pocket, trying to think of how I was going to get it folded back up.