It’s official. I have become one of those people. I look at my watch (well, cell phone, let’s be real here) and notice it’s about 4pm; the mailboat is coming in. Even when I don’t have a reason to do so, I rush down to the dock.
At first, it happened to coincide with when I took my dog for his afternoon
walk. At least that’s what I told myself. But eventually I had to accept the fact, pathetic as it sounds, that the afternoon boat is a highlight of my island social life and I purposely plan my afternoons around it.
When I tell my friends from college and graduate school what I do for fun on Isle au Haut (IaH), I always mention the dock; and they always ask what happens there. The idea of “fun” for the standard 20-something involves alcohol and dancing. No. There are no dance parties (aside from last Christmas when the workers from Black Dinah Chocolatiers came riding down in the back of Steve and Kate’s truck wearing elf costumes and dancing to various carols) and there is no alcohol being served (unless you happen to run into someone with a six-pack in his truck).
The answer to their question is: not much. There are people at the dock for legitimate reasons (going to/from the mainland, picking up packages) but there are also people who just hang out. We spy on what the store is getting for shipment, chat with the mailboat captains and take note of who is coming and going.
Monday night and Paula is going off island? Oh, that’s right. She has her radio show on the mainland. Brenda is off to visit her grandson, John is coming back from picking up groceries and Marshall is grabbing another package from Amazon.com. But it’s more than small talk. It’s connecting and checking-in with your island family.
IaH is home to one of Maine’s smallest island communities, with a year-round population averaging about 40 people (swelling to between 200 and 300 in the summer).
As we enter September and the last of the summer residents begin to move back to the mainland, I’m looking forward to the slower pace of the off season schedule. Don’t get me wrong; it’s been a blessing to see this beautiful island bustling with activity (and I realize “bustling” is a relative term—by most people’s standards things have still been pretty desolate here). But a part of me is itching for the camaraderie that appears during the late fall/winter season.
When you live on an island, you may be isolated from the rest of the “real world” but, as cheesy as this sounds, you have each other. The offseason is hard. It’s very hard. But you’re not going through it alone.
I’ve learned so much from the amazing group of people who call IaH their permanent home. And if I’ve learned anything in my first year as an Island Fellow, I’ve learned the importance of rolling with the punches and working with what you have. And that includes finding the joy in mingling at the dock.
Sometimes I wonder whether I’ve done a good enough job acclimating to the community, whether I fit in, whether they still see me as an outsider. A hug from Nancy, a joke from Billy and a chat with Ed at the dock is all it takes to remind me that these people have more than welcomed me into their family unit.
So at 4 p.m., while many of my mainland friends are hitting up “happy hour,” I’m sitting on a dock seven miles off the coast, chatting with Bernadine about her new hat and helping Sue lug her groceries from the boat up to her truck. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Megan Wibberly is an Island Fellow on Isle au Haut through AmeriCorps and the Islan Institute.