On my way back to Isle au Haut after a trip to Islesboro I stopped at a gas station to grab some breakfast. It had been an early morning. I was debating which Nature Valley granola bar to buy when the woman standing next to me struck up a conversation. We made small talk about the weather and I graciously bowed out, explaining that I had ten minutes to get to the dock and catch my boat.

Then she said what I’ve heard from countless tourists. 

“You’re so lucky to be able to live on an island and enjoy the simple life.” 

That statement perplexes me every time I hear it. There’s nothing simple or easy about living on an island (or any other small rural community).

I know the phrase “the simple life” connotes visions of a world void of traffic, skyscrapers and blinking neon signs—where people are genuine and aren’t focused strictly on their careers, where things seem (on the surface) to move at a slower pace.

In that sense, yes. Isle au Haut is beautiful and peaceful and reminds me every day what life is really about.

But the things so many folks complain about (the traffic, box stores, etc.) are exactly what make life on the mainland so much simpler in comparison to island (or rural) life.

When I lived on the mainland I could hop in my car and drive somewhere at a moment’s notice. I didn’t have to wait around for the boat. I could get groceries at almost any time of day. If I was bored, there was bound to be a movie theater nearby or a bookstore to browse. If I had the desire for take-out Chinese food, there was a myriad of options. 

When I was sick, I could get to the E.R. or call an ambulance without factoring in a 45-minute boat ride. If I needed someone to come fix my Internet or deal with my furnace, I only had to pay for the time he was working on my problem, not the entire time he was stuck on the island in between boats.

Life on an island is incredibly hard. There’s no way around it.

I was really overtired from my time on Islesboro and had gotten up at 4:30 a.m. to make my boat. I was not in a good mood. I took a deep breath before I said something I was going to regret and opted to focus on the first part of what she said.

“Yes, I”m very lucky. So many people move to a place because of a job. It’s amazing to live among people who chose the island and THEN figured out how to make it work”¦ even if that means taking on three or four different jobs to make ends meet.”

She thought for a moment.

“I don’t know if I could do that. That’s actually very admirable.”

Yes it is.

Megan Wibberly is an Island Fellow on Isle au Haut through AmeriCorps and the Island Institute.