There were a lot of things I thought I knew about islands. My biggest assumption was that islands themselves were this large community—where people from Isle au Haut were good friends with folks from Matinicus and Chebeague and had spent a lot of time on the other islands. 

It wasn’t until moving out to Isle au Haut did I realize how wrong that (and all of my other of assumptions) were.

It’s hard to get out to other islands when you’re living on one! Coordinating boat schedules can be tricky and if you don’t know anyone on another island, there doesn’t seem to be a point in going. And in the summer (when most people would want to see some of the other island communities) everyone is so busy! Islanders are lobstering, catering to tourists and catching up with seasonal friends. 

There are organizations that encourage islands to collaborate on issues that are unique to unabridged communities (The Seacoast Mission and the Island Institute’s Maine Island Coalition for example) and I think the communities appreciate that sense of camaraderie. But it’s certainly not as large of a part of island life as I had thought.

Through the Island Fellows program I know at least one person on six of the other unabridged islands (Islesboro, Vinalhaven, Peaks, Chebeague, Long and Swan’s). I made it my mission to see all of these beautiful places before completing my fellowship. I have been slowly crossing different communities off my list and when an Island Institute event recently took me to Portland I decided to spend a long weekend out on Peaks Island with my friend Maggie.

Isle au Haut and Peaks Island are vastly different places.

My mailboat leaves from a small Stonington dock twice a day in the off season; Casco Bay Lines offers a car ferry to Peaks almost every hour from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m. Peaks is a commuter island and lots of people take the boat into Portland every day. I can’t think of anyone on Isle au Haut who goes off island more than two days a week on a regular basis—and even that seems excessive by IAH standards.  Peaks Island also has more than one road! And stop signs! Isle au Haut is made up of about 40 year round residents while Peaks Island boasts almost 900.

Per the island culture, we spent a lot of time in Portland. We went out to eat at a few wonderful restaurants and stayed out until 11 p.m. two nights in a row (which seemed incredibly rebellious considering my Isle au Haut bedtime is around 8 p.m.). Our friend Erin, the fellow on Long Island, her boyfriend and mine all joined us. It was fun to feel like a stereotypical 25-year old for a few days.

In spite of the fact that Peaks Island has more houses on two or three streets than Isle au Haut does as a whole, in spite of the culture surrounding frequent trips to Portland, there was something distinctly familiar about being on Peaks.

Maggie took me to the local café for coffee and she knew everyone. Walking down the street she waved at every person we saw, made small talk with most of them and was unbelievably beloved by the children.

Her fellowship places her in the school and it was beyond endearing to see how the kids responded to her. No matter where we were, if we saw students, they would immediately come over and tell Maggie about their grade on the most recent spelling test or a new project they’re working on in class.

Many of the cars on island (the obvious “island cars”) didn’t have license plates or mufflers. Locking car or house doors was an after thought (if at all). She showed me the baseball field and described how the kids get to it by paths through the woods and how funny it is to see a fleet of children emerge ready to play ball.  

It was great to “try on” Peaks Island for a few day—especially when my tour guide was someone as integrated into the community as Maggie. She and I have weekly Skype dates and it was a blessing to be able to see what she’s been describing and to meet the people she has in her life. 

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