A few weeks ago, it happened. I got on the mailboat and saw a few people I didn’t recognize. They were wearing daypacks and poring over a map of the Isle au Haut’s hiking trails. Tourists.
I spend a lot of time during the winter defending Isle au Haut (and island life in general) to friends, acquaintances and strangers. They don’t understand why anyone would want to live on a giant rock with only 30 other people. They think having to catch a boat sounds terribly inconvenient. They imagine the wind whipping in from the ocean would be bone chilling.
They’re not wrong. At times it can be lonely, cold and terribly inconvenient. But I find myself getting frustrated when they don’t even try to imagine how sweet the island potlucks are or how beautiful the ocean looks when it’s cold. Sometimes I try to appeal to their logical side by insisting that if it was really all that horrible, no one would live here. It doesn’t usually help much.
But something happens during the month of May. There’s a switch in perspective.
Instead of first reacting with, “That must be lonely—and you have to take a boat?!” they say, “That sounds so peaceful! I would love to be able to do something like that.”
And I’ll admit, I enjoy that. I love seeing people embracing the beauty and serenity of coastal Maine life. They get it—no explanation necessary. The boat ride becomes a part of the experience instead of an obstacle to overcome. The limited number of residents becomes a draw rather than a deterrent.
I will happily answer questions and usually find myself telling stories about everything from dinners at Nancy’s to mornings spent on the Sea Coast Mission’s Sunbeam boat (a telemedicine facility that makes trips out to the island about every two weeks).
So when I saw my first tourists of the season, I couldn’t help but go over and strike up a conversation. Their smiles and looks of awe put me in a great mood.
I know come August I’ll be tired of answering the same questions over and over. I know I’ll wish people didn’t completely romanticize island life—that they could understand how hard it is to live out here. But after a really long winter, I’ll take a bit of romanticizing.
Megan Wibberly is an Island Fellow on Isle au Haut through AmeriCorps and the Island Institute.