This is a stationary field trip to North Haven, Maine, an island in Penobscot Bay. I’ve shown you one of its esoteric little rocky beaches but there’s more to it than that. It’s very much on my mind lately because I’m headed there this weekend. Honestly it’s been on my mind all summer: I need to find a way to spend much more time there, there or Vinalhaven, a neighboring island that I love only very slightly less. A week or two every year isn’t cutting it. Do any of you need to commission a lobster- and foraged crabapples-centric cookbook, or perhaps a very niche travelogue? A series of sordid libelles about lobstermen and summer wives?
I’m pretty sure I could write a lot more paragraphs if I wasn’t spending ten hours a day in an office doing something else.
For the first several years I visited these islands I wouldn’t tell people about them. Friends, yes, but certainly not the whole internet. I’ve relaxed about this because my handful of readers are scattered all over the globe, and also because it’s quite the pain in the ass to get there. If you want to fly you’ll have to charter a plane, and if you want to take a car on the ferry (which you will, unless you’re visiting someone who has one on the island), you’ll have to contend with the ferry rules, which the ferry people are serious about. The people on North Haven seem slightly less serious than the people in Rockland in this regard, but you’ll have to deal with Rockland first.
North Haven ferry rules. I wouldn’t test that last one if I were you.
The Rockland breakwater lighthouse, from the ferry.
I suppose you could come with a bicycle, but this is discouraged: it costs approximately twice as much to bring a bike on the ferry as it does to bring just yourself. I have mixed feelings about this. I like bicycling and, to a lesser extent, most bicyclists, but the roads on both islands are a series of blind curves, and it’s hard to imagine there wouldn’t be a lot more accidents if there were a lot more people on bikes. Besides, there aren’t many places to splash money about on either island, so what’s the use of tourists? (Many years ago my parents came out to visit me on Vinalhaven for a night while I was there for a couple weeks, and my mother, determined to buy something for the occasion of my birthday, had to settle for a blueberry pie). There are other little tricks seemingly intended to discourage tourism too, such as a lack of cell phone towers. I don’t make many calls while I’m there so I don’t care much, but if you’re a first-time visitor and don’t know where the good reception spots are, this might be an annoyance. Standing very near the waterline is generally a good strategy.
Calderwood Neck Rd. on Vinalhaven in 1907 from Etsy. It looked exactly the same the last time I saw it, minus the wood railing.
You’ll also have to find a place to stay and there aren’t many of those. There’s a very nice inn on North Haven, the Nebo Lodge, but the privacy that comes with renting a house and the immersion it offers — unmediated by a host — is a huge part of what draws me there. Maybe it’s an illusion, but I feel like I’m wringing more out of the place than the dabblers who come over for a memorable meal or three and then split. Renting a house on the island is a crucial part of my infatuation with it. I’m not sure I can truly, fully love a place until I’ve experimentally pretended to live there.
Making new friends. The caretaker is a lobsterman and these hadn’t been out of the water fifteen minutes when we met.
Happily my house of choice on North Haven is conducive to this. It’s cozy and full of texture — a sun-faded braided rug; a pair of curtains with labial ruffles that measure the salty breezes; stubborn little mosses clinging to its shingles — and possesses both a sensibly-organized kitchen and a perfectly situated hammock. As in all the houses I’ve been in on these islands, important phone numbers are written directly on the wall: the general store, the doctor, the community center, the lobsterman/caretaker. The numbers don’t ever change, so why not. It’s also got a fireplace and, to my endless delight, a little trap door for getting firewood into the house. I’ve got a routine worked out with my best friend, who I’ve been visiting these islands with for many years now: He loads the firewood in and out of the car, and I stand by the little door and stack it inside. We fuss over this daily process more than is strictly necessary, but it seems to add something to the first glass of wine by the fire each night.
The house also has a circle of trees to protect its hammock-inhabitants, and to provide fodder for their hippie dippie daydreams. The first year we visited I asked the owner if they’d been planted this way and they were indeed; they were planted by her grandmother, who wanted a place for her grandchildren to play in.
The hammock is here if you squint a bit.
My first order of business every morning while I’m there is to take my coffee on a walk around the house noticing things. Specifically, noticing whether any new creatures came to visit, or any edible things have sprung up or ripened. The perimeter of the house I used to go to on Vinalhaven was always good for at least a few blueberries or blackberries, and sometimes chanterelle mushrooms. On North Haven so far these have eluded me, but I remain hopeful.
If I happen to have dressed warmly enough, I’ll take my coffee a little further, down to the rocky beach I showed you once before.
Vinalhaven’s Main Street is charming and it has a stop light too, the only one on both islands. North Haven’s Main Street, as shown below, is quieter and more genteel. I’d always thought of Vinalhaven as a quiet place but North Haven manages to make it seem hurly-burly. Vinalhaven has a long history as a working island, first because of its granite quarries, then because of its access to cod and lobsters. North Haven has never had quarries and, in comparison to Vinalhaven, has few full-time lobster people. There are 350 people who live on the island year-round (and 1500 or so in the summertime), and I’m not sure what they tend to do for money. I like to imagine they have blogs with deep-pocketed readers, readers I’ve simply not connected with yet.
The American Legion on Main Street.
Waterman’s Community Center on Main Street.
Waterman’s is well-equipped for rainy days.
It’s also got a coffee shop, a theater, and a preschool.
It’s a good place to catch up on the news. Hopefully there will come a year when I don’t miss the codfish relay race.
There are also two gift shops on Main St., at least one of which should be able to replenish my stash of balsam fir incense.
North Haven Casino early in the morning. Not a gambling casino, a yacht club. It just turned 100 years old this August.
A fun thing to do with ice cream in hand: browse potential locations for my aquapod / sanitorium / research and development center.
A peaceful barn at Mullen Head Park.
Leaving Vinalhaven, Aug. 2006.
Leaving North Haven, Sept. 2011.
I’ll be doing a separate post on the subject of eating North Haven on my food blog next week. Mid-week stationary field trip No. 3 (to the country, a bit closer to home) is here.