I need to finish up my thoughts about Monhegan Island. Been procrastinating long enough and I need to just get the rest of my thoughts out of my little head. Well, not so little, as my pictures clearly indicate.
I guess I felt compelled to write about my experience on the island because of the general feeling of warmth and hominess I felt when I arrived there. A feeling of soothing familiarity that only increased as the day wore on. I truly felt like the island was satisfying some need in me that I didn’t know was there.
After lunch, we headed uphill towards the schoolhouse, a small building at what turned out to be the base of a bigger hill leading up to a lighthouse. It was here that we all collapsed in some chairs set up on the side of the road. Situated just below the school house, we had a great view of the road we had just walked up and the ever present fog, which at this time seemed to be chasing us up the hill. J decided to hang in the chairs for awhile so H and I headed down a side path towards the icepond. I always loved the idea of harvesting ice. I have no idea why it fascinates me, but just the idea that they used to go out, cut ice out of a pond then store it away in a cold dark part of a barn is an amazing act of ingenuity. The barn ajacent to this icepond had fallen on severe hard times (looked like it was trying to take a bow,sideways) but I had seen other barns designed for ice storage. At the house for August St Gaudens, there was an ice storage place, and the feeling when you walked into it was amazing. We were there in the height of summer, but walking into this dark little section of a barn, the temperature dropped to almost below forty degrees, no refrigeration, just the genius of the people who designed the enclosure. And according to the notes on the wall when you entered into this space, they managed to keep ice there well into summer, ice they had cut in blocks from a riiver nearby and had hand dragged to this remote little barn.
So we wandered back, gathered up J, and after a little debating about our next destination, we decided to head uphill towards the summit of the island and the lighthouse, arguably, the center of the island. A year ago, I learned, this was the path everyone was supposed to take for the wedding ceremony for H & J, if not for the remnants of a certain hurricane hadn’t decided to pick that day to blow across the island.
Heading up the hill towards the lighthouse, I learned two valuable lessons. One: I need to work out more,especially on cardio. Two: There are no bathrooms anywhere near where we were. This proved to be a painfull lesson. Luckily, we were able to find an out of the way bush that provided adequate cover for me to discretely solve my urgent needs.
In the midst of all of this, we came across a graveyard, something I was not prepared for. I was not told we were coming by this, it just sort of apeared in our path and I knew that H’s father was here. I tried to forget my anxiousness and pay my respect to this man I never met. H had picked up three stones, one for each of us, and placed them on his grave. Sometimes, not often, but sometimes, I am left speechless.This was one of those times. I don’t know how to describe the change in my friend, but I knew better than to say anything or interfere. We stood there quietly for a few minutes, listening to the sound of the wind and distant waves. Somewhere below us on the hill, someone was talking about politics with another, I caught snippits of their conversation as they faded back into the wind.
We proceeded up the hill and stopped at the summit. Again, just as at the base of the hill, there were benches and chairs waiting for us. We sat down in silence for a few minutes. The fog, which had been relentlessly following us on our path, finally caught up. It overtook the whole island and for a brief moment, we could see nothing below us. Then, slowly, the buildings rememerged from the murkiness. The top of the hotel appeared first, black against the white fog, slowly regaining its color as the fog passed on. All the houses came in and out of focus with the passing waves of white and grey. I realized, I had seen this view before. This spot, the very spot I was sitting in, had been painted on numerous occassions, as was evident in the art gallery we had spent some time in. I suddenly felt left out, as an artist. I found myself wishing I had brought a sketch pad, something I could sit here and capture this scene myself. Instead, I took more pictures. Hopefully, the pictures I took can convey the feelings this island invokes.
After sitting for quite awhile and feeling the urge for a nap, we decided to hike down the hill and into cathedral woods. Now, I had heard that there were miles and miles of hiking trails on this island, but I was unaware that they ran through some of the most beautiful forrest I have ever laid eyes on. We headed down one major trail, one that obviously the trucks had used, then we diverted onto a smaller trail.I was suddenly reminded of being a boyscout, when we would go to some distant part of the white mountains, stop at some seemingly arbitrary spot along the highway and take off into the woods on what looked like a small footpath only to discover it was some beautiful trail, hidden away on the side of a highway. I always loved that sense of adventure ,seeing something new and I always wondered, how the hell my scout leaders even knew these trails were there.
The trail H & J took me on was winding, full of roots and fallen trees and complete silence. Thats what I noticed most of all. All day, I could still hear the waves crashing somehwere in the distance, but here, surrounded by these beautiful trees, wew were insulated from the noise. This was when I really noticed the island speaking to me. In this utter and complete silence, I felt completely at peace and at home. We crossed a small bridge on the trail and H announced that we were on ‘sacred ground’. This was the part of the woods where people would build Fairy Houses, or Elven Houses, out of the natural ingrediants on the ground here. And there, in all directions, were these tiny houses, built into the ground, onto the side of a tree or standing alone, all offerings to mythical creatures that supposedly lived in the woods. I was completely taken with this notion. I wished we had the time, because I wanted so badly to sit down and build one myself. I felt like a little kid who had a found a new set of building blocks and it was my turn to play! But we couldn’t, so I admired the ones that were already built, snapped my little photos and moved on.
After wandering in the woods for about an hour, we headed back to town. My day was almost over here. My boat was waiting, my ticket was paid for, I had to leave the island. We made our way down to the docks and J & I sat down in some more of the ever present white chairs, overlooking the whole dock area. We watched as my boat chugged its way in. More photography, H runnning after her mom, J and I just hanging in our chairs. I remember thinking, this should be every day. This is how it should be. I didn’t want to leave. The sun, after being an afterthought all day, hiding behind the gloom of the fog, suddenly made a grand appearance, burning off all the fog and illuminating the harbor. For the first time, the entire island was visible to me. It was a wonderful ending for me. All day, the island had been hiding from me, but now as I leave, it revealed itself in all its beauty and I wanted to stay and discover more. But my boat was waiting.
We made our way down to the docks, I went and bought a water bottle. I was dreading the the boat ride for obvious reasons. But H was able to calm my nerves. As I was about to board, H suddenly lit up “oh! I almost Forgot!!!!!”. She took off up the hill, and I saw her yank some flowers off the side of the road and race back to where J and I were waiting. This was a ritual I had been told about but obviously yet to experience. Everyone who leaves the island, must take a handfull of flowers, when the boat is well out into the harbor, you must toss the flowers into the water. If the flowers float back to the island, that means you too will one day return. I wasn’t sure how this worked and i didn’t have a gps device handy to toss in with the flowers to see if they actually made it back to the island, I guess you just have to have faith that they returned. H gave me a big hug, J and I said our goodbyes, and wearily, I stepped onto the boat. The captain advised me to go to the top deck and sit in this one spot near the front and I was garunteed not to get seasick again. I immediately ran up there. The boat chugged out of the harbor. Looking back at my friends waving on the dock, I tossed my flowers into the water, as the island came into full view again. My friends grew smaller and smaller, but I could still see H waving. And I could see the tide slowly tugging my flowers back towards the island.
I sat down where the captain told me to sit. The wind in my face and the hum of the engine beneath me calmed my nerves. I closed my eyes and imagined my flowers were already back on the island, and I knew, I would make every effort to join them. Sleep overtook me and I drifted off thinking of Pixie houses and rocky shorelines….