I’ve been on Matinicus Island, Maine, for the last two weeks, and I should be able to stay — with a couple of trips off-island for work — at least another six weeks. I am ridiculously happy here, but this island is not for everyone.
Matinicus is 22 miles off the mainland and about a mile and a half long by a half-mile wide. It resembles Ireland, a little, in its outline. Dotted with spruce and ringed with granite ledges, it is home to a couple dozen lobstermen and a handful of summer residents.
A short, dirt airstrip slopes down a field to the ocean, and on very foggy or windy days, when the small puddle-jumpers flown by the outstanding pilots of Penobscot Island Air can’t land, you may be able to catch a ride out on the scheduled one-hour run from Rockland aboard the Robin R, a 35-foot Mitchell Cove lobster boat customized for passenger conveyance. In the summer months there is ferry service twice a week, too.
There’s no store on the island and not a single restaurant. The roads are unpaved and unmarked — which is not to say they’re unnamed, but they follow a certain Spartan logic: North Road, South Road, Harbor Road … Ice Pond Lane is as colorful as it gets. They’re dusty, rutted and bumpy, so most of the island vehicles are battered trucks, and no one drives fast.
When you need groceries, you go ashore to get them or place an order by email with Shaw’s in Rockland, and Penobscot Island Air will fly them over packed in banana boxes — weather permitting, of course.
There’s a tiny bakery in the summer months, run from an islander’s kitchen, and there’s a post office with abbreviated hours. There are fresh local eggs, the best lobster on earth and sometimes halibut and crab. An industrious islander has started a community garden this year — if you help with the planting and weeding, there will be radishes, peas, tomatoes and corn on your plate later this summer.
I work on Soundings each day with the doors open, in a house surrounded by rugosas. If I look up from my laptop, I can see the ocean, but I love that the sound of it is there all the time. Occasionally there is the low thrum of a diesel, and muted rock music will drift across the cove, a soundtrack as the lobstermen haul their traps.
There’s a constant backdrop of black-capped chickadee and tufted titmouse song and, of course, the occasional cry of herring gulls. The air is fresh and briny, and at night the deep black sky, absent the barrage of land’s light pollution, is studded with thousands of stars that create a ceiling of overhead light.
When my West Pointer gets here next week, there will be a whole new world to discover: razorbill auks, murres, eider ducks, Arctic and common terns — even gannets haunt the nearby islands, especially Matinicus Rock, where there’s a puffin colony in the summer months.
I’ve been studying the nautical chart. It’s as if a different, more poetic tribe named everything offshore: Mackerel Ledge, No Man’s Land, Wooden Ball Island, The Hogshead, Two Bush Island, Zephyr Ledges, The Barrel … but more likely, the sea aroused the settlers’ imaginations a little more than the land. You don’t wind up here by accident — if it’s land you love, there are about 3,000 miles of it west of Rockland. From Matinicus, it’s 3,000 miles of sea to the southeast — next stop, Portugal.
I suspect most people would hate it here, or at least get bored very quickly. But the way I see it, as a reader notes in “Mail Boat” this month, “If Matinicus ain’t got it, you don’t need it.”
It suits me just fine.
This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue.