It will come to as surprise to those who know me to read that I love Maine. I went the first time about 1995 and fell in love with the state, the scenery, the culture, the wildlife and, yes, the Mainiacs! It is truly a beautiful and special place. In my dream life, I have a little cottage in Maine. I can see it in my mind. It is close enough to the water to hear the ocean chime in on the rocks and pebbles and to smell the wild roses that grow amongst the boulders lining the beach. My little dream house is tiny and painted white. It has a little front porch where I take my morning coffee. The furnishings are spare and simple and old. There is no air conditioner and all the windows are always open. I sweep the bare floors clean every morning and wash all the dishes by hand. I hang the tea towels on a line to dry. In the side yard is my kitchen garden—tomatoes, cukes, squash, herbs and cutting flowers. Out back, I have an old shed art studio with a wide, swinging door, one window with window box and a worn, paint splotched plank floor. In my dream life, I drive up from North Carolina to my little Maine house just in time to get the garden in and return home when the first frost hits. I take my cats. I take my paints. My friends and family flow through the house all the summer long. What a good dream! I’m believing it will happen. (And, if you look through my paintings, you will see I have painted and painted again some version of this vision!)
Maine is place of islands, and the islands are full of little dream houses. There are so many islands. I think I read somewhere that Maine has more coastline than any other state. May or may not be true, but I am sure it is almost true! I love the Maine islands.
One of my favorites is Monhegan Island. Monhegan sits about 13 miles out to sea. It is just a little over a mile long and has over ten miles of trails. You walk on Monhegan. There are no cars except to porter luggage up the steep gravelly paths to wherever folks are staying. Very cool. It is an unforgettable place of amazing natural beauty with high cliffs and long ocean views.
Monhegan attracts artists, birdwatchers, hikers and seekers of all types. It is a mecca of vistas and gathered at each one is an array of artists from all over and of all levels and meduims. On Monhegan, you get up in the morning and paint until supper—not a bad gig if you can get it. And, there are many famous American painters who have and do make pilgrimages each summer to Monhegan for the inspiration and comradary and sheer joy of having nothing else to do but paint.
When you arrive by ferry, you are greeted by a list of the island rules, good ones, like recycle, take your trash with you, and no smoking on the island. Sitting right down by the docks is The Barnacle...a bit of deli, a bit of an ice cream parlor, and a bit of a gift shop all with a million dollar view.
The Island Inn sits atop the first rise. It is the classic New England wooden seaside inn and the historic, majestic grand dame of the island. Very beautiful and everything you hope it will be. There is a wide porch where folks gather with their wine to watch the most incredible sunsets.
I once stayed in the house just across from the Inn. It was owned by Miss Rita, one of the oldest residents of the island at the time, maybe The Oldest. I think she was 91 the summer I stayed there. I thought about her a lot and what it must have been like to be raised in such a place and to live your life surrounded by such beauty. She rarely left the island in her life.
Not many people live year round on the island. It takes a special hardiness. Winters are long and freezing and the ferry comes only a couple of times each week.
It also takes a certain hardiness to enjoy the summers there. There is very little electricity on the island, but I find that delightful and charming and romantic. But, it is also not unusual for the island’s water supply to run dry for a couple of days. Somehow you get by, but that one can be tough.
Despite any hardships and because of them, Monhegan is an incredible experience. Everybody stays out doors all day. You eat whatever there is--no pickiness! Every house has a clothesline. Gardens are common, both flower and vegetable. Folks row right out into the ocean in wooden boats. There are puffins and seals and, if you are lucky, you sight a whale. There is an ancient forest aptly called Cathedral. There are rock cliffs of a dizzying height and water so cold and blue it takes the breath right out of you. You never forget Monhegan.
I think the quintessential Monhegan lodging is had at the Trailing Yew, long a gathering spot and inn for artists of all types. There is communal breakfast and supper around long tables and plenty of places to lounge and share histories and stories. The Mooring Chain, a cottage up the path and belonging to the Yew, is where I love to stay.
There is a beautiful wooden church on the island. Monhegan Chapel is a blessing and such a special experience. Lit by gaslight, there is usually some kind of singing event every Sunday evening. Sunday morning there is a non-denominational service lead by a different guest minister-priest-rabbi each week. How marvelous to be on a tiny rock way out in the ocean and lift your prayers and voice to God.
Atop the highest point on the island sits the Monhegan Lighthouse. It is worth the climb just for the view--awe inspiring. And the lighthouse still has it out buildings preserved and in tact, as well as a lovely art gallery. Once you get up there, you will long to stay the day so bring up lunch from one of the little stores on the dirt road known as Main Street.
Your cell phone probably won’t work. You will probably be glad of it! There are a couple of pay phones, but the island way is to post a note on the little shack on Main Street. You can send a message, list a item found or lost, or announce a happening. Everybody stops and reads it.
When I am on Monhegan, everything seems easy and simple. No problem I left back home is able to reach me. I just love it there. I wrote a poem about the experience of painting on Monhegan. It was published in the Poet’s Corner of the Monhegan website. I’ll leave you with it.
Falling down into a dream of Monhegan
The woman is painting her door red. A boy tells a dog his name. Me, I go dragging my paints Down gravely paths Seeking to record memories That I have not yet made.
The whale sings songs full of longing. A world begs forget the gold sun. Me, I go dancing my feet Through sunlit Cathedral Seeking the softly green radiance That I have not yet forgotten.
The man rows a boat old and wooden. A feather rides blue speckled foam. Me, I eye with hands shading Across grey pebbled beaches Seeking to call up an image That I have not yet set down.
The island sways in blue rhythm. The red heart beats back in time. The island sways in blue rhythm. The ocean sighs in white rime
I am dreaming of the island. I am calling out a name. “Monhegan,“ I hear me whisper.
I am dancing cross the ocean. My heartbeat this sweet refrain. “Monhegan,“ I hear me say.
The brush drags a shape on the paper. A paint drop forms life on the page. Me, I pass through like others Returning again and a day Seeking to transcribe beauty In colors I have yet to create.
- Deborah Cavenaugh