Friday, July 19, 2013

A Monhegan Island Primer

Set a spell on the porch at The Island Inn...
I first went to Monhegan Island in 1970. I was 24 and living in Washington, D.C., and it seemed like the moon to me. It took forever to get there, involving a long car ride and then a ferry. There was no electricity so we used lanterns to walk around at night. It was downright spooky, but thrilling too, like going into the past or maybe a grade-B horror movie. There was also nothing whatsoever to do--no shops or movies-- but walk and read and paint, if you were so inclined, and of course drink summer drinks on the big lawn overlooking the water. I hiked the whole island several times over, straight through the middle and around the edge. It was great fun and I fell in love with the place, determined to go back and even spend a full year there.

I did return several times, each time making the long drive from Washington. And still, each time, I thought I might spend a year there, just to experience the frozen desolation of the long, forbidding winter. Then I moved to Maine, and now I can get to Monhegan in about three hours including the ferry ride, and I've only gone once because with Maine all around me it's less of a big deal, and I have my own personal frozen, desolate winter right here in South Freeport without packing anything or finding a pet sitter.

... or hike to the top of a stunning cliff....
Still, Monhegan is a magical place, and I'm excited that two of my dear friends will be spending a few days there this summer. It's changed a bit, though. The island got electricity in 1984 so the spookiness factor is gone, but a lantern is still a nice touch at night; certainly a flashlight. There are a few shops now, and lots of art galleries where you can spend those tourist dollars burning a hole in your pocket. I highly recommend purchasing a fish for your garden. It's not cheap but it's so worth it; since we got one our garden has been unbelievably productive and I can't help thinking it's the spirit of Monhegan doing it. (See photo below.) There are no restaurants to speak of, but the little market-cum-sandwich shop right behind the Island Inn is excellent, and the Inn itself is the premier place to stay, serving memorable gourmet food and amazing breakfasts, if you can afford it.

...and don't forget one of these fabulous fishes!
What you do on Monhegan hasn't changed: hike, sit, drink, paint, and read. If I remember right, you'd better bring your own wine or Bloody Mary fixings. And a camera. And some sunscreen. And plenty of bug spray. And sun hats. And some Dramamine for the ferry ride--it takes 90 minutes and it goes rain or shine, and if it's bad weather you'd better be ready--this is not the QEII. And be on time, because if you miss it, that's it, there's not another for quite some time.

Did I mention the cliffs and the stunning ocean views? They're a ways up there, in fact I've read that the island has the highest cliffs on the eastern seaboard. Really, it's fabulous, but you'd better be ready; Monhegan is not for the faint of heart.

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