On Monhegan Island
For years, my way cool sister Susan and I have been going out to Monhegan Island to hike. We have traditionally gone on the last weekend the ferry runs before going to the winter schedule. Usually this is the last weekend in September or the first in October. We’ve missed a couple of years–the year Susie blew out her knee playing basketball comes to mind–and this year, because my son is playing havoc with my life by playing high school football (another story for another time) we had to go earlier in the month than usual.
Monhegan is approximately ten miles out into the Atlantic by ferry from Port Clyde.
My sister and I take the 10:30 boat (one runs at 7, but as I’m coming south and she’s coming north and we both live far away, we’ve never even tried to make that one) which gets us out to the island in approximately an hour. That gives us about five hours’ hiking time before we have to be back to the dock for the 4:30 boat to Port Clyde. We always head up to the village, past the Island Inn (where I have fantasies of holding writing retreats when I am rich), then to the right at the fork toward the church. Just around the corner here and up a rise are the only public bathrooms on the island (50¢ donation, please) and the bake shop where the world’s best pumpkin chocolate chip cookies can be found. Those cookies are a must before we head out on the trail to Lobster Cove.
Oddly, Susie and I have always gone the same way–counterclockwise–on our hikes; every year we say we’re going to head out the other way, toward Pebble Beach, and for some reason, we never do. It probably has something to do with those cookies (or the bathrooms). In any case, we pass by the Wyeth house, through a little marsh, and then up to the shipwreck. This rusted hull,
and the scattered bits of gears and screws, are the remains of the D. T. Sheridan, which foundered off the island in 1948. There are usually several people out on this part of the island with their easels set up and their paints to hand; once we hike past here, the artists thin out a bit, for as the path becomes more difficult and the cliffs loom, only the hardiest care to haul their gear out further.
We’ve always been lucky and have had good weather, and this trip was no exception. As we came around toward Gull Rock, the breeze freshened, which was a good thing: once the going gets tougher, the hike gets to be warmer and sweatier work. There were surprisingly few people on the trails–more passed us going toward Lobster Cove than away from it. This was also a good thing: it made conversation easier. The best thing about going out to Monhegan Island with my sister, better even than the cookies, is the cathartic nature of the trip; we always end up talking about things we never discuss on the mainland…it’s as if what gets said on the island stays on the island.
Though there are any number of places to eat in the village, Susie and I have always brought a lunch to eat out on the cliffs. It’s our habit to scramble down onto the rocks in the lee of White Head, where we can sit out in the sun and watch the surf pound and spray, though it never quite reaches us. We are hideous creatures of habit. We always seem to want lunch
at the same point on the hike, so we always end up having it in the same place. Fortunately, other people hiking past either recognize our desire to be left alone, or are too unnerved by the idea of scrambling that far down from the path, so we always have the place to ourselves. Unless one counts the seagulls which hover close by, just waiting for that fortuitously-dropped goldfish cracker.
This year, we hiked our accustomed loop more quickly than in other trips–just as Susie and I rode the MS 150 more quickly, too. Hmmm. However, it was Open Lighthouse Day state-wide, and the Monhegan Light tower was among those lighthouses which threw open their doors to the curious. We’d been up on the hill many times; we’d gone into the museum which is housed in the keeper’s house. But for the first time, my sister and I were able to climb to the top of the tower and have a look at the view. We were
accompanied by Bob the docent, who gave a spiel about the history of lights on the site; the current tower was commissioned in 1850 and built of specially-dressed granite blocks from Vinalhaven Island. There were 36
spiral steps up to a ladder for the final climb to the top; once there, Bob told us all about the Fresnel lens, fully automated now, but formerly operated by a series of weights and pullies, like a grandfather clock. Up there, he informed us, we were in the light tower with the second highest elevation on the east coast: only Seguin Light, which we could barely see off toward the horizon, was higher, with 20 feet more elevation.
We were quiet on the 4:30 boat back to Port Clyde. We always are. The captain of the Elizabeth Ann took the scenic route back through the islands; a woman standing in a doorway in a saltbox house on one of the islands waved to us as we passed. After a time, the Marshall Point Light came into view, marking the entrance to the harbor, and then we were back to the mainland, with an hour to spare before dark. It was getting cold.