From Matinicus to Monhegan
Here are some more thoughts from the Shoe is on the Other Foot department, wherein yours truly drops all pretense of Outlaw Island cynicism and reverts to the status of map-toting, camera-bearing tourist. Of course, my trip to Monhegan was entirely about work. “Looks like I have to go to Monhegan,” I mentioned to a couple of the regulars, who winced sympathetically. The stereotype out here leans toward pity: we might have an occasional high-maintenance whiner, cottage renter who needs the remedial gas appliance tutorial, or misplaced yacht snob but they, oh poor them, they of Monhegan are inundated for months. Swamped. Trampled. Entirely overwhelmed. Is it in fact so? I couldn’t say.
At any rate, the heavy laboring that I would do while visiting our neighbor island to the south was just a bit of gentle research intended for a perhaps overly specialized book. I might sneak in a little recreating here and there. Certainly it was nothing but sheer coincidence that the seas were calm, the weather was easy to bear on the worst day and gorgeous most of the time, the sellers of food were open for the season but not yet crowded, and there was still a place to sit in the Black Duck (oh, and absolutely nobody was coming to blows over the New York newspapers in the Carina store).
I thought of that old line: its nice work if you can get it. To those who are assured that I am inclined to judge, to sass the other ports of Maine and malign the visitors too readily as deficient in the native intelligence of a carrot, I beg your indulgence. Some thoughts on being the outsider: I have gone over to the dark side or, if you like, the light side. It does no man harm to be off his native territory once in a while, to be the foreigner, to ask directions and humbly inquire about those things the others consider self-evident. It does no woman harm to ask the occasional “silly question;” if anything, it is a lesson in diplomacy, and good practice in the fine and dying art of common courtesy.The difference between a tourist and a tourist is whether or not one is rude.
It had taken a while to put together a Monhegan adventure. Sometimes those who expound on island life (without ever having tried it) jump to the conclusion that getting from one island to another must be more convenient than from the island to the main. Hardly. With entirely unrelated and dissimilar mechanisms for transport, multiple schedules and timetables and tide charts to consult, and no inter-island public conveyance at all, it is easier to get from Matinicus to Omaha. Nevertheless, the designated day dawned sunny; we arose early from our sleeping bags in South Thomaston, and with my daughter driving, headed down Route 131 for the Port Clyde dock to catch the 7 a.m. boat.
(...feeling every bit like tourists).
To the good folks who won the trip to Monhegan in the contest on the Down East website: may you have a wonderful time. Two of you will be coming from some considerable distance for this experience. As a total Monhegan “newbie,” speaking with the voice of no experience and my perspective adjusted by a perfect conjunction of circumstances, I doubt that you’ll have any better a time than I had. I think I won big. I had what one could argue was the perfect Monhegan trip, in defiance of some significant odds, and now join the ranks of those who treasure their Monhegan days. Let ‘em make their faces here on Matinicus; all was well when I went there, and that is enough.
It’s like I tell the summer people over and over: no place, by virtue of geography alone, offers “a simple life.” The simplicity happens when we’re “off duty,” absolved of most responsibility. All I had to be responsible for was getting back to the Laura B. in time and not losing my ticket. When we first saw the notice on the Down East website this spring about the contest (“winner gets a trip to Monhegan”), there was some joking among those of my household that I ought to enter. I’d been trying to get to Monhegan for a long time, and one thing after another had conspired to interfere. If I won that contest I could just sashay out there on the boat and stay in the big hotel. Hey, I admitted, I want to go to an island that has a coffee shop! An island with a café — think of it! Even better, more than one café; that sounds to me like the perfect combination (such establishments being the sort of amenities we cannot offer on Matinicus).
Anyway, “You can’t be in that contest, you work for Down East.” Well, I don’t technically work for them… “Well, you’re not what they want anyway.That contest is for tourists, you know, people from Sheboygan who want to paint pictures of seagulls and stuff. You can’t paint a thing; you can’t even draw a straight line. Besides, the last thing they want to attract to Monhegan is some unstylish crank from Matinicus.”
Yeah, well, says you.
I did not paint anything, nor did I eat lobster, nor did I build a fairy house, ask about the hermit, mention Jamie W., or make any reference to any islander about a “unique lifestyle.” The lifestyle is rather familiar, thank you very much. Being as everybody else was working, I was happily occupied with cups of coffee, slices of pizza, and my friends’ home cooking. When I am privileged to go someplace great for the sake of something I am writing, it is fair to say “I love my job.” The high point of the visit involved a pint of chocolate ice cream on the rocks at Burnt Head, as I sprawled like a lazy reptile, even getting a bit burnt myself, the sun the hottest we’d felt this year, my idleness pointing me out as very much a rusticator indeed.
Well, pretty much. My Monhegan excursion did have some small bit of serious purpose, as I was also visiting the school and the teacher, and my daughter with whom I traveled was visiting a friend on Monhegan. I did have a bit of work to do, but it was easy work, and basically amounted to chatting with people; hardly busting rocks in the hot sun. Did I mention the hot sun?
Eva Murray lives on Matinicus Island year-round, but seems to spend an awful lot of time on the road.