Nantucket has nothing over Great Chebeague Island.
Well…I do love Nantucket.
Riding bikes with my husband when our marriage was new to Madaket Beach and Siasconset on the far end is a memory I’ll treasure forever.
A friend has offered to take us by boat to Nantucket, but several hours on open ocean from Portland, Maine makes my stomach squeamish.
But…we can take the short 15-minute ferry ride from Cousins Island in Cumberland to Great Chebeague Island without turning green.
And the view across the short patch of ocean is gorgeous, particularly late afternoon when you’re heading over to the antique inn for cocktails on the lawn, games of corn hole, and dinner with friends.
Which is just what we did on a warm August summer night.
Getting to Chebeague is half the adventure. You can head over in your own boat, although docking it can be impossible, or take a ferry captained by the Chebeague Transportation Company from Wharf Road on Cousins Island, parking your car and being shuttled from a lot on Route 1 in Cumberland, or take the Casco Bay lines mail-boat and other “down-bay” trips from Portland that travel beyond Long Island.
"Chebeague" (pronounced "sha-big") comes from a Native American word meaning "Island of Many Springs." One paved road loops around the island with a few connecting paved roads in between such as Schoolhouse Road or Littlefield Avenue. There are many smaller dirt roads leading to private homes, points, and public beaches, some a single rutted lane.
During low tide, you can go clamming in the coves to harvest steamers, hen clams, and razor clams. My mom always loved steamed clams and often, they would accompany boiled lobster in our annual summer meal.
My husband and I favor mussels which became popular in the 1990’s when clams were getting more difficult to acquire. Mussels started showing up on menus in our highest grade Maine restaurants.
Our taste buds yearn for the garlic, wine, and onion broth served with mussels with chunks of Standard Bakery rustic dipping bread, but my mom always knew mussels to be inedible. Old habits die hard; she’ll not try them.
Mussels grow in clusters, attached by “beards” to rocks and seaweed, buoys, pier pilings, or most anything grounded in ocean water. They are now sometimes grown on floating barges by farmers where they can easily be picked when ready. They can be collected in larger quantities than clams which must be dug out of the sand, by hand, with an angled pick which is back breaking work.
We eat a lot of seafood in Maine…and it can be expensive…but when you know what it takes to dig/fish/shell seafood, you know it’s very cheap for the effort it takes our fishermen.
There’s a short walk uphill from the dock to the inn. A van from the inn meets every ferry so if you’d prefer the ride, you’ve got it. Walking takes you right in the middle of golf swings on a tee that hits balls across the road. We each keep an eye on each other – can I walk? Are you ready to swing? I’ve not been hit by a golf ball yet!
Through the historic lobby with paneled walls, a large stone fireplace, overstuffed chairs, artwork for sale, and board games set up on tables, we are escorted to a table on the front lawn to eat a delicious meal overlooking the expanse of green grass of the course that leads down to the water.
We watch the sun begin to drop in the night sky and make a toast to friends and summer in Maine.
Later, we lounge in the large wicker chairs on the front porch, feeling the light breeze picking up as the evening wanes. Others around us are laughing, talking quietly, smiling, and enjoying their company.
Maybe they’re islanders, or Mainers come from Portland like us feeling a million miles away, or maybe they’re tourists come from the dog days of summer in New York or Pennsylvania.
No matter where we’re from, it appears from my vantage point, that each of us is rebuilding, breathing deeply, unwinding, and restoring balance to our work-weary souls.
Chebeague Island and its historic inn embody a pause in our busy lives.
They allow us to go back to a simpler time and make us feel grateful for a chance…and a reminder…to slow down.