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Monhegan Island

The village of New Harbor was quiet on a Monday morning as we arrived at Hardy Boat Cruises to ferry the ten miles across to Monhegan Island. I’d made this passage once before, eight years prior, and as I recalled it could be a rough one. You never lost sight of either the island or the mainland, but the rolling swells could easily be five or six feet. It was a sunny summer day, so I skipped the Dramamine. I thought I could make it…and did.

I was deep into writing a novel about Monhegan which is why my husband, kindly, suggested we revisit.

Looking at pictures of ours from 2009 and doing internet research, I had already written scenes at:

the coffee shop right atop the granite dock, capturing all visitors coming to and fro

turn-of-the-century classic style, gray shingled, summer hotel built in 1816

at 165-feet, they are the highest cliffs on an island in Maine

an artist colony rental by the week or for the entire summer

housing beautiful paintings by local artists

with the rusted remnants of the shipwreck of the D. T. Sheridan and Jamie Wyeth’s house

I have read so much about the Wyeth’s at this point that any reference to them intrigues me.

I discovered I had captured these pretty well.

For this visit, I had to see more than last time: the Cathedral Woods Trail and its fairy houses where my character, Addie, walks; Fish Beach where my characters could come ashore in the Zodiac; tiny Swim Beach which is the only spot on the island where you can put your toes in the water and take a swim; more of the trails along the cliffs….where someone could fall. Just where would I make the fall happen?

Monhegan Island is timeless. 75% of the island is uninhabited, a nature preserve. Visiting takes you back to a time when life was simpler and yet tougher. The hardy folks who call this isolated island home year-round number only about 60 and must be self-sufficient souls. They are primarily lobstermen during their unique winter lobstering season and sell their wares to tourists during the summer months.

We could recognize the locals when we passed them on the dirt roads; they kept their heads down and didn’t engage. After quiet, cold winters, I would think they might like to see the tourists come. But understandably, going from 60 inhabitants to 400 or so jamming the village each day must sometimes be overwhelming to them. Obviously, to live there, they are those who tend toward silence and solitude.

The Island Inn is quaint and cozy. Our lobster sliders, pan seared haddock sandwiches, and clam chowder were delicious. We had worked up an appetite hiking up and down the Cliffs at Whitehead. We were hot and sweaty and appreciated a flushing toilet and soap and water to freshen up before lunch. Our beverage choices were lemonade or brewed iced tea; few establishments serve alcohol on the island.

Monhegan Island is a rather remote working island. Visitors come to see and experience the natural beauty, the stark simplicity, the culture which feels a little lost in time. It’s not Nantucket with its luxury and amenities. It’s not Disneyland, an artificially created world catering to visitors.

The artists who come talk about the “light” of Monhegan as a draw for them. The island, far enough away from the mainland, lying amidst water all the way around, under the sun and moon and stars has a light emanating that attracts artists in their quest to capture how they are experiencing it all.

The lure for me to write a book about it is its mystery. It reminds me of the story of the Sirens in mythology, luring the sailors closer with their mellifluous songs, only to have them smash their ships against the rocks. Weather around Monhegan Island can be dangerous and come up fast. Kayaking or boating on the back side is discouraged.

And if you do it, you’re on your own. Brochures say you’ll need to be adept at self-rescue. There are no places on the backside to come ashore, swimming to save yourself or by boat.

Eventide is a novel about three middle-aged couples boating up the coast of Maine, late summer, heading to Monhegan Island for a 24-hour get-away. A goal is to showcase the natural, authentic beauty that is Maine and get my reader out onto the water with me. Eventide is an archaic word meaning “evening.” By evening in the story, the joy of the day dissipates and it all unravels. There is murder…and a twist.

Visiting a second time, I see I've chosen the perfect setting for the story.

And for me, as the writer, I've solidified it in my own mind, the magic and mystery of this place forever.


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