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Life on Matinicus Island
October 28, 2012 7:44 AM   Subscribe

Life on Matinicus Island: "Matinicus lies 23 miles out to sea, the most remote inhabited island on the Atlantic seaboard... one of a vast necklace of islands, more than 3,000 in all, spread out along the Maine coast as far north as the Bay of Fundy. A century ago, 200 or more of them were fishermen's communities; today, only 14 are inhabited year-round... Today, two years after putting a bullet into the neck of another lobsterman, in defense, he says, of his daughter, Vance Bunker is a pariah on the island: legally acquitted but privately unforgiven, widely but quietly reviled." (via longform)
posted by flex (25 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks. Interesting read. Over and over, reminded of a small island (population 130) I lived on in the Outer Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland. Many similarities in the cultures, the family connections and ancestry, how the place functioned as a socio-economic entity, feuds and how they were put aside when people needed help to survive.

Interesting point about the fishermen coming up with their own rules; this may be a feature of small, relatively isolated islands. St Kilda (evacuated in the 1930s) had a "parliament" where the men would determine day to day tasks, as well as fixing their own rules of farming governance.
posted by Wordshore at 8:15 AM on October 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


Thanks for posting. It is, indeed, an interesting read, though I half-expected the narrative to stop and have

(do you love?)

show up somewhere.
posted by Mooski at 8:18 AM on October 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fascinating read, thanks for posting.
posted by arcticseal at 8:20 AM on October 28, 2012


"If you marry one of our daughters, Father Dagon and Mother Hydra will usually let you fish here, too."
posted by schwa at 8:43 AM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I though Matinicus was the name of the villans undersea base in one of the Bond films?
posted by blue_beetle at 8:52 AM on October 28, 2012


speaking of remote inhabited island on the Atlantic seaboard ... moonrise kingdom is now out on dvd.
posted by cupcake1337 at 9:07 AM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


A few years back, before this, some of my friends and I kayaked out to Matinicus, we arrived in the harbor at low tide and, while still in our boats, starting quizzing a kid on the stone seawall with questions. "Do you see kayakers come out this way often?" It had been a long day and we were feeling proud of getting there across a fair bit of open water. "Oh. Yes. But we laugh at them."

A storm came up the next day, so we were planted on Matinicus for a couple of days. A very peaceful, beautiful place with a much stronger feel for the Atlantic Ocean than many other Maine coastal islands; I remember coming around Criehaven Island just south of Matinicus as the storm was starting to come in - rarely felt so tiny as in that kayak looking out on the whole ocean slowly rising and falling.

Thanks for this post. It is a wonderful island to visit, but not a typical tourist destination.
posted by relish at 9:30 AM on October 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


"She is the island's historian, the clerk-secretary of its church, and a member of its school board. Her devotion to the place seems almost ingrown."

Sounds painful.

I was hoping this would be one of those islands from the logic puzzle books of my youth, with the two tribes that are indistinguishable but for the fact that one always lies and the other always tells the truth. WHERE ARE THOSE ISLANDS IN REAL LIFE?
posted by roger ackroyd at 9:58 AM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you're looking for "remote island in the North Atlantic," may I suggest you drive about 10 hours east from Maine, to North Sydney, Nova Scotia. Take the five-hour Marine Atlantic ferry (if it's not tied up because of high winds or mechanical problems) to Port aux Basques, Newfoundland & Labrador. You can take your car on the ferry, and you'd better, because you're not likely to find a place to rent a car in Port aux Basques. From Port aux Basques, take the Trans-Canada highway northeast for a couple of hours, until you hit the Burgeo exit. Make sure you have plenty of gas before you exit the highway, because there's nowhere to stop between the turnoff and Burgeo. Drive about two and a half hours, east then south, til you arrive in the small town of Burgeo. It's a scenic spot - check out the town museum, they have a little display about Farley Mowat, who lived here in the late 60s. Burgeo has a single motel if you need a place to stay, and you probably will, since the ferry to Ramea only runs a couple of times a day. This ferry is much smaller, and the ride takes about an hour and twenty minutes. After that, welcome to Ramea! The main island is less than a square mile, but more than 600 people live and work here. Put your feet up for a while and enjoy the view.
posted by oulipian at 10:03 AM on October 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


Great piece, thanks for the link. The wide-view zoom in, tying large-scale industrial overfishing to the resulting economic destablization on the island as the lobstermen grew prosperous, is a (cough) model of economy.
posted by mwhybark at 10:22 AM on October 28, 2012


Thank you for posting this, it was fantastic reading. I grew up in a huge city and have only lived in cities; I find myself fascinated by life in small, remote communities.
posted by kalimac at 10:54 AM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Great story; thanks for posting it.
posted by languagehat at 11:09 AM on October 28, 2012


Fascinating reading, thanks for posting this. I'm a little puzzled, though, by the jury's decision in this case. Obviously, they heard days of testimony and I've read a couple of news articles today, but I can't help wondering what it was that didn't quite come through to me in the reporting.
posted by tyllwin at 11:57 AM on October 28, 2012


This reminds me of Elizabeth Gilbert's Stern Men.
posted by bardophile at 12:31 PM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Matinicus was a childhood holy grail for me. My dad first made the sail there when I was probably four or five. At the time I was way too young to go there. It was an overnight sail, our boat was small, and really more of a retired racing boat than anything else, no cabin, no motor, and really just enough room for a handful of people and dog. He made this trip every year - at least once a year. So I grew up a bit, learned to sail, made a few short trips to Black Island to camp (2-3 hours worth of sailing), and then - one day my dad asked me if instead of black island, if I wanted to go.

I was probably 12 or so, and my answer was an expected yes. It was about a 45 mile sail, with avoiding islands, Weaver's Ledge, and making sure to stall somewhere in the way of the Swan's Island Ferry. (That last part wasn't really a goal, it just always seemed to happen).

So it was an all day sail - leaving at 6:00 AM and not getting there till late afternoon - just enough time to go for a hike, collect driftwood for the fire, set up a tents, and then - well then came the magic. The island is pretty neat, its got the traditional rocky coast of Maine beach, some areas would be just big slabs of granite into the water, other areas big round rocks smoothed by the surf, and then what would seem like crushed rock on the area where we would come to shore.

We set off down the beach at sunset probably on a two mile hike, to the southwestern tip (if I remember correctly). The sound as we approached was awe inducing. There on the rocks, probably sixty or so harbor seals hung out, chatted *loudly* and perched on the rocks. It seemed insane from the perspective of a small boy (100lbs soaking wet). There they would be, hanging out on this tip with the sun setting (and blinding you) as you approached. Of all my memories of camping with my dad - that is probably one of the biggest (along with finding the coffin on Black Island, playing flashlight tag in Winter Harbor, and hanging out with stoned buffalo).

I remember collecting fiddleheads, the dog eating vidalia onions (these were imported by a friend - supply chain wasn't what it is today) right out of the tinfoil packs in the coals of the fire. I remember eating hotdogs and hamburgers, reading mad magazine (if anyone can find the issue, it was the one with Alfred E. Newman dressed like Batman on the cover - that would tell you the year I went for the first time) till I fell asleep, and then breaking up camp the next morning and sailing back.

I never knew that there were people there besides us. It never felt like there were.
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:49 PM on October 28, 2012 [18 favorites]


Thanks bardophile. Also reminds me of Islander (in which Amy Jo Johnson, the pink Power Ranger, delivers a Maine fisherman's wife superior in every dimension to Marisa Tomei's).
posted by qbject at 2:12 PM on October 28, 2012


Somehow i suspect Yankee Magazine, AKA 'rich people's guide to real estate in Maine magazine' , would not like it to be known that similar gun-toting highjinx are common in many Maine fishing communities.

Head out to Deer Isle sometime. nobody wants to be clam warden because people keep burning the clam warden's car. It's scary.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:31 PM on October 28, 2012


Somehow i suspect Yankee Magazine, AKA 'rich people's guide to real estate in Maine magazine'

Oh damn, I just sent them my old camera because I thought they couldn't afford one.
posted by Brian B. at 5:01 PM on October 28, 2012


Interesting read.

Nanukthedog, only on Metafilter would I not be surprised that someone is intimately acquainted with a tiny island miles from the mainland.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:43 PM on October 28, 2012


dunkadunc: Head out to Deer Isle sometime. nobody wants to be clam warden because people keep burning the clam warden's car. It's scary.

I've seen that attitude before with anti-government types, and it drives me crazy. I can understand having a hard time with the limits set upon you, but don't be a fool; if there was no protection of wild game (of any type) people would harvest it on an industrial level, as long as there was still a buck in it, until it was completely eradicated. If it wasn't for wardens, there would probably be no clams at all for anyone.
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:29 PM on October 28, 2012


I'm on one of those 14 islands right now....nearish to Matinicus. It's pretty different.
posted by piearray at 8:32 PM on October 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


...reading mad magazine (if anyone can find the issue, it was the one with Alfred E. Newman dressed like Batman on the cover - that would tell you the year I went for the first time)
Probably issue #289, September 1989. If not, one of these other candidates.
posted by Pranksome Quaine at 3:51 AM on October 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Somehow i suspect Yankee Magazine, AKA 'rich people's guide to real estate in Maine magazine' , would not like it to be known that similar gun-toting highjinx are common in many Maine fishing communities.

I would say that the true ”r.p.g.t.r.e.i.M.” is Down East magazine, not Yankee. More to the point, it seems a bit overblown to talk about “gun-toting highjinx” in a state that ranks 49th (2010) in Firearms Assaults per 100,000 Population. The entire state only had 4 handgun murders that year — remarkably, RI and NH only had 2 each, and VT just 1 — so anytime people start shooting at each other up this way it’s big news.

Not to dismiss Deer Isle, either (my sister once had her tires all slashed there, when she left her car — with a Maine license plate — parked overnight to go off on a sailboat), but there is a big difference between a place like that, connected by a bridge (albeit an often shaky one), and those rare remaining communities completely on their own, out to sea. Almost any event on the offshore islands — more than half of which have populations of less than 100 — has more impact than it would on the mainland.

today, only 14 [islands] are inhabited year-round...

Actually there are 15 Maine offshore island communities, not 14. Great Cranberry and Little Cranberry, just across the water from the island I live on, are the only no-bridge, occupied islands in Maine linked politically as one town. (For more info about the 15, check out the most recent annual report from the Island Institute.)
posted by LeLiLo at 4:26 AM on October 29, 2012


Nanukthedog, only on Metafilter would I not be surprised that someone is intimately acquainted with a tiny island miles from the mainland.

I went there every summer five years in a row. I miss it.
posted by JanetLand at 6:23 AM on October 29, 2012


I would say that the true ”r.p.g.t.r.e.i.M.” is Down East magazine, not Yankee.

You're completely right.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:02 PM on October 29, 2012


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