Once you have slept on an island, you'll never be quite the same
March 7, 2014 7:59 AM   Subscribe

I loved the article, but I'm afraid a certain author has made it impossible for me to look at photographs of Maine islanders without expecting them to grow fangs and jump off the page.
posted by Mooski at 8:04 AM on March 7 [2 favorites]

Hey, rusty isn't that bad.
posted by k5.user at 8:09 AM on March 7 [2 favorites]

If you zoom out far enough, we all live on islands.
posted by oulipian at 8:21 AM on March 7 [1 favorite]

Yeah, but no. I frequently visit friends who live year round on a more populous island. They face a similar set of challenges, though all less desperate - large car ferries every few hour instead of two mail boat runs. But it's isolated out there, there isn't enough work, especially in the winter, things cost more and are harder to get.
posted by wotsac at 8:47 AM on March 7

That's a pretty slick presentation from a 120 year old newspaper.

They are doing some slick things (on the cheap!) on the backend, as well, such as a Google Docs to Wordpress (to InDesign) workflow (they've open sourced and shared the plugins) and a new story budgeting tool using GDrive.
posted by notyou at 8:48 AM on March 7 [5 favorites]

Although the article does a good job of conveying the reality of life on Isle Au Haut, as soon as I saw that map I couldn't stop looking for MILE 3.25 TIDAL INLET.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:07 AM on March 7 [2 favorites]

Nicely done, I agree. My folks used to live on Deer Isle, and my dad had to take the mail boat over to Isle of Haut for his job about once a month. He really enjoyed living in that area and fondly remembers the community.

Also of note: in order to get to the mail boat launch in Stonington, you have to travel over a bridge to drive through Deer Isle and then into Stonington. The bridge is called Leapin' Lizzie by the locals and is similar to Gallopin' Gertie. Fortunately, Lizzie was fortified but it's still a little freaky driving over it when the wind kicks up.

Black Dinah chocolates are wicked good, too, btw.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:22 AM on March 7 [3 favorites]

The entire time I was reading the article I was hearing Jody Stecher's 'The Hills of Isle Au Haut' in my head.
posted by komara at 9:36 AM on March 7

As a kid, I always assumed Vinalhaven was some fetish retreat. Which would go over well there, I'm sure.
posted by yerfatma at 9:41 AM on March 7

Is it just me or is it deeply, fundamentally weird that like the apparently one real, not-just-a-basic-survival-necessity-like-a-grocery-store business operating on this island is a chocolatier?

I mean of course they're moving to the mainland! I'm pretty sure they don't grow cacao in Maine. So they buy their cacao from elsewhere, along with their sugar, milk, vanilla, what have you, and ship them out to this tiny island in the middle of nowhere and turn them into chocolate. Then what do they do with the chocolate? Okay, during the season there are some tourists around, but most of the year there are 30 people there. Is it a staple of the island diet or something? I assume they then ship the chocolate right back off the island on the same boat that brought in the cacao and the vanilla et al.

Who ever thought that was a good idea? It's nuts. It's like buying a bunch of car parts, hauling them out to the island, putting them together to make a car, and then shipping the completed car back to the mainland so you can sell it.
posted by Naberius at 9:48 AM on March 7

Here's the town website, including the full business directory.
posted by anastasiav at 9:53 AM on March 7

Hello from the 9th biggest island in the world.
posted by marienbad at 10:02 AM on March 7

I've taken the mail boat over to Isle Au Haut twice, both times backpacking across the island to camp along the southern edge, in the National Park. It's a pretty amazing place. We picked mussels off the rocks and cooked them up in our backpacking stoves with some wine. Tossed the shells back into the sea.

On the way to the camp site we passed a few cars that looked like they'd been fixed up constantly since the 1950s. Time sort of stands still there.
posted by bondcliff at 10:06 AM on March 7

Here's the town website, including the full business directory.

Huh, my office network blocks both pages as a "Verified fraud page or threat source."

Okay, okay, it all starts to make sense now. This place is some secret criminal hacking haven. The quiet rustic island thing is all a front, and the chocolate factory is for laundering money. Now I get it.
posted by Naberius at 10:09 AM on March 7

The article does mention the general store, btw.

I mean, sure, they could do something like make sculptures out of drift wood or balsam pillows, but some people like making chocolate and some people like doing that other stuff. And the video also talks about how it really is difficult to do business from the island, get repairs if equipment breaks down, etc. That's why they are expanding their chocolate business near the big tourist city, Portland.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 10:14 AM on March 7

aka Swallow Falls?
posted by blue_beetle at 10:30 AM on March 7

hey, I've been to Isle Au Haut! Friend's family has a house out there. It was interesting to see the old cars, like bondcliff mentions. Really nice to visit - so quiet and lovely. But yeah, I think trying to make it there full-time would be hard.
posted by aka burlap at 10:54 AM on March 7

I'm in the middle of reading Harbor by John Ajvide Lindqvist and though it's set on an island in the middle of the Stockholm archipelago and not off the coast of Maine, so much of the sense of isolation and "knowing your neighbor's every move" and talking about boats and supplies and fish and woods and hills is the same. Unfortunately Lindqvist's novel is also creepy as hell and I definitely carried that psychic residue over to this article and kept wondering when I was going to start reading about the disappearances or disturbing phenomena or dark rituals or any other horror story trope.
posted by komara at 11:10 AM on March 7 [1 favorite]

30 years ago I did Outward Bound on Hurricane Island just the other side of Vinalhaven, which means I spent four days and nights totally alone on one of the tiny islands in the Deer Island passage, with only a tarp and a few gallons of water and a whistle to blow if I got hurt or sick. Once I gave up on foraging I just lay there and fantasized about food. Could have used a chocolatier then!

We sailed out to Matinicus too, now that's a place I can barely imagine wintering.
posted by nicwolff at 2:25 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]

Speaking of Mantinicus, Isle Au Haut sounds a bit friendlier. Might be the difference between six miles out and twenty three miles out.
posted by 3.2.3 at 3:13 PM on March 7

Four cold weather researchers went out in mid-January to stay at Maine’s Mount Desert Rock, 20-25 miles offshore from Bar Harbor. Definitely no general store, no ferry, not much of anything out there except what they brought with them. And the weather. (I definitely would not go to the Rock in winter, but I was out there last spring, for the third or fourth time.)
posted by LeLiLo at 8:32 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]

komara: Unfortunately Lindqvist's novel is also creepy as hell and I definitely carried that psychic residue over to this article and kept wondering when I was going to start reading about the disappearances or disturbing phenomena or dark rituals or any other horror story trope.

I was just talking about Elizabeth Hand's Generation Loss over on AskMe! It takes place on a Maine island exactly like Isle Au Haut. And it's written in a style which threatens to tip over at any second into Lovecraftian horror-fantasy. (Think of the first few pages of Karl Edward Wagner's "Sticks.") There's an increasing sense throughout the last third of the book that cosmic nightmares are scratching at the thinning portals between our world and Outside ... or maybe it's just some crazy dude who can't stand the winter.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:51 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]

Interesting post.

I never really understood what living on an island meant until I spent a week on tiny Tangier Island in the Chesapeake. When the last tourists departed for the day and the sun dropped, I took walks around the entire island, one circuit taking about a half-hour. There were street lights but no cars; instead the women of the island, in twos and threes, drove in circles in golf carts to talk and gossip. Kids played under a streetlight in front of the church. As the surrounding waters vanished in the darkness the fact that every single short street was a dead end became strangely vivid.

I've visited Ocracoke, Block Island, Martha's Vineyard, and numerous Caribbean islands; none have been quite as spooky as Tangier but all had a similar dichotomy of those addicted to the isolation and those who came to resent and ultimately flee it. Island life requires a certain mindset.
posted by kinnakeet at 1:30 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]

This reminded me of the outport problems in Newfoundland: longstanding small isolated communities, mostly built around the cod fishery, which are now dying as they lose their young people.

Maine and the Maritimes are very similar, although I think Newfoundland is even harder.
posted by jrochest at 8:58 AM on March 8

Nicwolff, two years later I did hurricane island outward bound as well. Porridge never tasted so good as after that 3 day solo
posted by zia at 4:58 PM on March 8

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