Hosting visitors helps bring island back in focus

Seeing island through others' eyes renews vision

August 25, 2015

old Cape Cod house on Isle au Haut shore

TOM GROENING

An older Cape Cod house on Isle au Haut's shore.

Posted August 25, 2015

Last modified August 25, 2015

Editor's note: Reflections is a monthly column written by Island Fellows, recent college grads who do community service work on Maine islands through the Island Institute, publisher of The Working Waterfront, and AmeriCorps. Meghan Cooper works with the town office on Isle au Haut.

As islanders know, summer is hectic. So far, I have found summer on Isle au Haut to be a good kind of hectic.

Committees can usually drum up a quorum of physically present members easily, which makes both new projects and routine business move quickly and smoothly. Annual meetings, information sessions, and public forums come one after another while the maximum audience is available on the island. And events, from contra-dances and talent shows to the gala lighthouse auction and the annual triathlon, seem to happen at least once or twice a week.

It’s a thrilling and exciting time, with old friends and new friends alike found on a daily basis at the library, the store, driving around town in their classic cars, or swimming in the pond on a warm day.

The drawback to this whirlwind of events and meetings, however, is that it leaves little time for quiet contemplation. It’s easy to take time to reflect in February, when the population hovers around 50 and the snow piles are so high you’d never know there were boulders underneath.

Winter has a quieter beauty. Being the first to ski down a snow-covered road is a joy in itself, but it is the solitude and opportunity for reflection that I find myself missing on occasion in the bustle of July and August.

Luckily for me, I was fortunate enough to host the Island Fellows summer retreat on “my” island this year. For a few short days, I stopped checking my myriad emails and showed my compatriots the charming, eccentric and wonderful parts of life on the island that has become my home. What is more, leading a tour group of people, many of whom had never been to Isle au Haut, helped me to see the island through fresh eyes. Despite how busy I was, I noticed and reflected on how much I value the sights and experiences that struck me so deeply at the beginning of my fellowship, but have since become almost commonplace.

As we hiked in the part of Acadia National Park that is on the island, the Fellows’ awe of the island’s natural beauty helped me to remember how unusual it is that I live within walking distance of a national park and can go for a gorgeous Sunday afternoon hike with my dog on a whim.

After a potluck on the first night, the Fellows commented on how delicious the food was and how delightful the company. I remembered that Isle au Haut hosts the best potlucks I have ever had and how supportive the community is of the Island Fellows.

Perhaps most significant of all, the Fellows noted the community’s generosity. There was Jeff, who donated his afternoon to give us a private tour of the lighthouse, and Marshall, who said that, of course, it was fine to have a group of Fellows traipsing around his inn during peak season. There was Kendra, who donated her house in Head Harbor for us to stay in. There was the entire crew of the Maine Seacoast Mission’s Sunbeam, who came to our potluck, played volleyball with us, and also hosted us for one of their magnificent community breakfasts the next morning.

These expressions of support, kindness, and selfless generosity, along with countless others, made the summer retreat and make my life out here as a Fellow possible. They reminded me of how grateful I am to the Isle au Haut community for supporting my projects and for supporting me.

During the last afternoon of the retreat, I drove my truck into town. As I passed the town hall and descended the hill to the center of town, I glanced out over the thoroughfare. It was one of the most beautiful days of the whole summer, with a gentle breeze to keep the bugs away and to moderate the brilliant sun. I have made this trip into town countless times: by truck, by car, by foot, by ski. I would swear, however, that the thoroughfare had never looked more beautiful. The water sparkled in the afternoon sun, and sailboats and lobster boats alike sat peacefully on their moorings.

I reflected on the past two days of the summer retreat, and I reflected on the past 11 months of my fellowship. I am living in an inimitable community, and I am infinitely grateful for its many gifts.

Contributed by

Meghan Cooper