The Working Waterfront

​Three love letters to North Haven

Island community reflects on itself through art

Courtney Naliboff
Posted 2018-10-30
Last Modified 2018-10-30

By Courtney Naliboff

The sun is dipping down to the horizon earlier and earlier these days, and the air is suddenly cool. Summer, though over, was notably filled with three loving homages to the island, opportunities for us all to pause and marvel at the human ecosystem we occupy.

The first was a photography exhibit at the North Haven Historical Society: “North Haven Then and Now.” Photographs by living and dead islanders filled the walls, and glass plate slides were gingerly observed through magnifying glasses.

In vintage photos, men posed proudly with their cows at the peak of North Haven’s agricultural productivity. Last year, the island’s current nine-year-olds took their turn behind the lens, sharing their unique photographic perspective.

My husband, Bill Trevaskis, whose photography was featured in the exhibition, spoke at length about the act of capturing a moment, candid or posed, and what it means for creating a historical narrative. We in the audience ate cream puffs and sipped wine, basking in the documentation before us.

About a month later, I found myself onstage in the world premiere of Susan Minot’s play, On Island. The play-with-music (including two of my songs) follows two families, year-round and summer, as they learn how to let go of the past and move forward, while preserving their love for North Haven.

There’s loss and tears, as well as humor, as Minot’s writing captured word-for-word some of the conversations we have every day on North Haven, especially in summer. And while it’s difficult sometimes to look into a mirror as deeply as the play asked us to, most walked out of the theater full of love for North Haven, with all its quirks and challenges and beauty.

Finally, Leta Hallowell’s digital ethnography project, “We Belong Here,” went live in mid-August. To an overflowing audience in Waterman’s Community Center one evening, she succinctly explained the process of interviewing islanders, again from summer and year-round families, and editing their words into a clear picture of the deep hold this place has on its residents.

Brought to life with Bill’s portraiture and the voices of our friends and neighbors, we were once again moved to tears as we took the time to honor the community those before us built, and we maintain. She screened the condensed version of the interviews once more that month, and the website is live for everyone to peruse and enjoy. 

To those taking the time and energy to document our community, thank you. Whether it’s sunrise photos on Facebook or gouache studies of the view of the Camden Hills from the island’s north shore, or black and white photos of kids eating ice cream on the Calderwood lawn, they are precious and treasured. The phrase “representation matters” has become somewhat of a buzzword these days, but it’s true. To see people who look like you, talk like you, have your dreams and hopes and fears, represented on the stage, screen, or gallery wall, is powerfully validating. And through photography, theater, and audio, North Haveners of every stripe felt that validation this summer.

Courtney Naliboff teaches music, writing, and theater on North Haven.