The Working Waterfront

Remembering my ‘summer girl’ days

An off-season visit that led to a life-long love

Barbara Fernald
Posted 2021-11-10
Last Modified 2021-11-10

How did we get to September already? July felt like August and August felt like a gust of wind. Surely, after the time warp that was summer 2021, I could avoid experiencing the strange mix of emotions that hits me around Labor Day. But no, here it is, right on time.

I feel a sense of loss as I note the houses that are no longer lit up at night, the bike-less yards, and the absence of bird song. I have gained more time to myself, but that means I also have more time to feel the poignancy that tries to inhabit my heart. Luckily it doesn’t last long, especially when I remember it was not always this way for me.

I arrived on Little Cranberry Island in September 1976, a “summer girl” who came to the island after summer was over. I was beginning an open-ended stay in my favorite place in the world and fall melancholy was totally off my radar.
To top it off, my brother had secured a job working on a lobster boat and was due to arrive the week after I did. Neither of us had discussed our plans with the other until a few weeks before we reached the island.

I had always been in love with the island, but I was falling in love with my boss.

To be grown siblings sharing a family house, with no parents in sight in a place we both loved, was a wonderful stroke of serendipity. My brother was taking a break from his studies to experience something totally different while trying to figure out what to do next. I was taking a break from my boyfriend in Rochester, hoping he would miss me enough to eventually ask me to come home for good. Meanwhile, I hoped to also find a job on a boat and I was looking forward to experiencing my first autumn on the island.

Fall was every bit as beautiful as I had imagined. We watched the colors change on Mount Desert Island as we stayed in the family summer house. The northeast gales churned up the water in the Eastern Way in a manner I’d never seen.

With no heat or insulation, we made do with a small wood stove in the kitchen and a space heater in the bathroom, but we had to move out by November or risk frozen pipes. We ended up renting from the Frentrop family, a house once belonging to Waitie Gilley across the street from the post office. My brother was fishing with Mark Fernald and by then I was working, too.

It took me eight days of fishing with Bruce Fernald, over several weeks, before he finally offered me a job as his crew. By that time we had developed an attraction toward each other so either I was a really good worker or he wanted to ensure I would stay around longer. (I think it was a little bit of each.)

I spent an idyllic fall on the water seeing so many new things. Each trap that came up was a surprise, introducing me to all manner of sea creatures I didn’t know. So many times I would imagine friends from college working away in their offices and think, “I wish they could see where I work!”

I stuffed many bait bags, strung many redfish racks, plugged many lobsters, and scrubbed many buoys. As the days got shorter we often left before sunrise and came home in the dark.

It was hard work. The smell of bait permeated my clean laundry. The wet wooden traps weighed about 80 pounds, two-thirds of my own weight at the time, but I was young and determined to be capable. I had always been in love with the island, but I was falling in love with my boss.

I spent the winter months breaking up with my boyfriend in Rochester, while my brother stayed on the island filling out applications for PhD programs in geology. When I returned in March, I hoped it would be to stay forever. That plan took a few more fishing seasons to work out, but here I am, still with Bruce, remembering the magic of my first September visit to Islesford 45 years ago.

The island has changed over the years, just like anywhere else, but there is yet plenty of magic to be found, especially in September and October.

Barbara Fernald lives on Islesford (Little Cranberry Island). She may be contacted at