A newcomer to the island, upon hearing about some of the inconveniences and stressors of island life, asked me, in all seriousness, “So why do you stay?”
There are times when I ask myself the same question. Like on a dark, rolling December ferry ride, shivering in my car (because we’re not allowed to run the engine anymore), trying to maintain my composure and also wait to use the bathroom until we’re past the Monument and the waves calm down.
Or when the mail doesn’t come because the boat didn’t go and the Penobscot Island Air planes couldn’t fly. Or when I leave the grocery store singing “Yes, we have no bananas,” because yes, they had no bananas.
That sense of challenge with a purpose is something we try to instill in students…
The challenges of island life are many, it’s true. But years ago, when I moved here from Boston, I determined that the challenges here feel worthier than the challenges I experienced in the city. There, I might stand in a pile of slush waiting for a bus for 20 minutes. Maybe I would be late to work because I was standing in Downtown Crossing waiting interminably for an Orange Line train, unable to call my boss from the subterranean gloom despite having a cell phone.
Or perhaps I’d find myself scrounging to pay my rent, disproportionately high for a box office assistant/grad student.
Don’t mistake me, I enjoy a challenge. I like a heavy lift, whether it’s bringing a one-act play with all its costumes and scenery from the island to a mainland host school for a competition, or stacking several cords of wood every fall. I just like my challenges to come with a sense of purpose.
I need to stack the wood so we can heat the house in the winter. I need to go on the boat in December to see family. I need to be a more creative cook when I can’t find what I need at the store.
Sometimes those challenges can lead to major undertakings, like the bakery I used to operate in the summer, or becoming a CPR instructor to improve access to the classes for island EMS. Sometimes the challenges lead to avoidance behavior, like the winter when I managed to never take the last boat home. More often than not, I gain something from working through them.
That sense of challenge with a purpose is something we try to instill in students as well. I got to chaperone the wilderness expedition this fall, and spent three nights camping, hiking, and paddling with the high school.
The paddle was long, with two difficult portages. The hike was wet—the entire day of the hike, in fact, was completely soggy. But everyone survived.
We cooked and ate good food, even in the rain. We saw beautiful waterfalls and stunning views of Katahdin. We supported each other with Band-Aids and Ace wraps and Ibuprofen as needed.
We set up camp and broke down camp and made it back to school and then set up everything again to attempt to dry it out and get rid of the sand and mud coating everything. Challenging, yes. But also essential.
This August marked the end of year 16 on North Haven, and now we’re into year 17. I’ve lived here for longer than I’ve lived anywhere in my life. The challenges here haven’t gone away, but they’re part of the fabric of our lives now. And while they sometimes seem grueling, they still feel worth it.
Courtney Naliboff parents, teaches, and plays music on North Haven.