The Working Waterfront

I don’t play island favorites

Working on more than one island spurs questions

Ben Algeo
Posted 2015-05-12
Last Modified 2015-05-12

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.

This always happens. I’m telling someone what I do, how I work to lower the cost of energy on Monhegan and Matinicus islands, how I’m based in Rockland and split my time between the two islands, and then they throw down the gauntlet. 

“Which one is your favorite?”

I am not a fan of this question. How am I supposed to answer that? If I answer one way, I’m insulting your island. If I answer the other way, I sound like a suck-up.

Dodging the question doesn’t help either, because that leaves your real answer up to the imagination of the questioner, which is really the worst outcome of the three.

More to the point, I don’t know how to answer that question honestly.  I’d say it’s like asking a mother to pick her favorite child, but that seems like a melodramatic comparison. Also, anyone with siblings will tell you that mothers have favorites. My problem is that I have to take two unique and completely subjective experiences, and make an objective comparison of the two.

On one hand, there’s Monhegan, the iconic artist colony located ten miles off Port Clyde. The island’s precipitous cliffs, quaint village and rugged inhabitants have been the subject of choice for painters like Rockwell Kent, Andrew and Jamie Wyeth, George Bellows and Andrew Winter.

My experience on the island so far has been very social; from being “Tom Sawyered” into painting buoys outside the brewery, to music night at the church, to chatting up day trippers outside the pizza shop, it was never hard to find a new activity, or a new person to talk to on Monhegan.

Then there’s Matinicus, the rugged fishing community that marks the approach to Penobscot Bay. Matinicus has a reputation that often precedes it in casual conversation. It’s seen as an anarchic outpost, home to all manner of debauchery and recklessness. You can imagine my disappointment when, after going back and forth to the island for three months, I had yet to witness a single shootout.

What I did witness was a place of incredible natural beauty, a vibrant history and some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. There are few things that compare to watching storm surge smash over the breakwater, hearing a good rendition of the story of Ebenezer Hall (the ill-fated original settler of Matinicus), or whipping up a feast out of the pickings from my neighbor Tony’s garden.  

I had less of a social experience on Matinicus than I did on Monhegan, which gave me a lot of time to work at things I normally don’t have time for. I learned how to cook a few new dishes, I read a stack of books and played a lot of guitar. I also spent a lot of time walking, biking and working.

This brings us back to the original dilemma. How do these two experiences stack up against one and other? I still don’t know how to answer that question. I do know one thing, though: sitting here in an office building in Rockland, writing this article and staring out at Penobscot Bay makes me really miss being on the islands.

Hopefully, I’ll be headed back out soon. Maybe I’ll run into some of you out there. If we do meet, whatever you do, don’t ask me which island is my favorite.