The Working Waterfront

Making friends in the finite space of an island

Boston, North Haven provide very different chance encounters

Courtney Naliboff
Posted 2017-09-29
Last Modified 2017-09-29

The end of August this year marked my husband Bill’s and my 12th full year on North Haven island, and rolled over into the start of our 13th. As far as I know, we were the only new arrivals to the year-round community at that time.

There was a lot to love as soon as we arrived—our ten-month rental, with its view of the Camden Hills; Waterman’s Community Center, which embraced Bill’s technical prowess immediately; my exciting and fulfilling job at the school.

More elusive, though, were friends. In Boston, I’d quickly expanded my circle of fellow Brown alumni to include fellow musicians, coworkers at the music store and theater where I worked, journalists in my graduate program, and my upstairs neighbors. One could easily go to a show, a play, or an event and find like-minded individuals. They might be seen again at a similar venue, and after the third sighting in the wild, might become a genuine friend, or at least a friendly acquaintance.

On North Haven, the pool was certainly smaller, and in the wild, repeat sightings of any individual were a given. But how would we know who might share our fairly esoteric interests? Would anyone? Did we know how to befriend people who didn’t?

It took time, false starts, pleasant surprises, and a willingness to expand our vision of friends—and I bet it took the same for the people already on island. But now we have literally hundreds of friends and friendly acquaintances to chat with at restaurants, enjoy a film or presentation with, or help out in a storm.

This year, it seems we have a record number of new islanders. We have our magnet and exchange students swelling the numbers in the high school, and several new families besides. Many are arriving with family connections, but it doesn’t make the search for friends any easier or less important. Finding friends, making those connections in such a small and isolated place, was vital in our decision to stay on the island, and I imagine it could be for others as well.

I’m no expert, but if I could hazard to offer advice to both new islanders and those of us entrenched out here in the ocean: reach out. It’s as easy as dropping a Facebook message to say the movie at Waterman’s looks interesting or going to a community function like the back to school picnic and introducing yourself to an unfamiliar face. Being willing to embrace both the island’s cultural quirks—the wave, the pop-in—and the fact that they might be challenging for new residents, is key.

A life on North Haven, or any of our unbridged island communities, can be lonely and isolated, or rich with friendly faces. It takes effort, and might not be comfortable at times, but the rewards are what have kept my family on North Haven for 12 years, and what makes us consider it our home.

Courtney Naliboff lives on North Haven where she teaches music and theater.