There’s a welcome party on the docks at Isle au Haut. Families here to greet relatives, fishermen to collect gear ordered from the mainland, others just to see who or what the tide has brought in. I recognize the Mayor and Mrs. Mayor from the short film I saw a few years ago, the one that made me want to come here.
It’s a fun show. Rare to see a place with people of such different backgrounds so familiar to each other – familiar having the same root word as family. In a few minutes the crowd disperses in golf carts and the few cars shipped over to the island at great expense. I’m told most cars that come here never leave. Ever. You find their carcasses dragged deep into the woods, overgrown with rust and moss. Someone’s mummified memories. We saddle up and begin a clockwise circuit of the island. Our friends, the boy and his father, head in the other direction. We wave as they disappear around the corner.
Depending on the route you take, it’s 12-15 miles around the perimeter of the island. Maybe ⅓ of that is paved. A little more than half the island is now part of Acadia National Park, concentrated in the central and southern portion. Most of the town, the homes and businesses, are clustered along the waterfront near the wharf and harbor. There’s a small store, a gift shop, a tiny post office – the one responsible for the ferry – the size of a camper trailer.
Further around is a beautiful church near the top of the largest hill. We are told there was no road to the church when it was built. All the work to build it, even hauling the materials, was done by hand or with draft animals. There’s now a clearing through the woods to bring up the elderly and handicapped, but for everyone else there’s just a very long set of stairs. The path to heaven is steep and lined with blackberries.
Beyond that is the Town Hall, a 100 year old Craftsman style building that serves as library, movie theater, dining hall, basketball court, dance hall, and whatever else it can become by rearranging furniture. Today there’s a free book and clothing exchange. Though the building is officially closed, it’s on the honor system here.
Our destination, loosely, is Long Pond – a mile long glacial gash at the south end of the island that collects fresh water, where one might go for a swim. But first, provisions. We double back and head the other direction to the roadside shack of The Maine Lobster Lady for a Lobster Roll and a fried Halibut sandwich. Then beyond and down the hill and into the park over gravel roads past a woodland bog to the Lighthouse for a picnic.
The last section of road is steep and rough. We have to get off the bikes and walk them in places. The Lighthouse is now an inn of sorts. You can spend the weekend in the keeper’s house. There’s no power, apparently, other than a generator, and the proprietors don’t live on site; but they bring supplies and fresh bedding when they ferry you from the ferry with your suitcases in an antique truck and car. I’ve heard these old cars are tough, but I’d actually like to watch that Model T as it climbs the rocky winding drive through the woods to the lighthouse.
After lunch we double back again, and head in earnest back through town to begin the long climb to the high end of the island in the north. The sun has burned off the clouds, it’s hot, and that swim is starting to sound better and better.
The east side of the island is mostly uninhabited. It faces the Atlantic where it bears the brunt of winter storms. Trees are stunted and windswept near the shore. Small islands offshore are swept completely clean of anything standing. I imagine the Nor’easters get pretty wicked.
Finally, at the bottom of the island we come to Long Pond. Some residents are already swimming. It’s a beautiful spot. There’s a floating dock and the water is clear and cold. A dog chases fish incessantly. Rowboats are left on shore for anyone to use. We wade up to our knees and get goosebumps. More people come and go. Everyone is friendly.
Soon, the father and sone from the ferry arrive, hot but happy. The road is rough, he says, but shaded and cool. He asks about the way we came, calculating whether his son can make it back in time for the first ferry. He opts to go back the way they came. Later, I will send him a photo I took of the two of them.
We return the way we came, as well. Stop a few times for a rest or photos, and arrive at the dock in time to relax. T does some shopping at the gift store. I chat with two men my age sea kayaking between islands. They had camped the previous night in the park at the southern end.
The Mink arrives and we watch them unload pallets of building supplies. Two young women in work boots and muddy pants are building their own house. They back an old truck down the dock and watch with barely contained delight as a small derrick transfers the makings of their project from the boat to the bed.
The Mayor rows out to a lobster boat and brings back a fisherman from his mooring. Crates of lobster are loaded onto the ferry. Then our cargo and us. No sign of the father and son as we pull away from the dock. There’s one more ferry tonight, so I’m sure they’ll be back in time for that one.