In Maine, an Island of Sweet Lobsters and Salty Humans
A child's life here can be an idyll. There are bogs and powder-gray beaches to scramble across and boulders to scale. Stephen has his own lobster boat. The 11-year-olds drive cars. But islanders send the children to the mainland for high school.
The island takes year-round residents where it can find them. Years ago, Eva Murray arrived as the teacher, met Paul Murray, a tall, bearded electrician in bib overalls, and fell head over heels. They and their two children are island mainstays. Bill Hoadley, 67, the owner of the Tuckanuck Lodge bed-and-breakfast, is from Nantucket, worked in a Boston distillery, and landed here 15 years ago with his mutt and a Eugene Debs poster. He hosted this year's Democratic caucus on the island -- there were five voters -- but he wouldn't call himself a native.
"Omigod no!" Hoadley said. "The only thing I say at town meetings is 'I second that motion.' "
Today, the lobstering families pin their hopes on three or four young couples, such as Natalie Ames, who grew up on the island, and her partner, John Griffin, who came here with his family every summer. In a most unusual move, the lobstermen voted to let Griffin captain his own lobster boat.
"I guess they figure if I'm stupid enough to take this up full time at age 38, they'd let me," he said.
It's not an easy life by any stretch. Dick Ames, Natalie's father, sits on a chair and nurses a Scotch after a long day hauling lobster cages. He peers out a picture window at the brown-gray tidal flats.
"If you're looking for the edge of the world, you've found it. But life's getting tougher here," he said. "John's a fine man, and I hope he and Natalie make it -- the island needs some young people."
Many decades ago, Ames's own parents dreamed that he might know life off this "hardscrabble island." They sent him to high school on the mainland of Maine and to college in Florida. He joined the merchant marine and captained ships from the Straits of Molucca to the Arctic Circle. Occasionally, he took a year or two off to lobster in Matinicus. Now he has retired.
"Look at that" -- he points to a white halo of fog rolling in and three loons swooping by. "It's harder to leave this island than you'd ever guess. The life traps you."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Clayton Philbrook, 52, has been a lobsterman for four decades. He said Matinicus lobstermen are known for being particularly independent.
(Michael Powell - The Washington Post)