A Separate Peace
Sunday, September 11, 2005
We had just walked down the plank of the ferry, chilled from the bracing winds, the kids drenched in sea splash from pretending to surf on the bow of the Elizabeth Ann for our 11-mile trip, pitching and rolling, to Monhegan Island.
The day was already unusually cool and brisk for Maine in the summer. So, as a pickup truck took our bags up to the Monhegan House, where we would be staying for the next few nights, we herded the kids into the nearby Barnacle Cafe for hot chocolate. (I was ready for one of their killer lattes.) Looking out the window, my 6-year-old son, Liam, spied a man with a bushy, iron-gray beard and a tattered baseball cap fishing off the dock.
"Hey," he said. "That's Jim!"
He raced out the door, the screen banging behind him, flung himself down to the dock and practically hurled both himself and Jim into the bracing water below.
Jim was a first-grade teacher from Massachusetts. We didn't even know his last name. But on our first trip to Monhegan Island the summer before, Liam had become enamored with his calm manner, his kind eyes and the way he listened respectfully to kids. Liam had even written Jim a letter in his uneven first-grade script, but we hadn't known where to send it.
The two picked up right where they had left off. And this, more than anything, was what drew us back to this place.
Yes, Monhegan Island is beautiful. Yes, it is a mecca of sorts for artists, notably three generations of Wyeths, who have been so taken with the island that they've built cottages and seemingly painted every sea-carved cliff, lupine-studded meadow and lobster pot. Yes, nature lovers come and wax poetic about this unspoiled, "mystical" whale-shaped island, with 600 different species of wildflowers, 100 kinds of birds and some of the highest cliffs in all of Maine.
But for harried, urban working parents of two kids under 6, we had discovered, completely by accident, that Monhegan Island offered us something else: a taste of unhurried village life.
The island is crawling with kids in the summer. In the evenings, youngsters quickly get to know each other rolling down the hill in front of the Island Inn, climbing trees next to the Monhegan House or starting improptu baseball games. (Our kids befriended a girl from New York City named Leah on one such evening.)
But now that school is starting up again and summer vacation winding down, Monhegan Island becomes a little quieter, especially during the week. The two big inns stay open through Columbus Day, though some smaller rentals welcome visitors year-round. Holden Nelson, owner of Monhegan House, describes autumn on the island this way: "Birdwatchers, painters, nature lovers and hikers. Weekends fill up, quieter during the week. Bright, crisp and sunny days and cool nights."
That evening, my husband, Tom, and I wanted to eat a typically amazing dinner at Monhegan House's airy, art-filled restaurant and enjoy the view of a lush meadow in the now warm evening. But the kids wanted nothing of the sort. They fidgeted. They squirmed. The 4-year-old, Tessa, began rolling on the floor under the table, my stern counting to three having no impact whatever.