Monday, August 4, 2008

Observations from an Island in Maine

I just spent a week on one of the most remote inhabited islands off the Maine Coast. I hadn't realized it, but Maine has over 3,000 islands dotting along it's coast. Of course, I couldn't resist investigating planning and development issues while there.

The island we visited was nearly 25 miles out, with no cell phone reception or internet. Arriving near low tide in a deep fog, we transferred from our boat to skif and stepped foot directly onto the wet shoreline out of the small row boat, no dock involved.

There are no paved roads. And no trash pick-up (don't accumulate trash in the first place, or bring it with you next time you leave the island). Our cottage was so close to the water that you could toss used lobster shells directly to the seagulls. And too close for sewer or septic: our toilet was a portable incinerator called an Incinolet, or we could use the outhouse.

There are 35 year round residents on the island, give or take, and we met most of them. They are proud of surviving the unforgiving stark Maine winters, of their active lobster and fishing tradition, and most of all proud of the natural beauty of their home. The lack of 'interference' forces a unique self sufficiency and community spirit: "There is no 'They' out here," as one resident put it, (referring to "Are THEY going to fix the roads," and implying that anything that needs to get done is done by 'Us.'

Roads and homes are referred to by the names of the families who own the properties, not by street names or numbers. Title histories are often in question, I learned, and much of the land ownership uncertain or in dispute, long standing dispute with no intentions of resolution.

Wild raspberry and blueberry bushes and many other wild plant species lined the paths we walked on the way to the bakery for our daily morning coffee and pastry.

The state Ferry comes and goes only twice a week, a service deficiency that the locals seemed just fine with; the inaccessibility of the island has protected it from the type of tourist development that could put their traditional ways and slower pace at risk.

In fact, despite the stark differences from a community like Hopkinton and the needs we have here, all in all, the level of infrastructure and services on the island are probably pretty well in synch with the community goals there - and definitely in synch with my family's idea of a "getting away from everything" vacation.

But still, how happy I was when my Blackberry (the portable electronic device, not the wild trailside berry from the island) lit back up upon arrival back on the mainland a week later, and I learned the School Committtee had voted in favor of moving ahead with plans for solar electric power for Hopkinton town buildings!

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