There’s something about an island, any island. Maine has lots of them and that’s part of its mystique. I’d been hearing how picturesque Monhegan was and my wife had been suggesting for years we make a visit. There’s a ferry to the island from New Harbor, Maine and we spent a sunny day out there a couple of weeks ago.Monhegan, near the harbor
On the journey over, the ferry captain told us - twice - to use the bathrooms on the boat before arriving so as not to have to use island facilities “And, bring your trash back when we pick you up because you won’t find trash cans there,” he added. As a former selectman in a small Maine town, that put me in mind of disposal issues every municipality has to deal with, which would be more challenging on an island of little more than a square mile. There are only 75 people there year-’round, but over 1200 in summer. Thousands of day-trippers like me would add to the burden.Manana Island from Monhegan
It was a perfect July day, sunny and not too hot. I could see why painters have been attracted to Monhegan for more than a century, including Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent, and Jamie Wyeth. Wyeth commented recently that “Maine is very emblematic. But what interests me is to go deeper, to go beyond cuteness and prettiness to get to the angst of which there is a lot in Maine.”Waiting for the New Harbor Ferry
Emblematic of cuteness, prettiness and angst? Is that part of Maine and Monhegan mystique too?Kevin Beers' "After the Last Boat - 5pm"
I had enough time to check out one gallery and, though I don’t know much about painting, works by contemporary Monhegan artist Kevin Beers impressed me most. He’s a realist and I like what he does with color and light. Wish I could have afforded to buy one of his paintings, but it cost $2000.Monhegan on the eastern horizon
I’d been looking at Monhegan while staying in New Harbor, beautiful against the distant eastern horizon. It’s even prettier getting closer from the water. Soon I noticed four-inch, cast-iron sewage pipes leading directly into the sea over the seaweed-covered rocks. I wondered how they got away with that. Later I learned they have a special exemption from the state. Electricity comes from a diesel generator.Monhegan, looking northwest
Walking around, I was thoroughly charmed by the ocean views visible over rooftops from its many hillsides. There was something special about the lighting and I wondered if all that ocean around reflected it in some different way. I don’t know, but I was inspired to take more than 230 shots. Then I was thinking like Wyeth that it can’t all be this beautiful, and I began looking for an underbelly.Lobstering gear
I noticed the newer lobster traps made with plastic-wrapped wire weren’t as appealing as the old wooden ones that aged so nicely, and they were stacked up in various places along with other gear alongside neglected outbuildings. But even they had their charm. It was in their colors - purples and yellows and lime-greens against weathered cedar shingles.buoys
Near a small beach at the end of one waterfront lane, however, was a burn area with traces of partly-singed trash. Nearby was discarded garbage on rocks exposed at low tide, including lobster and crab shells as well as a pig’s foot in which even nearby sea gulls weren’t interested. Guess they’re picky on Monhegan, being so well-fed. Wyeth must have been talking about that spot when he said about one of his experiences there: “I was down among garbage. Other artists were shooting the surf [and] here I was covered with garbage saying, ‘Thank god they don't see this you know…’”Cliffs on Monhegan's ocean side
My wife asked me why there was so much more sea glass on that tiny beach compared to others we’d explored on the mainland. I could only shrug my shoulders, but a lady eating at a picnic table nearby said that locals smash their bottles on the rocks. Many shards were still sharp. “Well, that’s another way to recycle,” I thought. Glass is made from sand after all, which is made from rocks.Monhegan's Lighthouse
No car ferries make the 11-mile trip and only a few islanders had pickup trucks for the narrow, gravel roads - and they have the right-of-way. We had to step off the road many times when one came by. Most of the houses are old and kept up nicely. Some were built in the 1700s. European landings on Monhegan were much earlier than most of the rest of Maine. Some claim there are Viking inscriptions on Manana, the smaller island that helps form Monhegan’s harbor but I didn’t have time to go over there. Others claim John Cabot visited in 1498 and Verrazano certainly was there in 1524. Samuel Champlain and John Smith came in the early 1600s. It’s since been settled and abandoned, destroyed and rebuilt because of wars in Europe and on the mainland, but it has survived into the 21st century.Looking for supper in Monhegan Harbor
It’s worth a trip.