An innocent bit of trespassing reveals the warmth of those Maine locals who call the coast home.
By Catherine Shannon
Behind me, I heard the crunch of gravel as I stood on my tippy-toes, face pressed to one of the house’s warped glass windows. I spun around to see a Jeep Wrangler – complete with moose antlers plastered to the grill – barreling down the winding unpaved driveway. “I’ll tell them I’m lost,” I remember thinking, my best impromptu excuse. Then again, this island was only 12 square miles with five miles of paved roads. They’d never buy it. I could see their faces in the Jeep now. They looked pretty confused. Yup, I was definitely trespassing.
At the time, I was barely 21 and had moved five hours north to complete a summer internship writing for a weekly newspaper based in Ellsworth, Maine. That first month, I’d been assigned a piece on the famous Robinson Point Lighthouse, which was celebrating its 100th year of standing watch over the off-the-grid island of Isle Au Haut, located about seven miles south of Stonington. I couldn’t get in touch with the innkeepers (it’s really off the grid), who own the land that the lighthouse and the adjacent bed-and-breakfast sit on, so my editor told me to just head out there myself. An hour-long drive, 45-minute mail-boat ride, and 30-minute bicycle trek later, I stood squirming in my own awkwardness as Jeff and Judi Burke pulled up, their Great Dane rapidly barking at the sight of my foreign presence.
Despite the fact that they had just caught me peering into their home (which doubled as the B&B) and were returning from a cross-country trip, the couple warmly invited me in. They didn’t even pause to shake off what must have been some serious travel weariness. Instead, Judi, with her dusty red hair tightly pulled into a ponytail, began flying around the baby blue kitchen, making tea and blueberry muffins, as Jeff recounted humorous tales of lost guests who came pounding on the inn’s doors in the middle of stormy nights. They then gave me a tour of the two-story cottage – Judi pointing out the best viewpoints from each bedroom window; Jeff showing me his personal work studio, speckled with oil paintings of the lighthouse. When I finally set off on my bike, I had spent a total of three hours with the Burkes.
That’s really what Down East Maine turned out to be for me, in addition to the Maine resorts: a series of chance meetings that turned meaningful when locals went well out of their way. I remember my landlord finding an excuse to check in on her homesick tenant every night for the first two weeks I lived under her roof. I remember interviewing a Grammy Award–winning pianist from Deer Isle, then getting a private concert in his studio. I remember the night I covered the annual Blackfly Ball in Machias and ended up dancing right along with the townspeople, so hard that we had to relocate to the bottom floor of the town hall for fear of falling through.
People “from away” talk of Down East as a place where things are simpler and slower, maybe even using that description as a snide way to describe the locals. But I’d take that pace in a heartbeat. And the people.
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